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December 20, 2006 5:50 PM   Subscribe

One of the world's most expensive chocolates expertly debunked. (For maximum awesome, read all 10 parts)
posted by hindmost (204 comments total) 160 users marked this as a favorite

 
So it's just ordinary crap that they puff up with marketing and get more money. That's, like 90% of the economy.
posted by grytpype at 6:07 PM on December 20, 2006


I think you're overstating that, grytpype. It's only, say, 88%.
posted by wendell at 6:12 PM on December 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


I skipped to the end and found out that it is marked up 1,300% of retail and that was all I needed to know. Read all 10 parts? I'm sorry, but I'm really not that bored. It's interesting, but not ten parts worth.
posted by GavinR at 6:12 PM on December 20, 2006


You . . . you mean that there are companies out there selling products for far higher prices than those products are actually worth? And people buy these products?

Lies! All lies! This cannot be! This cannot be!


I really wish I hadn't read all ten parts. I kept thinking something was going to happen, like we were going to find out the chocolate was made of dog shit or mixed with the blood of aborted fetuses or something. How disappointing.
posted by schroedinger at 6:21 PM on December 20, 2006 [3 favorites]


Noka's truffles and molded chocolates are exactly what one might expect from a pair of accountants with limited experience and no formal training.

Interesting - great post.
posted by four panels at 6:22 PM on December 20, 2006 [2 favorites]


Oh! Do Monster Cable next! Oh wait.
posted by odinsdream at 6:25 PM on December 20, 2006


I did in fact read all ten parts, and it gets more interesting toward the end. Although it's hard to make a story interesting all the way through to the end if you're clearly on a mission from the outset, and that mission is clear from the outset. I would have appreciated some more phone calls playing the dumb customer for example, or more emphasis on the child slavery aspect and how much an individual cacao farmer in one of their countries of origin would make from a single Noka chocolate solved.

Good story though, this guy is passionate about the subject and he really know his stuff. We've all heard of this kind of crusade, but it's nice to say people are still fighting the good fight.

Oh, and one amusing typo:

We also emit soy lecithin and vanilla.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:25 PM on December 20, 2006


I think this may not be unrelated to that thing about the top 0.001% having all the money.

Which might explain this $500 coat hanger
posted by Luddite at 6:27 PM on December 20, 2006


Nothing makes me angrier couveture-melting, lecithin-free, single-origin chocolatier profiteers!
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:28 PM on December 20, 2006 [2 favorites]


I was really hoping the chocolate was revealed to be melted down Three Musketeers bars.
posted by birdherder at 6:32 PM on December 20, 2006


This is an outright lie.

/eats his $100 kobe beef steak burger.
posted by The God Complex at 6:34 PM on December 20, 2006


This is a great article and a lot of fun to read. It's more than a simple declaration that the product is overpriced, it's a detailed deconstruction of the ridiculous marketing charade played by the accountants on many, many sucker journalists. The Noka founders repeatedly claim that they make their chocolate, when in fact they do not -- they buy processed chocolate, just like every other chocolatier, and press it into expensive little squares. It's not just that the product is overpriced, but that they're lying about how it's made. It really is worth reading all ten parts.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 6:35 PM on December 20, 2006 [2 favorites]


This problem is so recent and pervasive that I have taken the trouble to coin a new phrase: "Caveat emptor". It means "hole in your pocket".
posted by Twang at 6:36 PM on December 20, 2006 [2 favorites]


The enthusiasm, passion and the "ah ha!" of the writer makes the piece far more interesting than the revelation. This is why blogs are (bad) marketers worst nightmare.

Of course, printing, marketing, PR, distribution costs aren't taken into account. But heck, the world's most expensive chocolate comes from a strip mall in Plano? Next you'll tell me that Voss is just filtered tap water.

Great post. (Then again, I'm allergic to chocolate, so I'm likely biased.)
posted by Gucky at 6:39 PM on December 20, 2006


This was a fabulous article.

Clearly well-researched, logical and ballsy. There is absolutely nothing the company could do to refute the evidence the author has produced.

Textbook investigative journalism.
posted by sayitwithpie at 6:40 PM on December 20, 2006 [2 favorites]


Great article, thanks! That was indeed a very thorough debunking...
posted by equalpants at 6:41 PM on December 20, 2006


Oh man, after reading all 10 parts, I only can only exclaim the following cliche:

PWN3D!
posted by Mach5 at 6:44 PM on December 20, 2006


Wow, that's a great article. That level of detective work is something, and the whole thing still very readable (although I did skim a bit on the part about eliminating potential chocolate sources). Best of the web for this foodie.
posted by mendel at 6:45 PM on December 20, 2006


Noka's truffles and molded chocolates are exactly what one might expect from a pair of accountants with limited experience and no formal training.

In chocolate maybe no, but surely they followed Enron school of accounting, a prestigeous one made of pure one plantation 75% greed and 25% bullshittery
posted by elpapacito at 6:45 PM on December 20, 2006


Well, I knew next to nothing about the process of making chocolate and the business of chocolatiers. So, this article was worth it just for that information alone.

The gotcha was just a bonus.
posted by oddman at 6:46 PM on December 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


That was awesome. Great article. Sure, it's common to see people get ripped off, but it's rare to see a precise, empassioned expose of ripoff artists by somebody who knows their shit.

Thanks, hindmost.
posted by koeselitz at 6:48 PM on December 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


Which might explain this $500 coat hanger set of 5 coat hangars.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:49 PM on December 20, 2006


So in a sense they're selling marketing. Their cheezy storefront looks like what you'd expect to see in Dallas...
posted by delmoi at 7:01 PM on December 20, 2006


Interesting read. I believe my local Dagoba Chocolate makes their own "from bean to bar", but now I'm curious. Must visit factory!
posted by everichon at 7:01 PM on December 20, 2006


When I began preparing a spreadsheet of single-origin chocolates months ago...

This guy is a serious chocolate nerd.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 7:02 PM on December 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


I have trouble getting too worked up about this. The debunker has missed the point of this product. A luxury good's primary utility is conspicuous consumption. Consider perfume. Or diamonds. Or Kobe beef. Or Blue Mountain coffee. The point of such an item is to be seen as so rich that one can blow thousands of dollars on a few squares of a consumable, perishable bit of nothing. The true value of the product is it's perception, based on managed scarcity and market position. Ingredients and workmanship are less than seconday concerns.

If you really want value in chocolate, you make your own truffles (which is shockingly easy), using any one of the couvertures mentioned in the article, but that's hardly the point of buying Noka.
posted by bonehead at 7:04 PM on December 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


That was a superb article and this is a great post. A tip of the hat to you, hindmost.
posted by killdevil at 7:04 PM on December 20, 2006


"Moreover, judging a chocolate based on its percentage of cacao solids makes as much sense as judging a wine based on its alcohol content."

Oh, buuuuuurrn.

Great post, hindmost. Thanks.
posted by interrobang at 7:05 PM on December 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


That was very interesting, nice post.
posted by advil at 7:06 PM on December 20, 2006


Great post, very enjoyable reading.
posted by davidnin at 7:11 PM on December 20, 2006


great post.
posted by Dr. Boom at 7:12 PM on December 20, 2006


You . . . you mean that there are universities out there selling degrees for far higher prices than those degrees are actually worth? And people buy these degrees... because the price is higher?
posted by phaedon at 7:12 PM on December 20, 2006


I skipped ahead, did they explain why feeding a dog chocolate is bad for it?

I might print the article out and then stop by one of the local chocolatiers and demand 90% off their retail pricing.
posted by fenriq at 7:15 PM on December 20, 2006


We also emit soy lecithin and vanilla.

goodnewsforhteinsane, I noticed that, too. My first thought was "Wow, I'd pay more to see them do that than I would to eat their stupid chocolate". I don't really care at all about the World's Most Expensive Chocolate (the World's Best Marzipan, on the other hand.....), but I read all ten parts and found the whole thing to be quite interesting; nice post.
posted by bunglin jones at 7:16 PM on December 20, 2006


I thought that was a terrific piece; read all 10 parts. Thanks for sharing it.

I'm betting NoKa ain't long for this world after that one.
posted by dobbs at 7:17 PM on December 20, 2006


I loved this article. Thank you very much.
posted by interrobang at 7:20 PM on December 20, 2006


upon further thought, the timing of this is beautiful. how many ostentatious gift givers are going to get burned or silently laughed at for giving Noka choc. for the holidays, as this news spreads (which it certainly seems to be doing.) One wonders if Noka will survive this. under smart management I bet they could. I suspect they won't, I don't think they've got the legs for it, based on their apparently failure to anticipate the seemingly inevitable question of who their suppliers are.
posted by Dr. Boom at 7:20 PM on December 20, 2006


This was a fabulous article. Well written, well researched, well explained. It may not be world shattering news, but it is an example of good journalism.

In my industry, I face something similar, with people who make "melt and pour" detergent bars claiming to be "soapmakers". It's frustrating.
posted by dejah420 at 7:21 PM on December 20, 2006 [2 favorites]


I don't even like chocolate, and I read all 10 parts (after saying, "a 10 part article on an overpriced chocolate!" in my head). Great post. The author doesn't wave his hand and say "it's overpriced." He pretty much proves that Nako is run by a couple of hucksters.

I'm interested in the reactions in this post, too. Some of the folks in this thread are saying "duh" to the idea that this was overpriced chocolate.

But the author has shown something more, I think. He's shown that Nako is really engaged in fraud. They engage pretty heavily in false advertising, at the very least (not a lawyer, don't know the legal definition of fraud; but what they do is highly unethical).

If this kind of thing is just "business as usual," it means fraud is just business as usual. I really don't think we should just shrug at that.

I'd really like to know how many luxury products are snake oil like this. It is not nearly as simple as "all of them" (as many of you will be quick to say), but neither is it anywhere near as simple as "you get what you pay for."

Makes you see why some folks can turn to communism so damn easily, what with capitalism generally looking like an elaborate, societally sanctioned fraud so often.
posted by teece at 7:24 PM on December 20, 2006 [4 favorites]


Fascinating article, but if only I'd stopped before I got to the taste test descriptions....
posted by jacalata at 7:27 PM on December 20, 2006


Heh, from part 8
When I began preparing a spreadsheet of single-origin chocolates months ago, I never would have guessed that the process of elimination would be so effective in determining Noka's chocolate supplier. At best, I hoped it would narrow the field somewhat, with the remaining candidates for each origin blind taste-tested against Noka's chocolate to nail down the sources. When I was unable to find any maker other than Bonnat whose chocolate fit the bill for any of the four origins, that rendered taste-testing superfluous.

But I did it anyway. Tasting would be the only way to confirm the results of the more analytic process described in Part 7. Also, though I had every reason to believe Noka was using Bonnat for its Venezuelan single-origin, tasting would be the only way of telling which of Bonnat's three Venezuelan chocolates Noka was using. Though this would require chiseling my way through pounds of premium single-origin chocolate from the world's best makers, it was a sacrifice I was prepared to make.
posted by delmoi at 7:31 PM on December 20, 2006 [2 favorites]


I wasn't able to get myself through all ten parts without skimming, but it seems to me that the journalist failed to conclusively prove the source of the chocolate, rather they found that one of their speculations jibed with the taste test. And even if they're right, who cares? What exactly is the fraud being perpetuated?
posted by mzurer at 7:32 PM on December 20, 2006


I wasn't able to get myself through all ten parts without skimming, but it seems to me that the journalist failed to conclusively prove the source of the chocolate, rather they found that one of their speculations jibed with the taste test. And even if they're right, who cares? What exactly is the fraud being perpetuated?

RTFA.

Great post.
posted by Alex404 at 7:40 PM on December 20, 2006 [6 favorites]


Brilliant take down. So the accountants thought they would make their fortune by creating a Veblen good, then?

Also, this post had the pleasant side-effect of making me hungry for chocolate.
posted by chinston at 7:43 PM on December 20, 2006


So you're saying my impression is incorrect, Alex404? Newflash: People pay more money than they should because of marketing.
posted by mzurer at 7:43 PM on December 20, 2006


the chocolate was made of dog shit or mixed with the blood of aborted fetuses or something

That would have made the chocolate worth every penny.

Great article, and bonehead nails it. If you buy this stuff, it's not because you're after this chocolate's taste or quality.
posted by Extopalopaketle at 7:46 PM on December 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


My employer sent me a basket of Godiva chocolates for my Christmas present.
posted by mike3k at 7:47 PM on December 20, 2006


It would be really interesting to find out if the Noka people made a statement about the article. I really enjoyed reading this - thanks!
posted by Addlepated at 7:50 PM on December 20, 2006


I wasn't able to get myself through all ten parts without skimming, but it seems to me that the journalist failed to conclusively prove the source of the chocolate, rather they found that one of their speculations jibed with the taste test.

Um, no. He used the process of elimination to prove that only one brand of couverture could have been used to produce the chocolates, because only one brand comes from all the countries specified and contains all of the specified ingredients. Then he did the taste-test to make certain.

But then, you didn't read the article, so how should you know?
posted by vorfeed at 7:50 PM on December 20, 2006 [6 favorites]


I don't think it's fraud. Good marketing, a bad value for money, and probably not sustainable, but fraud? Is there a law now stating that prfit has limits? That it must be a certain percentage of tha manufacturing cost?

The author of the piece is annoyed because Noka refuses to disclose their supplier. Is Coke required to disclose their recipe? Does Chanel tell us what's in No. 5? It's against industry practice, sure, but that's not unethical. I'm sure if you did a cost breakdown on most perfumes, for example, you would find 100% or even 1000% margins over manufacturing are the norm.

Noka has applied this model to chocolates. So what? The cost of making a truffle isn't hard to figure out, even using the best chocolate in the world, as the article points out. Why is this such a huge surprise?
posted by bonehead at 7:55 PM on December 20, 2006


I am SO FREAKIN HUNGRY for a $4 piece of chocolate the size of a nickel!
posted by The Deej at 7:59 PM on December 20, 2006


Maybe Noka is lying about the countries of origin...

Maybe they buy from that company, but get a special batch made just for them, and its indistinguishable from the regular stuff.

If someone from Noka or the supplier confirmed their relationship because the journalist brought enough pressure, that would be one thing. If the journalist had dug up import paperwork or a customs declaration or any actual proof it would be different. Instead you have a journalist who is clearly sick of hearing about how great Noka chocolate is, and wants to prove that it's overpriced.

Here's the thing: If you give me an example of any brand of food which is the most expensive product in its category, I can conclude that it is overpriced. I don't even need to taste it. I guarantee I can find you a cheaper product of equivalent or superior quality.

He's probably right about the source, and exactly what the markup is. But again, who cares? What is the fraud?

Why is everyone so upset about the cups?
posted by mzurer at 8:03 PM on December 20, 2006


You . . . you mean that there are companies out there selling products for far higher prices than those products are actually worth? And people buy these products?

Lies! All lies! This cannot be! This cannot be!


oh come on. This is a 1300% mark-up, with deliberate misleading on the part of the business. Every other chocolatier the author asked was immediately and unquestioningly open about the source of their chocolate. In this case, practically the exact same product is available for fractions of pennies to the dollar if you forgo the name and the pretty box and buy the source chocolate yourself. Other chocolatiers use the base chocolate to design their own creations, and do not mark up so outrageously. NoKa keep it "pure" and then charge insane prices for that.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the sleuthing and the details about how chocolate is made. And I love that this info will spread so quickly in the modern age that these guys are going down, when in times past a fraud like this could've been perpetrated for longer (tho' perhaps they'd have taken longer to get big too). They apparently launched in late '04, got reviews like this, by people who didn't know better, but are now exposed. go internets.
posted by mdn at 8:06 PM on December 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


It's very hard to get worked up about over priced chocolate being bought by people with more money than taste. Particularly when it comes in such nice boxes.
posted by econous at 8:09 PM on December 20, 2006


everichon: Dagoba may indeed make their chocolate from start to finish now, but considering that they were bought by Hershey we'll see how long that lasts.

Interesting article. I'm happy that my favorite expensive and less expensive chocolates are dirt cheap in comparison.
posted by booksherpa at 8:09 PM on December 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


Well, this stuff is just remolded Bonnat and definitely doesn't deserve its price. It's only the World's Most Expensive Chocolate because it's sold as such. But with some other "luxury" goods, like Kobe beef, quality cashmere, etc., the crazy price you pay is because they actually have come through crazy production processes like sake mash feeds and living only on Central Asian steppes. It's probably easier for the luxe goods market to limit production amounts (e.g. diamonds) when prices are that high (and demand correspondingly that exclusive), but some of them really do cost that much to produce.

So now I think I'd like to see the cost of, say, hand-raising a Wagyu cow with beer massages and all that, vs. how much the Kobe steak costs at [whatever bigname NYC restaurant is serving it], or the cost of buying, cutting, and stitching material to make a copy of a Gucci handbag, or...
posted by casarkos at 8:12 PM on December 20, 2006


Does Chanel tell us what's in No. 5? It's against industry practice, sure, but that's not unethical. I'm sure if you did a cost breakdown on most perfumes, for example, you would find 100% or even 1000% margins over manufacturing are the norm.

Thats not a good analogy. Although I can buy knock-off bottle of Chanel, they are not the same ingredients. If I want Chanel, the real stuff, I have to get it from Chanel.

If I want real diamonds, to counteract the other analogy, I have to get them from a diamond supplier. I could get synthetics and all that but thats a different thing.

If I want Noka chocolate I dont have to get it from Noka. After all, they are just a chocolatier not a chocolate maker - as he goes to great pains to point out. Yet, in their "marketing" they further the deception that they are a chocolate maker. If I crave Noka, I can get it for much much much cheaper from their supplier and - unlike diamonds, unlike Chanel - get the same thing.

Thus, they have no backing to their price increase except this ongoing deception about being chocolate makers. The author points out their outright lies throughout the piece. They are frauds.

If you still dont agree, then I have some real estate brokers who would like to sell you some fine property. There is a point at which marketing and capitalism becomes willful deception and fraud. And thats what the author of this article set out to do - and did.
posted by vacapinta at 8:13 PM on December 20, 2006 [2 favorites]


If this kind of thing is just "business as usual," it means fraud is just business as usual. I really don't think we should just shrug at that.

Oh, come now. In the supplied quotes, it's clear that the owners of Noka were (mostly) carefully avoiding outright fabrication in favor of technically accurate but misleading suggestion and puffery. That's not fraud; it's marketing, and it's no different from the positioning of Absolut — a liquor which had been produced and sold for years by the Swedish government monopoly, largely to the working class, as a cheap, generic product — as a "premium" brand for the export market in the 1960s.

Even if this were fraud, we're talking about $40 for four anemic pieces of chocolate. Anyone who pays that kind of money and thinks the profit margin is anything other than stratospheric is crying out, "Invisible Hand, take me now!"

/me goes back to enjoying his $11.99 bottle of the best American whiskey and contemplating a new career parting fools and their money.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 8:16 PM on December 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


Oh, and I'm making truffles for holidays this year. Probably Valrhona chocolate. Someone help me source pretty boxes.
posted by casarkos at 8:16 PM on December 20, 2006


Excellent post - thanks!
posted by parki at 8:18 PM on December 20, 2006


Worth it to me for learning a new vocabulary word: couverture. What a gorgeous word.
posted by Scoo at 8:18 PM on December 20, 2006


(Not that this isn't a great post, because it is. An evisceration of this caliber is a thing to behold. As sayitwithpie said [without pie], I'd be thrilled if the local muckrakers showed half the methodical obsession on display here.)
posted by IshmaelGraves at 8:23 PM on December 20, 2006


Thats not a good analogy. Although I can buy knock-off bottle of Chanel, they are not the same ingredients. If I want Chanel, the real stuff, I have to get it from Chanel.

I disagree. With dual- and triple-stage mass spectral chromatographs, the labs in NJ are capable of an astonishing amount of duplication now.

I agree that if you want Chanel you have to but it from Chanel, but that's not so true of whatever liquid is in the bottle.

Another example: it's possible now to buy ultra-pure saphires at prices far cheaper than "natural" stones and in sizes up to that of your fist. Why do volcanic stones continue to command high prices over synthetics? They're chemically identical, right down to the atoms.

Luxury goods are worth what people think they're worth. They only run into fraud when a necessity for life, like a new cancer drug, is sold this way.
posted by bonehead at 8:31 PM on December 20, 2006


I skipped ahead, did they explain why feeding a dog chocolate is bad for it?

Theobromine is toxic to dogs, apparently because they can't process it as quickly as humans do due to enzyme differences.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:38 PM on December 20, 2006


Kneejerkers, mind your math. 400% markup may be a badge of superior marketing prowess in a capitalist society. 7000+% markup is just flat out fraud in any marketplace. From the article:
Think about that for a second. If you bought a gallon of milk with that markup, it would cost you more than forty bucks. If you bought a Honda Civic with that markup, it would cost you more than $200,000 (or over $300,000 if you opted for the Hybrid).
posted by krebby at 8:39 PM on December 20, 2006


This is a great post; I read all ten parts. I love the comparisons at the end. I'm deeply tempted to buy the Bonnat bar just to find out what people have been spending a gazillion dollars on at Noka.
posted by headspace at 8:40 PM on December 20, 2006


This is in my favorites pile with the article about the DeBeers diamond cartel.
posted by ao4047 at 8:41 PM on December 20, 2006


Speaking of the local muckrakers, it'd be fun if somebody in Dallas called the local TV station and clued them in to this article. I want to see them interview the blogger, and then bring him over to the Noka factory to make these "chocolatier" ripoffs cry on-camera.

As for Chanel and Coke, both of those are blends of ingredients, and therefore the manufacturers have good reason not to give away their recipe. If Chanel were just Brut in another bottle, or Coke were Tab in a different can, and they were both sold at 1300% markup over the retail price, then there might be a comparison with Noka.
posted by vorfeed at 8:42 PM on December 20, 2006 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: Fuck you and your chocolates.
posted by phaedon at 8:43 PM on December 20, 2006


krebby, what's the level of allowable profit? I ask in all seriousness. I don't disagree that the chocolate being sold is a horribly bad deal, but fraud?

If I price my clapped-out old car at $100k as a joke, say, but then some fool comes along with money in hand, am I defrauding them if I sell it as is?
posted by bonehead at 8:46 PM on December 20, 2006


I'm deeply tempted to buy the Bonnat bar just to find out what people have been spending a gazillion dollars on at Noka.

You're not the only one. The Bonnat bar he raves about is "Not in STOCK" at chocosphere right now...
posted by vacapinta at 8:51 PM on December 20, 2006


From Food & Wine:

"Former accountant Katrina Merrem makes chocolate with cacao beans from such countries as Ecuador and the Ivory Coast, packs it in sleek, stainless steel boxes and delivers it to customers by Hummer."
posted by phaedon at 9:00 PM on December 20, 2006


By Hummer? Ha!

What a great article.
posted by SoftRain at 9:02 PM on December 20, 2006


I just have to completely disagree with you folks that claim this is not fraud, or that this is "just marketing."

The company lies. Period.

If your wife or mother or son or friend treated you like this, you would call them liars. I could be very careful to word my sentences such that my wife thought I was going to work with that hot woman downtown, when in reality I was boinking her downtown. I would still be lying.

The company makes damn sure you believe that they go to great pains to make their own, one-of-a-kind chocolate. The reality is they (poorly) re-brand a chocolate that somebody else makes, and mark it up to a degree that would make a loan shark blush.

That a similar pattern of business is commonplace in no way changes the fact that that behavior is unethical, bordering on the fraudulent.

Are we really at the place where carefully, purposely, and repeatedly making sure your customers (and journalist) believe something that is not true is "just marketing,", and not a lie? And that profiting from that lie is hunky dorey?

Bah humbug on that. I don't agree with that unless you mean that "just marketing" is dishonest, flim-flam peddling.

It saddens me not only that this is business as usual, but that so many don't seem to care. It doesn't have to be this way. Buyer and seller could treat each other with honesty and respect.

(Which is not to say that NoKa is somehow important in any way; rather, it's the nonchalance. If Joe Blow steals my wallet, he's a crook. It's not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but we all say "Joe is a dick head, and should be sanctioned in some way. When businesses do this kind of thing, it's too damn common for folks to just shrug, and say "caveat emptor." I don't like that at all. Their behavior ain't all that much different from the common thief's [and their behavior is indistinguishable from that of the common grifter]).
posted by teece at 9:02 PM on December 20, 2006 [13 favorites]


The day I spend that much for a box of chocolates, I better get a hummer from whoever delivers it, too.

Excellent post.
posted by yhbc at 9:03 PM on December 20, 2006 [3 favorites]


Coke were ... sold at 1300% markup

Just as a point of interest, you do realise that the can it comes in cost Coke way more than the contents of a soda, right? And that cans cost between 3-4 cents each?
posted by bonehead at 9:04 PM on December 20, 2006


You are defrauding them if in selling your junker for $100k, you imply that you are a car manufacturer. Then when caught in that lie you explicitly state that you had the car built to your specifications and that it was built uniquely for you. And on top of that clam you argue that your car is the best car in the world from an objective standpoint because it's red and has a turbo-charged exhaust pipes. And then you pass yourself off as an authority who should be believed when he argues that turbo-charged exhaust pipes are what make great cars truly great.

Now, replace "car manufacturer" with "chocolate maker"; "car" with "chocolate"; "red" with "no lecithins"; and "turbo-charged exhaust pipes" with "no vanilla."

The systematic, willful misrepresentation of the product is what makes it fraud.
posted by oddman at 9:10 PM on December 20, 2006 [5 favorites]


bonehead: practices vary across each industry. The whole point of the author calling up like 20 or 30 other chocolatiers and showing how easily they divulged their suppliers was to show that, for this industry, this company is behaving deceptively.
posted by vacapinta at 9:12 PM on December 20, 2006 [2 favorites]


Id like to point out that most of Noka's "press" on its website is coming out of Los Angeles. This town is so chock full of fucking "new money" morons that are ready to jump on the next bandwagon, that one could easily forget that Noka's main competition is not "the finest chocolates of the world"; its fucking Nestle and M&M's.
The price tag is what makes the chocolate valuable; not the other way around. Nobody gives a shit where the chocolate came from, just like nobody gives a shit where you come from. Dig my Benz? It's all image baby.
posted by phaedon at 9:19 PM on December 20, 2006


I don't think it's fraud. Good marketing, a bad value for money, and probably not sustainable, but fraud?

Its not that the 1300% is fraud, its that they are presenting themselves as chocolate-makers, when in fact they are chocolatiers. An excerpt from the phone conversation the author had with the owner:

DF: So you guys make the chocolate?

KM: Uh-huh. We have a commercial kitchen here where we make the chocolates here.

DF: No, I mean, you actually make the chocolate, or are you using someone else's chocolate?

KM: Well, we don't do the whole "bean to bar." We actually get it in a semi-processed state based on our specifications, but we do actually make the chocolates here.
This was similar to a radio interview she had done earlier. The "semi-processed" state she was referring to is actually couverture, which is not semi-processed.

Read the article and you'll see references to other instances where they are deliberately giving the impression that they actually make the chocolate. Their whole business model relies on making sure their customers are confused on this point, since all their doing is re-tempering the chocolate and making into smaller bars.

Thanks for the post hindmost. We just went through over 30 pounds of chocolate (Callebaut and Scharffenberger) in our annual candy-making party, so this is a topic near and dear to me!
posted by mach at 9:27 PM on December 20, 2006 [2 favorites]


veblenesque presumption crosses the line into fraud when you lie about your product.
my two favorite cocoas: valrhona (lovely bass notes) and pernigotti (more subtle, also 1% vanilla) both available at williams-sonoma for just over ten bucks a package.
i'm about to release a line of $300 toothpaste tubes with little flecks of gold foil in them. get your grillz while you brush!
posted by bruce at 9:41 PM on December 20, 2006


Wow, this author really hates this overpriced chocolate company.

After reading the article and the various comments above, I have no idea why. If Company A wants to sell chocolate for $10,000 and people want to buy chocolate for $10,000, I don't really object.

If chocolate were somehow exacerbating conflicts in Africa, yeah, I can see the objection then.
posted by justkevin at 9:43 PM on December 20, 2006


Excellent post. Just great. It had it all: lyin', cheatin', suspense, the underdog scrappy journalist, the evasive slimy profiteer exploiting child slave labor...and chocolate!

There's no question in the world that good-quality chocolate is a taste experience far beyond cheap chocolate. What this reminds us, though, is that price alone is never a reliable indicator of quality.

See also: Kona coffee....
posted by Miko at 9:43 PM on December 20, 2006


bonehead writes "Or Kobe beef. Or Blue Mountain coffee. The point of such an item is to be seen as so rich that one can blow thousands of dollars on a few squares of a consumable, perishable bit of nothing."

You have clearly never drunk Blue Mountain or eaten Kobe. I would happily lose a finger to eat Kobe free whenever I wanted to. Kobe is to North American beef--even free-range, organic, grain-fed--as Valrhona or Cluizel chocolate are to dollar-store Easter bunnies. Don't even get me started on Blue Mountain or Kona. They make the best coffee you can get at the local organic hip coffee joint taste like dirty bean water.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:50 PM on December 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


EDWARD EPSTEIN, Author, "The Rise and Fall of Diamonds": Well, what I learned was that the diamond business wasn't a business of extracting, as I originally expected, something of enormous value and then simply seeing how much of this object you could get out of the ground and selling it. That was what the business appeared to be when I started my venture. But their real business was restricting what came out of the ground, restricting what was discovered, restricting what got cut, restricting what actually found its way into the retail market and, at the same time, through movies, through advertising, through Hollywood, through the manipulation of perceptions, creating the idea that there was this enormous demand for these shiny little objects that they seemed to have in abundant supply. So I wound up on this voyage of discovery starting off with the idea that there was this object of great value, and it was just a question of how many could you get out, and I wound up discovering it was just the opposite.
posted by phaedon at 10:06 PM on December 20, 2006


No -- Kona's really not the most highly thought of by coffee experts. It's good, but not one of the world's greats. People are misled by its higher cost.

But the reason the cost is higher is not its special qualities - they are not considered remarkable, and the world's many truly great coffees are head and shoulders above it - but the fact that of the world's coffee-producing regions, Kona is the only one located within the United States, and thus subject to the labor and trade regulations of the USDA and to the US economy's wage structure. Compared to the mostly third world economies where the rest of the world's coffee comes from, the cost of production is far higher, so the cost of the coffee is higher. And in fact, the variety of coffee cherry cultivated in Hawaii and sold as 'Kona' is actually an imported varietal from Guatemela.

Again, I agree that good quality is worth a high price. But the highest price, interestingly, seems almost never to correlate with the greatest quality.
posted by Miko at 10:11 PM on December 20, 2006 [4 favorites]


I have had Blue Mountain, Kona and Kobe. That's about it. I have, can't say I was that thrilled. Didn't see that any of it was better than the stuff I used to get at a truck stop I used to frequent in Tennessee. Now that was good coffee and steak, but really their iced tea and the onion rings were what I kept going back for!
posted by Pollomacho at 10:11 PM on December 20, 2006


Wow, what a smart, funny, sprawling, pointed piece of consumer reporting. What more could you ask: geography, history, undercover snooping, child slave labor, pointed YouTube digs, and a wonderful side effect of really nailing hilariously credulous journalists at places like Forbes and Food & Wine, all done with a light touch that only makes it sting harder. Truly great stuff. Thanks, hindmost.
posted by mediareport at 10:24 PM on December 20, 2006 [2 favorites]


Terrific article. I'm glad I read all 10 parts. He patiently builds a great case.

I doubt that this is fraud. They're not exactly forthcoming on what they do, but you're allowed some puffery in promoting your product to consumers.

A whole other set of rules apply if this is a public company. Fraud in an investor protection context is much more exacting. Those misdirections about what the company does and what it buys might be material facts, given that they greatly affect the company's business prospects.

That company is entitled to try to sell things at a wholly unreasonable price, and they deserve the meticulous eviceration from this article.
posted by ibmcginty at 10:37 PM on December 20, 2006


teece write: I'd really like to know how many luxury products are snake oil like this.
Here's a couple
posted by growabrain at 10:52 PM on December 20, 2006


ibmcginty nailed it. Not fraud, but what effrontery.

See also: The charm and power of a story. There are honest ways to make your product special and worth more to consumers, and there are ... other ways. Tito's vs. Noka is a big contrast.
posted by dhartung at 10:54 PM on December 20, 2006


Good lord. Have y'all seen his 11-part chicken-fried steak countdown? It goes from worst to best over the course of five months, with similarly effective, slightly obsessive reporting (be sure to scroll down to the last video for a tragic twist).

The man's insane. In the good way.
posted by mediareport at 10:57 PM on December 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


How perfectly splendid. By Part 3 I was shivering in anticipation of a good skewering; by Part 5 I was hoping to see a cold, ruthless dissection, no stone left unturned in the effort to meld pure malice with Pulitzer-quality investigative reporting.

By part 10 I knew I was in the presence of greatness. I would rank this piece side by side with Mark Twain's Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses as one of the greatest, most devastating smear jobs of all time.

Very much looking forward to reading more on his site. Thanks for bringing him to our attention, hindmost.

I wish we could get reporting of this caliber about politics and finance, too.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:02 PM on December 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


Wow. I should've gone to bed an hour ago but I was fascinated by this piece. I really had no knowledge of chocolate making at all before this. It definitely takes a passion for the subject to eviscerate them so methodically and so patiently.

Cadbury is pretty much the finest chocolate I eat. A refined palate I do not have.
posted by loiseau at 11:10 PM on December 20, 2006


mediareport, you are so right, which is why I have added this guy's blog to my daily roundup. I enjoy the crazy.

Great article, I enjoyed every one of the 10 parts.
posted by smashingstars at 11:17 PM on December 20, 2006


Maximum awesome achieved, thank-you.

The only thing missing was a Carl Monday moment at the end where the author barges into the NoKa office and sticks a microphone in somebody's face.
posted by bicyclefish at 12:04 AM on December 21, 2006


seriously, great post, and what a great reporter dude is. thanks for the followup linx, mediareport. now i have something to talk to li'l flip about the next time he plays my venue.
posted by Hat Maui at 12:19 AM on December 21, 2006


Thanks for this awesome post, hindmost. I just added a bunch of chocolatiering words to my Wordie list.
posted by premiumpolar at 12:34 AM on December 21, 2006


Also, am I the only person here who salivates when reading the word 'presscake'?
posted by premiumpolar at 12:35 AM on December 21, 2006


Fantabulous post.

And this is most certainly fraud. They persistently claim to be chocolate makers when, in fact, they aren't. They use this lie in their marketing. They consistently repeat it to whomever will listen. That's fraud.

It's like they're claiming to be the genius artists when they're just a couple of loser tracers.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:38 AM on December 21, 2006


Don't even get me started on Blue Mountain or Kona.

Blue Mountain is mostly marketing fluff. 80% of the product is exported to the far east - particularly Japan (not the land of coffee connoiseurs...), where it is marketed along the same lines as Johnny Walker and other cachet Western brands.

Its brand power comes from being one of the earliest high quality coffee marks in existence - Jamaica was aggressively regulating and controlling the production and growth of its coffee a pretty long time before anyone else. Thankfully the rest of the world has caught up now, and while Blue Mountain is decent coffee (assuming you don't buy a crappy pre roast and ground blend), there is absolutely no reasonable grounds whatsoever for the massive price premium it commands over other great regional coffees, particularly from Africa and the Middle East.

Can't speak for Kona - I've never tried it personally - but my understanding is that it is in a similar situation. Very good coffee, but undeserving of its price premium.
posted by bifter at 1:50 AM on December 21, 2006


Great post, but for most of the people yelling "fraud!" I think it would be nearly impossible to prove.

In a certain respect they do get a "semi-processed" form of chocolate. It all depends on the definition of "processed." They are not simply taking the Bonnat wrappers off and putting their own on, they are melting them down and reforming them to make their product. Say they add a sprinkle of sugar to the chocolate after it's melted down. It's no longer the exact same product that they purchased from Bonnat. Sure it's like a car dealer buying a Chevy, putting in a custom cigarette lighter, and calling himself a car maker. But whenever confronted with a direct question as to whether they make the product "from bean to bar" they always, half-heartedly, correct the questioner.

These people sure are frauds in the non-legal sense though and if I were a competitor I'd send this link to everyone.

As for comparisons to man-made gemstones and coca-cola...I think the argument lies, for the gemstones, that you're trying to pass off a 'Barnes & Noble Classic' copy of Moby Dick for an original printing. Sure the texts are grammatically identical, but the source is different. It may sound stupid, but to collectors there is a marked difference.

Then for the "you do realize the can costs xx% more than the liquid" argument I have to respond with an "Are you serious?" Fine, Coca-Cola goes to the supermarket and buys 3-liter bottles of generic cola for 99c, funnels them into cans, gets the 5c refund on the plastic bottle (10c if they house their "bottling plant" in Michigan), and then sells that same soda for $15-20. I'm sure they can take the hit of ~20c on the new cans with that kind of markup.
posted by crashlanding at 1:51 AM on December 21, 2006


If this kind of thing is just "business as usual," it means fraud is just business as usual. I really don't think we should just shrug at that.

While I wouldn't condone any of these marketing practices if applied to life saving products/services, or misrepresenting the properties of a good in a way that could endanger somebody someway (it's a war for the iraquis, not for oil, die soldier) it seems to me that these hucksters are just selling fools gold to gullible people with too much money in their pockets.

Just give a glance at the prices, aren't they outrageous relatively, when compared with other similar products, and in absolute value ?

The target audience seems important as well : it doesn't seem to me that financially poor people are the target of this scheme. Additionally the qualities of the product weren't misrepresented, as the chocolate quality seems to meet their advertisement.

They are just incredibily overpricing it, meeting a market of relatively very rich people with way too much money. Supply-siders scammed :-)
posted by elpapacito at 2:42 AM on December 21, 2006


Ops forgot
They persistently claim to be chocolate makers when, in fact, they aren't. They use this lie in their marketing.

What is art, civil ? To me a researcher looking into the sterotyped microscope and discovering a step for the cure of cancer is art on the level of Michelangelo. Even hotter if she then strips the lab coat away, unlatches a mass of red long hair and makes hot sex with me ! That's art+goodness.

To some their con-artistry is a kind of art, while I think they are indeed just selling hot air..uhhmm..celebrities, microsoft..what do they have in common ?
posted by elpapacito at 2:51 AM on December 21, 2006


The Tommy Hilfiger of the chocolate world. Another American branding triumph.
posted by asok at 2:53 AM on December 21, 2006


You are defrauding them if in selling your junker for $100k, you imply that you are a car manufacturer.

Not the best analogy. A lot of car manufacturers outsource production but they are still (rightly, in my mind) called manufacturers.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:29 AM on December 21, 2006


pwned indeed.
posted by flippant at 4:44 AM on December 21, 2006


I admire both this article and Merrem and Houghton's marketing skills. My prediction is that their business will survive this exposure, but I would be happy to be proved wrong.
posted by teleskiving at 5:19 AM on December 21, 2006


> I wish we could get reporting of this caliber about politics and finance, too.

If that involved chowing down on pounds of premium chocolate, you might. Anybody want to hire me to investigate the scandalous marketing scam of single-malt Scotch?


> Also, am I the only person here who salivates when reading the word 'presscake'?

We salivates over yellowcake.
posted by jfuller at 5:30 AM on December 21, 2006


presscake.... mmmmmmmmmm

Here is what you are buying: bragging rights! And to some people it's worth it. Yayyyyy capitalism!

(Un-yay, however, lying about your product. Just saying "we select the kind of chocolate we want from our sources" would in no way devalue their product. And this post wouldn't be as interesting.)
posted by The Deej at 5:54 AM on December 21, 2006


Read the whole thing with intense pleasure: as others have said, great post, great article. Many thanks, hindmost!

This comment thread is a real acid test, cleanly separating those MeFites who can read and think (and therefore loved the article) and those who can do no more than reflexively snark (man, I'm not gonna read ten pages on chocolate... I didn't read it but I know it's overstated... everything's overpriced, it's capitalism, dude...). You know, kiddies, snark is fun and occasionally useful, but it's not all you need to get through life. But you'll find that out eventually.

For those who don't feel like reading the whole thing but would like an enlightening tidbit on the history of chocolate use, here's one:
The ideal of purity is also at odds with the history of chocolate. In the interview with Jennifer Parigi referenced previously, the folks at Noka said, "Ever since the ancient Mayans discovered the exotic flavors of the cacao bean in 250 to 900 AD, mankind has experimented and transformed this marvelous wonder into innumerable chocolate concoctions. But how many of us today have savored the flavor of real chocolate--as pure, rare, and flavorful as the ancient Mayans once relished?"

The question was rhetorical and the expected answer was "none" (or at least not many). But what the ancient Mayans relished was not solid chocolate as we now know it. Rather, it was a thick, gritty, generally unsweetened frothy beverage composed of ground cacao beans, water, and other spices and flavorings, frequently including vanilla, ground mamey pits, ear flower, chiles, and/or nixtamalized maize (i.e., masa). I'll grant that not many of us have savored anything like that. If we did, we'd probably spit it all over the front of our shirts, just like the Spaniards did when they first encountered the concoction.

My point is twofold. First, the idea that Noka is somehow recovering past foodways (e.g., that of the Mayans) is flat out wrong. (By the way, the Coes have argued persuasively that domestication of cacao predated the Early Classic Mayan culture and probably goes back to the Olmec.) Second, from the earliest known use of cacao beans up until today, the dominant and universal practice has been to "adulterate" chocolate with spices, sweeteners, and other flavorings. The Mayans did it, as did the Aztecs, Spaniards, French, Italians, English, and Americans. "Purity" has never been the goal.
Note that that little excursus isn't even necessary to the point of the article (which could have been drastically shortened if the author wanted no more than to prove that Noka is overpriced); it's a condensed bit of history that could have been stretched out into an entire article of its own, but is given to us as a sidelight to show up the absurdity of one little piece of PR verbiage misused by the Noka people. I really, really like this author.
posted by languagehat at 5:59 AM on December 21, 2006 [13 favorites]


See, this is where my brain explodes. They make chocolates. Therefore, they are chocolate makers. But in the chocolate making world, someone who makes chocolates is called a chocolatier, whereas somebody who makes the chocolate itself is the chocolate maker. And calling yourself a chocolate maker if you're only a chocolatier is "fraudulent". Boom. Brains splattered everywhere, Scanners-style.
posted by antifuse at 6:00 AM on December 21, 2006


Oh, and I had some Jamaica Blue Mountain in the '70s that was truly superb, blowing away every other coffee I'd ever tasted. When I've had occasion since then to try stuff sold as "Blue Mountain," it was completely ordinary. I don't know what happened, but it reminds me of the evisceration of Heineken beer.
posted by languagehat at 6:02 AM on December 21, 2006


Oh, and due to failing to preview:

snark is fun and occasionally useful, but it's not all you need to get through life

Life != MetaFilter.
posted by antifuse at 6:06 AM on December 21, 2006


mediareport, I thought your chicken fried steak comment was a snark, but no. Amazingly there is a meticulous CFS countdown. Sadly I am not in Dallas. But if he does a nationwide biscuits and gravy countdown, I may just have to get a car and a few weeks of PTO.
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 6:06 AM on December 21, 2006


We also emit soy lecithin and vanilla.

They're like a completely useless Sampo.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:24 AM on December 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


Great article series -- thanks for the post. Read it all the way through. A fine read for this chocolate geek.

Noka makes me shake my head, but knowing how the yuppie mind works makes me not surprised at all that they are successful. Old money would never ever be fooled by this trick.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:42 AM on December 21, 2006


The case of Blue Mountain is telling actually. Blue Mountain used to be restricted to a few plantations in the highlands of Jamaica. When prices skyrocketed (as Japan got richer), producers from further and further down the mountainsides started selling as "Blue Mountain" too. Plantations that previously produced "High Mountain" beans mysteriously started producing "Blue Mountain".

It's easier to buy Blue Mountain in Japan than Jamaica now. Most people drink High Mountain every day. Good coffee, but not Blue Mountain.
posted by bonehead at 6:45 AM on December 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


Fine, Coca-Cola goes to the supermarket and buys 3-liter bottles of generic cola... [then] sells that same soda for $15-20.

That's essentially how Dasani water is produced. Replace "generic cola" for "municipal water supply". Coke filters it and adds a bit of salt. Less effort than what the Noka people do to their chocolate, and probably similar markups.
posted by bonehead at 6:51 AM on December 21, 2006


To me, this seems more or less the same as someone buying casks of Bell's, putting it in fancy bottles inside fancy boxes and saying it's the world's finest single malt anywhere ever. I'm not an expert, but I thought that outright lying in advertising is illegal.
posted by ikalliom at 6:51 AM on December 21, 2006


What exactly is the fraud being perpetuated?

What is the fraud?

I don't think it's fraud.

That's not fraud; it's marketing

And calling yourself a chocolate maker if you're only a chocolatier is "fraudulent". Boom. Brains splattered everywhere, Scanners-style.

Not once does the article use the word "fraud" or "fraudulent." It takes very specific claims and assumptions about Noka and shows them to be demonstrably false. If you don't actually care about chocolate, and you just want to spend money for the heck of it, then yes, Noka is a fine choice.

As the article makes clear, it's simply not true that all luxury chocolate is of indistinguishable quality and wildly overpriced. Noka is charging 100x its competitors' prices for the exact same product, and trying to pretend that it's something else. No one else is doing this. If you don't think that's relevant information for consumers, I don't know what to say.
posted by designbot at 6:58 AM on December 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


Not once does the article use the word "fraud" or "fraudulent."

Nope, but a whole lot of people in this thread did.
posted by antifuse at 7:09 AM on December 21, 2006


If you don't think that's relevant information for consumers, I don't know what to say.

That's one thing, and I would never buy their product (for other reasons) but that's entirely different from finding just cause to call Noka "fraudulent", as far as the word is defined in the OED.

We have luxury products which have the same markup, but we don't call their manufacturers fraudulent. Instead, we ridicule or envy their buyers. Yet chocolate requires a different logic, somehow, for reasons as yet to be explained.

And again, it is false logic that Noka is called fraudulent for the chocolatier/maker distinction, when manufacturers of complex products in other markets have custom-designed components outsourced, yet retain the descriptor.

The irony is that some of you are working hard to maintain the artificial chocolatier/maker distinction, playing into the rhetorical snobbery of the business while at the same time complaining vociferously about the price!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:13 AM on December 21, 2006


But, ikalliom, Bell's is not single malt. What Noka is doing is like buying Bell's by the cask and selling it as "We source the best malt whiskies for our blend - it's the finest in the world".
posted by No Mutant Enemy at 7:20 AM on December 21, 2006


Look, I'm not a chocolate expert. But if you legitimately want to buy good-tasting chocolate, I think the distinction between the people who produce the chocolate (and thereby determine the taste), and the people who put that chocolate in a box and charge a 6,956% profit margin for it (while doing nothing to change the flavor or consistency), is hardly an artificial one.

If the chocolate was one ingredient in a complex confection being created by Noka, you'd have a point. But it's not. It's just reshaped chocolate. This is like picking up a used Kia, slapping a new logo on it, and reselling it as a Lamborghini.
posted by designbot at 7:26 AM on December 21, 2006


some of you are working hard to maintain the artificial chocolatier/maker distinction

Huh? The chocolatier packages chocolate, the maker makes it. What's artificial, or hard to understand, about that? Do you also have a problem with the distinction between an author and a publisher?
posted by languagehat at 7:26 AM on December 21, 2006


languagehat, I have a great respect for your postings generally...

But... That excerpt contains every single thing I disliked about the article.

No one with half a brain would take the Noka marketing seriously. The people who are buying it do not want the best chocolate. They want the most expensive.

There's a little research, but not too much, or he'd know you can actually sample those beverages today, in such remote areas as Chicago and Los Angeles, and I'd venture to speculate Dallas, where I heard there's a couple of Mexicans in residence.

Then he goes on to "prove" what was obvious from the start.

I am reacting as much the cheerleading as to the piece though. Does anyone here know if Noka sales have been affected at all? Does anyone here expect that they will be? This isn't a take-down of Noka - it's a takedown of the people who are buying the chocolate.
posted by mzurer at 7:29 AM on December 21, 2006


I have trouble getting too worked up about this. The debunker has missed the point of this product. A luxury good's primary utility is conspicuous consumption. Consider perfume. Or diamonds. Or Kobe beef. Or Blue Mountain coffee. The point of such an item is to be seen as so rich that one can blow thousands of dollars on a few squares of a consumable, perishable bit of nothing. The true value of the product is it's perception, based on managed scarcity and market position. Ingredients and workmanship are less than seconday concerns.
If that were the only factor, Noka's profitability would be enhanced by directly and loudly proclaiming to the world that they make their product by melting down Hershey bars.

"Look at me", John Q. Moneybags could look down his nose and say, "I'm so rich, I spend $800 on a bar of chocolate - and I know that it's not even a particularly good bar of chocolate, you peon."

In real life, however, Noka does exactly the opposite: They go to great lengths to put forth the (incorrect) idea that their "ingredients and workmanship" are second to none, and in fact by far in a league of their own.
posted by Flunkie at 7:31 AM on December 21, 2006 [4 favorites]


I'd like to see this guy have a go at vodkas. Like Grey Goose: alcohol purchased from industrial suppliers, imported to France, so that it can be mixed with water, and then exported as French vodka.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:35 AM on December 21, 2006


NME, yeah, I was halfway through reading the article and under the impression (or hoping) that Noka isn't even single-source. That would have been a real exposé, but anyway, it should be clear to anyone that these people are quite plainly evil in what they do. Which is, unfortunately, nothing new in chocolate business.
posted by ikalliom at 7:36 AM on December 21, 2006


Jesus. We're calling Noka frauds because they have a pattern of deliberately obfuscating what they do through clever wordplay and lies of omission. That pattern was clearly demonstrated in the article.

Therefore, the people behind Noka are a bunch of frauds. What is hard to understand about that?
posted by mediareport at 7:41 AM on December 21, 2006


No one with half a brain would take the Noka marketing seriously. The people who are buying it do not want the best chocolate. They want the most expensive.

Then he goes on to "prove" what was obvious from the start.


I don't understand this line of thought. You do recognize that there are legitimate luxury goods, yes? Items which may have higher profit margins than necessary, but which are also genuinely of higher quality than other products? You do recognize that there is an actual physical difference between a Mercedes-Benz and a Chevrolet? Between Amedei chocolate, for instance, and Hersheys?

Are we to understand that "anyone with half a brain" should be able to instantly distinguish between legitimate manufacturers of quality goods, and those who illegitimately make similar claims while offering no superior product? Is this distinction so obvious that someone pointing it out is obnoxious and bothersome to you? Is this enough rhetorical quesions for me to finish this comment? Yes?
posted by designbot at 7:43 AM on December 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


Do you also have a problem with the distinction between an author and a publisher?

A car manufacturer (e.g. Dodge or Hyundai) who doesn't make the engine (e.g. Mitsubishi) doesn't necessarily lose the title of manufacturer. Nonetheless, do you have trouble calling Dodge a maker of cars?

If you purchased and consumed a Samuel Adams beer, would it trouble you to know that the beer is brewed in a non-Adams-owned facility, and that — in fact — many mass-produced beers are produced in facilities not owned by the beer maker?

The distinction between "chocolatier" and "chocolate maker" is one of convenience perhaps for people within the industry, but certainly introduces rhetorical problems for the consumer who is eating chocolates made by the "chocolatier", not by the party who ground up the cocoa beans.

The "chocolatier" is in the same position as the beer maker and car maker: he or she may desire to put together a custom set of ingredients in what is admittedly a complex chemical brew of fats, aromatics and sugars, and will have outsourced this need to a facility capable of delivering product to spec.

Again, none of this takes away from the fact that Noka sells a product at a very high price, but it needs to be said that some of you are using a fake rhetorical device not used in practically any other industry to call Noka fraudulent.

Were their chocolate to have been made from dog shit — preferably not from a "chocolate maker" — that's real fraud. This is not fraud. This is just rich people with too much money.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:43 AM on December 21, 2006


Were their chocolate to have been made from dog shit — preferably not from a "chocolate maker" — that's real fraud. This is not fraud. This is just rich people with too much money.
The author of the article alleges at least one "flat-out lie" used by Noka to market their product.

Do you disagree that it is a flat-out lie?

Or do you disagree that flat-out lying in the marketing of a product constitutes fraud?
posted by Flunkie at 8:07 AM on December 21, 2006


This was a wonderful read; thanks for the post. Like Languagehat, I particularly enjoyed the take-down of the false ideal of "pure" chocolate. Pure chocolate tastes like ass, and we all know how horrid that is.

Regarding the issue of fraud, I don't know if this rises to the level of legal fraud, but it is a fraud in a broader sense. This chocolatier has done nothing to disabuse readers of the notion that they control production of their chocolates "from bean to bar". They may actually be encouraging this misconception, but as the author carefully points out, one would have to listen to the interview tapes that formed the basis of the print pieces about Noka to be sure.

If Noka was using couverture custom-made to their proprietary specs, they would likely be touting that fact, rather than perpetuating the myth that they actually make chocolate, when all they are doing is pouring it.
posted by Mister_A at 8:11 AM on December 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


The "chocolatier" is in the same position as the beer maker and car maker: he or she may desire to put together a custom set of ingredients in what is admittedly a complex chemical brew of fats, aromatics and sugars, and will have outsourced this need to a facility capable of delivering product to spec.

This is what Noka implies, but this is emphatically not the case. Noka does not use a custom set of ingredients, or a custom spec. They took an existing kind of chocolate, which you can buy off the shelf, melted it down, and put it in boxes. That's it. That's not evil, but that's not what they claim to do, and it's totally different from actually producing a special kind of chocolate.

Generally, there is no need to keep this a secret. Being a chocolatier is not fradulent. Being a chocolatier and pretending to produce a secret, unique kind of chocolate yourself is misleading at best. What Noka does is not outsourcing, it is straight-up rebranding. It's not like Dodge using an engine produced by another company, it's like if Chrysler started selling the Sebring for $14 million because it's a totally unique luxury vehicle hand-crafted by German elves from solid gold.
posted by designbot at 8:16 AM on December 21, 2006


I must admit that I've never understood the point of expensive vodkas either. The "best" (unflavoured) vodka can be made, as StickyCarpet points out, from distilled-in-glass ethanol and distilled, deionized water. The premium prices for Grey Goose or Absolut are products of good marketing.

The comments about how the story of the production is fraudulent are misplaced, in my view. Noka's story is there to provide the perception of value. The author of the piece goes to great lengths to work out the origins and process used to make Noka's chocolates, and to show how unremarkable Noka's story is. It's a valuable service and well-told. What I don't see, however, is anything in the article to support the idea that Noka was lying to their customers. Not telling the whole story, sure, but no worse than many, many other manufacturers of similar luxury goods. Because it's a completely discretionary item, no one needs it to live, Noka's customers should be sovereign. The value of the product rests only on the customers' perception of it.

Now were this to happen with a necessity for life, I'll grant you that it's unethical in a heartbeat. Consider the current arguments put forth by many of the big drug companies that generics are somehow not as good as brand name drugs. It's a very similar argument: slightly different formulations (of inactives usually) lead to very different health outcomes (product value). Thus, consumers should pay more for name-brand drugs. This argument is usually not well supported by drug trials, it's a similarly poor marketing story. Because these drugs are often a necessity for life, I have a lot more problems with the drug companies' argument, but someone selling wildly-overpriced chocolate? Eh, whatever.
posted by bonehead at 8:17 AM on December 21, 2006


Either Noka is buying couvertures made by Bonnat, or Bonnat has a mysterious, chocolate-making doppelgänger that mimics its product line down to the smallest detail.

Heh. Great read and a nice mediation on how to construct a thorough takedown.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:24 AM on December 21, 2006


meditation = mediation
posted by Burhanistan at 8:25 AM on December 21, 2006


Blazecock:
The perfect complement to dogshit chocolate is weaselpoop coffee.
posted by Mister_A at 8:44 AM on December 21, 2006


Mister_A: Regarding the issue of fraud, I don't know if this rises to the level of legal fraud, but it is a fraud in a broader sense.

I think that's why some of us are talking past each other. "Fraud" as a legal term, defrauding customers, is hard to prove. Businesses are allowed to exaggerate quite a lot-- ie, the strip club down the street from my old apartment that promised "The Most Beautiful Girls in the World." If Noka is a public company, though, they are probably in trouble. Martha Stewart's public statements that everything was OK are what landed her in jail.

But in the colloquial sense, of course these guys are a total fraud.
posted by ibmcginty at 8:53 AM on December 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


I'm late to the party, but I have to say that was a terrific post.
posted by bashos_frog at 9:01 AM on December 21, 2006


Now, it don't seem to me quite so funny
What some people are gonna do f'r money.
There's a bran' new gimmick every day
Just t' take somebody's money away.
I think we oughta take some o' these people
And put 'em on a boat, send 'em up to Bear Mountain . . .
For a picnic.
posted by 235w103 at 9:14 AM on December 21, 2006


The analogies in this thread are almost as mind-boggling as Noka's misleading marketing.
posted by ddf at 9:14 AM on December 21, 2006


Great story. That writer is a freak. Inspiring. Thanks.
posted by sacre_bleu at 9:18 AM on December 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


None of the Bonnat chocolates that Noka uses are plantation-specific and only the Venezuelan Puerto Cabello is arguably "single-estate." (This means that Noka's statements that its chocolates are single-estate or specific to plantation are probably inaccurate.)

If we accept the author's claim that NoKa uses Bonnat chocolate, then this claim, made on the company's website:
"NOKA is dedicated to the resurrection of chocolate to its noblest form: Pure Single-Origin, Dark Chocolate. Made with the rarest cacao sourced from exclusive plantations in Venezuela, Ecuador, Trinidad and Côte d'Ivoire, our chocolates are a true connoisseur's delight."

contains a clear falsehood, and at minimum is deceptive, according to the FTC's guidelines.

If NoKa refuses to provide evidence to back up their claims (which they are legally required to do), then they are not only acting unethically, but they are also in violation of the law.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 9:19 AM on December 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


I hadn't heard the word 'couverture' as applied to chocolate, and I can't help thinking it's pretentious - what's wrong with 'covering'?

And I hate, hate, hate the word 'mouthfeel' and would be happy if I never had to hear or read it again.
posted by altolinguistic at 9:27 AM on December 21, 2006


How did I miss this? Fantastic post, thanks!
posted by Skorgu at 9:28 AM on December 21, 2006


GENIUS!!

<Slinks off to melt some Hersheys and put it in a fancy box>
posted by zeoslap at 9:33 AM on December 21, 2006


Amazing read.

Please put this reporter on the Bush administration!
posted by xammerboy at 9:36 AM on December 21, 2006


I hadn't heard the word 'couverture' as applied to chocolate, and I can't help thinking it's pretentious - what's wrong with 'covering'?

Perhaps it's escaped your attention that all trades have specialized vocabulary to fit their specialized needs; is there any particular reason you would have heard of this particular specialized word before? I could boggle your mind (and apparently ruin your digestion) with hundreds of such words you've never heard of. Unless you think everyone should be forced to communicate in Basic English, I don't see what you have against it, unless you don't like loan words from French, in which case you'll have to rip out half your everyday vocabulary.

And what do you mean, "what's wrong with 'covering'?" Other than that it's a completely different word that doesn't mean what couverture does, you mean? What's wrong with "helicopter," or "pricklouse"?
posted by languagehat at 9:42 AM on December 21, 2006 [4 favorites]


I hadn't heard the word 'couverture' as applied to chocolate, and I can't help thinking it's pretentious - what's wrong with 'covering'?

Not to pile on, but I must agree with languagehat there. Cooking, in particular, has a highly specialized vocabulary, largely based in French because the world of professional culinary arts is basically a French creation . Otherwise, you'd never go into a restaurant and use the menu to order an entree such as filet mignonwith demi-glace or pie a la mode. In the kitchen of a decent restaurant, even a basic line cook can understand an order to make buerre blanc, start a roux, or chop vegetables into a mirepoix. But French doesn't have a monopoly on culinary jargon, or you'd never have pasta cooked al dente, followed by caffe latte and cannoli. These terms are familiar, certainly, but there are many others used in the kitchen which you might never hear used anywhere else.

Sorry I've used no accent marks. I don't know how to make them.
posted by Miko at 10:00 AM on December 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


We went so far I guess we may as well consider another angle: the associations with Emmys, SKY, Deloitte.

Also look at how they associated celebrity names to their products, by the mere fact they throwed some prestigeous chocolate at them during a made-up party to "honor" them.

No wonder some chocolate can be superprice..you gotta pay these people to hold their lawyers still.
posted by elpapacito at 10:14 AM on December 21, 2006


Just checked the OED: couverture in this sense goes back to 1935 in their citations (and presumably earlier in actual use).

1935 Discovery Nov. 322/2 Condensation occurs on the surface of the sweetmeats, causing ultimate undesirable crystallisation of the sugar in the chocolate couverture.
posted by languagehat at 10:42 AM on December 21, 2006


I really enjoyed the article. I don't know why someone would go to such lengths to investigate an obviously overpriced item, but I enjoyed reading about it.
Great post!!
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 10:46 AM on December 21, 2006


Blazecock,

on beer,
chocolatier:chocolate maker::bottler:brewer

on books
chocolatier:chocolate maker::publisher:author

There is a big distinction. And the important point is that while other choclatiers add value to their work in the form of artistry, talent and presentation and do not market solely on the alleged quality of their goods; Noka pretends to be the exclusive source of the best quality chocolate, when in reality, they are a 2nd rate repackager of a very good supplier's brand.

You don't pay a lot of money for Michael Recchiuti's chocolates merely because the raw materials are good - that is a minimum requirement of his trade. You pay the money because of his artistry in repackaging, inventive recipes, and presentation.
posted by bashos_frog at 10:59 AM on December 21, 2006 [2 favorites]


Its too bad they dont just make their own chocolate, like someone like DeVries does - then it would be harder to refute their claims. They opened themselves up to this kind of attack from the beginning.

But then that would have involved them actually knowing what they're doing...
posted by vacapinta at 11:00 AM on December 21, 2006


chocolatier:chocolate maker::bottler:brewer

Except that chocolatiers have to decide what goes in the bottle, while brewers also decide what goes into the bottle, so your analogy doesn't quite hold up. Bottlers just fill up bottles and cap 'em.

Bottlers don't decide how much hops to use, for example, but a chocolatier has to, say, make aesthetic and logical decisions about what combination of cream, flavoring and chocolate type makes a memorable ganache. Chocolatiers do more than just pretty packaging.

In any case, as I said originally, the (false) distinction between the two terms doesn't make anyone a fraud, Noka or otherwise. Noka making false claims about their ingredients or process is the true bar (sorry) for fraudulent behavior.

Perhaps Noka puts its efforts into packaging. Their language is (perhaps intentionally) vague about what extent this is really a source of contention. Since the writer clearly went into this blockbuster exposé (Holy shit — the rich overpay for mediocre sweets! Get Ted Koppel on the phone!) with a chip on his shoulder and interpretes the language for us, it's hard to say either way.

Frankly, I'll never buy Noka's chocolates so I don't give a damn. I'll let the State's Attorney decide if they want to take away a yuppie's bliss.

The point is that the difference between a "chocolatier" and a "chocolate maker" is a bad foundation on which to build a case for accusations of fraud. They both make chocolates — just on different scales and for different markets.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:44 AM on December 21, 2006


One last analogy.

A crackerier is someone who breaks up Ritz crackers (for example) and makes pretty designs and/or packages of the broken-up crackers. Perhaps he or she forms them into shapes using butter.

A cracker maker is someone who makes Ritz crackers (for example.)
posted by callmejay at 12:04 PM on December 21, 2006


They both make chocolates

Well, technically - one makes chocolate confections, the other makes chocolate.

J. Crew makes wool sweaters, but does not make wool.

If J. Crew claimed that the wool in their sweaters came from their own special breed of sheep raised on an exclusive ranch in New Zealand, the claim would be fraudulent.

If they just strongly implied it, then the line is not as bright but to my mind it is still fraud.

Anyway, I'm not buying Noka, so I don't really have a dog in this fight, but I love good chocolate, and would hate to see this kind of thing catch on like 'premium' vodkas and bottled waters did.
posted by bashos_frog at 12:09 PM on December 21, 2006


See, this is where my brain explodes. They make chocolates. Therefore, they are chocolate makers

They make chocolates. They do not make chocolate. They are not chocolate makers, they are chocolates makers, or chocolatiers. That is, they take the basic chocolate, and mix it, hand craft it, and present it. They choose the ingredients, design a combination, and create the product. NoKa is making the claim that theirs is more pure, but what that means is that they are just not doing anything but reselling the raw ingredients.

Maybe it could be compared to a bartender who makes a big deal about his super fancy, highly researched, specially developed "pure" martini, which sells at $80 in a stainless steel martini glass, and turns out to be nothing but a shot of watered down high quality gin.
posted by mdn at 12:17 PM on December 21, 2006


highly researched, specially developed "pure" martini

Shaken, not stirred !
posted by elpapacito at 12:32 PM on December 21, 2006


The equivocation and semantic jousting in this thread are mildly entertaining, but seem to miss the big point (that has been made repeatedly):

The folks who run Noka Chocolates are doing the equivalent of melting down Hershey bars and forming them into their own little squares, putting their own packaging on them, and telling everyone it's chocolate they have "made", according to their "own specifications", doing their best to obfuscate the Hershey origin, while charging 1300% more than the Hershey bars cost them to begin with.

I don't care what you call that, as long as folks understand that it's fundamentally dishonest and assholish.
posted by darkstar at 12:46 PM on December 21, 2006


Oh, and with this in mind, reading the corporate "philosophy" from their website is enough to make one vomit:
NOKA Chocolatier, Katrina Merrem, has as her life-passion, the goal of returning chocolate to its pure, luxurious state by creating the finest single-origin dark chocolate truffles and chocolates, made from the rarest cacao sourced from exclusive plantations around the world.

It is with this vision that NOKA Chocolate was founded. And it is this very vision that guides NOKA Chocolate in handcrafting the most exquisite chocolates to ever grace the palate.

Taste, and you will see.
It's Katrina Merrem's "life passion" to sell someone else's chocolate under her own grossly marked-up label and pretend that she's doing chocolate lovers a favor. Chocolate lovers everywhere have a new arch-nemesis in Ms. Merrem.
posted by darkstar at 12:56 PM on December 21, 2006


Hey, they add a whole bunch of top-shelf adjectives. You can't put a price on those.

I agree with those who've said: PWNED!
posted by bink at 1:03 PM on December 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


The best thing about the article is not that NoKa is a faked up chocolate company. No. The best thing about the article is that the author is like Manimal, Airwolf and Thundercats all rolled up into one when it comes to chocolate. The fact that giants like this still stand astride the earth will be of enduring comfort well into my old age.
posted by felix at 2:06 PM on December 21, 2006 [5 favorites]


I'm really amazed at some of the people in this thread. Are they wilfully misunderstanding and/or misinterpreting this situation? Do they realise now that they're wrong but just cannot admit it? Did they just decide to not RTFA but felt that they should comment on it anyway? Do they really really not like the existence of different qualities of product, and hence the existence of particularly good, or luxury products, and think anyone who chooses to spend more money on something better is stupid?

And how on earth are they conflating the idea of producing significantly better or different products, labeling them as such, and charging more for them with lying about what your product is made of in order to fool people into buying something that is not better or different in the way you're telling them it is?

Is this backwards day? Have y'all seen the movie Gaslight?
posted by mosessis at 2:20 PM on December 21, 2006


He or she is also like The Man From Atlantis, starring Patrick Duffy.
posted by Mister_A at 2:20 PM on December 21, 2006


Bottlers don't decide how much hops to use, for example, but a chocolatier has to, say, make aesthetic and logical decisions about what combination of cream, flavoring and chocolate type makes a memorable ganache. Chocolatiers do more than just pretty packaging.

Except, that in this case, for their primary offering, they do none of that. The basic Noka chocolates contain nothing that wasn't already in the Bonnat couverture that they purchased. It's strictly repackaging. And the hilarious part about it is that they repackage it *badly*. I'm *terrible* at tempering chocolate, and even my coatings don't bloom like the ones pictured in that blog entry.

The truffles are more along the lines of what chocalatiers typically do - combining chocolate and flavours to create bonbons. But even there, the only choice they've made is to basically do no flavouring at all.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:29 PM on December 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


I loved this. Thank you. I had to go home and eat my Chanukah Vosges truffles (which seem like a steal, compared to Noka!)
posted by pinky at 3:41 PM on December 21, 2006


The Forum at the Dallas Food blog contains an item claiming Neiman-Marcus is the only outlet now handling Noka chocs and that, following this article, N-M was meeting to reconsider doing so. Pwned, indeed! BTW, fraud is beside the point. That photo of the poorly finished chocolate with white bloom says it all: this is second rate stuff passed off as premum quality, and I think that is the point the article makes, too.
posted by CCBC at 3:46 PM on December 21, 2006


this is second rate stuff passed off as premum quality, and I think that is the point the article makes, too

It may as well be, but I doubt they were so stupid as to insert second rate product. Indeed by just reading the article we learn that the chocolate they sell isn't 90% shit and 10% cocoa, but it is of very good "quality" relative to other chocs.

Similarly I remember reading a few days ago on BBoing about a blogger discovering he could have bought almost the same spectacles at $50 instead of $300.

I can confirm by personal experience that even on this side of the pond spectacles are incredibily overpriced : while refusing to pay $350 for a couple of frigging pieces of polycarbonate, the salesman was trying to sell my mother "highway glasses" that depolarized and allowed and blah blah blah blah..at the mere price of $100.

To which I said " That is just a polarzing filter, $10 take it or leave it" ..how did I know ? Because I like to study and know...sometime it is good to see that "obscure" knowledge may come handy.

What is more frightening is the amount of knowledge on should have not get routinely scammed.
posted by elpapacito at 4:04 PM on December 21, 2006 [1 favorite]



It may as well be, but I doubt they were so stupid as to insert second rate product. Indeed by just reading the article we learn that the chocolate they sell isn't 90% shit and 10% cocoa, but it is of very good "quality" relative to other chocs.


Well, no, we learn that they use quite high end source materials, and then screw them up. The actual finished product is actually not very good quality at all.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:12 PM on December 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


Well if so, I haven't understood it entirely and need to read it again, if re-smelting can alter the product so much then it's a problem in their handling , but not in the materials they use.

Meanwhile here is the link to the eyeglasses scam.
posted by elpapacito at 4:23 PM on December 21, 2006


Another good quote from the article:
And what does Noka do? In the case of their chocolate tablets (or "Vintages"), they buy blocks of chocolate from Europe, melt it, temper it, and pour it into small rectangular molds. It's as simple as that. As Chloé Doutre-Roussel wrote in The Chocolate Connoisseur, "If they just melt a readymade couverture (as many do), there's no need for talent or creativity." Despite the limited ambition of their molded chocolates, the quality of their work is frustratingly inconsistent. In the boxes I've purchased (all locally, so no shipping was involved), I've occasionally found an unacceptably dull finish or even bloom on their molded chocolates (as pictured at the top of this article).
So, it's like melting down bars of Hershey's, remolding and repackaging them under your own label, marking them up 1300%, all the while the end result is actually a degraded quality because of the lack of talent or skill used in their tempering process.

This whole thing is a travesty on so many levels. Not only is Noka run by a couple of marketing weasels who are intentionally deceiving and gouging people, but they're actually destroying good chocolate in the process.

BAH!
posted by darkstar at 5:04 PM on December 21, 2006


Note, Hershey's referenced above merely for effect. The relative qualities are not comparable. More's the pity that Noka is ruining good Bonnat...
posted by darkstar at 5:25 PM on December 21, 2006


Regarding Jamaican Blue Mountain. The story I heard when I worked at a great cafe back in college was that hurricane Gilbert had wiped out over 60% of their crop in 1988. The supply shock drove up the price of an already expensive coffee from something like ~$18/lb to ~$35/lb, I think. Additionally, whoever regulates Blue Mountain decided to allow the incorporation of inferior beans as a blend rather than pure Blue Mountain.

I loved this article, not because of the investigative journalism or even the writing (both good), but because this guy really cares about food.

To my mind the only fraud was claiming single-plantation source for the chocolate.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:32 PM on December 21, 2006


At least we're not eating saccharine tablets and drinking victory gin.
posted by tehloki at 10:06 PM on December 21, 2006


Awesome article, thx.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:46 PM on December 21, 2006


languagehat, Miko - I fully admit my wrongness (though Miko points it out far more politely than LH does), and of course cooking uses lots of terms I probably have never heard of - but has it ever occurred to you that American English has borrowed far more French words into its culinary vocabulary than British English has?

To take an example:
Otherwise, you'd never go into a restaurant and use the menu to order an entree such as filet mignonwith demi-glace or pie a la mode.

I do indeed go to a restaurant, and I look at the menu. But I order a main course, not an entrée; a fillet steak, not filet mignon; demi-glace I'm not sure about (though I do know what it is); and apple pie with icecream, not 'à la mode'.
posted by altolinguistic at 7:24 AM on December 22, 2006


You eat at Applebees, eh?
posted by five fresh fish at 9:00 AM on December 22, 2006 [1 favorite]


has it ever occurred to you that American English has borrowed far more French words into its culinary vocabulary than British English has?

Interesting point -- I hadn't realized that British English had not adopted those terms to the same degree. I'm inclined to chalk that up to a typical pattern in English culture of rejecting or at least strongly Anglizicing French influences.
posted by Miko at 9:43 AM on December 22, 2006


has it ever occurred to you that American English has borrowed far more French words into its culinary vocabulary than British English has?

Gateau? Courgette? Aubergine?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:43 AM on December 22, 2006 [3 favorites]


Miko points it out far more politely than LH does

Hey, live by the snark, die by the snark. If you'd said:

I hadn't heard the word 'couverture' as applied to chocolate, and I wonder why they use it?


I'd have been perfectly polite as well as helpful. But if you feel compelled to say:

I hadn't heard the word 'couverture' as applied to chocolate, and I can't help thinking it's pretentious - what's wrong with 'covering'?


...well, you shouldn't complain if you get a little snark back. But I'm sorry if it hurt your feelings. And, as Miko says, you make a good point about British usage.
posted by languagehat at 11:01 AM on December 22, 2006


BOTW, FTW, etc.
(Just goes to show any topic can be fascinating if presented well enough.)
posted by Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson at 7:43 PM on December 22, 2006


"Chocolate covering" is what's on a Snickers.

Couverture is an industry-specific term used with precision, just like every other industry-specific term.

covering:couverture
drill bit:Forstner bit
fuel:avgas

Words mean things. "Couverture" is appropriate and necessary.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:29 AM on December 24, 2006


bashos_frog writes "There is a big distinction. And the important point is that while other choclatiers add value to their work in the form of artistry, talent and presentation and do not market solely on the alleged quality of their goods; Noka pretends to be the exclusive source of the best quality chocolate, when in reality, they are a 2nd rate repackager of a very good supplier's brand.

"You don't pay a lot of money for Michael Recchiuti's chocolates merely because the raw materials are good - that is a minimum requirement of his trade. You pay the money because of his artistry in repackaging, inventive recipes, and presentation."


This was a great article; a lot of fun to read, and packed with interesting information.

The chocolate maker--chocolatier distinction is only false insofar as any such distinctions are created by semantics. There's clearly a distinction in the industry, NoKa clearly abuses that distinction to their benefit. While that abuse is an important part of the article, it's far from the only component of the expose, as bashos_frog points out well.
posted by OmieWise at 12:20 PM on December 28, 2006


Late to this, but anyway: although the article is a little dragged-out (albeit with some great asides), the key segment for me was where he rattled off a list of very famous chocolatiers who are all completely candid about the couverture they use. I'm pretty sure the author already knew this, but it's nice to have it made very clear.

Your local maker of lovely raspberry truffles? Ask what couverture's used, and you'll get an answer, not the misdirection and bullshit from NoKa. Why? Because it's a source of pride and a mark of quality; and because most people, given a block of couverture, can make a decent cup of hot chocolate and that's it.

Thorstein Veblen would be proud of them, though. As languagehat has pointed out, their pitch strokes so many consumer erogenous zones -- purity, exoticism, exclusivity, price, packaging, backstory -- that have little bearing on how large blocks of very good chocolate are turned into edible luxuries.

Ultimately, what people are buying isn't the Bonnet couverture or the skill (or lack thereof) with which it's crafted, but the ability to tell people, or have people work out, that they paid a ridiculous amount of money for tiny chocolates. And there is a market for such things.
posted by holgate at 3:59 PM on December 28, 2006


omg pwnt
posted by synaesthetichaze at 1:08 PM on December 29, 2006


This is a very frustrating thread to read. While there are many intelligent and thoughtful comments, there are equally many who simply bog the thread down with their ignorance, simply because they couldn't be bothered to read the article. I wish I could do negative favorites.

But this was a brilliant link, thank you. Ten pages later, and I did read all ten pages in fascination, I knew far more about chocolate, chocolate making and chocolatiers than I ever did. I learned about varieties of chocolate, why Venesuelan chocolate is very good, why Ivory Coast chocolate is both questionable morally and not a particularly good variety (making it pointless to by "single origin" Ivory Coast chocolate). I learned about cacao liquor, and the next time I buy expensive pure chocolate, I think I will go look to see if I can find any without added cocoa butter. And I now know that if I want to buy pure chocolate, as opposed to confections (which I'm not fond of), I should look to buy directly from chocolate makers. I'm also going to copy his chocolate recommendations into my recipe file, should I ever find myself in a position to buy very nice chocolate.

And I am very happy that this extremely knowledgable writer has exposed NoKa as a fraud, a moral fraud if not a legal one (but only by being extremely weasely in their words). I'm not a customer, could never have afforded them, but their behaviour is offensive and actively damaging to talented chocolate makers and chocolatiers who produce high quality products based on their skills.

And, as said above, their terrible tempering is just added insult to injury. And ruins very nice chocolate.
posted by jb at 7:12 AM on January 1, 2007 [2 favorites]


To add though: there is a local shop near me who I think is trying to do a NoKa, albeit at a much smaller scale. It has excellent packaging in minimalist black and a good location in the overpriced downtown shopping centre, but the chocolates were not actually as good as one might expect from a specialist chocolate shop, and my husband said they weren't as good as the truffles I had ordered online the year before, for about the same price.
posted by jb at 7:21 AM on January 1, 2007


Fantastic article, really interesting. I have been ordering from chocosphere for a while now without really knowing much about fine chocolate, just enjoying the taste... this is a really great introduction to chocolate while holding my attention because of the takedown of the Noka company's practices.
posted by cell divide at 7:49 AM on January 1, 2007


FYI - Noka response here. They're standing by the bullshit 100%.
posted by Devidicus at 5:25 PM on January 2, 2007


growabrain, you've obviously never (been) driven (in) a Maybach. : . )
posted by adamgreenfield at 3:07 AM on January 3, 2007


UPDATE: It's now becoming a PR debacle for the company.
posted by wah at 10:51 AM on January 4, 2007


Also, the expose is up to #2 for "Noka" on google.
posted by wah at 10:59 AM on January 4, 2007


teece writes "I'd really like to know how many luxury products are snake oil like this. It is not nearly as simple as 'all of them' (as many of you will be quick to say), but neither is it anywhere near as simple as 'you get what you pay for.'"

It drives me crazy that there are guys commanding a rediculous premium for custom furniture on their name alone. Plain dining room tables going for $10K+, that kind of thing. The idea of limited edition utility furniture is crazy.
posted by Mitheral at 2:51 PM on January 4, 2007


Thanks so much for this post. Via following a long trail of links, I was able to find some high-quality nut/peanut-free chocolates, which I have been searching for for ages.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 8:18 PM on January 6, 2007


Yes this post was great and I've been learning so much about chocolate. Of course I won't be buying NoKa, but I will be buying Bonnat...
posted by ob at 11:23 AM on January 7, 2007


I just talked to the chocolatier at my local shop, who informed me that the Bonnat we can buy here in the U.S. is "export quality", which isn't the same as you can buy in Europe (and, presumably, is what Noka gets).

She did send me home with a bar of Chapon, which is awesome.
posted by mkultra at 5:08 PM on January 7, 2007


I wonder if the print media will pick up on this...
posted by batgrlHG at 9:24 PM on January 8, 2007


In case anyone else is following the story - the PR aspect of this with linkage can be found on this blog: Robert Synnott. The PR businessman in question has either made many misjudgements or is simply out of his depth in understanding how web articles and the blog community works. Commenting on various blog sites, then getting a job with Noka (if you believe his version of the timeline) - and then feeling that it's a great idea to have comments posted on his site so he can show everyone how truthful and open he is?! Frankly his little Q&A/forum just makes him come off more like someone who is new to the whole internet thing - not as more approachable and trustworthy but perhaps a bit clueless as to the impression he's presenting - though strangely as a 21 yr vet and president of his company you'd think he'd know a bit more. Such as the fact that it's possible to look up the changes he's made on his site before he rephrased his statements. There's a reason large PR firms put out press releases and then lapse into stately silence while they dilberate their answers - the thinking is that they'll seem more businesslike and less foolish. (Well, they can always hope.)
posted by batgrlHG at 10:04 PM on January 8, 2007


Sorry, that second link was supposed to be to the about page here.
posted by batgrlHG at 10:08 PM on January 8, 2007


What the ancient Mayans relished was not solid chocolate as we now know it. Rather, it was a thick, gritty, generally unsweetened frothy beverage composed of ground cacao beans, water, and other spices and flavorings

I had something very like this in Peru. It was quite pungent, and left me nauseated yet also weirdly, viscerally aroused. Mind you, there was also some coca in the mix.

I'd compare it to my first encounter with mouldy French cheese. Inspired, I also bought a few ingots of the raw processed cocoa to try out some stuff - it's not easy to make chocolate. But these Texans are snake oilers.
posted by meehawl at 3:03 PM on January 14, 2007


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