Hong Kong Chocolate Culture: When West Meets East

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At first look, contemporary Hong Kong gives off the impression of being a large metropolis located somewhere in mainland China. But if you stop on a street corner and listen to a few different conversations, you can tell there is a difference in the air simply by using your ears. Even while there is still a hustle, time is passing in a hundred other languages, and taking a walk down the street takes in dozens more scents. This wide range of tastes and origins sheds light on a facet of the territory’s contemporary global character. The territory is home to individuals hailing from each and every nation on the planet.

Hong Kong’s chocolate culture is an excellent lens through which to examine Hong Kong’s global origins and grasp more facts about Hong Kong, where it is now, and where it is heading in the future. This is true in a manner that is historically relevant. The European provenance is quite clear, but identifying the regional tastes may require a little more digging. However, if you want to enjoy an experience that is genuinely authentic in Hong Kong, you nearly always need to resort to the cuisine of the area.

You can listen to a podcast version of this article and the interviews that were conducted by clicking here.

Setting The Scene: Hong Kong’s Historic Rise

At the beginning of the 19th century, Hong Kong was a quiet fishing hamlet. However, it just so happened to be situated in a region of the Chinese Empire that was very important for military purposes. Opium was traded by the British for Chinese silks, silver, and other non-perishable goods and non-food items on the island of Hong Kong. However, throughout the later part of the 1800s, China leased an enlarged region of Hong Kong to the British empire. This occurred in the context of the Opium Wars. This chain of treaties resulted in Great Britain being granted a lease on Hong Kong for a period of 99 years. During that time, Britain retained sovereignty over the territory; however, on July 1, 1997, Hong Kong was “returned” to China.

But throughout the course of that period, Hong Kong evolved into an internationally significant center of business, in addition to serving as the capital of Britain and a major port of trade in East Asia. Hong Kong has grown considerably differently from mainland China despite the enormous and relatively regular migration of Chinese immigrants into the territory. This is due to the fact that Hong Kong is a separate administrative region. Farms and other rural areas may still be found in the New Territories district, despite Hong Kong’s reputation as a metropolis that is known for its hustle and bustle. This region is truly quite the paradise for nature lovers.

You will discover that contemporary Hong Kong is one of the most costly places to visit when you go there. If you’ve ever gone to a large Chinese metropolis, this could remind you of the London version of that place. There’s a lot of English spoken here, along with dozens upon dozens of other languages, and you can hear them all on every street corner. These days, the phrase “Made in China” is far more common than “Made in Hong Kong.” However, despite Hong Kong’s legal status as a part of China, mainland Chinese citizens have a difficult time obtaining visas to visit Hong Kong, which explains why Chinese products are more prevalent here than individuals of Chinese descent.

The two-systems-one-government deal that was reached in 1997 has ensured that this will remain the case, at least for the first fifty years after Hong Kong was returned to China. During this interim period, imports from other countries have grown to dominate several markets, including the market for chocolate.

Chocolate’s History In Hong Kong

When Hong Kong was still a British colony, the majority of the population did not have access to foreign chocolate because it was too expensive. In point of fact, cacao production was only beginning to catch up in the Crown’s colonies in Africa about the same time that Hong Kong was given over to British authority. Decades later, even inexpensive chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil were considered a wonderful gift that was only available during the Chinese New Year. However, over the course of the last twenty years, Hong Kong has developed into the location of choice for well-known European chocolatiers to set up business for the very first time in Asia.

Both the number of foreign expats, particularly from Great Britain but also from all other parts of the globe, as well as the number of tourists, have significantly increased in recent years. Chocolate shops are glad to satisfy the indulgent cravings of both residents and tourists alike while they are in this multicultural area, which is why there are so many of them. However, as a consequence of this, rents have surged in areas where chocolate manufacturers would wish to set up shop; this is a commercial barrier more powerful than others.

There are a variety of reasons that are luring food enterprises of all types into Hong Kong, including the more lax import rules in Hong Kong, in comparison to mainland China and the nations that are adjoining Hong Kong. This has resulted in increased rivalry for a limited number of physical shop locations and has prompted businesses with less financial resources to turn their attention to farmers’ markets, pop-up shops, and internet retailers. Although every one of these approaches to running a company has some flaws, it’s not hard to understand why they’re still popular.

It is difficult to ignore the cultural and historical pulls that Hong Kong residents have for foreign chocolates because of their long-standing tradition. Even if it’s only a KitKat bar from a convenience shop, they signify opulence, exclusivity, and a one-of-a-kind experience for the consumer. This concept of “a treat” is also significant since the primary function that chocolate serves in the modern culture of Hong Kong is that of a present.

The Most Popular Chocolates In Hong Kong

At this point in time, the majority of the chocolate sold in Hong Kong is chocolate that is produced on a large scale. Pseudo-luxury chocolate brands such as Ferrero Rocher, whose primary components are ground hazelnuts, sugar, palm oil, and wheat flour, are dominating the market because their packaging is designed to resemble that of a present. The same thing happens with Godiva and Lindt, which are promoted as opulent substitutes for other Hong Kong favorites like Cadbury and Nestle. It should come as no surprise that all of these are imported from Europe in the first place.

Imported candies of every variety have traditionally been held in higher esteem by residents of Hong Kong, who consider them to be of superior quality to those produced locally. Remember those inexpensive gold coins, the ones that were probably made with very little cacao? People in Hong Kong do, however, take a certain amount of pride in the fact that they are able to purchase items with the label “Made in Hong Kong.” Despite their close proximity, stickers that say “Made in China” and the phrase “Made in China” have very different connotations in today’s society.

On the other hand, it appears that the local eating movement is not nearly as strong in Hong Kong as it is in other places, such as the United States or the United Kingdom. It is important for the people of Hong Kong to make the switch to locally produced goods or chocolate made from bean to bar in general because it is better for their health.

For Hong Kong Chocolatiers, The Hotel May Not Be The Way

When you do a search for chocolate stores in Hong Kong, the majority of the results that you see will be for either internet shops or hotel chocolatiers. As was just noted, because to the high cost of rent, it might be challenging for newer chocolate companies to amass the capital to launch a retail location. As a direct consequence of this, even the “premium” segment of the market is controlled by internationally recognized brands like as Jean Paul Hevin, La Maison Du Chocolat, and Venchi.

Because both residents and tourists perceive European chocolate with being of high quality, European chocolatiers often extend their businesses into Hong Kong after first entering the Japanese market. These are the chocolatiers whose goods they have sampled while traveling or been given, and to tell you the truth, such chocolates are often the only ones that are conveniently accessible to them. Therefore, they continue to use them.

But this implies that the ever-increasing number of Hong Kong residents who are interested in entering the chocolate scene would require tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in initial capital to launch a chocolate company with a physical location. On the other hand, in order for them to sell their items online, the only things that they really need are a website and a location to keep their inventory. The majority of individuals will then go to farmer’s markets to spread the word about their business, with the goal of maybe building up sufficient buzz to create a permanent table in a shopping mall.

If someone is interested in becoming a chocolatier and wants to get into the industry, they have two options: either follow the steps outlined above, or seek employment in a hotel chocolaterie. The majority of hotels, on the other hand, are more enthusiastic about renting their shop space to a known chocolate brand rather than going through the hassle of putting up their own, which has resulted in a significant decrease in the number of available employment in this industry. In light of this, despite the fact that boutique hotels in Hong Kong are historically known as the place to go for high-quality chocolate on the island, malls are becoming an increasingly lucrative alternative.

Hong Kong Chocolate Flavors

Because Hong Kong’s chocolate culture has roots in Europe, the locals are accustomed to very traditional European tastes in their bonbons. This is thanks to Hong Kong’s European heritage. Imagine praline, vanilla, raspberry, and dark chocolate with no added flavorings. However, consumers have a strong preference for sea salt and hazelnuts in chocolate bars, which is beyond just plain dark chocolate. This preference is largely thanks to the popularity of Ferrero Rocher, which contains both of these ingredients.

Due to the fact that people in Hong Kong are becoming increasingly health conscious, dark chocolate, in particular, is a popular choice. The refrains “sugar-free” and “no sugar added” are common refrains in sweets shops. Despite this, Hong Kong residents have never had much of a sweet tooth, which is reflected in their tea culture, which was adopted from both Britain and China. The flavor of the well-known stocking tea, which was derived from the flavor of Taiwan’s sweet bubble tea, is significantly more pronounced, and the beverage typically contains very little or no sugar at all.

Mainland Chinese people are also very health-conscious, which contributes even more to the health fads that are currently sweeping Hong Kong. Jeffery Koo is one of the local chocolatiers who works outside of the constraints of a major hotel’s chocolate shop. He is one of the few. Patisserie Jeffery Koo is known for its salted kumquat, red date, and sweet vinegar flavors. These are some of the flavors that have been well received by customers. But it took Koo nearly two decades of training, working, and building a reputation both in his home country and abroad before he could finally open his own shop a few years ago.

And the cost of renting a place to live is not decreasing.

Food & Holidays In Hong Kong

It was unanimously agreed upon by everyone I spoke to for this article that the Chinese New Year, also referred to as the Lunar New Year, is the most popular holiday for giving gifts in Hong Kong. This holiday is observed in a number of countries across Asia, including Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam, to name just a few. However, it is most aptly described by the gathering of one’s family members and the giving and receiving of presents, particularly edible ones.

Moon cakes are a popular sweet treat in Hong Kong around the time of the Chinese New Year. Some local chocolate shops have turned this well-known treat into a chocolate version in order to take advantage of the fact that the focus of many Hong Kong holidays is on food and thereby increase sales of chocolate. Expensive chocolates and cookies, which are typically imported, are packaged together in an organized manner and come in elaborate packaging of a high quality. The combination of gold and red is a popular one, as people believe that these colors bring good fortune and health in the new year.

The Chinese New Year always falls around the same time as Valentine’s Day, which is the second-biggest day for chocolate sales in Hong Kong, which is unfortunate for Hong Kong chocolate shops. Due to the relatively low number of Christians in Hong Kong, the holidays of Christmas and Easter are not observed with the same level of fervor as they are in the rest of Europe and the Americas. As a result, chocolate-themed celebrations are limited to the first couple of months of the year in Hong Kong, which also happen to be the months with the lowest average temperatures.

Craft Chocolate: Hong Kong Is On Its Way

At the time of publication, Hong Kong was home to five chocolate manufacturers producing small batches, but only one of them had a permanent retail location. The territory has been much slower on the uptake for the craft chocolate movement when compared to other international hubs in Asia. This is due, in part, to extremely high rent, but there is also a legacy of contextual consumption in connection with chocolate in general, which contributes to this phenomenon. Craft chocolate is a difficult product to sell outside of the major gift-giving holidays because consumers rarely buy chocolate for themselves.

If you want to make a living off of selling chocolate made in Hong Kong, you need to sell 40-gram bars for about ten dollars each and be willing to meet the needs of your customers regardless of what those needs may be. Especially younger people take pride in the Made In Hong Kong designation for their foods, which can be found on packaging. If the hours I spent at Hakawa Chocolate are any indication, the crowd of people under the age of forty appears to be the driving force behind the bean to bar movement in Hong Kong.

In addition, the fact that there are now a few permanent retail locations that sell international bean-to-bar chocolate brands is a significant step forward (Sweet World and Oliver’s come to mind right away). The expansion in selection within the city, when compared to when I was there in 2017, makes a huge difference in the variety of flavors and textures that people are able to experience. I visited the city in 2019 and compared it to when I visited in 2017. More than twice as many people are participating in chocolate tasting and pairing events as there were five years ago, and this trend does not appear to be slowing down any time soon.

The Future Of Hong Kong Chocolate

The preferences of a nation or even of a city do not transform overnight. I have a feeling that hazelnuts, in addition to possibly other interesting additions that people associate with healthy and clean eating, will continue to be popular for a considerable amount of time to come. When I went to Hong Kong for the first time in 2017, I found a chocolate maker that created flavored chocolate bars using “raw” cacao. Their business has been discontinued for some time now, but the reputation that their bars had for being relatively good for you has stayed with me.

Even though these chocolates are more expensive, there is a significant opportunity for expansion in the market for chocolates that are less sweet and contain a higher percentage of cacao. Because just as people’s preferences won’t suddenly shift, neither will their mental association of expensive chocolate with giving presents. The Hong Kong craft chocolate movement will continue to grow slowly, in the shadows, in small batches that are crafted in hillside apartments, and one person at a time will have their mind changed. Even though it would make my heart happy to see a variety of manufacturers using consistent origins and Hong Kong-inspired inclusions, I get the impression that this will not happen any time soon.

Keeping the sizes of chocolates small while also making them environmentally friendly could go a long way toward increasing people’s desire to consume chocolate on a personal level in Hong Kong. Consumption of chocolate should be done mindfully, as chocolate tastings and pairings are taught by experts like Katie Chan of The Chocolate Club Hong Kong. When people in Hong Kong begin to view fine chocolate less as a junk food or a gift and more as a little treat to be enjoyed in moderation, similar to any other type of dessert, then craft chocolate will have truly arrived in the city.

Even though rent won’t be going down anytime soon, there is a very real possibility that the market share for local chocolatiers and chocolate makers will increase. This is despite the fact that rent won’t be going down.


Is chocolate popular in Hong Kong?

In general, chocolate consumption in Hong Kong is very similar to that in Europe; however, craft chocolate first appeared in the city a few years ago and has been gradually gaining popularity ever since. After all, the small-batch chocolate shop that holds the title of being Hong Kong’s oldest has been in business for only two years.

When was Hong Kong returned to China?

At twelve o’clock in the morning on July 1, 1997, the sovereignty of Hong Kong was officially handed over from the United Kingdom to the People’s Republic of China. The 156 years of British rule in the former colony came to an end as a result of this event.

Are people from Hong Kong Chinese?

According to Hong Kong’s 2016 census, 92 per cent of its population is ethnically Chinese, with 32.1 per cent having been born in Mainland China, Taiwan or Macau.

When did chocolate reach China?

Chocolate was first presented as a gift to the Chinese Emperor Kangxi in the year 1705; however, the market for chocolate in China has experienced explosive growth since the 1990s.

What is unique about Hong Kong culture?

The culture of the Chinese mainland is not the same as that of Hong Kong.

They typically smile more, give the impression of being happier, and are more polite and reserved in public. Language: English and Cantonese are both recognized as valid forms of communication within the country. Cantonese is the language used in everyday conversation, despite the possibility that they are also fluent in other Chinese languages and dialects.