Volume 20 Issue 12 | August. 3 - 9, 2007

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

Divalicious Chocolate on Broome St. is one stop on the Downtown chocolate tour started by Carmen Botez, below.

A taste of Downtown’s sweetest stores

By Anindita Dasgupta

Growing up in communist Romania, Carmen Botez did not have luxuries like chocolate. It wasn’t until she left the country at age 14 that she tasted it for the first time. She has spent the rest of her young life studying chocolate.

“It’s something I never had when I was young,” Botez, 30, said in an interview. “I just love to share it with everyone.”

She has it every day, but is not worried about calories or health problems because she avoids chocolate with lots of added chemicals. “People still don’t realize that chocolate is plant based,” Botez said.

Some studies suggest chocolate can decrease blood pressure and may prevent cancer.

Botez, in addition to her editorial job at a Soho publishing company, spends much of her chocolate-induced energy on her company, Zoom Media & Productions, which specializes in all things chocolate, including private tasting sessions and corporate presentations. Last August, she added two walking tours of chocolate stores in Lower Manhattan and the Upper East Side.

The Downtown tour takes chocolate enthusiasts to Soho, Chinatown, the Village and sometimes the Financial District.

The tour lasts two hours and costs $70 per person. While the price may be steep, the tour includes store samples worth about $25.

The tours grew out of Botez’s ChocolateZOOM, an online guide to chocolate around New York City. She called her site a virtual chocolate tour of the city, which prompted many requests to create an actual tour of the hottest chocolate spots in Manhattan.

“I’m amazed at what I call the chocolate revolution,” she said, referring to the increase in interest in chocolate. She created the two tours and ran them herself for five months. As demand increased, she hired Bert James to help.

After intensive training on the chocolate basics from Botez, James read books on chocolate to learn more. Now, he can spout off the most minute details of making chocolate and find the perfect piece of chocolate for the pickiest taster.

On a recent tour, four people showed up. Two came from Wichita, Kansas and, two hailed from New York. Zealous about chocolate, the tourgoers didn’t hold back from asking James questions. As they traveled from store to store, they became more and more excited, refining their chocolate pallets as they walked.

“I love meeting all the different people on the tour,” James said. At least half the tour is made of New Yorkers, he said. “This is one tour that we get a lot of locals. That’s one thing about New Yorkers -- they love chocolate.”

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