Chocolate factory offers visitors a truly sweet experience
The smell of cocoa wafts to my nose the moment I set foot on the red-bricked, European-style building.
Nuts, mint, milk powder, cocoa and other ingredients for chocolates tempt me in a 150-meter-long gallery. I stop at the fountains dripping white and dark chocolate, and I dip a biscuit into it. Delightful!
Through a window, I can see an entire chocolate production line operating one floor below me.
“Visitors can watch the whole chocolate-packaging process and enjoy different chocolates along the way,” says Mo Xuefeng, general manager of Aficion, which boasts of being China’s first chocolate plant offering chocolate-themed fun.
Outside, a colorful windmill, a sea of blossoms and big stone pillars form a pretty picture under the blue sky and white clouds.
Located in Jiashan county, Zhejiang province, the chocolate plant covers an area of 28.6 hectares.
The idea is to let customers not only enjoy chocolates, but also see how cocoa beans are turned into wrapped candies, learn the culture and have fun, saysMo.
Mo didn’t take over his father’s successful packaging business after he finished his master’s program in finance at Boston University in 2011.
His childhood love of chocolates spurred him to choose the dark sweet as his career.
“My mother would always prepare some chocolates for my father, who was busy with his business and often forgot to eat,” saysMo.
He began to pay attention to the chocolate industry during his time abroad and spent two years visiting foreign chocolate factories.
He also found that while the Chinese were fond of chocolates, they did not know much about the traditions and history of chocolate.
“Few knew that chocolate was originally a drink, and some of my friends could not even tell the difference between cocoa and coffee beans,” he says.
Even fewer could detect if a particular chocolate was made of cocoa butter or a substitute.
After more thought, he then settled on his project. And construction of the plant began in 2012 and was completed in two years.
For the plant, Mo introduced an advanced production line from Switzerland and the packaging equipment came from Germany.
Most key ingredients are imported, and the chocolates are made using a classic formula from Switzerland.
In addition to offering authentic chocolates with classic flavors, Mo has also introduced Chinese elements in some of his chocolates.
Longjing tea from the West Lake area in Hangzhou and rose petals from Yunnan province have found their way into his chocolates.
His products are mainly sold in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces and in Shanghai, while sales are increasing in Beijing, the Inner Mongolia autonomous region and Sichuan’s capital, Chengdu.
Last year, sales hit 150 million yuan ($22.6 million), more than double the previous year’s total.
At the chocolate facility, visitors can learn about the history of the cocoa beans, how they are planted, picked, transported and processed at the CocoaMagical Journey gallery.
The Custom Bar lets visitors pick the ingredients and make their own chocolates.
Masters show visitors the traditional process of making chocolates by hand, and they can then savor the products they make.
For children, masters make treats by hand in the shape of characters and cartoon figures at the Colorful Candy section.
If visitors want to get their hands messy, the Cooking Studio and Pastry Chef areas allow them to use their imaginations as they make chocolates.
In the garden outside, visitors can see tropical rainforest plants, including cacao and banana trees, and experience the temperatures that they need to thrive in.
The garden is a popular place for couples to have their wedding photos taken.
In 2015, more than 500,000 people visited the facility. Parents, children and lovers are the most frequent visitors, saysMo.
Achocolate festival will be staged from Sept 16 to Oct 16. A train that runs through the whole park will begin operations at the festival, saysMo.
Foreign chocolate masters will also be invited to do demonstrations and deliver lectures.
“I believe chocolate offers people positive energy, and everything we are doing is to share the sweetness and happiness with more people,” he says.