SPAGnVOLA Chocolatier, a premium chocolate boutique located in the Kentlands shopping area of Gaithersburg, MD, offers free tours of their on-premise artisan factory on Saturday and Sunday between 2 and 5:45pm. Tours are super easy to book online. Due to space restraints, tours are limited to 15 people and might include others. They last 15-30 minutes but as the website warns, they might be subject to special events or a 15-30 minute delay. I think we waited 10 minutes past the time slot I reserved.
I reserved a tour for 15 people – 4 moms and 11 kids ranging in ages from 4-years-old to 8-years-old. We met in the boutique where there were several bar tables with stools and a seating area with a couple chairs and a small sitting area towards the back with a large flat screen TV. The TV continuously showed the process of how SPAGnVOLA grows cacao beans on their farm in the Dominican Republic and brings the beans to the US to be roasted, refined and made into chocolate delicacies that can be purchased in their boutique or online.
With a constant flux of customers, I was glad when our tour guide arrived. We were led downstairs into the first of the two-room factory. In the stairwell, I immediately smelled the heavenly aroma of chocolate. The factory was neither stroller nor wheelchair accessible- something not listed on their website. SPAGnVOLA kindly offered to watch the stroller but we thought it was best for my husband to stay behind with our two youngest.
I think that was a good thing. The space was tight with our group of 15. My four-year-old patiently stood through the almost 30 minute tour but I count myself lucky. I would not take a child that has difficulty standing fairly still for more than 20 minutes.
Our tour guide, Justin, was fantastic with both the kids and adults. He was energetic and knowledgeable about chocolate making and found ways to engage the kids’ senses. In the first room where the chocolate was made, it was quite warm and a bit cramped. Maybe it was the scent of chocolate that kept us content but no one in my group seemed to mind. Here Justin showed a map of the world where cacao beans were harvested and pointed out the Dominican Republic, where SPAGnVOLA’s farm was located. He passed around a pod containing cacao beans and explained that the pods were picked and cleaned at the farm before they were shipped to SPAGnVOLA’s factory.
At the factory, the beans were roasted in a chicken rotisserie machine that SPAGnVOLA modified to meet their unique process. He passed around a basket containing roasted beans that had been cracked. Kids were allowed to feel the cracked beans which then get sifted to obtain the nibs. The nibs are then mixed with only cane sugar for several days to get it thin enough to use. Justin lifted the kids up to view the chocolate being mixed and then gave each of us a taste of the delicious chocolate made of 75% cacao and 25% cane sugar.
We proceeded to the second room used for artisan-chocolate creation. It was noticeably cooler and a bit more spacious. Justin explained the techniques they use to make bonbons and truffles – two of SPAGnVOLA’s most popular creations. During our visit, employees were making 500 chocolate-dipped marshmallows for a special order. The kids loved watching them being made. At the end of the tour, we were led back up a final set of stairs and deposited in the boutique.
Throughout the tour, the kids were made to feel welcomed. Everyone had a great time. Older kids will take more away from the tour learning about the process from bean to bar. Younger kids will be fascinated with the machinery and being so close to chocolate. I suppose you could say the same for the adults in our group.
A tour of SPAGnVOLA will engage your senses of touch, smell, and taste and leave you wanting to buy something from their boutique. There are many decadent treats to choose from including bonbons, truffles, chocolate bars, chocolate covered marshmallows, and gelato as well as coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. This is premium chocolate and you will pay for the exceptional taste. For example, a 3.5oz chocolate bar costs $8.00 and gelato comes in three sizes costing $6.50, $5.00 and $3.50, respectively.
In addition to factory tours, SPAGnVOLA offers a Chocolate Making 101 class for $50 per person and parties for a minimum of 10 kids plus adults costing $20 to $30 per party participant. Further details are on the website.
Good to Know
- Tours are free, last 15-30 minutes and can be booked online.
- Due to stairs, the factory is neither wheelchair nor stroller accessible.
- Dress in layers as the first room is warm.
- The factory is located in Kentlands shopping center and free parking is available in parking lots behind the stores along Main street.
- Check their website for store hours. Tours are only available on weekends from 2 to 5:45pm.
- A single bathroom is located in the cafe.
- SPAGnVOLA has a second boutique located in Lakeforest Mall Location in Gaithersburg.
Photos by Teresa Flaim.