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Some people claim to possess a bonafide addiction to chocolate.
The high proportion of cocoa solids in good quality dark chocolate promotes the release of serotonin and dopamine, hence, chocolate is often referred to as the “love drug”.
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.
Public awareness and knowledge about food has grown ever more sophisticated over the past 20 years. Food scares have fuelled a desire for information about produce sourcing and this fits fine chocolate production perfectly, with its stress on cocoa bean varieties and single-estate cocoa producers. 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 and the Middle East than in Europe or North America, the market is growing steadily too, as both the Chinese and the Arabs 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 in places such as Dubai and Riyadh.
In China, chocolates are increasingly being offered as gifts during special occasions such as the Lunar New Year.
In China, most chocolates are bought as presents or for ceremonial use, such as wedding candy, rather than for daily snacks. Chocolates are increasingly being offered as gifts during special occasions such as the Lunar New Year, for example, when visiting family or friends at home. Among young Chinese men and women, premium chocolates with elaborate fancy packaging, have also become a popular choice to give as presents during Western Valentine’s Day in February or Chinese Valentine’s Day, which usually occurs in August.
According to the Association of Chinese Chocolate Manufacturers, consumers eat only around 70g of chocolate per capita every year. This figure is dwarfed by 2kg in neighbouring Japan and South Korea. In Europe, the average consumption of chocolate is 7kg per person per year, with Switzerland leading the pack at a whopping 9kg per person per year. But in China, with its population of about 1.4 billion, the chocolate market as of 2019 is already worth around US$ 5.2 billion, up from $1 billion in 2009.
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 concentrated in Europe: 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 chocolate-related turnover of more than US$3.5 billion, which now operates Chocolate Academy Centers in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, training more than 5,000 Chinese people in the craft of chocolate-making and hosting a series of online home baking sessions in Mandarin, which have attracted over 130,000 viewers since February 2020. Germany, however, still reigns as the world’s top exporter of chocolate in 2019, shipping over $5.2 billion worldwide, with Belgium coming in second, shipping over $3 billion.
Not to be outdone, in September 2020, the Swiss opened what has been billed as the “world’s largest chocolate museum, chocolate fountain and Lindt chocolate shop” with the Lindt Home of Chocolate in Zurich, approximately 6,500 square metres of interactive exhibitions detailing the history of chocolate, chocolate making workshops, a chocolate cafe and shop and a chocolate fountain that is an impressive 9 metres tall, with 1,500kg of chocolate flowing through it.
But now there are minnows nipping at the tails of these behemoths. Across America and Europe, individual pâtissiers with absolutely nothing Belgian, Swiss or German 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, 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.
Research has revealed that dark chocolate is a superfood with anti-oxidant properties linked to reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.
Here are our picks of choice chocolatiers around the world:
Award-winning Singaporean pastry chef Janice Wong has learned from some of the world’s best chefs, including Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz, Spanish chocolatier Oriol Balaguer and pastry chef Pierre Hermé. Shop online for colourful, artisanal Lunar New Year treats including home delivery in Singapore or drop by her eponymous boutique at Orchard Road’s Paragon shopping mall, a quick taxi ride from Fraser Suites Singapore or within strolling distance from Fraser Residence Orchard, Singapore.
Haigh’s Chocolates and Koko Black
Residents and guests at Fraser Suites Sydney are spoilt for choice when it comes to assuaging their chocolate cravings as apart from our resident chef who whips up Valentine’s Day treats for guests, two of Australia’s finest chocolate purveyors have shops within a breezy stroll of the property. Haigh’s Chocolates has been making fine, artisanal chocolates since 1915 while Melbourne-based Koko Black has quickly developed a following with its enticing handcrafted chocolates. Both chocolatiers offer Lunar New Year and Valentine’s Day collections.
Zotter Chocolate Theater
Located at the Shanghai International Fashion Center in Yanpu District, an easy taxi ride away from Fraser Suites Top Glory Shanghai as well as Fraser Residence Shanghai, this unique concept, a smaller outpost of the Austrian original, combines chocolate production, a tasting tour, a chocolate shop and a Viennese-style cafe by Austrian “bean-to-bar” chocolate maker, Josef Zotter, known for his organic and fair trade principles. Tours are available.
Boutique Le Chocolat
Styled on the Parisian Salon du Chocolat, this blinged-out boutique in Dubai’s swanky Citywalk, only a short taxi ride away from Fraser Suites Dubai, brings an array of renowned international luxury chocolatiers together under one roof. There are over 28 brands featuring more than 700 chocolate flavours from around the world, whether it’s chocolate artisans from France, Belgium, Japan, Switzerland or the USA. These include hand-crafted chocolate creations from Patrice Chapon (former Buckingham Palace chocolatier); deLafèe, known for gold-flecked chocolates and purveyors of some of the world’s most expensive chocolates; the Guittard Chocolate Factory from San Francisco; and designer chocolates from Roberto Cavalli.
La Maison du Chocolat, Chocolat Chapon and Patrick Roger
One of France’s most popular chocolatiers, La Maison du Chocolat, has a speciality shop offering a wide assortment of beautifully packaged chocolates and pastries, only a convenient five-minute walk from Fraser Suites Le Claridge Champs-Elysées, Paris; its online shop also offers free delivery via messenger within Paris city limits and within France with Colissimo. Meantime, the aforementioned chocolatier Patrice Chapon, after working for the British royal family, returned to an award-winning career in his native land, producing single origin chocolate and exquisite ‘bon bons’; one of his boutiques is only 12 minutes away from Fraser Suites Harmonie, Paris La Defense.
When seeking the most extraordinary chocolates, however, most Parisians will swear by the exquisite creations of award-winning chocolate sculptor and alchemist Patrick Roger; devoted to the serious chocolate connoisseur, his ultra-chic chocolate boutiques are in a handful of locations throughout Paris with the flagship at Place de la Madeleine.