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  • Writer's pictureHaute Culture

Decoding chocolandia

Naturally, I took a few snapshots as I nibbled my way through SF's Craft Chocolate Experience over the weekend. Some quickie impressions...


To score or not to score is apparently a big question among chocolatiers. Scoring refers to the lines cut into a smooth bar of chocolate. It can serve multiple purposes, from practical -- to designate places to break the bar neatly or to help with portion control -- or for design aesthetics. Sometimes the scoring itself is visual art. Lack of scoring also makes a statement -- restraint that defies conventions, reinforces the chocolate's purity, or that invites the consumer to embrace the chaos of breakage by exerting creative control over one-of-a-kind shards.


It's always fascinating for the chocolate category to see the huge range of cues to origin and how they're becoming increasingly brave and novel.

We start with (1) the traditional and ancient, riffing on people's vague sense of cultural legends and myths. Expressions have been getting more (2) playfully approachable, conjuring up storybooks and a child's imaginings about visiting faraway countries. More emergent designs include (3) minimalist, designating a local farm cooperative or 'appellation' by name only, credibly signalling quality without relying on any iconography as consumer fallbacks. Pushing it, too, brands that (4) morph actual traditions, places, and people with the surreal. Here, the French name and exotic sweet-spicy flavors add to the intrigue and implied multidimensionality of the brand.

Personalizing connection to source

A major industry goal is a shift toward transparency all along the supply chain. Intense focus on growers and in-country manufacturers -- to provide a living wage, to improve working conditions and halt injustices, to train and create self-sufficiency, and to address increasing consumer desire to understand source -- mean more celebration of the people behind the scenes.

Some brands take pride in displaying (1) growers by name, photo, and personal profile alongside the raw product they produce or (2) glimpses of the au naturel beauty of local peoples. Other brands empower locals through both hiring practices and (3) by honoring their individual creativity through using their artwork on packaging. This implies multi-layered respect for and more intimate relationships with people at the source.

There's no taste like home

Novel ingredients that aren't exported on their own or familiar to anyone outside the growing region (because of low demand, narrow supply, and fragility during transport) are being incorporated into bars. It makes the taste experience feel rare and privileged.

Transporting people back to home origin can be textural, too, by keeping the 'inclusions' raw. Some chocolates opt for a rough ground or add nibs, forgoing the standard smooth mouthfeel. Clear windows in the pack design may strategically reveal ingredient textures. In the example below right, intentionally uneven sizes of the Jaguar cacao seeds and incorporation of the ingredient into the plant artwork on the pack visualize a fanciful segue from farm to bar.

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