Happiness in a chocolate drop
By Agnes Yu
Nestled in a side street not far from the main gate of Hongik University in the western part of Seoul, there is an artisanal chocolate shop that first opened its doors on Sept. 1, 2006.
Whether the market was ready or not over five years ago, Cacao Boom began proffering the finest handmade pralines available in the ROK and continues to do so today, with a wider range of products and a made-to-order service.
At 1,500 won for one delectable dropping, consumers weren’t ready for the price either but Go Young-joo, upon discovering a completely new kinship with chocolate while studying in Belgium, decided that this was something that she must share with other people in Korea. She spent roughly eight years living in Ghent, a city in the Flemish region of Belgium during which she learned about chocolate as a culture and as an indulgence ― that it’s not simply a sweet snack. Foremost she found out how much it made people happy.
Indeed Europeans love chocolate and on average they eat about eight kilograms a year. Compared to 1.4 kg per person in Korea it is significantly more. Go also mentions that if you consider the type of chocolate that’s being eaten here then Koreans eat far less. She describes the bulk of the chocolate available in Korea as ‘imitation’ or ‘instant’ and made of mainly vegetable oil so it can’t even really be called chocolate.
While in Belgium, Go dabbled in a wide range of creative activities because she especially enjoys working with her hands and she likes to feed people. She didn’t have a particular intention to learn how to make chocolate but the continuous positive feedback urged her to stick with it and gradually her skills improved. She said, ``Everyone ate my handmade chocolates with great pleasure and because my friends or relatives back in Korea hadn’t tasted anything like it before, there was an unexpected appreciation and glee when I would hand them out.’’
Belgian pralines or chocolate bonbons were first introduced in 1912 by Jean Neuhaus who was a chocolatier and came from a family steeped in the business of chocolates, biscuits and ice cream. Belgian pralines come in all sorts of shapes but they are always bite-sized with a hard chocolate shell and a softer, sometimes liquid center. The filling can be butter, liquor, nuts, marzipan or even just more chocolate. The coating can be dusted with powder or decorated with coconut or nuts, etc. This type of chocolate as well as drinking chocolate is what Go specializes in.
Upon returning to Korea the first thing Go did was spend about three months canvassing the entire country for similar quality chocolates. She basically did her own market research directly and found nothing resembling the chocolate culture that she wanted to spread.
``It was 2001 and by coincidence I read a newspaper article that mentioned the Paradise Hotel in Busan had just hired a new manager and that he was from Belgium. I sent my CV and became the first professional chocolatier in Korea.’’ There she created a new menu of pralines that sold mainly to the Japanese tourists that often stayed at the hotel. The Japanese could recognize the quality and the cheaper than home prices so they bought many. From morning until night, while working almost like a robot Go lived and breathed chocolate. It was here she improved her techniques immensely and gained valuable Belgium praline-making experience.
After a couple of years Go left Busan and opened an atelier with the objective to teach and spread her expertise. She also got a license to sell her chocolates to hotel delis, bakeries and cafes. A blog on the Internet attracted serious-minded individuals so she was able to form classes of two to three students with dreams and visions of chocolate.
Go also hosted an EBS serial of five segments which aired weekly and more students came wanting to learn her chocolate craft. The classes were intensive and for students who wanted to learn a trade, not a new hobby. During the decade since, Go has taught roughly 200 students and about 50 work in related industry locally. These classes are still taught once a week on Sundays in a 9-week program.
On a certain level, fine chocolate can still be considered a luxury item.
Whether it is a dark two centimeters by two centimeters by two centimeters symmetrical square with a nutty, smooth solid chocolate inside that melts in delicious creaminess on your tongue for 1,500 won (a praline called Silky Boom that Go created) or a frothy beverage with a choice of differing degrees of cocoa, hot or cold, priced between 5000 and 7000 won, the chocolate delights might not be an everyday affair but they are certainly worth the occasional splurge.
Rachel Waddell, an English woman working at an NGO, ate a praline and described it as, ``really tasty ― rich chocolate with a deliciously delicate strawberry filling ― perfect with my mid-morning coffee.’’
Containing more than 300 known chemicals such as phenolics, caffeine and theobromine, chocolate can give you a perk, help you fight heart disease, impart tokens of pleasure, please the senses and melt in your mouth.
In Korea, according to the website researchandmarkets.com chocolate consumption had an annual growth rate of about six percent between 2004 and 2009. The leading player is Lotte Group.
Go has written three books on chocolate and hopes to eventually expand by opening shops in neighborhoods nearby. Meanwhile Cacao Boom in Hongdae can be your source for authentic chocolate treats. Despite the whirlwind of change that touches every part of the city there is immeasurable comfort in frequenting places that remain intact and loyal in the services they provide.
Visit http://www.cacaoboom.com or call 02-3141-4663 for more information.