3 Jan 2014: The Forum is currently in read-only made while we update to a new version of the Seventy% website and forum.

The forum will be back with a faster, simplified and up to date website in the next two months.

Please consider registering
guest

Log In

Lost password?
Advanced Search:

— Forum Scope —



— Match —



— Forum Options —




Wildcard usage:
*  matches any number of characters    %  matches exactly one character

Minimum search word length is 4 characters - maximum search word length is 84 characters

The forums are currently locked and only available for read only access
Topic RSS
Review: Cocoa Emporium
November 14, 2009
11:14 pm
Alex Rast
Manchester, United Kingdom
Member
Forum Posts: 283
Member Since:
October 13, 2009
Offline

Cocoa Emporium is a new chocolatier in Lancashire (nice to see someone making an effort at fine chocolate in the North). They showed up at the Manchester Market today. To judge by their sales (at least looking at their stock at the start of the day and the end!) there is a large untapped market for fine chocolate in Manchester (which I could have suggested already). So how do they rate?

In a word, uneven. They use Valrhona couverture, certainly a fine choice, but I’m curious: they were also selling Cluizel bars, which at least recently have been far better. Why not use Cluizel for the couverture?

I tried the following chocolate confections: Jivara truffle, Marzipan, Gianduja, Cinnamon, Coffee, Mint, Ginger, and Chilli/Cinnamon.

The Jivara truffle seemed very sweet initially, but it won me over with a very nice milky/cocoa finish. You have to look beyond the sugar; it’s really a very fine chocolate. Texture is rather like Demarquette, that is to say on the firm side.

The Gianduja appears to have been hand-blended. I certainly haven’t tasted gianduja with precisely this taste or texture. It’s a noble effort. BUT, still the gianduja isn’t as good as others (i.e. Venchi – could this have to do with just having had a Venchi gianduja a few days ago?): the texture is somewhat rough, and I detected a slight hint of staleness.

The Cinnamon has some problems. It’s mild, and I suspect possibly made with cassia instead of cinnamon: there was a sharpness to it. It’s also a bit *too* firm, and this from somebody who likes firm truffles. The real problem, however, was in the finish: the decoration was clearly out of temper. This is a basic technical flaw, and if I were managing production I wouldn’t let a chocolate like this be sold under anything but “seconds”.

The coffee was an authoritative winner. It had tremendous bold intensity, yet the coffee was high quality: not some horrible bitter bean. Texture was superb, smooth and creamy. Probably the best coffee chocolate I’ve ever had (although to be sure, it should be tested side-by-side with Maison du Chocolat’s Bresilien).

The marzipan was OK, but rather sweet, and it tasted industrial. If Cocoa Emporium is making their gianduja, why can’t they do the same for the marzipan? I’ve made marzipan at home and it is neither labour-intensive nor technically demanding. Also, the chocolate didn’t really emerge as a flavour, even though it was a dark chocolate. I suspect they used Manjari, which is authoritatively the best choice for marzipan, but the shell wasn’t really thick enough.

The mint was very heavy-handed. It was a peppermint, with too much attack, so that the taste was very biting. While texturally excellent, it needed to be backed off on the mint; the effect is like a cheap confection.

The ginger, strangely, oscillated between not enough ginger flavour and too much. I can’t identify the problem here: perhaps the ganache was unevenly infused somehow? Certainly the chocolate flavour was very prominent, so perhaps it just needs more careful mixing. A bit of a mystery.

The cinnamon/chile, unfortunately, was as disappointing as I’ve found virtually all such chocolate types to be: namely, mild and unassertive. Neither cinnamon nor chile stood out. I think the problem, and it seems to be common to all chocolatiers, is timidity. They’re afraid of adding too much chile, especially, lest the heat prove overpowering. What more chocolatiers need to understand, is that chocolate by its very nature mitigates the heat of chiles. The way it works is this: the acidity of the chile counters the bitterness of the chocolate, the cocoa butter in the chocolate smooths out the heat of the chile. Adding cinnamon is supposed to impart a third dimension, enlivening the flavour. Bizarrely, the demonstration of how this is done is to be found in a “health” bar: Larabar’s Cocoa Mole. You could cut this up and coat it with chocolate, and it would be near-perfect. To Cocoa Emporium, with this one I say: don’t be afraid to be bold!

Ironically, this is Cocoa Emporium’s strength, I think: the style is, overall, very bold and powerful. When it works, it’s a smashing success. However, they need to work on the technical skills. I would practice infusing and blending until the results were consistent and balanced every time. Nonetheless, it is wonderful to see someone in the North of England really giving it a go with fine chocolate, and perhaps given their obvious success today, it might encourage others to try.

Alex Rast
Alex_Rast_Alternate@hushmail.com

Alex Rast Alex_Rast_Alternate@hushmail.com
November 15, 2009
7:02 am
Bala C
United Kingdom
Member
Forum Posts: 45
Member Since:
October 13, 2009
Offline

I would beg to disagree with you on this one. There are many many other chocolatiers in the North giving it their all to produce fine chocolates – We use a variety of fine chocolates when producing our truffles, and I know at least three other chocolatiers struggling at this time because people don’t want to pay for Valrhona or Michel Cluizel. Maybe more research is needed before making generalisations about people in the north!

[:(!]

Bala
www.thechocolatecellar.co.uk

Bala :) www.thechocolatecellar.co.uk
November 15, 2009
10:37 pm
Alex Rast
Manchester, United Kingdom
Member
Forum Posts: 283
Member Since:
October 13, 2009
Offline

quote:


Originally posted by bala

I would beg to disagree with you on this one. There are many many other chocolatiers in the North giving it their all to produce fine chocolates


I’m sorry – it seems I was misunderstood. Am I right in thinking the critical line you took exception to was:
“nice to see someone making an effort at fine chocolate in the North”
?

If so, by no means was I implying that there are *no* other fine chocolatiers in the North. That would be preposterously improbable. The emphasis here is on “nice to see”, in the sense that I’ve actually *seen* precious few fine chocolatiers in the North. Certainly either the density or public visibility is much less than in the South. If it’s mostly the latter, then I think it’s important that more manufacturers like Cocoa Emporium make efforts to improve their visibility such as going to markets. But my sense is that there is a very real difference in density of shops between the North and the South.

My sense is also that this is partly because of preconceptions – that a lot of people imagine there isn’t much market in the North. However, my personal opinion is that the actual market is a sheer matter of statistics. When you tot up the population in the North, it’s a big number. Inevitably at least a reasonable proportion of those will be interested in fine chocolate. Ergo, a decent market almost certainly exists.

You do see a lot of ventures fail because of conceptual mistakes. A common one is poor location. For instance, Manchester is very centrally-orientated. Thus a shop in the suburbs will have a difficult time of it simply because people outside their local neighbourhood will never have occasion to be in the area and even realise it exists. Different situations along the same lines happen in a lot of Northern England. Another even more common one, and this is universal no matter where you go in the world, is shops that place fine chocolate out of context and with no guidance, much less samples. Yet another is meagre selection. A shop with only a few fine chocolates of any type doesn’t offer enough options to satisfy a broad range of possible customers.

quote:


– We use a variety of fine chocolates when producing our truffles, and I know at least three other chocolatiers struggling at this time because people don’t want to pay for Valrhona or Michel Cluizel. Maybe more research is needed before making generalisations about people in the north!


Here I’m a bit confused. Are you saying, as “…chocolatiers struggling…” seems to imply, that the market in the North really is genuinely small and there are fundamental differences at a gross statistical scale between personalities in the North and South that have a negative impact on the market?

Or are you saying, as “…before making generalisations…” seems to imply, that there is a strong market in the North?

My personal feeling is that the truth is closer to the latter than the former. However, it’s also my personal feeling that such that chocolatiers struggle in the North, it’s because of lack of exposure and education about chocolate among the public. Compare the situation in the South, where an abundance of high-visibility fine chocolatiers means that anyone with even the remotest interest in fine chocolate probably has had a chance to try it, and to interact with staff at the shops who know enough to be able to give them useful further information. In the North, such shops are few and far between – such that it is difficult even for a chocolate obsessive like myself who makes a point of seeking fine chocolatiers in any town, no matter how small, he finds himself in, to find many. The more “casual” customer doesn’t stand a chance. That’s why I think Cocoa Emporium is doing a signal service: they’re getting out in the public eye in an area of high foot traffic, which is what needs to happen in order to raise the visibility of chocolate in the North. Otherwise my suspicion is that it will lag badly behind the South.

Alex Rast
Alex_Rast_Alternate@hushmail.com

Alex Rast Alex_Rast_Alternate@hushmail.com
November 16, 2009
12:51 am
Marcellus
Member
Forum Posts: 70
Member Since:
January 16, 2006
Offline

Alex, when you say the South I suspect you really mean London & the Home Counties and when you say the North your comments apply similarly to the rest of the country. I think there are two main reasons for this regional disparity in people’s attitudes to fine chocolate. Firstly, the difference in personal disposable income. Fine chocolate is expensive and it is understandably harder to sell the Valrhonas, Cluizels and Amedeis. Secondly and, in my opinion, more significantly it really is one of culture. “..the market in the North really is genuinely small and there are fundamental differences at a gross statistical scale between personalities in the North and South that have a negative impact on the market?” is I suspect the more accurate of the two interpretations. Culture, both food and non-food, has always had a more continental flavour in London and the South East for obvious reasons. To speak of educating people in the North and elsewhere about chocolate is wrong, I believe, as this amounts to patronization. They simply choose, on the whole, to eat differently and this is not something to regret.

November 18, 2009
1:00 am
Alex Rast
Manchester, United Kingdom
Member
Forum Posts: 283
Member Since:
October 13, 2009
Offline

quote:


Originally posted by Marcellus

Alex, when you say the South I suspect you really mean London & the Home Counties and when you say the North your comments apply similarly to the rest of the country.


It’s not quite as simple as that. Undeniably London and the Home Counties enjoy a particularly high density of fine chocolatiers, but my impression simply by travelling and from looking at addresses is that while the rest of the South may be proportionately lower than the area around London, there is still a marked difference between North and South. Actually, in some ways the “line of demarcation”
roughly follows the border of the Danelaw. (remarkable how some ancient patterns can find modern echoes and persist in rough form)

quote:


I think there are two main reasons for this regional disparity in people’s attitudes to fine chocolate. Firstly, the difference in personal disposable income. Fine chocolate is expensive and it is understandably harder to sell the Valrhonas, Cluizels and Amedeis.


Of course the area around London does have a higher disposable income, but offsetting that, the cost of living is a LOT higher generally, so I wonder what the net is in terms of *discretionary* disposable income. Still, I imagine there’s a grain of truth to what you say there. Notwithstanding, around the large urban centres like Manchester or Leeds there are many people who are very well off indeed, certainly enough from what I can see to support at least 1 or 2 truly top-flight chocolatiers per city. That’s not a complete explanation, though, if what I perceive as a generally greater density across the South is indeed correct.

quote:


Secondly and, in my opinion, more significantly it really is one of culture. “..the market in the North really is genuinely small and there are fundamental differences at a gross statistical scale between personalities in the North and South that have a negative impact on the market?” is I suspect the more accurate of the two interpretations. Culture, both food and non-food, has always had a more continental flavour in London and the South East for obvious reasons.


It would be misstating reality to imagine that there are no significant cultural differences between North and South. However, I’m not convinced that these differences would materially affect the demand for fine chocolate. They might affect how one positions and markets fine chocolate, but that’s a separate issue from overall demand.

Also, to say that culture has a more continental flavour presumes that the nature of fine chocolate is continental, and to a certain extent, that the appreciation of fine chocolate is something dictated more by cultural expectations than by the intrinsic qualities of the product itself. If that were the case, I think the label “fine” chocolate would be entirely meaningless, and it would suggest that there was little or no objective quality distinction between different chocolates. I’m *certainly* not convinced that whether the style or manufacturing origin of any given chocolate is Continental European has any necessary impact on its quality.

quote:


To speak of educating people in the North and elsewhere about chocolate is wrong, I believe, as this amounts to patronization.


Why would it be patronising to educate people about fine chocolate? In the UK, both knowledge of and exposure to fine chocolate were almost negligible up until perhaps ~20 years ago. The result is that not much of it was available, because no one knew what to look for, and no shops existed which could give them an idea. Education, of which SeventyPercent has played a large part, has radically changed that landscape, at least in the South. I think that’s an improvement that can hardly be called patronising.

It’s my experience, furthermore, that particularly with chocolate, exposure is the critical factor affecting peoples’ opinions and tastes. It would hardly be surprising if, for example, a person used to paying 50p – £1.00 for a chocolate bar would balk at spending £3.50 if their expectations were dictated by what they were used to having. At the consumer grade, the chocolate doesn’t tend to have marked difference in taste or quality across different manufacturers. So people who hadn’t had an opportunity to try would have no idea of
what an additional £2.50 would buy them.

quote:


They simply choose, on the whole, to eat differently and this is not something to regret.


I agree that there are differences in eating patterns but this doesn’t affect the ability to sell fine chocolate so much as it does how you market it.

So, for instance, in Manchester, I might replace elaborate cakes and pastries in the “continental” style with simpler, basic things like a plain chocolate cake, chocolate biscuits, etc. Similarly the chocolates (i.e. the small, filled confections) would emphasise classic, straightforward flavours rather than exotic and adventurous ones. (For the record, it’s also necessary to state that elaborateness of presentation or exoticism of flavour has *no* bearing on quality whatsoever, nor for that matter does it provide any evidence to make judgements about the people who prefer either style) I’d probably also give the shop something like techno-industrial feel. These are just ideas. Many concepts could work. It just illustrates the point that one may need to do things slightly differently.

Whatever the case, I think extensive sampling and lots of free advice from behind the counter by knowledgeable salespeople would be critical. I would make available samples from all chocolate bars I sold (without having to ask – bowls of sampling squares are always good for this). I might also give away a few samples with each purchase.

At the end of the day my belief is this. There are real, “objective” differences in chocolate quality that anyone with sufficient exposure can recognise. Furthermore, quality isn’t an elusive concept: it really is the case that a “better” chocolate will be more pleasant for most people who try it. So that virtually anywhere you go in the world, if there is a population that likes chocolate, they will buy good chocolate if it is available.

Alex Rast
Alex_Rast_Alternate@hushmail.com

Alex Rast Alex_Rast_Alternate@hushmail.com
November 18, 2009
11:27 am
RedStar
Grimsby, United Kingdom
Member
Forum Posts: 39
Member Since:
January 4, 2009
Offline

As a putative chocolate maker in the North of England (in the great metropolis that is Cleethorpes in fact) I do hope to find many folks who have risen above scraping dirt off mangle-wurzels to get food. I don’t expect to have to do a huge amount more education than “try this and then try this”. If I’m wrong then you shall see the introduction of chip, lager and fight-flavoured bars before too long…

RedStar

RedStar
November 18, 2009
5:58 pm
Marcellus
Member
Forum Posts: 70
Member Since:
January 16, 2006
Offline

OK, Alex, I won’t argue the point about education but I prefer the word you used yourself – exposure. But given you think disposable income is of minimal relevance and given that you don’t believe that cultural expectation plays any part what is the reason for the greater exposure leading to greater appreciation of fine chocolate which has occurred in the South? You did state that “In the UK, both knowledge of and exposure to fine chocolate were almost negligible up until perhaps ~20 years ago”. So why should the North have been less exposed to fine chocolate over those twenty years?

November 18, 2009
8:13 pm
RedStar
Grimsby, United Kingdom
Member
Forum Posts: 39
Member Since:
January 4, 2009
Offline

Maybe there is just a lag between South and North – think house price rises, the spread of coffee shops and restaurant chains etc. That would account for the North being a couple of years behind but no more.

RedStar

RedStar
November 18, 2009
8:46 pm
Marcellus
Member
Forum Posts: 70
Member Since:
January 16, 2006
Offline

Hello Redstar,
But that’s the point isn’t it? Why is there a lag? If it’s not due to disposable income differences and it’s not due to differences in culture (or cultural expectation) – forget house prices, we’re really talking about the appreciation of fine food & drink – what is the reason for the lag? There must be something else which is subjecting the people in the south to a greater exposure to and thus a more rapid appreciation of and consequently a greater propensity to spend money on these finer foods and beverages.

November 18, 2009
10:21 pm
Alex Rast
Manchester, United Kingdom
Member
Forum Posts: 283
Member Since:
October 13, 2009
Offline
10

quote:


Originally posted by RedStar

As a putative chocolate maker in the North of England (in the great metropolis that is Cleethorpes in fact) I do hope to find many folks who have risen above scraping dirt off mangle-wurzels to get food. I don’t expect to have to do a huge amount more education than “try this and then try this”. If I’m wrong then you shall see the introduction of chip, lager and fight-flavoured bars before too long…
RedStar


Try this and then this…is by far the most important step, of course, and the one which will produce the largest result for effort expended. (Yet again, sampling is critical.) However, it’s also my experience that taking an even more proactive educational role pays dividends. For example, I’ve described the manufacturing process several times to people. You would be surprised how many leave with a new-found respect for the astonishing efforts of chocolatiers doing bean-to-bar after discovering what it takes. And who, just as importantly, are suddenly prepared to pay more.

quote:


Originally posted by Marcellus

OK, Alex, I won’t argue the point about education but I prefer the word you used yourself – exposure.


Hmmm…It seems as though possibly, people are extrapolating the word “education” I used to imply something about overall level of *general* education, as opposed to education about chocolate in particular. If so I apologise for any misunderstandings. Education here simply means level of knowledge and training about fine chocolate, nothing more. Let me also be clear that I am not using this as a term of scorn. One’s level of knowledge about a specific subject area says absolutely zero about your character as a person.

quote:


But given you think disposable income is of minimal relevance


I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s of minimal relevance. It’s more accurate to say I think that it’s possible to overemphasize North/South discrepancies in this regard, by underestimating the total cost of living. Also, that there is at least a core group of people in the North with enough disposable income that it should easily be enough to support fine chocolatiers. In addition, chocolate is a relatively affordable luxury – one for the most part available to anybody not flirting with actual poverty. I think the disposable-income effect plays a part, but there are other effects that are probably more significant.

quote:


and given that you don’t believe that cultural expectation plays any part what is the reason for the greater exposure leading to greater appreciation of fine chocolate which has occurred in the South?


As you have said it here, there are 2 ways to interpret this statement.

The first way would be in the sense I intend it: Cultural expectation on the part of the *consumer* doesn’t play a part in appreciation of fine chocolate. It can’t, because if it did the word “fine” would be a purely cultural label rather than anything with intrinsic meaning.

The second way, though, would be in my opinion NOT correct, which would be to believe cultural expectation on the part of the *producer* plays no part in the distribution of fine chocolate. It plays, actually, a fairly significant role, because cultural expectation sets the producer’s predictions of anticipated level of risk when setting up a new business, and they will naturally favour areas where they think the cultural climate is more suitable, i.e. lower risk.

[/quote]
You did state that “In the UK, both knowledge of and exposure to fine chocolate were almost negligible up until perhaps ~20 years ago”. So why should the North have been less exposed to fine chocolate over those twenty years?
[/quote]

There is a complex of interlinked reasons why this has happened, none of which can really be taken in isolation. Here are the ones I think are probably the most important influences, in order of importance, from most to least.

First is something akin to an economic law of diffusion. Spread of a market takes time to penetrate a geographic region. Now, if I were the very first fine chocolatier pioneering virgin territory in the UK, I will inevitably select London to set up my first shop, for the very, very obvious reason that it has the largest market by virtue of population, no matter what the cultural or income background is. The process then diffuses out from this centre point. Initially, the level of chocolate knowledge only includes a small radius around the initial shop. Knowledge starts to spread as people from neigbouring areas come in. Eventually the market is large enough to support a second chocolatier. This one probably also bases itself in London, because the market isn’t saturated. But as the process continues, increasing local familiarity makes it possible to open a shop at some distance from London. And so it goes, expanding slowly and filling in in the centre, until eventually the entire country is covered. But that takes a LONG time. The reason for this is that as the original source point develops a clientele, the market in that area expands because people have more exposure. So, a new chocolatier has a choice between venturing into territory further afield, which is something of a risk and involves more effort, or competing in an established market where they know they can make a decent profit. Many if not most choose the latter. Since this process operates so slowly and has a lot of built-in momentum favouring the centre, 20 years may seem like a long time but it’s actually not that much, starting from zero.

Second is distribution. A new chocolatier operating in an established area probably will have access to specialty distributors who can source better chocolates overall. In an area where as yet there are few chocolatiers, distributors may be more reluctant to supply, or may restrict the product selection, or a host of other headaches.

Third is marketing. Particularly in the case of North versus South, the way chocolate shops market and present themselves needs to be different. You can’t just transplant shops that work in London or Bristol or whereever and have them work in Liverpool or Leeds. Again, this takes time. At the outset it’s probably not clear what the “formula” should be in any given city or town; experimentation and patience are necessary. A common mistake is shops that are successful (particularly in London) trying to expand in the North. The problem is that as a single brand, you have to maintain some common “style” – but the style that worked so well in the original location just doesn’t fit in the new. Fine chocolate is particularly vulnerable to this, because, in common with many high-end products, it needs a lot of personal stylistic touches, or it will look too “generic” and chainy. This means shops in a new area need to be set up by someone with a total commitment to the region that they’re in, so that they will be motivated to find what works and have the patience to hold on through what are usually a difficult first few years.

Then there are market preconceptions. Sometimes these reflect a certain reality, sometimes not. But it doesn’t really matter which is the case. Again, if you are a new chocolatier, are you going to choose to set up in a region which is perceived as currently having poor market potential, or one with provable existing markets where you can start making money right away? It takes a particularly evangelistic person to choose the former. I must say that in my opinion the preconception that the North has poor market potential is largely illusory.

Finally, there is an element of ambition. Where fine chocolate already exists, there are many people with the level of chocolate education and exposure necessary to discern the good from the great, and who are open to more adventurous chocolate experiments. This will attract any chocolatier with an ounce of competitiveness, who wants to see how they can fare going against strong existing chocolatiers. It also gives them a chance to stretch, stylistically. And it brings opportunities for greater publicity and even fame, which appeals not only to vanity but also economically: a famous chocolatier can command higher prices (and profits) than an obscure one.

This is why I think it’s important to encourage fine chocolate in the North: if the current situation is thin, then efforts that improve visibility give a chance for that all-important diffusion process to take hold and go a long way towards rectifying some of the other factors I’ve listed.

Alex Rast
Alex_Rast_Alternate@hushmail.com

Alex Rast Alex_Rast_Alternate@hushmail.com