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Craft chocolate is all the rage

Artisanal chocolate is heating up the scene, with small-batch chocolatiers and chocolate- themed cafes setting up shop here

Single-origin production. Small batch production. Sustainable sources.

No, we are not talking about coffee, but another bean in town. Cacao.

Artisanal chocolate-making is taking off in Singapore, with at least three small-batch chocolatiers setting up shop in the past 11/2 years.

Their sourcing and production methods are just as serious and technical as the coffee purists. Instead of bean-to-brew, think bean-to-bar.

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The newcomers are Patisserie G cafe, which branched out into making chocolates in-house in its new OUE Downtown outlet last month; Fossa Chocolate, a five- month-old chocolate-maker; and Demochoco, a small-batch chocolatier that was set up in April last year.

This crop joins other early birds on the scene, such as the four-year-old Anjalichocolat in Loewen Road.


Chocolates (above) from new player Demochoco, a chocolate truffle-maker which was set up in April last year. PHOTO: GIN TAY FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

Besides chocolate retailers, more chocolate-centric cafes have opened. Last month, The Dark Gallery, a 30-seat cafe that specialises in using single-origin dark chocolate in desserts, opened in Millenia Walk.

  • CHOCOLATE 101

  • Ganache: An emulsion of chocolate and cream, which often has elements such as spices and liqueur added to it.

    Praline: A confection with a core encased in a chocolate shell. The mixture at the core varies. Sometimes it is ganache or a mixture of caramelised sugar and nuts. In France, the inside is a whole almond that is caramelised.

    Truffle: A soft chocolate made of ganache and sometimes dusted with cocoa powder. Its name is derived from its resemblance to truffles, the prized underground fungus.

    Cacao: Used to refer to the name of the tree, as well as the beans in its fruit. Chocolate is made from the beans.

    Cacao nib: The insides of the cacao bean that are ground into smaller bits. The insides are revealed only after the beans are roasted and the husks are removed. Besides being used to make chocolates and cocoa powder, cacao nibs can be used as a garnish for salads and desserts.

    Cacao butter: Natural vegetable fat extracted from cacao beans. It is white and has a rich, buttery texture that resembles white chocolate in taste and appearance.

    Couverture chocolate: Chocolate that is made up of at least about 30 per cent cocoa butter, which makes it easier to melt and is ideal for forming thin coats for confections or for dipping.

    Compound chocolate: Chocolate that has some or all of its cocoa butter replaced with vegetable oil.

    Conching: The process of mixing, stirring and aerating heated liquid chocolate to remove unwanted acidity and bitterness.

    Tempering: The process of heating and cooling chocolate to a range of temperatures to form the right type of cocoa butter crystals that give the chocolate a shiny appearance.

Most local chocolatiers started making chocolates after trying single-origin varieties abroad. This was the case for Mr Lim Jialiang, 27, owner of Demochoco, who spent six months in Paris on a university exchange programme.

His brand, for which he makes and distributes the products, carries adventurous flavours such as hae bee hiam chocolate bars. There are also "rojak-style" nama chocolate truffles in flavours such as miso with gula melaka and salted egg and cereal.

Mr Lim, who invested $20,000 in the start-up, says he sells 200 boxes a month.

The market for chocolate is evolving in a similar way to that of coffee, say chocolate business owners.

Nowadays, consumers are more conscious about the product's origins and are open to trying a variety of flavours, says Mr Victor Seah, 33, who owns Beans To Bars.

Set up in 2014, the distribution company carries a range of hard-to-find craft chocolates from countries such as Lithuania and Indonesia.

Despite the potential, there is a bittersweet side to the chocolate business. The trade depends on seasonal sales and prices have been on the rise due to increased demand from markets such as China and India.

Chocolate is also hard to store - it needs to be kept in a cool and dry place such as a chiller.

Singapore also lacks a craft chocolate culture.

Not many people will pay for artisanal chocolate that costs two to three times more than a generic brand, says Mr Jay Chua, 29, owner of Fossa Chocolate.

"There is an information gap on the hard work that goes into bean-to-bar chocolate-making that justifies the higher prices."

He sources, makes and sells chocolate in a factory in Tuas. It takes him a month to make a 30kg batch of single-origin chocolate, or about 850 bars.

Fossa mainly sells single-origin chocolate bars made with cacao beans from Bolivia and Indonesia. He sells about 120 bars a month.

For Ms Anjali Gupta, 53, owner of Anjalichocolat, the biggest challenge is finding experienced chocolatiers for this "labour-intensive" business. Her shop sells confections such as pralines and bars made from Belgian chocolate. Last week, she launched a From Singapore Lah collection that features 15 pralines in local flavours such as Singapore Sling and kaya toast.

She says more than 1,000 boxes of chocolates are sold a month, mostly through corporate orders.

Loyal customers include Ms Gayathri Santhi- McBain, 42, who is a trustee for a medical non- governmental organisation. She says: "They are not overwhelmingly sweet or milky like in generic brands. These chocolates go well with a whisky or cognac at dinner parties and make good door gifts."


The Dark Gallery


The Dark Gallery’s Single Origin Platters allow diners to taste three chocolate treats made using a different single-origin chocolate. PHOTO: THE DARK GALLERY

Where: 01-K5 Millenia Walk, 9 Raffles Boulevard Open: 11am to 9.30pm daily Info: Call 6255-0368 or go to www.thedarkgallery.com

Single-origin dark chocolate from Venezuela to Madagascar take pride of place at this one-month- old dessert cafe in Millenia Walk.

A highlight at this 30-seat cafe is its five Single Origin Platters. Each consists of three chocolate treats such as hot chocolate shots or chocolate pastries, made using a different single-origin chocolate.

Single-origin chocolate means the beans come from a specific place and have a distinctive taste profile.

The ice-cream platter ($12) comprises a trio of dark chocolate ice cream: a fruity Madagascar, a floral and spicy Dominican Republic and a bittersweet Venezuela.

The ice-cream bowls are placed on an infographic sheet that provides tasting notes such as the chocolate's acidity, fruitiness and percentage of cacao.

Ms Li Lihui, 35, chief executive officer of food and beverage company Thirtythree, which runs The Dark Gallery, says: "Placing these desserts side by side helps diners to understand the nuanced differences among the various single- origin chocolates."

The Dark Gallery is Thirtythree's first foray into the chocolate business. It also operates the Marble Slab Creamery chain and cold- pressed juice brand HIC.

Ms Li, a former lawyer, was inspired to start an artisanal chocolate cafe after tasting delicious single- origin chocolate in San Francisco and Japan.

From next month, the cafe will be holding chocolate-appreciation workshops.

Beans To Bars

From Indonesia to Lithuania, home-grown artisanal chocolate distributor Beans To Bars has been sourcing an eclectic range of chocolates from all over the world for the past three years.

It carries about 70 varieties of dark and milk chocolates that are sold on its website (www.beanstobars.sg) and in shops such as cafe chain Dean & Deluca and lifestyle shop Naiise.

Beans To Bars has a booth at the Singapore Coffee Festival at Marina Bay Cruise Centre, which ends today.

Some note-worthy brands sold at the booth include Mulate from Lithuania, which makes bars from organic dark chocolate in flavours such as tahini and roasted sesame and cayenne pepper ($9 a bar).

Mr Victor Seah, 33, owner of Beans To Bars, was introduced to the craft chocolate movement in Australia, where he worked as a corporate trainer and lecturer in UNSW Sydney university for eight years.

In 2013, he returned to Singapore and decided to set up his own business as a distributor.

A trend he has noticed is a preference for flavours that are more tart, which can be found in cacao beans from Bolivia and Indonesia.

To that end, he has brought in single-origin dark chocolates such as 70 per cent Sulawesi from Indonesian chocolate-maker and social enterprise Krakakoa.

Patisserie G

Where: 01-30 OUE Downtown Gallery, 6 Shenton Way Open: 7.30am to 7pm (weekdays), 9am to 4pm (Saturdays), closed on Sundays Info: Call 6222-0390 or go to www.patisserieG.com

French dessert cafe Patisserie G has opened a second outlet in the Central Business District and with the new space comes an expanded range of products: in-house chocolates. Launched on July 15, the range comprises bon bons ($2.50 a piece), chocolate bars (from $12) and panned chocolates (from $18 a jar), which are nuts and fruit coated uniformly in chocolate.

For example, the panned chocolates come in three flavours: white chocolate-coated salted pistachios, milk chocolate-coated cranberries and melon seeds covered with Szechuan pepper-infused dark chocolate.

Cafe owner Gwen Lim, 43, graduated from Le Cordon Bleu Paris with a pastry diploma, did apprenticeships with Parisian patisserie Pierre Herme and fine-dining restaurant Les Amis in Shaw Centre, before setting up Patisserie G in 2012. She makes the chocolates herself, having attended a chocolate-making course by French master chocolatier Jean-Marie Auboine at the Chocolate Academy Centre here.

She spent about $70,000 on equipment and says her chocolates are alternatives for people who want a light snack. "If diners don't want a full-sized dessert, they can just taste a bon bon or share a chocolate bar."

Fossa Chocolate


Handmade chocolates from Fossa. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

"Painful" and "tedious" are two words that come up repeatedly when one asks chocolate-maker Jay Chua, 29, about making the luscious treats from bean to bar.

The owner of artisanal chocolate brand Fossa Chocolate (www.fossachocolate.com) makes the chocolates himself in a food factory in Tuas.

It takes him a month to make a 30kg batch of single-origin chocolate, or about 850 bars.

The beans, which are sourced from countries such as Haiti, Indonesia and Guatemala, undergo a seven-step process that includes roasting as well as four days of grinding, which produces smooth and luscious liquid chocolate.

The five-month-old Fossa Chocolate is named after a wild cat-like animal native to Madagascar.

This is in reference to the time Mr Chua had a life-changing taste of Madagascan chocolate from American craft chocolate line Dick Taylor more than 10 years ago.

He had been completely "blown away" by the "raspberry taste with a pleasant acidity", recalled the former brand manager.

He learnt to make chocolate himself and also sought advice from other chocolate-makers whom he met while visiting cacao plantations in Indonesia and Vietnam.

A one-man show, he is also in charge of distributing his goods to retailers. Fossa Chocolate is sold online and in six physical stores such as lifestyle chain Naiise and design shop Cat Socrates. It will have a booth at the Singapasar pop-up event at National Design Centre today.

Its range of single-origin dark chocolate bars ($8) include Haiti 70 per cent, which tastes of plum and raisin, and Dominican Republic 70 per cent, which has notes of coffee and peanut.

It also has local flavours such as a satay sauce-inspired chilli peanut praline and salted egg cereal blond chocolate, which won a bronze award at this year's International Chocolate Awards. Both cost $8 for a 35g bar.


From bean to chocolate

Mr Jay Chua, owner of Fossa Chocolate, talks about how a Pak Eddy Indonesian dark chocolate bar (75 per cent cocoa) is made from scratch.

1. HAND-SORTING

Raw cacao beans are sorted and debris and deformed beans picked out.

2. ROASTING

The beans are roasted in an oven to develop the cacao flavour and to reduce moisture and acidity.

3. WINNOWING

The roasted beans are broken into smaller bits called cacao nibs and the husks are removed.

4. GRINDING

Sugar is added to the cacao nibs and the mixture ground in a melangeur (a chocolate grinding machine) over four days and until it becomes a silky-smooth liquid.

5. HARVESTING

The liquid chocolate is strained to remove any remaining bits of cacao nibs and then chilled for a day.

6. TEMPERING

The liquid chocolate is poured onto a granite slab and swirled around with aspatula and scraper to cool it down to 32 deg C, a temperature which helps to form the right type of cocoa butter crystals that give the chocolate a shiny appearance.

7. MOULDING

The tempered chocolate is poured into bar moulds and solidified in a chiller, after which, they are removed and packed.

VIDEO

Home-grown chocolatiers whip up quirky flavours str.sg/4zuY

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 06, 2017, with the headline 'Hot chocs on the block'. Print Edition | Subscribe