Hey chocolate fans!
The NW Chocolate Festival just ended, and I’m exhausted. But I’m a blogger, and so you’re getting a rundown.
What was it like? For me, it felt like a homecoming. Even though I’ve been back in media since this spring, I haven’t seen a lot of people this year due to finishing my recovery from last year. So I got to catch up with a lot of people I haven’t talked to enough, and see how their work was going. I saw friends, and wandered with them. I also finally met a lot of people I’ve been excited to meet, like Megan Giller (Chocolate Noise), Valerie Beck (Chocolate Uplift), Patricia (Eating the Chocolate Alphabet), and Sophia Contreras Rea (Projet Chocolat). I got pulled into being behind the booth at a Fran’s giveaway, and joined in all that energy. I tried so many chocolates and confections my palate’s still recovering Monday morning.
I hope it was just as lovely for those of you who got to attend!
On to the nuts and bolts for today. I’m going to cover two things here: trends I spotted at the show, and my hopes for the 2017 festival. Why those two? They’re what I wanted to comment on. So here we go!
The major trends I spotted at the Festival:
- Increased presence of products – or entire brands – not available in the states. Given that a lot of companies have limited product distribution in the states, this wasn’t that surprising, but seeing multiple brands with no US presence was new. Escalier, a Japanese chocolate maker that launched last year, ran out of bars by noon on Sunday. Biche & Cushe from Trinidad and Tobago, with small single origin bars, had a sign reminding people they could only get the bars at the festival. On the products side, Dandelion Chocolate had two bars only available from their store in Japan, and Marou brought a small sampling of their only-in-Vietnam inclusion bars. Honestly, I’m not sure what this means, except there are likely some very happy distributors who made some amazing scores.
- Rise of dark milk chocolate. Most brands had some form of dark milk chocolate this year. This is really new: I feel like we’ve been living in a 70% world for ages, and few were touching dark milk as a concept until last year. However, since dark milk isn’t actually a percentage, there was no consistency on what that meant. I saw most in the 50-65% percentage range, and a few didn’t list their percentage clearly. Still, I’m pretty excited for this, since I find the dark milk products to be a great starter bar type for people who are getting into craft chocolate and want something creamy.
- Beginnings of the rise of sesame and black sesame. Black sesame as a flavor isn’t remotely new, but this is the first year with two companies creating bars with black sesame as the stars of the show. Charm School went with white chocolate infused with black sesame, and Escalier had a semisweet with black sesame in the mix and as an inclusion. (Yes, I got both. I’m tempted to cover them here, but since none of you can get Escalier, I’m torn. But they’re grey and black bars! They’re so neat!) I’ve been in love with black sesame as a flavor for ages, and I’m hopeful to see even more experimentation here.
- Esoteric chocolate flavors. I felt like Pandora’s Box of chocolate flavors was finally getting opened past Intrigue’s experiments and into the bar scene. There were way more ridiculous inclusions, way more ridiculous flavors. I saw multiple pine bars (hey Raaka and Milk Boy), bay nuts (Firefly), even passionfruit and spice confections (Batchpdx). Where do we go from here? Will someone finally make the lemony Western Hemlock bar of my geeky dreams? No clue.
Now, for my hopes for 2017 for the chocolate show:
- Better space accessibility. This was a serious improvement over the Bell Harbor space last year, and we can still do better. Water stations needed to be marked, the escalators only went in one direction (which made for limited mobility access), and there were few chairs for resting or eating. And I’d love a quiet room for resting.
- Will we return to the Washington State Convention Center Annex in 2017? I feel like the current convention size would be right at home in the Convention Center Annex, and it’s been a few years since the Festival was over there. Also, the space is amazing for conventions – I know, I’ve worked a few there. Biggest thing: it would have reasonable rooms for talks so we can hear all the awesome speakers better. The lack of walls in the panels was a serious issue, and it was super hard to focus.
- A media/trade room. We need a space where media and makers can meet outside show floors. I’d like to make sure the convention time is as best as possible for attendees. As the show currently exists, attendees are sharing time and space with media interviews and trade deals. With a media room, ideally makers would sign up for times they wanted to meet, and media would sign up for those slots, taking that work off the show floor. (There could even be times for brands to meet.) And some space for photography would minimize the need for cameras.
Did you attend the Festival? What did you try? Any new favorites? I’d love to hear all about them!