Can chocolate be like a fine wine? Sophie Jewett thinks so. That's why she has brought chocolate making back to the heart of York

IMAGINE discovering you are allergic to caffeine – just before you launch your new coffee business. Or that chilli makes you ill – as you prepare to open an Indian restaurant. Or you can't stomach yeast – as you start up a bakery.

That was the predicament facing Sophie Jewett as she prepared to open the York Cocoa Works.

Sophie, who also owns York Cocoa House, discovered she was allergic to one of the flavour compounds in cocoa, just as she was about to open the doors on her £750,000 Cocoa Works venture, which has brought chocolate manufacturing back to the heart of York.

So York's chocolate queen is allergic to chocolate?

Not totally, says Sophie. "It's not killed me yet," she says, breaking into a smile. "There are various tablets I can take so that I can eat it."

It does mean, however, that she has to moderate her chocolate intake. Something, she says, we should all do.

"It makes me more mindful to enjoy what I eat. And it's something we could all consider. Chocolate is a miracle product – it connects so many people around the world.

"But we need to do something about our chocolate consumption. It's not fruit and veg. We need to respect it as a treat and luxury."

Which is exactly what Sophie and her team are doing at the chocolate factory on Castlegate. Here, they take some of the finest cocoa beans in the world and turn them into some seriously good chocolate. It has the capacity to make 200 tonnes of chocolate a year – about 4.5 million bars.

Granted, this is a place for chocolate connoisseurs rather than devourers of Dairy Milk. Chocolate is sold in small amounts – simply packaged in plain brown paper with the location of the bean printed on the front alongside the percentage of cocoa solids in the bar. As a rule of thumb, the higher the percentage, the darker and more flavourful the chocolate.

On my visit, I tasted varieties from Columbia, Peru, India and Ecuador – and each was unique. I closed my eyes as I popped a hunk of the Chililique chocolate in my mouth, from Chulacanas in Peru. As it melted, a subtle fruitiness took hold. "I think it's a bit like a peach iced tea," says Sophie helpfully. And she was right. It was exactly like that: floral, but with an earthy foundation.

Here at the Cocoa Works, chocolate is treated – and traded – more like a fine wine, craft beer or artisan coffee. It's all part of a larger mission on Sophie's part to "decommoditise" cocoa and help farmers secure a higher price if they produce quality cocoa beans.

It's something Sophie feels passionately about and is working on a global stage to try to make a difference.

"I am working with Columbia and the United Nations on a programme to create a sustainable export trade for quality cocoa," she says.

Chocolate, admits Sophie is a passion. It all began as a child, when she saw a copy of her aunt's cookbook and made her first sweet treat: chocolate fudge.

"I am obsessed by it. It connects us so much – with childhood memories; the gifts we give; and in York where it is linked with the growth of the city," says Sophie, aged 38. Originally from the Isle of Wight, she has lived in York since her early 20s. She worked in events before starting her first chocolate business, Little Pretty Things, and became involved in the annual Food & Drink Festival. She opened York Cocoa House cafe and shop in Blake Street in 2011, and followed up this Easter with the Cocoa Works on Castlegate, home to a production unit, a shop, cafe and education unit. Tours run twice daily, where you can see the process from bean to bar, and have a go at cracking open cocoa beans and trying the nibs (which are quite nutty in flavour and can be used in cooking or infused in hot water like a tea).

By happy coincidence, the Cocoa Works is a stone's throw away from Mary Tuke's confectionery shop (now The Nook cafe at the top of Castlegate). Tuke's made chocolate on the premises, but not chocolate as we know it today. "It was chocolate to take home and and make into a drink like tea or coffee – you would add water and sugar to taste," explains Sophie.

Sophie very much sees herself in a long line of chocolate makers in York, from Mary Tuke to Henry Isaac Rowntree.

"I feel a connection with all of them. I look at the spaces they were trading from and imagine how York was and the journey when they started their business and the challenges around it. They all inspire me in different ways."

She added: "Chocolate didn't come to the city, it grew from the city and that continues today. It is something we embrace in our food culture and in the city's identity today."

Sophie wants to be an innovator too. There is a lot of experimenting going on at the Cocoa Works. Teams are experimenting with different cocoa beans to see if they can produce quality chocolate that is lower in sugar and even dairy free. They would also like to turn the husks of the beans into packaging, cutting down on waste.

Day to day, it means trying lots of beans to define their flavour profile – some are sweeter and creamier than others, lending themselves to a healthier chocolate bar. This is an exciting future, says Sophie. "It is something we have to be responsible for. We are seeing lots of people who want a product with less sugar, fat content and dairy. If we can understand the nature of cocoa, we can do that."