Popping out of an Easter egg is just part of the fun at this celebration of all things choc near Birmingham.
We’re riding the Crunchie rollercoaster at speed, squealing as we’re dumped into a pool of liquid Dairy Milk. Oh, wait, here’s Caramel Bunny ready to whisk us away in his Creme Egg airship.
We’ve been hurled into virtual chocoholic heaven and for a few fun-filled minutes reality is suspended and our group of (mostly) sensible women becomes a gaggle of giggling, and gasping, girls.
When the lights go up, our chairs stop moving and the 4-D world recedes as quickly as it arrived, we’re still laughing with childish glee. What a wonderful feeling.
Being more of a cheese fiend than a chocolate nut, I hadn’t expected to enjoy myself so much at Cadbury World. But this family attraction in suburban Birmingham delights in more ways than one.
Yes, it’s a bit, er, cheesy. Yes, you’ll be surrounded by children (and some grown-ups) in altered states of sugar highs. Yes, you will leave with more chocolate than you really need (or can fit in your suitcase). And, just quietly, there’s more purple than an Eagles fan can really cope with.
But it’s also surprisingly illuminating. Visitors take a self-guided tour through different zones, learning not only the history of chocolate all the way back to the Aztecs and Mayans, and how it’s made, but the story of the remarkable family behind the famous brand.
For the latter we open a door on to Bull Street, Birmingham, and step back into the Victorian era, where we meet retailer John Cadbury. Or at least a projected likeness of the man. And his equally visionary sons, Richard and George.
The Cadburys were devout Quakers and this was the temperance era, when people were signing pledges to abstain from alcohol. John sold coffee, tea and cocoa as “healthy” alternatives, moving into manufacturing in 1831.
The aim was to create the highest quality chocolate — no added brick dust, which apparently some “less scrupulous producers” were throwing in the mix — and it was George’s purchase of the revolutionary Van Houten hydraulic press that moved the goalposts. The Cadburys were suddenly able to extract more cocoa butter, reducing the need for additives and making their cocoa essence more palatable.
A canny businessman, George then contacted the medical profession about their “unadulterated” cocoa essence and the Lancet medical journal duly reported on its health benefits. With the tagline Absolutely Pure, Therefore the Best, sales were soon soaring.
But the Cadburys were more than just excellent businessmen, they were pioneers in social justice and equality. John, who also campaigned against cruelty to animals, had long had a dream of creating a utopian village away from the pollution of the industrial city, a place where his employees could work and live, and the family now had the funds to do it.
In 1879 they snapped up some land on the outskirts of the city for their new factory, which they named Bournville, and built 16 cottages for key employees. As the business became more successful, their workers reaped the rewards with bonuses, pension schemes, training and other benefits. The Cadburys also built swimming pools, gymnasiums, cricket pitches and organised work outings.
As their sons stepped into the business, Richard and George were able to focus more on the village, building more houses, a hospital, schools and churches — not just for their own workers, but for the whole community.
The rivers of chocolate gold flowed ever faster when George’s son went to Switzerland to find out how to make chocolate using fresh milk. (More than 500,000 litres of the stuff is delivered to their Marlbrook factory in Herefordshire each day now, along with more than 150 tonnes of sugar). Before long, Cadbury had cornered the market with a new range called Dairy Milk, which then led to the chocolate all-sorts Milk Tray and other brands that remain household names. One of the company’s best-known characters, though, is not English, but Australian in origin. Freddo frogs were the brainchild of an employee of Melbourne confectionery company MacRobertson’s, which Cadbury bought in the late 60s.
While the Cadbury brand has also been out of family hands for many decades, their legacy continues. Bournville, which spans about 400ha and is home to about 25,000 Brummies, is still governed by the trust they set up in 1900 to prevent unscrupulous property developers or the like from trying to take advantage of their generous scheme. There are no pubs, gambling establishments or fast-food outlets.
But for those who came for the sweet stuff rather than the history lesson, there’s no need to break out in a chocolate-deprived sweat. The well-trod path — there are more than half a million visitors each year — leads chocoholics to where some of the magic is happening. And, more importantly, where you can sample it. Little cups of milk chocolate topped with a few lollies.
I’d heard that Cadbury
chocolate made in Britain tastes different, a little creamier, to that made in
Australian factories and it’s true. There are a number of influencing factors,
including where the cocoa beans are grown (ours are more likely to come from
Indonesia than South America) and the type of minerals and other nutrients they
draw from the ground, the breed of cows and where those cows graze. Apparently
chocolate that has been made in Ireland tastes creamier still because those cows
hoe down on lusher grass. A seasoned sensory evaluator — chocolate taster, to
you and me — can easily spot the differences in a blind taste. Bet there’s a
queue for that job.
Brains overladen with facts and figures, and bodies running on perhaps a little too much sugar, we stop by the photo booth. Having earlier donned various ridiculous outfits for a group shot in front of a “green screen”, we are now delighted to see ourselves popping out of giant Easter eggs. And we start laughing all over again.
It's not hard to see why the whole family will be entertained by a visit to Cadbury World near Birmingham. Picture supplied.
Cadbury World is in the Midlands city of Birmingham. It gets very busy in peak times so online reservations are recommended, see Cadbury World.
Qatar Airways flies to Birmingham from Perth via Doha.
For more information on the region, see visitbritain.com.