Chocolate, or Shinola?

October 21, 2009 · 5 comments

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Taza Chocolate sent me an email today announcing the availability of this year’s Special Edition Stone Ground Chiapan Chocolate. I’ve tasted last year’s edition (is “edition” really the appropriate description for a short-run foodstuff?), it’s definitely good chocolate, but the stuff costs $9.50 for a three-ounce bar. I’ll buy a bar or two this year because I want to support my neighborhood chocolate factory, but it’s hard to justify the expense when it works out to fifty dollars a pound. (It’s a fair price, given that Taza was able to obtain only 17 sacks of beans from the region.)

Doing the math to calculate the per-pound cost reminded me of a great piece of investigative food journalism having to do with NōKA Chocolate, a Dallas-based high-end boutique chocolatier that distributes through Nieman-Marcus. In December of 206, DallasFood.org published a ten-part series titled What’s Noka Worth?, in which they investigated various claims made by Noka to justify the insanely high prices they charge for their product.

The per-pound price of Noka’s chocolates ranges from $309 to $1,730. As the author explained:

Let’s compare that with the products of some commonly known chocolatiers. Godiva chocolates range from about $30 to $65 per pound. Joseph Schmidt chocolates range from around $30 to $55 per pound. Fran’s chocolates cost around $55 to $70 per pound. Michael Recchiuti’s chocolates run from $58 to $85 per pound. And La Maison du Chocolat ranges from about $65 to $85 per pound.

Noka’s pricing soars over that of most gourmet chocolatiers by a factor of five, ten, even twenty times or more.

To make some “apples to oranges” comparisons, Noka chocolates cost more than:

  • Foie gras — $50 per pound
  • Domestic sturgeon caviar — $275 per pound
  • American Wagyu and Japanese Kobe beef — $100 to $300 per pound
  • Sterling silver — $170 per pound
  • Marijuana in El Paso — $350 per pound
  • A fat stack of dollar bills — $454 per pound

Who would guess that the world’s most expensive chocolates (several times over) are made in a tiny kitchen shoehorned between a pair of hair salons in a half-abandoned strip mall in Plano, Texas?

I won’t ruin the punchline of this exceptional piece of reporting, but I will urge you to read the entire ten-piece series (plus postscript). Not only will you learn a lot about how chocolate is made and sold, but you’ll learn what the credulous will pay for packaging and marketing mystique.

As Homer Simpson one said “I smell a scam, or possibly scamola!”

5 comments

Beldon October 22, 2009 at 7:23 am

That’s like the idiots who buy Luwak Coffee– beans that are eaten by the eponymous cat-like critter and gathered from piles of its shit. $110.00 for a pound of robusta? And arabica for $180? That plus every respectable coffee taster on the globe has rated it as “average at best”.

It’s not bad enought they’re selling you shit coffee, they will even sell you the “natural coffee” (i.e. dried shit) for only $80/lb.

We’re in the wrong business, my friend.

David October 22, 2009 at 10:15 am

I always wondered about that cat-produced coffee.

The cult of overpriced food reminds me of Patton Oswalt’s “Great Food is Cooked by Psychos”:
“Every day our coffee-rubbed Kobe beef is read the book ‘Are You My Mother?’ by a Guatemalan child. And you’ll eat that steak next to a waterfall made of Holly Hunter’s tears!”

Bryan October 22, 2009 at 6:20 pm

At least the cat-poo coffee is what it says it is. The beans have actually been through the cat. The taste of coffee is altered by the process. Whether that makes it better, I can’t say, at least not from personal experience. But this is much more deliberately deceptive. Though their web site seems to have toned it down a tiny bit–they actually describe themselves now as a chocolatier, and say the bonbons are made from couverture, not from the beans. But still, the product seems to offer nothing that you wouldn’t get from just buying a bar of Bonnat and eating it.

David October 23, 2009 at 11:31 am

Exactly. And why buy Bonnat when Valrhona, Scharffenberger, Callebaut, etc. are available?

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