Ellie Bouttell takes a look at the workings of Qingdao’s own chocolate factory, and the history of chocolate in Spain.
Julian Zulueta is the manager of Chocolates Luz, a company which makes chocolate the traditional Spanish way. Although not known to many for its chocolate production, Spain actually has the longest history with chocolate making of any country in Europe. Cocoa beans came to Europe via former Spanish colonies in Central America, and the art of making chocolate ‘paste’—the material from which the chocolate we are familiar with is produced—has long been a Spanish tradition.
In the early 16th century, Christopher Colombus noted that natives
of the Americas revered cocoa beans ‘like currency’; a few years later, according to legend, King Montezuma II included drinking chocolate in a banquet held in honour of the man who would soon after conquer his empire, Hernando Cortés. The drink at that time was bitter, used as an aphrodisiac or medicine. Once the colonial Spanish had exported it home, and added sweeteners like honey or cane sugar, it became a popular drink first in Spain, then throughout Europe. “When my grandmother was a child, people used to eat chocolate every day,” Julian recounts. “Most of it was made for melting. Even small towns would have a chocolate workshop or factory, creating these huge two- kilo bars of chocolate, tougher than the kind we know today.”
In 1828, Dutchman Conrad van Houten patented a method for separating the fat, known as cocoa butter, from roasted cocoa beans. The resulting powder was meant
for drinking, but over the next few decades, experimental chocolate makers found that cocoa paste could be treated and mixed with sugar and more cocoa butter, to create a smoother chocolate for eating.“The leftover cocoa powder is used for ‘compound
chocolate’; things like chocolate flavour ice cream, biscuits, and so on. They use palm oil to replace the cocoa butter, making it cheaper and easier to produce, but the flavour is not as nice. Real chocolate should only have cocoa butter. Our company only makes 100% real chocolate.” Julian explains.
The factory of Chocolates Luz looks unassuming on the outside, but once inside, the sparkling cleanliness of everything is astounding. We don indoor-shoes and hairnets, and are led into the production rooms. It’s amazing how high-tech it is. “There are a lot of tricks to making chocolate,” Julian assures us, gesturing to the machines. “There are two parts to making the final product: making the paste and then making the bar. Most chocolatiers don’t actually make chocolate paste; they buy it off the chocolate makers, melt it and alter it to make their final product. We are a small factory, but we make both parts ourselves, something few companies do.”
We’re led through into a room holding a very noisy machine; inside is 100% pure chocolate paste. A small tasting stick confirms that it’s practically unrecognisable from the chocolate we know, a deep, sharp and bitter taste th
at sticks in your mouth. “This process is making the chocolate very fine.”
Testing machines are positioned around the workplace, for testing water content (“water is the enemy of chocolate” Julian says gravely), amongst other parameters.
Maltitol is the sweetener used that allows this chocolate to be sugar- free. The machine that grinds down the sweetener is covered in white powder, finer than dust, that floats in the air and settles on surfaces. Maltitol, Julian tells me, is natural, has a lower calorie content, does not rot teeth, and is suitable for people with diabetes, although its price is much higher than white sugar. China has a high and rising rate of diabetes, and chocolate has yet to explode in popularity here, creating a market gap.
A piping system channels the chocolate from machine to machine; from the conching machines, to the refining machine, to the tempering machine (which allows the correct crystals to form within the chocolate’s structure), to the storage tanks. Everywhere, the liquids have to be kept at very specific temperatures, the reason for the heavy pipe insulation. Sometimes there are leaks, not of water, but chocolate which spurts all over the factory floor. It sounds like a leak from a fariytale.
Standing on a stepladder, I look down into a pool of molten darkness that shines where the light hits it, and from which wafts a beautiful, sweet, intoxicating smell. “Makes
you want to swim in it, doesn’t it?” Julian grins. “We have about six hundred kilos here.” I’m surprised; the tank only looks about a fifth full. “Well, yes. The full capacity is about 3 tonnes.” A small factory, indeed. We sample tasters, made a few days ago with pieces of waffle; the chocolate’s freshness is tangible in its creamy, smooth texture. It tastes exactly the same as sugar-sweetened chocolate.
It’s plain to see that there are secrets, technlogies and a lot of history to the trade. Nobody else in China makes a product quite like this. Qingdao definitely has something special.
Where to Buy
Chocolates Luz make milk, milk and hazelnut, 70% dark, 70% dark with orange and 88% dark varieties plus a special hand moulded milk with wafer pieces, and of course drinking chocolate, all of which are available via their WeChat shop, Chocolates Luz 露兹 巧克力 .
Their range is also sold at
Jusco (Xianggang Middle Road, Hefei Road and Huangdao branches), Jiashiyaun and Hualian supermarkets.
Contact their WeChat account chocoluz for more informations