Last week the TechSPARK team were invited to visit the offices of Bristol-based Understory to try out a multi-sensory experience involving one of our favourite things – chocolate. Understory specialises in creating unusual and interactive experiences through the medium of storytelling and chocolate. What’s more, you can experience exactly the same thing this weekend at the Taste Festival in Bristol.

The Understory team will also be previewing their Chocolamentory film for free at Bristol’s Pervasive Media Studio – as part of the festival – with tasty free samples of course.


“We want people to be present when they are tasting our chocolate – to truly experience it.”


James Wheale, co-founder of Understory (pictured right) has been experimenting with using technology to find and monitor our brains’ reaction to different tastes (and surrounding conditions) to create amazing food experiences. It was one aspect of the experimental experience that James tried on TechSPARK’s very willing volunteers. As James explains, “We want people to be present when they are tasting our chocolate – to truly experience it.”

Immersed in a world of our own imagination, the chocolate experience (delivered through the headphones) guided us to truly taste and experience the chocolate in front of us. James wants people to take time out from their day and properly taste the chocolate made from one of the World’s rarest chocolate beans. And it’s a taste experience that has to be tried to be believed.

Bristol’s rich chocolate-making history

James is passionate about putting Bristol back on the Chocolate-making map of the world: “Fry’s chocolate used to be the biggest employer in Bristol and I feel I’ve been passed a torch to carry on!” But James is very keen to distance Understory from the more shady practices that Fry’s employed to get their cocoa beans back in the 1800s.

Coupled to his tech experiments in heightening food experiences, James wants to highlight the ethical ways very rare (and delicious) chocolate-producing plants are currently being farmed before they are lost to the world. Especially as the farmers that he works with do so in a way that works with nature and helps the environment and, pleasingly, makes some of the tastiest chocolate beans in the process.

Ethical chocolate

To help highlight the fact that society is routinely ignoring the amazing strains of chocolate not being grown commercially (due to their higher production costs), and the plight of the farmers growing them in a changing climate, he travelled to Peru with Matt Walsh from film company Visual Persistence. There they documented the location of the world’s rarest cacao (chocolate beans) using aerial drones to video the hard-to-reach farms. The film also shows off the amazing landscapes where these rare beans are grown without pesticides or fertilisers.

You can see the trailer for Chocolamentary which will be shown as part of the Taste Festival experience below:


In the long term Understory plans to produce chocolate bars that tell a story. One option they are exploring is to have them home-delivered so you can have multi-sensory chocolate experiences in the comfort of your own home, so you truly can escape from the troubles of the world for a moment while indulging in a little chocolate bliss.

Price is yet to be decided on, but James expects the bars to retail for about £6 a go. As James points out: “Unlike other premium food, it’s unlikely that £6 would get you the best wines, cheeses or food cooked by a Michelin-starred chef. It also means that the chocolate can be grown in an eco-friendly way.”

You can sign up for Understory’s Chocolamentory preview for free here – there are slots from 10.30am-5pm on Saturday 15 April and Sunday 16 April. To check Understory out at the main Taste festival, and take part in the full multisensory chocolate experience, you’ll need to grab yourself tickets from the Taste Chocolate website. You can also keep up with the company’s developments on the Understory website and its Twitter feed: @understory_food.