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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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