In an exciting new addition to London’s chocolate shopping scene, Selfridges has now opened a ‘Chocolate Library’ featuring over 400 chocolate bars in its refurbished and expanded Confectionary Hall, complete with a Chocarian to helpfully guide you through what’s on offer. Strikingly laid out along a long wall, the assorted bars, with packaging ranging from discreet to flamboyant, are an appealing sight. While, sadly, one can’t ‘borrow’ a chocolate bar from the Chocolate Library, they are arranged alphabetically by name of maker, running from Adoré to Zaabar. Looking at the shelves brings home the range of chocolate bars on offer. Chocolate geeks have serious scope for research here, with bars showcasing cacao from different regions of the world, different bean varieties, varying levels of cocoa contents and ‘raw’ chocolate. Then, of course, there are the flavourings – spices, fruits, herbs, teas, nuts . . . Intriguingly, there is even chocolate made from camel milk from Al-Nassma.
One of the clever things about presenting chocolate bars in this way is that it allows small, niche chocolate makers to have a visible presence. For Selfridges Confectionary Buyer, Emma Murphy, this was part of the motivation in setting up the Chocolate Library. “I’m contacted by new chocolate brands almost daily, some of these suppliers are large and established with extensive ranges but also by smaller companies with less breadth of range. Having two or three bars of chocolate in a retail space that is over 4,000 sq feet causes challenges for these ranges as they can become lost.”
In response, the Chocolate Library offers “a dedicated space which is a destination statement within the department”. Giving chocolate bars rather than filled truffles such an emphasis is an interesting move, but one which Emma feels chocolate buyers in the UK are ready for. “Filled truffles are often bought as gifts rather than for self consumption. The chocolate library gives the customer the chance to buy their own affordable, luxurious indulgence. Prices range from £2.25 up to £14.99.” Presenting such a range of chocolate bars, Emma feels, “offers our customers the opportunity to explore chocolate from different regions of the world, experience the different qualities of cacao and flavour profiles of each type of bean and give them an understanding of what their personal preferences for true chocolate are.” Not surprisingly given its range of stock, a lot of work went into setting up the library: “Over a year of constant sourcing, searching and researching chocolates from the farthest corners of the world. The result, I feel, is a range of chocolate bars that is all encompassing; a celebration of chocolate from the UK and international brands.”
Having a major chocolate retailer placing the focus on the chocolate bar, rather than the truffle, is a significant moment in the UK chocolate scene. Danish chocolate maker Mikkel Friis-Holm (well represented in the Selfridges Chocolate Library) is a noted exponent and champion of the chocolate bar format. “The ‘bar format’ gives me the same possibilities as a bottle does for the wine-maker,” he tells us. “We have made an extensive range of single bean chocolate in this range – we can express the difference in taste between the different varities. We have also made the Chuno 70% bar in two different formats, where the difference is in the post-harvest fermentation process. The potential for working with the final taste of chocolate is endless.”
For Mikkel the arrival of the Selfridges Chocolate Library devoted to high quality chocolate bars is a break-through. “I still feel that most people haven’t wrapped their heads around the fact that chocolate has as much potential as coffee, wine, rum or whisky. For most people a chocolate bar is still something you pick up at the supermarket for a quid or two, or three or four is ‘expensive’. Try using that as a price range for the other above mentioned products! Selfridges has acknowledged that a change is coming and they are the first movers in recognising Pure Chocolate. This is just the start.”
For the world of ‘real chocolate’ (as opposed to chocolate confectionary) to continue to grow and develop, consumers need to understand more about artisan chocolate, so that they can appreciate the work and skills which go into making fine chocolate and the flavour possibilities of cacao. They also need access to high-quality chocolate so they can taste the differences for themselves.
Historically, libraries were places which increased knowledge. It’s exciting to see that the Selfridges Chocolate Library offers a lot of scope for fascinating – and delicious – research.