Some people say that alcohol is the last legal drug. Others swear by chocolate. That’s not so surprising: top-quality dark chocolate, with a high proportion of cocoa solids, promotes the release of serotonin and dopamine (the so-called ‘love drug’) as well as theobromine, which gives the kind of kick to the system associated with an espresso.
Perhaps it’s these addictive qualities that are driving consumer demand for the luxury creations made by specialist chocolatiers. Around the world, sales and profits are shooting up in the high-end chocolate segment as devotees dig ever-deeper into their pockets for their chocolate fix. Or perhaps – more realistically – it’s improved food knowledge that is behind the demand. People wanting to know more about what they are eating and where it was sourced is a worldwide trend that also applies to chocolate.
From the importance of soil conditions to cocoa taste, what consumers want are handmade, high-quality chocs, preferably ethically sourced and fairly traded. As awareness of the plight of cocoa farmers and the quality of fair trade chocolate has increased, so too has the demand for producers to promote a socially responsible approach.
While chocolate consumption is still much lower in Asia than in Europe or North America,
the market here is growing steadily too, as the Chinese, in particular, develop a taste for the dark stuff. Chocolate appreciation classes are now commonplace in major Asian cities from Singapore to Shanghai, along with a rise in specialist chocolatiers and cafés.
China’s chocolate market was worth around seven billion yuan (US$1 billion) in 2009 and is expected to have grown by 11 per cent by 2011. In April 2010, Shanghai celebrated the opening of what has been billed the world’s largest chocolate shop – 300 square metres of luxury treats from Belgian ‘designer’ brand Godiva. Beijing, meanwhile, launched World Chocolate Wonderland in February 2010, a real-life chocolate theme park that’s housed in the former Olympic stadium. Featuring 80,000 kilograms of chocolate, highlights include replicas of the Terracotta Warriors and the Great Wall.
It’s not hard to see what all the fuss is about. All-natural chocolate is rich, smooth and complex; the mass-produced variety – low in cocoa solids, bound with vegetable fat, sticky with glucose syrup – contains additives that makes it waxy, gritty and super-sweet. Until recently, the best chocolate confectioners were based in two countries: Belgium and
Switzerland. Tiny Belgium boasts more than 2,100 chocolate shops, while Zurich is home to the closest thing the real world has to Willy Wonka: Barry Callebaut, a company with an annual chocolaterelated turnover of more than US$3.5 billion.
But now there are minnows nipping at the tails of these behemoths. Across America and Europe, individual pâtissiers with absolutely nothing Belgian about them are opening shops selling their own artisan products. Small, highly respected producers such as Tcho and Amano in the US, Italy’s Amedei, Oriol Balaguer in Spain and Chantal Coady’s Rococo shop in London have shaken up the market.
And if all that wasn’t good news enough for chocoholics, new research has revealed that dark chocolate is also a superfood, with anti-oxidant properties that have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.
Scientists led by Dr Brian Buijsse, a nutritional epidemiologist at the German Institute of Human Nutrition, found that flavanols, substances in cocoa that boost the body’s supply of nitric oxide, can contribute to chocolate eaters’ lowered blood pressure. People who eat 7.5 grams a day – the equivalent of one small square – are less likely to suffer a stroke. Now that’s the kind of health advice that could be addictive.
Listed below is our special selection of chocolatiers across our favourite cities. Do check out our latest promotions & offers on http://bit.ly/12p3ieh and plan a chocolicious holiday!
Jewels Artisan Chocolate offers a range of more than 40 sumptuously handcrafted chocs, and it’s all down to the skill and passion of the island’s first artisan chocolatier, Then Chui Foong. Look out for her Perle Noir, a silky champagne ganache enrobed with crunchy dark chocolate pearls; the Coral, an adventurous fusion of cola and chilli flavours, and the Amber, which beautifully balances passionfruit and dill. Orchard Central, 181 Orchard Road, #02-31/32; tel: +65 6509 8998; http://www.jewels.com.sg
Godiva’s vast flagship Shanghai boutique is in the hip Xintiandi area. Expect to find all their usual favourites (try the truffles dessert collection) but they also have a selection of coffee, cocoa, biscuits, dipped fruits and sweets. Shop 106, Lane 123, 5 Xingye Lu, tel: +86 5382 0715; www.godiva.com
Paul A Young used to be the pastry chef at Marco Pierre White’s Criterion Brasserie and Quo Vadis. Now he helms two artisan chocolateries – in Camden Passage, Islington, and the historic Royal Exchange. Don’t miss the gold-medal-winning Sea Salted Caramels, which have a hard, glossy shell that shatters in your mouth, or the Kalamansi truffles, with a centre of tangy tropical citrus. The shop has its fair share of witty and improbable taste-combinations, too (truffles stuffed with Marmite, anyone?). 33 Camden Passage, Islington, tel: +44 207 424 5750; www.paulayoung.co.uk
Edinburgh & SYD NEY
This tiny organic chocolatier in the chi-chi Bruntsfield district is a mini-wonderland, with everything from award-winning dark chocolate with rose and black pepper to visually striking white chocolate with raspberries. Other specialities include a trio of deftly packaged chocolates named ‘Aroma’, ‘Taste’ and ‘Finish’, designed to complement Dalmore whiskies. Discover them here, at Coco Chocolate school or on one of the monthly tasting evenings. A branch has also opened in Sydney. 174 Bruntsfield Place; tel: +44 131 228 4526; www.cocochocolate.co.uk & www.cocochocolate.com.au
Parisian chocolatier La Maison du Chocolat has 17 boutiques worldwide (including London, Tokyo and Hong Kong). Products include Les Attentions, a box of two chocolate ganaches; Les Pralines, a small box of four assorted pralines infused with coconut, orange bergamot, roasted chocolate nibs and pistachio; and Les Orangettes, thin strips of candied orange dipped in dark chocolate. 8 Boulevard Madeleine; tel: +33 1 47 42 86 52; www.lamaisonduchocolat.com
Al Nassma specialises in luxury camel-milk chocolates, the first company in the world to do so. Let your tastebuds be your guide: not only are these handmade creations delicious, but camel milk is a whole lot healthier than cow’s milk, with five times more vitamin C and insulin, and less fat. Still not convinced? There are plenty of other treats worth trying here, from bars flavoured with cardamom and cumin to camel-shaped truffles. Near the Dubai Outlet Mall; tel: +971 4 223 9289; www.al-nasma.com