A Social Phenomenon

A brilliant chocolate wonder popped up in the catering scene about 15 years ago and has since revolutionized the way that people enjoy chocolate socially; the illustrious Chocolate Fountain! This stainless steel marvel of melted chocolate and dipping goodies has taken the stress out of trying to throw a good party, whether big or small. You no longer need to have the best entertainment or the most beautiful decorations or even be a very dynamic host, all you need is a chocolate fountain and some yummy tidbits to dip in it and you will be a hit!

What exactly is a Chocolate Fountain?

Before we get to all the fun of what ingredients to use and the legend behind this chocolate treasure let's get the technical stuff out of the way. A chocolate fountain, to put it very simply, is a large, self-stirring fondue pot. To be a little more precise it is a stainless steel device standing on average 12 to 52 inches high that usually houses a basin on the bottom that is heated from underneath, a vertical corkscrew auger (picture an upward rotating spiral staircase) run by an internal motor, and multiple tiers of varying sizes, fitting over the auger, that the chocolate flows over. So the journey of the chocolate goes like this: it stars in the basin where it is melted to a perfect smooth and creamy texture, once the consistency is just right it is carried up the height of the fountain by the auger, next comes the climactic liberation over the tiers where it cascades from level to level in curtains of inviting sweetness, and finally is falls delicately back into the basin where it starts the adventure all over again. Your part in all this would be to stand near the fountain, skewer and plate in hand, and plunge your various treats through the curtains in order to cover them with the flowing melted chocolate, then savor slowly and do it again!

A Simple Answer or a Legend

My understanding of where the chocolate fountain came from is that it is a cross breading of two successful ideas, the champagne fountain and the fondue pot. One is popular for fancy galas and weddings, the other for everyday use by any average Joe. Combine the two and you get the joy of chocolate dipping fun with the beauty of the fountain style dispensing. Outside of this simple and, let's face it, not too fascinating idea there is the legend of Sephra. Sephra is the story of an alluring Aztec goddess whose presence is said to have carried the sweet aroma of cocoa. Legend has it that it was her who gave the Aztecs the cherished gift of the cocoa tree which led them to be the founders of the burgeoning chocolate empire. Montezuma, the ruler of the Aztec Empire, was so enchanted by this cocoa goddess that he had a temple built in her honor. Within this temple, in its highest room, he constructed a luxurious fountain whose spring water was pulled up from within its walls in order to then flow down over them (sound familiar?). This fountain was then surrounded by copious amounts of the most perfect cocoa beans. Sephra was so pleased with this gift that she visited Montezuma in a dream and told him that she would live forever in this fountain. From this dream Montezuma was awoken by the sweet smell of cocoa wafting through the air. He followed this aroma to the temple fountain to find it now brimming with streaming curtains of rich chocolate instead of the water he had filled it with. Whichever you believe we can all agree that the result is heavenly.

Who Uses Chocolate Fountains?

There are two main ways that you will find chocolate fountains. One is the large commercial fountains that are used for catered events and the others are the smaller ones that are now available for home use. There are some variations in style and size between the two but either makes for a tasty, amusing, chocolate filled party (or maybe even just a Wednesday night at home!)

Commercial Chocolate Fountains

Commercial fountains are becoming a staple at everything from fancy galas to back yard weddings to company parties. They are even becoming more popular in ice cream parlors and some coffee shops. Large commercial fountains can be purchased for, on average, from $2000 to $7500 or rented throughout the United States and now in Europe as well. These stainless steel masterpieces range on average between 27 and 52 inches in height. Depending on the model and size they can usually hold about 35 pounds of chocolate! That's a lot of luscious dips!

Renting a Chocolate Fountain

If you are holding an event; wedding, anniversary party, fundraiser, or any other excuse to get a large group of people together, renting a fountain could be the best thing you put your money into. Rentals of all kinds are available through the internet or phone book. You can get your rental in many different ways from just the fountain itself to the full package with chocolate, dippers, skewers, napkins, decorations, and a live person to set-up and man the fountain. Prices vary pretty extensively, anywhere from $100-$1000 or more per day depending on what you want and how many people you are serving, but the market is getting more and more saturated at this point so you should be able to shop around a little to find the right one for you. I would strongly recommend not just searching for the best deal as you could end up with a shoddy piece of equipment and oily chocolate which will make your event less than memorable. In rentals it's a good idea to look for customer satisfaction comments to see what others have to say about the company. There are multiple websites that will link you to more than one rental establishment, a good idea for comparing more than one at a time. Another thing to look for is a reputable brand of Chocolate Fountain so that you know the company didn't cut corners on quality (keep reading for some of their names!).

What Do I Look For in a Chocolate Fountain?

When buying or renting a commercial Chocolate Fountain (and some of these apply to home use fountains as well) there are some things to look for. Make sure that your fountain does not have any plastic components, you only want high gauge, food grade stainless steel to make sure that your fountain lasts and lasts as well as making sure that it is safe to reheat chocolate in over and over. Look for solid cast stainless steel that is free from seams or weld spots, this makes for a smoother flow of chocolate and prevents bacteria from building up in the seams. For the auger your highest quality will be a solid one piece blade as opposed to several thin metal discs that have been cut and welded together. Outside of this most of the parts that will make a difference in the quality of your fountain are hidden within. While it may not be easy it will definitely be worth your time to check these parts out as this is where cheaper companies will cut corners. Try to find one that has a powerful motor specially designed for the fountain as opposed to an industrial one that has been modified to fit. Ask about the noise level of the motor so that you don't end up with something that overpowers the conversations of your distinguished guests. Also ask about the cooling fan, is it built into the motor or external? A built in one if preferred as it is less likely to become too hot inside the fountain and break down. This may sound like a lot but as with any costly purchase it is worth putting some work in on the front end to ensure that you are getting the best product for your money.

Chocolate for Everyone!

With the popularity of commercial Chocolate Fountains growing the demand for something that people could use in their home was inevitable. People started to want one of these metal darlings of the chocolate world for their smaller birthday parties, dinner gatherings, or just to liven up a Wednesday night! So the first personal size chocolate fountains were made available in 2004 by the Hellmann Group, with other manufacturers following quickly behind. Sales started a bit slow but now they are being copied by thousands of manufacturers worldwide and can even be found in your local Wal-Mart or Carrefour. Most home chocolate fountains are up to 28 inches tall and hold 6 pounds of chocolate or less. Unlike the commercial units some are made with heat-proof plastic as well as stainless steel components. Again, I would recommend against looking for the cheapest one. The mass produced models found in bargain stores may be fun once or twice but they will most likely breakdown after that. Prices will range from about $40-$400 and I would stick to ones in the $90 or higher category.

A Competitive Market

Chocolate Fountains first came on the market in 1991 with a company called Design & Realisation. Unfortunately they did not patent their invention so others quickly copied and expanded on their original idea. Popularity was minimal until these others came on the scene. Companies such as Buffet Enhancements and Sephra (that name sounds familiar!) made the product much more visible when they arrived and broadened the clientele for the entire market. All of these companies are still in production today and sell both commercial and personal size fountains. They are all three highly involved in the rental market as well (these are all good name brands to look for when you are renting a fountain). Sephra now has a European company as well, located in London, called Sephra International. Some other popular brands are Spring Chocolate Fountains and Nostalgia Chocolate Fountains.

Not Just Any Chocolate Will Do

Chocolate Fountains are so much fun and such a novelty in and of themselves that some people think they can use any old chocolate in them and it will be good. These people are wrong. Why would you go to all the trouble to acquire one of these chocolate wonders and then fill it with anything less than the best? My top choice would be a gourmet chocolate bar such as zChocolat's 100% Dominican Republic. Look for what is called couverture chocolate, a rich smooth texture that is used for covered chocolates or pralines. This will melt perfectly and flow down the height of the fountain beautifully, but most importantly it will taste amazing and your guests will not be able to forget it. Your best bet to make sure that you get something that will melt well in the fountain is to visit a specialty candy store or order online from a company that specializes in Chocolate Fountains. If you are renting a fountain you can almost always get chocolate from the company you rent from, but they will have choices so it's good to go into it knowing what you want. Try to avoid grocery store chocolate or chocolate chips as you will have to add something, like oil, to make the chocolate melt smoothly enough to fall well over the tiers, this can make the chocolate taste gritty and slimy and certainly not memorable. If you want to get creative you can even use flavored chocolate; coffee, strawberry, lemon, the list goes on. One thing that I would hope goes without saying but you never know; please do not try to use chocolate that has pieces of anything in it; nuts, coconut flakes, etc, this will clog the auger and cause your Chocolate Fountain to break.

Diving In

After getting the perfect piece of equipment for your situation and filling it with the best chocolate that you can find, it's time to think about what to pass through those enticing chocolate waves. There is room for lots of creativity here! To start with there is fruit; strawberries are a staple, bananas recall a childhood banana split, apples are sturdy and the tang of a Granny Smith goes great with the sweet chocolate, apricots are great dried (particularly in white chocolate!), chocolate covered cherries never miss, and melon, grapes and pineapple provide something new and interesting. Then there are marshmallows, quite popular in the US but still catching on in other parts of the world, pretzels for a great sweet and salty combo, waffles in honor of the Belgians, cookies and other biscuits, and even ice cream balls which will most likely be eaten fast enough for you to not have to worry about melting. Be aware that there are some things that are not good for your Chocolate Fountain, particularly things that have crumbs or seeds like cakes and other pastries or certain berries. For added fun try providing a majority of items that you know people will like and throw in a few outrageous things to keep people on their toes! Happy dipping!

Watch Out For Wind and Chocolate Loving Bugs

If you are dreaming of using your chocolate fountain outside you may want to rethink that just a bit. The most obvious and unappetizing reason for this would be bugs. Many bugs are attracted to the smell of chocolate (why wouldn't they be!) and once they have made their way into this melted chocolate heaven they are impossible to get out. Unless you want to make that one of your outrageous dipping items I would say stay indoors. If this does not deter you then keep an eye on a couple of other factors. Wind; even the slightest breeze can send the beautiful chocolate layers splattering in all directions, something that I am thinking your guests will not appreciate unless they have come to your party either covered in plastic or not wearing anything at all! The other factor is temperature. Obviously we are dealing with melted chocolate so a decrease in temperature sort of defeats the purpose. If your guests have to wear a sweater or jacket in order to be outside then it is probably too cool for the chocolate to stay nicely melted.

Get Creative

If you are an adventurer and the idea of the average Chocolate Fountain doesn't sound like quite enough for you there are some ways that you can spice things up. Try adding a topper to your fountain. You can use flowers, bride and groom figures or any other type of typical party decoration. If renting, ask about this option and if you don't like what they offer ask if you can bring your own. You can also get creative with what you put in the fountain itself. With chocolate you can add flavored oils or syrups (be careful with either so as not to change the consistency of the chocolate too much). If you like white chocolate try adding some food coloring to match the d├ęcor of your party. As crazy as this may sound some people even use their fountain for things other than chocolate! You can treat the fountain somewhat like a fondue pot and use caramel, cheese, BBQ sauce, or even maple syrup. In these cases be careful of consistency, too thick and you can clog the mechanisms, too thin and it could splatter easily. No matter how you use your fountain make it yours so your guest can feel they are experiences a little part of who you are.

The Tease of the World's Largest Chocolate Fountain

So after all this are you wondering “What is the largest Chocolate Fountain I could get my hands on”? Well, you can't exactly get your hands on it but there definitely is a ‘World's Largest Chocolate Fountain'. It's located at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. Emerging from the Jean-Philippe Patisserie on the promenade of the Spa Tower is a visual and aromatic masterpiece designed by the pastry chef himself. This floor to ceiling sculpture circulates more than 2,100 pounds of melted milk, dark, and white chocolate thru 500 feet of pipes 24 hours a day. Standing outside the glass encased work of art we experience the chocolate's cascade down 14 feet from one suspended glass vessel to another while being intoxicated by the smell that has drawn us there to begin with. Between the unique hand crafted glass basins and the visually stimulating flow of three different colors of chocolate you can stand mesmerized for hours. My only complaint, being the chocolate lover that I am, is that this is an encounter strictly for the eyes and nose, no dipping allowed!

Bon Appetit

I hope that you have learned more than you need to know to be able to fully experience the Chocolate Fountain in all of its splendor and glory. Whether enjoying it at an all out black-tie fete or at home in your sweat pants I wish you the ecstasy and satisfaction that can only come from this most amazing invention!