Where Chocolate Meets Style
The three Schokov shops in Vienna set out their wares to seduce the unwary into tasting a tiny piece of heaven
The irresistible taste of nougat melting on our tongues amidst cascades of pure chocolate joy, mingles with the freshness of apple and the spiciness of cinnamon, making our taste buds rejoice. This is surely ecstasy – it’s like Christmas in our mouths.
We open our eyes. Not Christmas, and not heaven, at least not in the normal sense. This is Schokov’s Chocolate Shop and the cinnamon-apple chocolate we just had is only one of the many delectable morsels yet to come at today’s chocolate tasting.
"It’s good, isn’t it?" Thomas Kovazh grins. Slender with ginger hair, freckles, and thick-rimmed glasses, he doesn’t look like the typical round-bellied chocolatier.
Kovazh is the owner, inventor and founder of Schokov, an exclusive chocolate shop at Siebensterngasse 20 in Vienna’s 7th District. An avowed chocolate addict who "used to eat a 300g bar of Milka nuts chocolate every day," he had the idea for the shop four years ago. "I wanted something that did not exist in this form," he explains, namely, a shop of "extraordinary chocolates for extraordinary people." His concept of offering exclusive products from all over the world as well as Schokov’s own private brand in an almost futuristic, yet welcoming setting seems to work.
Three years after the first store opened in Spittelberg, Schokov expanded to Herrengasse in the first District and to a third location in the 18th. Seventy percent of the people who buy chocolates at the 7th District store are regulars.
"Luckily, we were very well received there," says Kovazh. On Herrengasse, in line with the location, roughly 60% are tourists.
Belgian truffles, the Schokov Schichtnougat (layered nougat) as well as the sweets made by Austria’s chocolate world champion Bachhalm are among the store’s classics. Other bestsellers depend on the season: In the winter, customers like chocolate with cinnamon, ginger or other spices, in the summer they tend to go for something minty, he tells us. Those and many more were on the menu for Schokov’s Chocolate Tasting – Kovazh’s regular seductions of the innocent that are the excuse for our visit.
The tasting takes place at the Herrengasse shop in the city center, bigger than the one in Spittelberg, and for many, easier to get to. Decorated for Christmas, the shop is a bustle of good cheer. Under the soaring arches that reach high across the ceiling, the shop is painted entirely in white, with a grayish black board scratched with white chalk and cleverly selected accessories, including a mirror framed with elaborate golden ornaments. A white Christmas tree stands on a massive wooden table surrounded with an elegant, minimalist arrangement of tiny chocolate boxes, setting the scene. In this modernist setting, we are not surprised to learn that Kovazh has a design background having worked as an advertising copy-writer. He describes the décor of his shops as "MoMA with a difference."
Schokov holds chocolate tasting sessions at least once a month, "but right before Christmas it’s about three to four times," the elderly shopkeeper tells us as we enter the store.
For today’s tasting, some 30 visitors were expected, although only 20 showed up. (All the more for us, we think gleefully!) Our fellow tasters making up our group of Naschkatzen are young couples and groups of friends; we note with amusement that it is mostly women.
While the other participants stroll through the shop reviewing the trays of mouth-watering mood enhancers in search of a favorite, we discover a little toy train, chugging up and down the tracks in one of the display windows, its carriages heavily loaded with Schokov’s most prominent varieties - all of which will soon be unloaded in our mouths (at least we hope so!).
While the others begin choosing chocolates to sample, we discover a twisted brownish oddity: Chocolate pasta, or Pates au Cacao, usually served, we learn, with venison or as a sweet desert. Water already dripping from our mouths, we move on to Orange Crisps, Ginger Tips (Ingwerspitzen) and Belgium Chocolate Truffles.
Before we can finally begin the tease of temptation, we are curious to learn a little about the origins of cocoa. A cocoa fruit is roughly as big as a pumpkin, Kovazh tells us, and its seeds rather bitter. Still we are to try anything and bite enthusiastically into a bean. We grimace and look at each other in disgust – uncooked and unsweetened, the beans are horrid!
"Chocolate is only allowed to be called chocolate when it consists of at least 27-28% cocoa." Now we understand – more milk and sugar and less cacao makes the chocolate not only cheaper but also sweeter – which, we suspect, is fine with us.
But we still haven’t decided on a chocolate bar. Finally, we settle on a red pepper chocolate. In the end, 20 different bars find their way into the hands of Thomas Kovazh. Every chocolate is presented in a little China bowl from which we may try. A note of warning reaches us before we storm the bowls with watery mouths: "I warn you, after chocolate number 12, you will lose your sense of taste!" For two chocoholics like us, this is hard to believe.
The tasting has a very specific schedule. We start off with white and milk chocolates, to which we are served a white wine from Argentina that is very smooth, followed by a glass of red wine, an Austrian Zweigelt, for the darker chocolates.
"Actually, you could have a specific wine to go with every chocolate you try," Kovazh tells us.
Enough instructions - Ready, steady, go! Finally, we find ourselves munching chocolates, trying the oddest varieties such as the red pepper chocolate by Bachhalm. Instead of incorporating the spices or flowers into the chocolate cream itself, he prefers the cocoa mass to be sprinkled with poppy seeds, viola or even lavender.
Although the contrast of the dark chocolate and the violet lavender sprinkles gives the chocolate bar an exquisite look, the taste itself does not convince us. Too unconventional.
"It’s almost like eating perfume," one tester remarks sarcastically. Other mouths, however, are transformed into satisfied grins when they take flavorful bites into the flower chocolates, as we decide to call them. Unsure as to whether we actually want to bring the garden into our sweets, we move to a dark cranberry chocolate which we find much more appealing. The subtle bitterness of the red fruit mingles with the creamy texture of the chocolate, leaving a satisfying aftertaste. Fruits and chocolate score full points, we agree.
It is not only the surprising flavors of the chocolates but also their incredibly strong aromas that engulf us, like the sea salt chocolate. Taking a cautious bite, we suddenly find ourselves by the seaside, the relentless tides hitting the sandy shores. Still, we are not quite convinced. Salt and chocolate? Impossible. Kovazh nods understandingly. "Taste changes over time with your consumption; it’s just like a wine-maker – you grow to appreciate the quality."
1., Herrengasse 5
7., Siebensterngasse 20
18., Gersthofer Strasse 67
(01) 664 885 13 162