Illustration by Grace Kirman
When I heard that a shop specifically dedicated to selling hot chocolate was opening in Oxford, I was delighted. Anyone who knows me knows that I am quite obsessed with hot chocolate – and anyone who has spoken to me in the past two months knows that I just can’t shut up about Knoops.
The shop is located at the heart of Oxford’s city centre at the end of Turl Street. It has a minimalist design with few tables – luckily, the free space in the store leaves plenty of space for the hordes of customers who are queueing up daily, myself being one of them. As I wait for my fellow Lifestyle editors in the shop’s opening week, I’m greeted outside by Jens Knoop, the mastermind behind Oxford’s latest hotspot. After some um-ing and ah-ing at the extensive menu, Jens offers me a 43% single-origin hot chocolate from Venezuela, which just so happened to be the best hot chocolate I had ever had. I quickly realised that a large portion of my student loan would probably be spent here…
Joined by the others, we take a seat inside. Jens tells us that he opened his first shop in Rye, East Sussex, nine years ago. He proudly informs us that there are now seven stores across England, the newest being here in Oxford. Jens told us that, compared with Knoops’ other store locations, “the demographic [here in Oxford] is very different – everybody’s the same age, everybody except for me!” He was excited by the prospect of such young customers, and the diversity in nationalities of his potential customers. On this note, he reminds us that he understands the student struggle – a student discount is available in-store if you present your BodCard!
Jens’ passion for hot chocolate goes back to his youth, he tells us. “For me, it’s a trip down memory lane. My grandmother was very ceremonial about giving me a piece of chocolate as a treat or a reward, because once in a while I was actually a good boy,” he jokes. Chocolate is still strongly associated with childhood in his mind, in particular traditional milk chocolate. When working for a market research company, Jens was able to travel around the world; he notes his travels to China, Japan, North America, and all over Europe, telling us that one thing everybody has in common is wanting a small, affordable treat. “Not everybody can afford a big car or to go on holidays,” he reminds us. But most people could afford a nice meal – or, indeed, a hot chocolate – without breaking the bank.
“Of course, the physical aspect, the chemistry of chocolate itself [is also a factor],” Jens continues. “Chocolate has caffeine to a certain level,”. And with so many options available, its easy to see how Knoops could provide a small, affordable treat for all kinds of chocolate lovers. As well as the 20 different varieties of chocolate from all over the world, there are also 9 milk varieties including plant-based options, and 20 different ingredients that can be added to the drink, such as sea salt, chilli, and rosemary. Not a fan of hot drinks? Their extensive menu also offers iced chocolates and milkshakes. It’s hard to deny Jen’s claim that Knoops are “the masters of choices”.
That being said, how do you go about choosing the perfect blend for you? Each chocolate has different characteristics and different stories behind it. Whilst some customers enter wanting something simple like Cadbury’s Dairy Milk (Jens recommends a 34% here), others begin to describe flavour profiles. Whether you love white chocolate, milk chocolate, or dark chocolate, there will be an option for you. “It could be art, it could be science,” Jens tells us of the process. “It could be psychology, of course – what you’re craving,”. For fans of salted caramel chocolate, Jens recommends a 34% with sea salt (for the record, this is my go-to).
However, Jens himself does not have a single favourite percentage. “It varies day by day, hour by hour,” he tells us. “My desert-island chocolate at the moment would probably be the 60%,” which is a single-origin hot chocolate from Venezuela. “They contacted me from Venezuela, which was just the biggest privilege.”
On the topic of Knoops’ global sources of chocolate, Jens explains the process for selecting the very best. “We’re working with big, as well as very small, chocolate makers. We always look out for sustainability. [To] some companies, we say ‘Okay, thank you’, and then with others, we definitely work very closely together. We actually now have chocolate makers offering to make our own chocolates.” As a long term chocolate lover, Jens says he never dreamed that one day companies would be reaching out to him to ask if he would like to try their chocolate. “Before it was just eating chocolate all day long, and now they’re approaching us,” he laughs.
When asked what was suitable for vegan customers, Jens was only too happy to help. “Two thirds of our chocolates are vegan anyway because they are dark chocolate,” he assures us. Furthermore, Knoops offers 5 different plant-based kinds of milk at no extra cost, including oat and almond.
Knoops is also taking other measures to ensure that they meet the mark when it comes to sustainability. “We’ve always been held accountable about what we offer to customers, and we want to be transparent about where the chocolate is coming from,” Jens explains. “We’re actively not taking certain chocolates on because they just don’t hit the mark that we want for all of our chocolates. I think we’re all aware that this is not a perfect world yet […] but there’s always a push.” Despite all drinks being served in takeaway cups due to limited seating in the store, Jens assures us that all the cups are made from compostable materials and that the company is dedicated to using sustainable packaging. A 50p discount is also offered to customers who use reusable cups in an effort to reduce waste. The company’s goal is to be 100% sustainable by 2024, and Jens claims that they are right on track for this.
As well as a newfound Knoops addiction, we are left with a goodie bag between us, including a Knoops recipe book and a very stylish tote bag which I now sport everywhere. I think it’s safe to say that this is a novelty that I won’t be growing tired of any time soon.