One of the world’s most expensive chocolate bars is grown on a tiny plot of land in Ecuador with beans made from semi-wild cacao trees. The 50-gram (about 1.8 ounces) bar rests in a hand-crafted, hardwood box of Spanish elm engraved with an individual bar number, and includes a 116-page booklet. A special utensil is included to keep this richness from melting in your hands.
Only 574 bars were made in 2014, its first year of production. About 500 were sold—at $260 each.
Clearly this is not your average Hershey’s bar. But what makes this extravagant treat so special?
Rarity has a Taste
Several things, claims Jerry Toth, co-founder of the maker To’ak Chocolate. First, his company exclusively uses the beans of the native Ecuadorian Nacional cacao tree from the Arriba region, which was cited by Swiss chocolatiers in the 19th century as being unusually rich and having a floral aroma. This heirloom variety was nearly wiped out in 1916–17 after a disease outbreak. Most commercial-chocolate producing cacao trees in Ecuador are now a hybrid.
There are two ingredients in the chocolate—cacao beans and sugar—and similar to winemaking, To’ak focuses on terroir, looking to express the specific soil and climate conditions. There are only about three acres in production.
To’ak should have its second harvest available in September, Toth said. Five percent of the proceeds go to support the Jama-Coaque Ecological Reserve, which protects more than 1,000 acres of tropical forest in coastal Ecuador. He also pays a premium to the growers and shares 10 percent of the profits with them. The candy is made in Ecuador and then shipped to the U.S.
Even at the $260 price point, To’ak chocolate is a labor of love, not necessarily a cash cow, Toth said.
“If we wanted to make money, we would not have gone into making chocolate. We’re not two guys in a penthouse on Park Avenue making chocolate,” he said.
Even regular fare can be elevated. Restaurant Melisse in Santa Monica, California, offers a five-cheese agnolotti with white truffles for $120. That’s right—really, really good macaroni and cheese.
But the hallmark of luxury foods is often small supply or extended production time.
For instance, it takes 25 years for female Beluga sturgeon to produce eggs for Beluga caviar, the classic luxury food. But you can’t even buy it in the U.S., as imports were banned in 2005. An alternative is Caspian Osetra caviar, which can go for $345 for one ounce.
True Kobe beef—which is also difficult to get in the U.S.—is even rare in Japan. Only 3,000 head of the Tajima strain of Wagyu cattle, raised in Japan's Hyogo Prefecture, are annually certified as Kobe beef. The Oak Door restaurant in Tokyo’s Grand Hyatt hotels is known for selling real Kobe beef, and 300 grams (10.5 ounces) of Kobe A5 beef sirloin will set you back 24,800 yen, or about $200.
Guess what? Side dishes are extra.
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