The pandemic may have fueled the excitement around chocolate-making classes like Cocoashala, but India’s artisanal chocolate movement has been garnering attention for some time now. Since its establishment in 2019, based in Kerala Paul and Mike Chocolates with fine flavors has won numerous accolades at the International Chocolate Awards. Although owned by a conglomerate, Synthite Industries, the world’s largest manufacturer of spice oleoresins and essential oils, Paul & Mike is driven by a farmer-centric approach. “There is a lot of talk about giving farmers a Fairtrade price, but what many don’t realize is that even this offers a very slim margin for farmers,” says Vikas Temani, business manager at Paul & Mike Fine Flavor. Chocolates. “The cocoa tree is a difficult, capricious crop that requires extreme care. To ensure this, we pay a premium much higher than the Fairtrade premium to our farmers. This encourages them to follow our standards when harvesting and fermenting cocoa beans.
Paul & Mike’s offerings include a range of unique flavors and ingredients from jamun and chikki to peanuts to pink Amazon pepper, Balkan rose and even Sichuan pepper and orange peel. award-winning. Temani says there is a conscious effort to go beyond conventional Indian suits. “Rather than worrying about where things are made, savvy consumers are more interested in knowing how their products are made and where the ingredients come from. That’s what matters most. For us, it’s exciting when a customer doesn’t know the product is Indian and judges it solely on taste, rather than geography.
DIRECT FROM THE SOURCE
Devansh Ashar runs Mumbai-based bean-to-bar brand Pascati, India’s first organic and fair trade USDA compliant chocolate brand. In 2015 he started working with organic farmer groups in Kerala as a “business need and way to build a sustainable supply chain for real good chocolate”.
For Pascati’s dark chocolate, Ashar, a chef with a background in mixology, uses hibiscus from Madhya Pradesh, mangoes from Gujarat and nuts from Kashmir to create confections reminiscent of balanced cocktails. “Working with chocolate is a bit like working with cocktails – the temperature, the chill factor, the right ingredients make all the difference. Chocolate is a bit trickier, but that moment – when you see bars smooth and shiny out of a mold and you hear the eerily satisfying snap when you break them – is heaven.
Harish Manoj Kumar has been growing cocoa for almost 20 years in the foothills of Annamalai in Tamil Nadu for his plantation, royal farms. Declining yields each year led him to research sustainable farming practices. In 2015, Manoj and his brother-in-law Karthikeyan Palanisamy tried their hand at making chocolate with beans from the farm. The result is soklet, India’s only ‘tree to bar’ brand that is also proudly Tamil, with packaging inspired by the Kanjeevaram sari and the name, a colloquial pronunciation of the word chocolate. “For 10 years, we have been experimenting with permaculture and aquaculture methods. Our farm is now certified organic and by growing the cocoa tree multiple times with coconut, banana, nutmeg and pepper, we add to the flavor of our cocoa beans,” says Kumar. “Because we also make chocolate, we are able to make changes at the farm level that contribute to the overall taste of the product.” These efforts have clearly paid off. Chocolatiers in the United States, Europe, Japan, Malaysia and Dubai source their beans from the Annamalai Plantation. In 2017, Soklet’s cocoa beans were awarded at the International Cocoa Awards.
RIGHT OF HEART
Sanjana Patel, pastry chef and co-founder of La Folie, worked exclusively with Callebaut, Cacao Barry and Valrhona chocolate. The pandemic allowed a reset, after which she started working with Indian cocoa. “There is no fixed recipe for making good chocolate. It starts at the source,” says Patel. And while the idea of working on the verdant farms of South India with the aroma of pepper and nutmeg in the air sounds idyllic, it comes with its fair share of adventure. “It takes a long time to build trust, especially when you’re a woman. The local farmers first called the cops because they didn’t know who we were and what our intentions were,” she says.
With the help of go to ground, a cocoa post-harvest unit based in Kerala, it now sources cocoa from the Idukki district for its new product, Cacao Origins Chocolate Thins. “Idukki chocolate has a unique profile – while Karnataka cocoa is spicy, with floral and earthy elements, Kerala cocoa has an astringent, pungent flavor, with hints of honey and caramel from post-fermentation “, says Patel. Its latest products will come with a flavor map to educate consumers about the taste of Idukki’s chocolate, as well as a QR code that will provide more information about the region.
This brand refresh comes at a cost: creating a product from the source takes time and effort. “We are not profitable right now and probably won’t be for two years. But that, to me, is worth it. I work for a sustainable future and it helps me sleep better at night.