The Chocolate Life

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While I knew before I entered high school that I wanted to pursue photography as a career, it wasn't until I was in my freshman year in college that I was exposed to a formal philosophy of Art in the form of John Dewey's Art as Experience. To paraphrase Dewey:

1) Art "works" because all humans share the same emotions. Granted, we experience those emotions differently, but we all experience the same range of emotions.

2) Art consists of two things:

a) The process a person goes through to make an art object
b) The experience a viewer has with an art object

Dewey is emphatic that the art object (painting, drawing, sculpture, bar of chocolate, etc.) has no intrinsic value. Art objects "become valuable" because of their ability to evoke responses in viewers. Because we all experience emotions differently, the same art object might be more valuable (i.e., it evokes strong emotions) to some people and less valuable to others (i.e., evokes weak or no emotions). Art objects are neither good nor bad in any abstract universal sense; they are more or less successful depending on a viewer's experience of them, or, as Dewey says, "with and in" a person's experience.

Above all, Dewey cautions, art is not words or ideas and it is important not to let words and ideas become more important than our experiences and emotions. To do so, he suggests, puts "Art" at arm's length, removed from our every day experience of life and places it in a realm that is accessible only to those who know how to manipulate the vocabulary of "Art." Dewey believes that art is in everything and everyone all the time - that any act that anyone derives any sort of aesthetic satisfaction from is art - for them. And that the audience of one is enough.

I bring all this up as a prologue to a question I want to ask anyone on TheChocolateLife who wants to answer it. It concerns writing about chocolate and what sorts of descriptions are useful and usable. I've been having a correspondence with someone who was copied on an e-mail that I was also copied on last week. The e-mail asked if any of us had tried a particular bar of (raw) chocolate. In a few hours, the following response was sent to everyone:

Had the 78% with Nibs. Clearly CCN material (no matter what the new chocophiles try to proclaim ["if well-processed... ba ba ba"], it ain't the Ecuador of yore).

Decent temper held out hope that maybe this received a proper conch ala Divine Organics. Alas, no such luck. Raw as it ever was: evasive chocolate flavor typical for raw bars with agave hard on its heels controlling the progression to... nowhere really, except reflecting back to that sweetener's prickly self. Then comes a cold bitter in rear recesses. Eventually tuberose & sisal, camacho plant, groaning vines & brambles in the dirt of the after-math toward a microbial fest (worms digesting molds, spores, bacteria, etc.)

At 22% agave annhilates cacao until that after-life when the dregs react to the beating by discombobulating the bowels, wrenching then pulling out the intestines – Bruce Lee style – to show you your guts. It takes massive balls to sell this stuff at all... let alone for $11.


Even though I've been eating chocolate with the intent of figuring out how to describe what I was experiencing, this description lost me in the first sentence because I was put off by my perception of the author's disdain for people who disagreed with one of his beliefs. I certainly do know that the author does not like the chocolate, but I was left with the impression that the author was trying to be too clever by half. With reference to Dewey, the words had somehow become more important than the chocolate.

For as long as I can remember, my father has been telling me, "If it's not worth doing, it's not worth doing well," and I realize that I would apply that approach to a review of a bar that I disliked as much as this author did. Rather than waste time performing feats of linguistic gymnastics, my tendency would be to write something like, "This bar of chocolate tasted like crap only crap tastes better." I think this conveys the essential critique of the chocolate (i.e., don't waste the money or the calories). It does not provide, however, any descriptions of what I thought the chocolate actually tasted like. But - if it's not worth doing, why do it well?

My question to all of you is - what do you want to see?

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Langdon - to your point I certainly agree that, overall, the body of reviews has done a lot for the business of wine as well as for wine lovers everywhere.

To open and frank I would add that approachable and understandable are values that I look for in reviews. - Clay
Very reasonable additions Clay.
@Clay-

[QUOTE]...there is no economic value in the rating: giving a bar a high rating does nothing to affect the market price of the bar. [/QUOTE]

I'm sure that this is generally true, but I wonder if Amedei charges more for its Chuao bar because of all of the awards and great reviews that its received? (I also wonder why all Amedei products are so expensive? I've assumed that it's just their marketing strategy.)

[QUOTE] Also unlike Parker (and this is where I disagree somewhat with Langdon's opinion on wine reviews specifically), it is unlikely that I am going to be able to influence chocolate makers to make chocolate that appeals to my taste preferences just to get a good review from me. Because there is no economic value to them in doing so. [/QUOTE]

I bet you'd be surprised. IMO chocolate makers would be foolish not to read reviews. An informed review is a great source to know how well they've succeeded in their goals. I also surmise that a review from a person with your stature in the industry carries a lot of weight. I can imagine that if you reviewed a bar as really bad that a wise chocolate maker would take steps to change what was bad in it. (OK, they might only listen when quite a few trusted reviewers said the same things, but you'd still be an influential part of that.) I can even imagine that if Clay said sth like, "I wish this bar tasted more like X" they might even make some changes.

As a well informed average consumer I find chocolate reviews, blogs, and awards to be great sources of deciding what I'll buy next amid the hundreds of choices out there. So reviews do have an eventual economic effect. That must be why chocolate makers send credible people free chocolate to review.
From Gwen-
"I suggest in typical maternal fashion, that the industry should play nicely...

...By using kindness and temperance in reviews, it gives the producer time to develop and grow into a better producer."

Wise words. Meanness and vendettas should never be used. Anyone who makes the expenditure of time, money, and sweat to make chocolate can't be all bad. I think that all negative reviews should be gentle, subtle, and even use inference to give the message.

But, if done in the right spirit, it's still helpful to all concerned to know about really bad chocolate.
I think that Gwen and Langdon both make excellent points. The difference lies in the character of the reviewer and their intention with the review. But if I find a reviewer that I trust I'm glad to listen to his/her negative reviews. I'd rather save my money and taste something else.

That's why I've really appreciated lists such as "The World's Worst Chocolate Bars"
by TCL member and seventypercent.com reviewer Hans-Peter Rot. I'd like to know what to avoid. (Although I thought that the Theo Venezuela 91% bar was the best bar I've tasted [of the 5 I've tried] in the 90-99% class.)

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