Dec 182006

In conclusion, we return to the original question. Are Noka’s chocolates worth the prices they charge?

They are not.

Noka’s prices cannot be justified by the underlying ingredients. Bonnat is good chocolate that can warrant a premium, but not a markup of more than 1,300% of retail (as discussed in Part 9).

1,300% of retail. 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).


Noka’s prices cannot be justified through supposed intensive labor or specialized skill. Despite Noka’s obfuscation, they are not chocolate makers (see Part 3), but simply chocolatiers—and not very creative, ambitious, or talented ones, at that (see Part 4). In artistry and level of imagination, Noka’s truffles and molded chocolates are exactly what one might expect from a pair of accountants with limited experience and no formal training.

What does that leave? The boxes? Noka’s cardboard boxes are nice looking (though the lids often fit too tightly, requiring some effort to wrestle them loose). But they’re no nicer than the boxes and packaging of a number of other chocolatiers whose prices are much, much lower.

I’ll grant that the stainless steel boxes are interesting (if a bit unromantic and impractical). I’m not sure exactly how much it costs Noka to have them made and shipped in from Taiwan, but I suspect they have substantial margin built in there, as they do with the chocolate. After all, the retail price differential between Noka’s cardboard and stainless steel boxes (of the same size) typically ranges between $60 and $80. That’s a lot of money for a plain metal box.

Noka’s prices cannot be justified.

An individual’s passion for chocolate could be expressed through a number of commercial avenues. One avenue would be to become involved in the production of chocolate from the bean, as a number of enterprising souls across America are doing. Another would be to study, train, and apprentice in the chocolatier’s art, mastering necessary techniques and developing good taste and judgment, as so many chocolatiers I’ve referenced in these reports have done. Another would be to open a specialty shop (online and/or bricks & mortar) to make available to the public the products of quality chocolate makers and chocolatiers. Any business like that would be welcome in Dallas. But that’s not Noka.

Katrina Merrem has often spoken of the epiphany she had on a Swiss mountaintop—the moment in which her career goals turned from accounting to the world of chocolate. What must that inner monologue have sounded like?

You know, accounting’s a drag. It’s time to pursue something genuine and fulfilling.

Maybe I could buy some French-made chocolate, trick people into believing I made it myself, melt it down and mold it into tiny rectangular tablets, stick them in over-sized boxes, slap on a ridiculously high price tag, and sell to that segment of the population who fallaciously believe that price is necessarily commensurate with value.

Or I could join the Peace Corps.

Nah, the chocolate thing sounds way more fulfilling.

I don’t see passion or talent in Noka. Just hollow opportunism and Sneetchcraft.

As a bit of an epilogue, I’ll offer a few alternatives to Noka, for those who may be interested in tasting top quality single-origin chocolates (as good as or better than what Noka uses) at much lower prices.

Amedei. A small Italian company run by chocolate-geek agronomists, Amedei controls the processing from the point of harvest, including the drying and fermentation of the beans. For $37.95 at Chocosphere, you can buy an elegantly packaged 36-piece sampler of Amedei single-origin chocolates from Grenada, Madagascar, Jamaica, Trinidad, Ecuador, and Venezuela. At close to $100 a pound, Amedei makes the most expensive chocolate I sampled for these reports (excluding Noka, of course, since they don’t actually make chocolate). Amedei’s Chuao and Porcelana bars are also highly recommended.

Domori. The company’s motto is “Cacao Cult” and, after skimming their web site, you’ll see how appropriate that is. These guys are hardcore, controlling cultivation and processing every step of the way, and even working with a gene bank in Trinidad to revive lost Criollo cacao strains. For gift/presentation purposes, the Hacienda San Jose box is the way to go. At $97.50 from Chocosphere, you get a little over a pound of premium Criollo chocolates (from various sub-clones) ranging from 60% to 100% cacao solids, along with a booklet and DVD on the history and cultivation of Domori’s Criollo cacao. (Are you listening, Santa?)

Pralus. For $47.95 from Chocosphere, the fine French chocolatier Pralus offers its “Pyramide”—a stack of ten individually wrapped 50 gram single-origin bars from Jamaica, Indonesia, São Tomé, Trinidad, Venezuela, Vanuatu, Ghana, Madagascar, Columbia, and Ecuador. For stocking stuffers, you can get the “Mini-Pyramide,” which is the same thing, but with 5 gram squares, for a mere $8.95.

Michel Cluizel. For $19.50 from Chocosphere, you can get French maker Michel Cluizel’s Les 1ers Crus de Plantation box, with individually wrapped squares of five plantation-specific chocolates. Also interesting as a gift (if you’re willing to get away from single-origin) would be Cluizel’s “Once Upon a Bean” presentation box for $33.95, which includes unroasted beans, roasted cacao nibs, cocoa butter, cacao liquor, and discs of chocolate in five grades of intensity, from “white chocolate” to 100%.

Valrhona. $49.95 at Chocosphere will buy you two of each of well-known French maker Valrhona’s 2006 plantation bars in a wooden case. $146 will get you 40 bars of Valrhona’s 2002 Chuao in a wooden case. (Amedei now has a virtual lock on Chuao production, which would make this an interesting gift for a knowledgeable chocophile.)

El Rey. $79.95 at Chocosphere will get you Venezuelan chocolate maker El Rey’s La Ruta del Cacao presentation box, with nearly a pound of chocolate from four bean varieties in a wooden case.

Bonnat. Though Bonnat has a couple of presentation box products available in Europe, I’ve only seen the individual single-origin bars here in the US. Chocosphere sells them for $7.50 per 100-gram bar. As you now know, that’s much, much cheaper than what you’d pay Noka for less of the same chocolate. However, buying the Bonnat bars would require getting by without the Taiwanese metal box. If you or your gift recipient are rich, stupid, and vain, Noka is probably the way to go.