Wednesday, April 23, 2014

World Book Night Chocolate Style

1st two Pages of ebook Copy
"World Book Night" is today, Wednesday, April 23, 2014, so in honor of that I want to share the book Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate by Doreen Pendgracs whom we interviewed last year.  I was sent a copy of this 391 page ebook for this review and I read it using the iBook program so please keep in mind that how it may look on your ereader may not be the same.  I will include some screenshots to demonstrate the book.

The book has 14 chapters in all. The first three are introductions to what chocolate is, supposed health benefits of chocolate, and different types of chocolate companies.  Chapters 4-10, seven chapters in all, focus on Pendgracs experiences with chocolate in specific countries -- Belgium, France, Holland, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and the UK.  The final four chapters look at events, recipes, awards, and a list of the fine chocolate companies the author has encountered during her travels. Let's look at these chapters one at a time, Sisters and Brothers.

Chapter 1 has a good basic introduction to cacao tree farming though it focuses on Peru, Ecuador, and St. Lucia in the West Indies which are only a few of the areas of the world where cacao beans are grown but since this is volume one I expect future volumes will consider other locations for cacao farming such as Asia and Africa. Furthermore while these three locations are certainly not the only areas where cocoa farming happens I appreciate Pendgracs limiting her writing to those that she has personal experience with.  Anyone could research a book about chocolate but Chocolatour is about her journeys around the world learning about it so it needs to be limited in this fashion. Pendgracs' background as a travel writer shines here through her descriptions of the travel to these farms, the work done there, and the various challenges each farm is facing.  This chapter is a realistic view of the industry at ground level.

Chapter 2 about the health benefits of chocolate is my least favorite chapter in the book because it buys into the promotion of the industry versus questioning the studies that keep coming out. There is also a focus on women's relationship with chocolate ignoring men's love of chocolate and the fact that both men and women can be cursed with an allergy to chocolate. Chocolate as we make it and commonly buy it is not what is shown to be healthy in study after study and we need to be honest about this if we are to truly understand and appreciate chocolate using it in the best way that we can.

Chapter 3 looks at six "personalities" of chocolate and some of the companies that Pendgracs has interacted with that produce chocolate with these personalities -- Sophisticated, Elegant; Exotic, Sensual; Playful, Adventurous; Innovative, Intellectual; Purist, Traditional; and Multiple. Each type section begins with a list of basic criteria then a set of chocolate companies that make chocolate within that type.  What would be a very useful addition to this chapter would be advice on how to figure out what personality you yourself have i regard to chocolate or how various events might be added with chocolate of these types.  Just because you think you are intellectual may not mean that that type is best for your family gathering or what you need post a rough day at work.

Chapter 4 takes us to Belgium.  Each of these country focused chapters is geared toward helping us learn about chocolate opportunities if you were to visit the nation in question. What have you heard about Belgium chocolate other than that the word on cocoa canisters and chocolate bars that are trying to convince you to buy them?  Belgium has a lot of chocolate shops and the vast majority craft their products so Pendgracs urges us to try a lot of them but of course I'd urge you to do so in moderation as well.  She looks at the cities of Brussels, Florenville, and Li├Ęge in particular and examines the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate, the Grand Place, and several noteworthy chocolate shops.  If you get this in ebook form the links will take you to websites about each so you can check them out.  This is one of the best things about non-fiction ebooks in my opinion and Pendgracs uses this feature well.
Chapter 5 looks into the romance of France and the tradition of chocolate making there in the past and today.  Just like the previous chapter she looks at specific highlights in Paris, the region of Provence, and Marseilles.  Just like in the previous chapter each chocolatier is described in terms of history, taste, and offerings including whether or not they give out free samples.  Each chapter is concluded with a set of "fun facts" for the country in question.

Chapter 6 takes us to Holland where I must confess I had no strong positive or negative chocolate impressions.  Pendgracs tells us that Dutch chocolate is known to be very sweet but that she also found darker chocolates and less sweet chocolates are starting to gain in popularity there.  I know some folks who hate bitterness so perhaps they can take her suggestions and descriptions here to find the perfect chocolate for them.  However this chapter is much shorter and really only looks at Amsterdam and four shops there.  Is that because chocolatiers are not as widespread in Holland as elsewhere in Europe?  We also don't get as much about the history of chocolate in the country so this was a bit disappointing.

Chapter 7 sees Pendgracs in Italy and we've featured a few different brands of Italian chocolate in the past so I read this chapter with hope plus I've lived in Italy but at the time wasn't really interested in chocolate -- shocking I know, Sisters and Brothers.  There are two tiers of chocolate in Italy -- that mass made for export and that made for local consumption. Rome, Turin, the region of Tuscany, and Pisa. Each of these has several noteworthy chocolate shops making me very sad that I didn't look into chocolate more when I lived in Rome for two full semesters.  The "fun facts" in this chapter list several chocolate festivals you might want to plan your trip around.

Chapter 8 turns to Spain where chocolate entered the European consciousness with explorations of South American centuries ago. The focus is on two cities Madrid and Barcelona and the shops and chocolate museums you'll find during your trip.  What was particularly disappointing for me in this chapter is the lack of historical information given that Spain was in many ways the chocolate gateway for Europe.  Perhaps mentioning the museums, all of which focus on the history, seems like enough but a few more sentences would have been ideal for me as a historian.

One of my friends who helps us out here on The Chocolate Cult when we have alcohol infused chocolates visits Switzerland about every year and most of the time she brings your Chocolate Priestess a piece of Swiss chocolate. Chapter 9 takes me further into this world I wanted to learn more about.  Switzerland like Belgium has chocolate shops all over the place but this chapter really only looks at Zurich then at several notable chocolate companies around the country.  Traditional creamy Swiss chocolate still seems the most popular but darker versions are also growing much as in Holland.

Chapter 10 takes us to the UK and again we've tried a few brands of British chocolate though this chapter goes into the fuller ethnic picture of the treats and desserts created there.  British chocolate is generally considered lower quality but Pendgracs reports that in the past five years "new British chocolate" is crafting better and better treats.  Instead of focusing on cities this chapter looks at specific chocolatiers and shops in England and then in other UK countries.

Chapter 11 samples some of the events and attractions associated with chocolate that Pendgracs has discovered and visited during her trips.  This repeats much of the same information from the earlier chapters but does expand as well.  It is organized by country and leaves Europe to include events and locations in North, Central, and South America, Africa, and Asia where the love of and the creation of chocolate is expanding rapidly.



Chapter 12 offers three recipes which was far less than I expected.  She goes into some detail about how you can pair chocolate with wines, beers, teas, and coffees along with several restaurants and chocolatiers who specialize in pairing our Sacred Substance up with these drinks.

Chapter 13 is not a description of various awards that are given for chocolate around the world. Instead it is Pendgracs' listing of the best that she'd tested from around the world not just the European countries she focuses on here.  I think this chapter would have been better in the next volume after Pendgracs has taken us on more chocolate journeys around the world.

Chapter 14 offers definitions of chocolate related terms as well as collects the names and a brief description of the chocolate companies that Pendgracs has tested and visited.  This isn't an exhaustive list and you'll need to see her chapters and future volumes to get a deeper understanding of each one.  These are listed alphabetically by the company name.  In the ebook form a website for any of these would have been a great edition.

We've been honored over the past several years to test and feature chocolate from some of the companies found in this book including Aequare Fine Chocolates, Askinosie Chocolate, Cocoa Nymph, DOVE, Endangered Species Chocolate, Ghirardelli Chocolate, Guittard Chocolate Company, Kallari Chocolate, Lindt, Marou, TCHO Chocolate,Theo Chocolate, and Xocai. Clearly we have a lot of chocolate left to test and reveal to you all but until then Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate can be purchased from several sites in paperback and ebook format.  Click on the links below to find yours.


Amazon Paperback Version:

You can also get it directly from Doreen, the author, at her website.

2 comments:

Doreen Pendgracs said...

Thanks for your review, Tammy Jo. Indeed, the volume that you have reviewed is volume one in a series of three. So I will indeed be covering the rest of the world in subsequent volumes, and expanding on the A-Z guide as we go along. There are many fine books that focus on the history of chocolate, so it is my focus to establish chocolate travel as the new niche. That is the focus of Chocolatour. As 80% of chocolate is sold to women, that also explains why the focus of my book is toward the women who not only like, but need and buy chocolate. The hope your readers will enjoy the read.

TammyJo Eckhart said...

I enjoyed it so I'm sure our readers will too plus so many of them live in Europe that they need to check this book out and then explore a bit more. I wonder how many Europeans get the chance or have the desire to check out chocolates from other countries? I know for me it would be a very big challenge to travel that much but when I lived in Rome I could have done it and I wish I'd had this book then as I mention above.