food / travel

From Zurich To Tokyo, Chocoholics Now Have Bonafide "Bars" To Get Cocoa Fix In Style

Some of the world's trendiest new "bars" don't serve beer, whiskey or wine. What they do offer is chocolate, and lots of it. From Paris to Tokyo, chocolate bars are attracting all ages eager to indulge their cocoa cravings and fe

Chocolate bars don't always fit in your hand (Or Hiltch)
Chocolate bars don't always fit in your hand (Or Hiltch)
Véronique Zbinden

GENEVA - Should you use sparkling water? A blender? A whip, or maybe just a flick of the wrist? What really is the best way to foam hot chocolate? Pierre Hermé, the god of chocovores, lists no fewer than 18 different options in his dictionary of chocolate. David Silveria, bartender at Beau-Rivage in Geneva, serves only three versions: 70% dark, tonka bean, and ginger. In any case, one thing is clear: This sweet brown nectar, known since the time of the Olmecs, is experiencing a comeback in chocolate bars around the world.

In Geneva, the bar at the Beau-Rivage hotel becomes a family zone every Sunday afternoon, driving out businessmen in favor of youngsters armed with skewers of marshmallows, ready to meet the irresistible call of chocolate fountains. The marble and zinc palace disappears under towers of black forest cakes, tiramisu, chocolate-hazelnut millefeuilles, tarts, macaroons, exotic fruit skewers, and ladyfingers all waiting to be dipped into a creamy vat of cocoa.

"We wanted to differentiate ourselves from the other major hotels, most of which offer traditional English tea," said Israel Benyair, director of catering. "I tested this concept successfully in Boston. Our customers were 95% women. They were happy to entrust us with their children for an afternoon of competitions and blind tasting. The clientele of the Beau-Rivage is family oriented, but the success is the same."

The Beau-Rivage is conducting this experiment for its second winter, but it was preceded by a few other pioneers. In Fribourg, Villars opened a Swiss Chocolate Café in 2003 on the site of the old Chocolate Factory. That same year, the chic Parisian chocolatier Jean-Paul Hévin set up shop in Japan. Soon thereafter, Lindt opened its first Chocolate Bar in Sydney, followed by three other stores in Australia and two in Tokyo. Most recently, the company designed a chocolate bar for its new shop in the Zurich airport. Meanwhile, Pierre Hermé has gained a foothold at the Stade de France with the support of a Belgian sponsor. The chocolate competition has spread everywhere.

Flocking to chocolate

So who started it? "The idea is very fashionable at the moment," says Alexandre Sacerdoti, director of Villars chocolates. "The Japanese have long devoted street corners to the tasting of namachuko, a type of chocolate ganache, and in the United States, the chain Max Brenner has made drinking chocolate a trademark."

Artisans and entrepreneurs have been flocking to chocolate in recent years, as can be seen around Paris and other capital cities. Some offer workshops, demonstrations and tastings, and even allow customers to assist in production. Others offer initiatory experiences: Discover great wines paired with foie gras and melted chocolate ...

For Lindt, this approach has enabled the company "to be known in new markets and position itself successfully as a high-end brand," notes spokeswoman Nina Keller. Its four Australian shops attracted 1.4 million customers last year.

For Max Brenner chocolate, there is also the whole process of making chocolate. The company demonstrates a commitment to transparency and staging that seems at the heart of the 21st century culinary experience. At Max Brenner's, chocolate is a part of a ceremony, in order to make the drink "cozy, full of warmth and fragrance." Same goes for Lindt, which offers "experience and a way to invite travelers into our universe."

"So much time and energy has been spent studying candies and chocolate bars," says Lise Luka, creator of the Geneva Salon of Chocolate. "But much less time has been devoted to drinking chocolate, which offers a return to the craft, old traditions, and childhood connections."

It's a true homecoming, because chocolate was, in fact, known only in its liquid form until the 1850s. "The drink always maintained a therapeutic and aphrodisiac aspect, but the chocolate was very bitter," says historian François de Capitani. "Chocolate's great popularity as a beverage is related to the democratization of sugar. The addition of milk, cinnamon and other flavors was a great triumph for children, women and the sick."

Still, two opposing schools are now emerging on the hot cocoa front. There are the purists, such as Patrick Carvalho, who exclaim "No way one should add milk, what heresy!" On the other side are people who crave a taste of nostalgia and childhood. For them it's sugar and milk, maybe even cream.

Read more from Le Temps in French

Photo - Or Hiltch

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Saving The Planet Is Really A Question Of Dopamine

Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.

Ad scuba-diver and brain coral

Stefano Lupieri

PARIS — Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Addictions to sex and social media

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the 'pleasure hormone.'

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

Transverse section of striatum from a structural MRI image

Lindsay Hanford and Geoff B Hall via Wikipedia

Tweaking genetics 

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Les Echos
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