We introduce you to some artisanal chocolate brands this festive season that are all made in India. If the chocolates are raw, organic, vegan or exotic, the stories behind them are no less fascinating, writes Ivinder Gill
A LOVE for chocolate and lack of good options led Jane Mason to make her own organic and vegan chocolates when she shifted to Auroville from Australia to join her husband Fabien Mason. She had no intention of making a business out of it, but soon friends wanted to buy the chocolate she made. Then she started getting calls from store owners as far as Mumbai. “It was a very natural progression. The most important thing is that people love what we do. That’s what drove us to expand the business and make our chocolate available to more people,” recalls Jane. Since then, Mason & Co has progressed from a home laboratory to an artisanal facility. Perhaps the first large-scale artisanal chocolate-maker in India and the first to produce a tree-to-bar product in the country, Mason & Co has been making organic and vegan chocolate for the past two years.
Jane says the majority of chocolate sold in India contains very little cocoa, lots of milk and sugar, and is full of chemicals and preservatives. Also, it almost always contains a product called ‘compound’ that is essentially vegetable fat used to replace cocoa butter. But the Masons believe in keeping cocoa as close to the natural form as possible, so customers can also avail of the health benefits of chocolate, and not just taste. “We add minimal ingredients and our chocolate is dark, which means no milk and less sugar. We use organic beans and sugar, and add no chemicals, preservatives or emulsifiers,” says Jane.
The beans are sourced from within India and the couple have a team of farmers who grow cocoa to their specifications. “The way we work makes our chocolate pretty different from other chocolate-makers’ products. In India, it’s a very different market. Most chocolate makers don’t have access to farmers. So they buy their beans from countries around the world, having access to very high-quality beans from an industry that is well developed. It’s a little bit different for us. A lot of chocolate-makers using Indian cocoa are using sub-standard cocoa to make chocolate, but we started at the grassroots level and got the quality from the farm, which has resulted in high-quality and high-end gourmet chocolate coming out of India,” Jane explains.
But it wasn’t easy. “Sourcing has probably been the biggest challenge because there is an established market for farmers to sell their cocoa in India. There are big chocolate-making companies that buy all the cocoa in India. So our biggest challenge was to find farmers who were willing to work with us to change the way they do things in order to have superior quality. Now, that’s a very simple conversation to have with somebody who doesn’t have access to the market. But when they already have a market for sale and are not short of income, it’s a very different situation. It was difficult for us initially to find farmers willing to work with us to produce quality we were happy with,” Jane recalls. But their perseverance paid off, and today, the Masons have farmers contacting them to supply cocoa.
The next challenge was sales. “Our biggest challenge was to convince customers of what makes us different. It’s very hard to get across to a customer when you just have a small packet of chocolate. How is our chocolate different from the bar sitting next to it on the shelf or another maker’s chocolate bar? That’s probably the hardest part for us—to bridge the gap between what we are doing and consumer appreciation and understanding for artisanal chocolate compared to mass-market chocolate. But it’s certainly changing and we have got a great response,” she says.
Price: R300 onwards for 70 gm bars
Availability: Gourmet stores, online
KUHU Kochar and Tejasvi Chandela both wanted to take up projects they were passionate about, something new and challenging that drove them. They found a common passion in chocolate, and started All Things. Not surprisingly, their chocolate signifies their philosophy — celebration of the simple joys of life, be it travel, childhood memories, favourite season or even music. “It’s an idea that brings together everything—our love for design and travel, and our excitement to experiment with beautiful handcrafted chocolate. The journey has been fairly exciting so far,” says Kochar.
If the philosophy is simple, the actual chocolate is not so. The duo insist on sourcing the best of everything, using premium cocoa at the core of each bar, married with personally handpicked ingredients. “We try to ensure that our chocolates are an experience for the consumer. From the packaging to the flavours, everything is curated to invoke emotion. Handcrafted in small batches, we bring new and exciting flavours to the market regularly. They have no added flavouring or preservatives, which is hard to find,” says Kochar.
Their range includes exotic combinations, like the Summer bar with Belgian white chocolate and a centre of Alphonso mango compote. The Jaipur bar is appropriately wrapped in pink paper and has a rich combination of whiskey and dark chocolate. The Barcelona bar promises a little bit of the city’s festive spirit that marries dark chocolate with flavours of sangria. One of their bars, Single, is a collaborative property where they work with musicians from across the country. Each bar tells a story about the artiste’s music through its design and flavour. Delhi-based singer-songwriter Prateek Kuhad is one such musician they have tied up with.
When she mentions packaging, Kochar isn’t exaggerating when she says it evokes emotions, as each bar is wrapped in beautifully-designed paper. “The packaging isn’t an extension of the product, it’s a part of it. The approach is simple: we start with a ‘why?’ Why we create multiple designs and follow a design process for each box is for more than just aesthetic reasons. We like to create work that touches people, whether it makes them smile, feel nostalgic, excited or even stirs a thought,” she adds.
Currently supplying chocolate to 12 different stores across the country, they aspire to supply to almost thrice that number soon.
Price: R330-R385 for 100 gm bars
Availability: Online and stores in New Delhi, Ahmedabad & Jaipur
MUMBAI-BASED chef and chocolatier Varun Inamdar, counted among the chocolate masters in the country, might be the cocoa brand ambassador for Eucador, but it’s India that he promotes with each bar of chocolate he produces. Barcode is an artisanal chocolate brand that uses international couvertures from Ecuador, São Tomé, Java, Ghana and Belgium, paired with flavours from India. For Inamdar, Barcode represents the 29 states of India. He plans to have five volumes, with the first volume symbolising six states—Sikkim, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Punjab and Tamil Nadu—all chosen randomly. The flavour combinations are as diverse and surprising as the vast country. For instance, the Sikkim bar has the smokiness and earthiness of black cardamom, uplifted with the indigenous Dalle chillies.
“Gujarat is known for kesar mangoes, but that would have been too obvious. Hence, I chose dehydrated sapota (cheeku) along with fenugreek seeds and 54% Java milk chocolate. Kinnow is widely grown in Punjab, so we dehydrated the citrus and paired it with ajwain seeds along with 70% Ecuador dark to present a very different flavour profile,” Inamdar tells us. He breaches all barriers of flavour with pairings like Kanchan amlas grown in Jharkhand along with lemons and coriander, blended with 54% Ghana milk chocolate. “India is known for over a thousand varieties of mangoes, but we barely recognise 10-12 famous ones. For Andhra Pradesh, I chose to break away and included Banganapalli mangoes with Teja chillies from Guntur, and paired this with 70% dark Ecuador,” he says. The Tamil Nadu bar has figs from Coimbatore paired with cloves, as they were first introduced by the East India Company at the spice gardens of Courtallam. A sweet lesson in history and geography!
While Inamdar has been dabbling in chocolate for the past 15 years, it was during a trip to Vietnam for a cocoa convention that he realised that the world didn’t look upon India as a chocolate-producing nation, but a chocolate-consuming one. This sowed the seeds for Barcode and Inamdar launched the first volume of his ‘national integration’ chocolates earlier this year.
In fact, Inamdar is so passionate about the idea of chocolate that represents every corner of the country that he now plans to reach out to the Prime Minister to include Barcode among the official mementos from the tourism ministry. “Once all five volumes are launched, we will tag them as ‘the most perfect gift from India’,” he says.
Price: R499 per volume
A CHOCOLATE that’s been over nine years in the making, with cocoa sourced from the best cocoa-growing regions of the world, paired with exotic ingredients, and handcrafted to suit your taste—the newly-launched range of Fabelle chocolates from ITC ticks all these boxes. The chocolates have been approved by none other than company chairman YC Deveshwar, who constantly sent back the confectionery for improvement in the nine years it has taken for the company to achieve a standard that compares with the best in the world. As VL Rajesh, divisional chief executive of ITC’s food division, recalls, “We had to please the chairman first, who kept us going back to the kitchen till we got it just right.”
The Fabelle range includes intricately-crafted pralines, ganaches and personalised chocolate cup creations, offering myriad possibilities of fillings and toppings. In addition, the boutiques will provide a range of exquisitely-crafted desserts and cocoa beverages, created in front of the customer by master chocolatiers. The boxed chocolates are produced in Bengaluru. All chocolates are made of single-origin cocoas from Madagascar, Ivory Coast, Venezuela, Saint Domingue and São Tomé. These are then paired with exotic ingredients such as acacia nectar, French sea salt and ancho chilli.
Any scepticism of a mass-market FMCG brand delivering premium products is dispelled when you experience the various creations. The pralines, inspired by elements of nature like air, fire, water, earth and wood, are exotic pairings of chocolate and ingredients. For instance, the air pralines are dark chocolate filled with aerated mousse, and the water ones have dark chocolate mousse dripping with acacia nectar, laced with French sea salt and enveloped in a rich dark chocolate shell. The wood pralines are chocolate, cinnamon, coffee and mousse come together, while fire has a dark chocolate shell filled with white mousse, infused with fiery ancho chilli and tangy candied mango.
The cups can be completely customised with various fillings and toppings such as dark choco créme, dark almond choco créme, berry preserve, almond slices, French sea salt crystals or Arabica coffee.
The premiumness of the chocolates is maintained by the company’s firm resolve not to retail them at any store or online. They can be bought or experienced only at Fabelle boutiques at ITC properties across the country, where the freshness and optimum storage can be ensured.
“These products are particularly delicate. The ganaches are stored at 4-6 degrees (Celsius). The pralines are stored at 14-16 degrees (Celsius). That exact temperature is maintained day in and day out. The chocolates have a shelf life of between 45 and 60 days. So we make sure they are transported, kept here and sold in that time. We even give the boxes enclosed in gel bags, so that they remain cold on the way home and are in mint condition,” says Rajesh. “Customers walking into this kind of a boutique expect a great experience. So our job is to make sure that the chocolates reach the customer in a pristine state,” he adds, as he shows us around the Fabelle boutique in Delhi’s ITC Maurya.
For now, Fabelle boutiques are located at four ITC properties, with plans to take them to four more properties immediately. With that, Fabelle might just be called India’s first chain of premium, gourmet chocolate boutiques.
Price: R100 onwards
Availability: Fabelle boutiques at ITC properties across the country
WHILE MANY Indian chocolatiers promise the rich flavours of cocoa beans imported from places like Ghana or Madagascar, Britisher David Belo swears by Indian cocoa beans that he sources from a farmer in Karnataka. What’s more, he offers chocolate in its purest form—organic, raw and with as little sugar as possible. Among the early artisanal chocolate makers in the country, the former bartender and pastry chef from London came to India looking for warmer climes and new adventures. On a visit to the southern part of the country, he accidentally discovered cocoa growing there. Curiosity and a passion for food, drink and flavours resulted in him sampling and testing the chocolate, which finally led to Earth Loaf chocolates, a bar that, Belo says, he is proud to share with the world. “I didn’t come to India with chocolate in mind. I thought I would give it a go for six months and see how it goes. But I wanted to do chocolate as a hobby, something I was doing in London before I moved here. One day, a friend brought some local cocoa beans and I realised that they had cocoa here. That was that,” he recalls.
All the chocolate at Earth Loaf is handcrafted in small batches, with Belo putting great emphasis on maximising manual techniques. The chocolate is hand-screened, hand-tempered and hand-filled. The truffles are hand-rolled and hand-wrapped. For Belo, this is what signifies artisanal, even if it means inconsistency at some levels. “We focus on consistency in terms of quality, flavour, texture, etc. However, we are focused more on seasonal differences in terms of the flavour of the cocoa. We want our chocolate to taste fantastic, be super-smooth in terms of texture, sharp packaging, etc, but the cocoa beans do change their flavour, depending on how much rain or sun there is. But we are not covering that up. We actually want to showcase that,” he says.
All the ingredients are sourced from farms within India, 95% of which are organically certified. “The flavour of the Indian cocoa is very unique because of the topography, weather conditions and soil. That’s becoming very interesting for a lot of people. We are using very interesting ingredients from all corners of the country. So you are not going to see a hazelnut and vanilla bar from us. We use things like Gondhoraj lemons from Kolkata or mango and ginger from the Andaman Islands. I think that has sparked the curiosity of a lot of people,” he says.
Earth Loaf chocolates sell very well abroad (they are exported to the US, Malaysia and Portugal). The Indian market, however, is a little tricky, given Indians’ penchant for the sugary stuff. But Belo is not deterred. “I feel it’s important to make a product using agricultural produce from a country and put it to sale in that same country. I have seen it in my own country. We never see the best of what our own farmers produce in the market. It always gets exported for a higher price. So that’s why it was important to get in the Indian market and sort of start there,” he says. He also bets on the organic food tradition of India. “I think India is changing a lot. I see a changing tide in cities like Bengaluru, Mumbai and other metros in particular. I had the confidence that people were going to start looking at the quality of what they are eating, both in terms of quality of flavour, as well as quality of nutrition. When I first moved to Mysore, I saw five or six organic shops pop up across the city in a year even though it’s a small town. I think the organic movement makes a lot of sense here because you guys don’t have to go back too far in your history to a point in time where people were farming organically, whereas in southern Africa or Europe, industrialisation of agriculture happened a long time ago. The organic food movement is quite natural in India and that’s why it has exploded in such a short amount of time. So I had faith in the Indian market.”
What keeps him going is also the fact that he is able to introduce local ingredients used in the chocolates to people within the country. “It’s really nice introducing people to different corners of their own country food-wise,” he says. But he isn’t aiming for the stars. Content to be sourcing from select farmers and producing a certain amount of chocolate, Belo aims to become a household name amongst gourmet foodies. “I don’t need to be a household name for every single person in the country. We have our niche: people who really love food. We want to be a household name with them,” he says.
Price: R270 for a 72 gm bar