Amy Guittard tastes chocolates and guesses which ones are more expensive.

Comments (12)
No. 1-12
DiscoverChoc
DiscoverChoc

Editor

@Choklat - Brad, absolutely yes. If we start a conversation on aging it will go in a story of its own. I will even set up different stories - one on aging beans, one on aging chocolate/liquor, and a separate one on aromatizing (“aging” nib in a vessel to impart specific flavors).

Choklat
Choklat

Clay, you should set up a seperate thread on it. It would be interesting to get feedback on different types of aging - for example aging nibs in an environment such as what To'ak does, vs aging the finished chocolate.

DiscoverChoc
DiscoverChoc

Editor

I would love to have a much longer conversation on aging. It's a question that comes up quite often in many different forums and the amount of actual sound research on the topic seems to be quite small – especially when compared with wine.

Choklat
Choklat

I'm sorry Clay. I have to agree with you when it comes to how people value certain items. When money is no longer an object of significance to someone, their view of discretionary purchases changes significantly.

That being said, I think there's a threshold of what's reasonable even to those with money. Take Remy Martin XO Cognac for example. It's aged between 10 and 37 years, and it's retail price is approximately 10 times what a common variety of cognac would sell for. Their Louis XIII cognac is aged for a minimum of 40 years and yes, it's 120 times the price of a regular bottle of cognac, but then again the overhead of a huge warehouse and staff for 40 years is a VERY significant undertaking! A lot can happen in 40 years. For some people it's their entire lifetime. To'ak on the other hand is asking for a valuation of more than 100 times the price of a common chocolate bar, without the overhead, and using a common variety of beans while doing so!

Sniff... sniff... Smells like Noka..... (except that To'ak makes the chocolate whooop de doo!) Say them quickly together, and they do sound similar though.... Haha!

@sebastian: I think the aging of nibs in different mediums to infuse different flavours is an interesting prospect too - VERY interesting actually. At the end of the day there still has to be value though...

Sebastian
Sebastian

So I'd conducted a study of aging chocolate over 8 years, with the intent of positing it alongside a wine from the same region, same harvest year, and presenting it as a series from year 1 - year 8, using the exact same formula and processing conditions. It's really interesting how the flavors change over time, and the packaging was incredibly important to how the flavors presented. Far be it from me to say if it's worth it or not - worth, after all, is simply an expression of what someone's willing to pay for something.

When doing this, however, one needs to factor in the storage costs and money that's tied up in inventory. If you're aging it for 8 years, that means you've got capital invested that won't have a profit realized on it for almost a decade - so the return on that investment needs to be considered. Plus it has to be stored in controlled conditions - meaning there's a cost associated with that.

For me - it's a very interesting idea - especially when paired with a wine from the same regions, and presented in a fashion that allows you to taste it as a 'flight' over time. It also, almost by definition of the carrying costs associated with it - needs to be positioned as a premium product. While I've forgotten the margin assessment associated with doing this, the margins aren't as high as one might expect given the retail costs - due to the carrying costs.

DiscoverChoc
DiscoverChoc

Editor

Brad - I agree that the cost of this chocolate is heavily influenced by things that may not be directly associated with the cost of producing the chocolate itself or the inherent quality of the chocolate or cocoa beans. I don't agree that buying this makes someone a sucker. They value different things than you is all. And of course we can agree to disagree on that!

Choklat
Choklat

Clay - with respect to the wooden box and the wooden tweezers (marketing gimmick), I can assure you that they are not expensive. I know wood as well as I know chocolate. I owned a custom furniture manufacturing company before I started down the road of Choklat. I sold it (twistedlog.ca) and started Choklat. In fact I even sold Sebastian a beautiful 300 year old fir fireplace mantle back in the day. Those boxes are very easy to make and shouldn't cost more than $10-20 each.

I say the tweezers are a marketing gimmick, because (based on my experience) I can taste the same chocolate every single day, and get different flavours. It depends on the time of day, what I've eaten, what I've had to drink, and even what my body is craving at the time. If a person's fingers are clean they're no different than the tweezers. In fact all of the tastings I've encountered encourage the taster to rub the chocolate to help warm the cocoa butter before smelling the chocolate. You can't warm chocolate with tweezers.

With respect to the story of the cacao, there's a story for EVERY cacao - a story of the grower, the hardships, his family, their deep respect for the cacao, sustainability, building a school for the local kids, blah blah blah... I'm sorry but every craft chocolate maker tells a story about their growers in order to bolster the uniqueness of their cocoa. Even some companies do this and they don't buy the beans! To'ak shouldn't be any different.

At least Maranon could provide provenence by demonstrating that their cacao (Fortunato or whatever it was) was rare, and harvested wild in Peru. At least they had some credibility. ...but a common "Nacional"? I have a hard time buying that, and I've tasted my fair share of "Nacional". Truth be told Camino Verde (Ecuador as well) beans are far more exotic, and they're easy to get!

At the end of the day though, it's bringing awareness to an industry that is plagued with cheap chocolate, and that's a good thing as far as I'm concerned.

In the meantime I'll still believe that there's a sucker born every minute, and given the number of minutes in every day, there's a good market for To'ak.

Cheers.
Brad

DiscoverChoc
DiscoverChoc

Editor

Brad - I do not dispute your economic assessment. However, inside the cardboard box is a wooden box and the bars come with wooden tweezers so you don't actually touch the chocolate - which apparently can alter the aroma/flavor.

When I say small batches in the case of To'Ak I think the entire production the first year was well under 100kg. The dollars earned needed to support a lot of people, which contributes a lot to the price.

What I would say is that value is in the mouth and wallet of the buyer and it (value) represents a balance of a complex set of attributes. For you, To'Ak is not worth the $$. For others it might be, at least once, just to try it. I personally object to spending more for the packaging than the chocolate. And keep in mind that the price is set so that a retailer can make their 100% markup. That $385 box costs the retailer $190 tops. I have no idea of production costs for either the chocolate or the box but it's fair to say the price is not an accurate reflection of the cost of producing the chocolate. There's even more to this story when it comes to trying to figure out the cost structure.

Choklat
Choklat

Awww... darn! You had to go and add the word "respectable" to your rebuttal. I actually short circuited for a minute there, and didn't know what to type.

Here's the thing: Unlike other discretionary luxury industries, such as wine or spirits, chocolate doesn't have/need the long curing periods and large investments in real estate that many spirits do, and as a result the overhead of storing and monitoring batches for (sometimes) many years at a time, is almost non existant.

On top of that, the cost of living where cacao is grown is SIGNIFICANTLY less than the overhead one would incur if chocolate were made here in North America. Overall processing costs are drastically less.

The cost justification of a bar of chocolate that costs more than $25 simply isn't there.

You indicate that in the case of To'Ak a lot of the cost is because it's produced in very small batches. So what then is the rationale for every North American craft chocolate maker (who ALSO makes their chocolate in very small batches) to keep their prices so low in comparison. According to the small batch rationale, ALL craft chocolate should be over $100 per bar.

As far as the consumer is concerned, pretty much any chocolate that is made from the bean of a single small plantation in a small batch (like the spectra machines being used) would be considered very rare, and should be priced accordingly.

Now, going back to To'ak, here's a link to their site and a $385 fifty gram (not even two ounces) bar in a boring cardboard box. It appears that they aren't using wood anymore. ...yet they haven't lowered their prices.... Hmmm.... PT Barnum would be laughing his butt off right now....

In this example, they say the cacao is aged for 4 years in a cognac barrel. We use barrels in our factory and each barrel can easily hold 250lbs of nibs. At an 80% recipe, this equates to a total of 2,837 finished fifty gram chocolate bars worth of nibs in one barrel. Multiplied by the retail asking price of a 50g bar sold from that one barrel, the total retail value of that one single small barrel would be $1,092,437. Are you freaking kidding me????

The cost of hand pouring and hand wrapping the bars for an employee making a good wage $20 per hour would be $800 for wrapping and another $800 for hand pouring and inspecting - a total of $1600, and that's IF they go slow and ensure a perfect job.

I'm sorry but there's no way in my mind to justify that.

....Maybe I should put my Porcelana in a gold box and sell it for $1,000 per 92g bar. At least my porcelana has provenence, as opposed to a common variety of cacao grown in Ecuador on some dude's plantation. Nacional cacao is nothing special. In fact, translated it simply means "National" or "common to our nation." Nope. Nothing special there. It just sounds fancy.

I respectfully stand by my opinion backed by numbers and attribute what they do to marketing BS.

DiscoverChoc
DiscoverChoc

Editor

@Choklat - I wish I knew which brand was being tasted. If it's the To'Ak I know that a lot of the cost is tied up in the presentation box and a lot of the rest is because it's produced in very small batches.

There is a lot of value in more expensive bars where the cost is attributed to the chocolate, not to the packaging.

I have to (respectfully) disagree with you that anything over $25 is ripoff. I see a lot of value to the market to be had if someone can pull something off that everyone agreed was worth $100 direct from the manufacturer, not from a retailer.

Choklat
Choklat

Pretty clear that she doesn't see the value in the $550 bar, even though it comes with free bubbles.... Anything over $25 is a rip off in my opinion, and I use some pretty rare cacao beans.

DiscoverChoc
DiscoverChoc

Editor

Other entries in this series include cheese and cured meats. There are a number of interesting observations Amy makes that you can add to your repertoire when evaluating chocolate so worth the watch. Spoiler Alert: Amy scores 100%.

If anyone knows which really expensive chocolate that makes it into the evaluation I’d be interested in knowing. To’Ak is in the mid-$300s range last I heard.