Cho­co­late fac­tory of­fers vis­i­tors a truly sweet ex­pe­ri­ence

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE - By YANG FEIYUE yangfeiyue@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

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