Chocolate; a taste of paradise - Hindustan Times
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Chocolate; a taste of paradise

ByShireen Quadri
Jul 08, 2024 09:24 PM IST

While World Chocolate Day was celebrated on July 7, for enthusiasts, every day is chocolate day. A look at how one craft chocolate company is celebrating India’s rich cacao heritage, elevating chocolate making to an art form, and redefining indulgence with its bean-to-bar approach

For decades, the smooth richness of Cadburys, Fabelle, Lindt, Nestle and Amul have been synonymous with chocolates in India. These familiar brands — often laden with sugar, vanilla, palm oil and other additives — may be enjoyable, but they do not really reflect the full potential of the cacao bean. In recent years, a quiet revolution has been underway. Artisanal chocolate companies have been changing the way Indians experience these confections, and are building a new narrative around chocolates. Hyderabad-based Manam Chocolate is at the forefront of this change.

Enough chocolate to satisfy your soul (Daniel D’Souza)
Enough chocolate to satisfy your soul (Daniel D’Souza)

For the discerning palate, craft chocolates are utterly different from mass-produced ones. Made in small batches, with meticulous attention to detail at every step of the process, they are unique preparations. On a recent visit to the Manam Chocolate factory in Telangana, I escaped into a world of unadulterated bliss; one that recalled Roald Dahl’s classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. At the Manam Chocolate Karkhana in upmarket Banjara Hills, which invites visitors to witness the magic of chocolate-making first-hand and also attend chocolate-making-and-tasting workshops, I was welcomed by the intoxicating aroma of freshly-roasted cacao beans, and saw velvety-smooth chocolate being poured into gleaming moulds.

At Manam’s Chocolate Karkhana in Banjara Hills (Daniel D’Souza)
At Manam’s Chocolate Karkhana in Banjara Hills (Daniel D’Souza)

Manam, which means “We” or “Us” in Telugu, brings together farmers, fermenters, chocolate-makers, and storytellers. Chaitanya Muppala, the founder and CEO, reveals that while the company intends to celebrate the country’s rich cacao heritage, it also incorporates ingredients from around the world. The possibilities are limitless. The ‘Malt Chocolate Truffles’ are infused with a 43% malted milk single-origin West Godavari cacao while ‘Blueberry Dragees’ is coated in yogurt, creamy white chocolate and toasted sesame. The ‘Caramelized Cacao Nib Chocolate Brownie’ is made with 82% dark chocolate from single-origin Dominican Republic beans.

At the first-floor factory at Banjara Hills, each of the humming machines were in different stages of producing cacao butter and creating luscious treats. The display at the retail hub in front showcased handcrafted delights including decorated bonbons, delicate truffles, rich chocolate bars and chocolate-based desserts and ice-creams. At the cosy café, visitors participated in workshops and guided tastings. The whole establishment is a testament to what happens when passion and cacao beans meet!

Muppala says his journey began with a passion to elevate the Indian chocolate experience. He recognised the existing market was dominated by large corporations that prioritise consistency and volume. “In India, they extract the fat and send it to their European counterparts where there are laws on how much cacao-fat chocolate needs to have for it to be called chocolate. There’s no such law in India and, therefore, cacao fat is replaced by vegetable oil or palm oil. India imports 70% of its cacao. Yet, if you look at the import-export numbers, cacao is highly disregarded and comes under cashew nut and cocoa. All the cacao that comes to India is from the Ivory Coast in Ghana, and it’s poorly fermented.”

This practice not only dilutes the rich chocolate experience but also undermines the potential of Indian cacao, which, when treated with care, can rival the finest beans from around the world. “That’s why we came up with a system that allows us a much nuanced, state-of-the-art post-harvest processing,” he says revealing that in 2018, inspired by his father’s company, Almond House, which is known for selling sweets and confectionery, he began mulling over his chocolate venture.

Cacao on a farm in the West Godavari district (Hashim Badani)
Cacao on a farm in the West Godavari district (Hashim Badani)

Craft chocolate in India is still at a nascent stage. Mupalla elaborates on ‘fine and flavour’ cacao or premium cacao. “It’s a definition by the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO), an umbrella organisation for premium cacao based on various factors like genetics or origin. Countries lobby the ICCO to get their cacao listed under ‘fine and flavoured’ cacao so they can sell it at premium prices. I subscribe to a definition of what we do: ‘fine-flavoured’ cacao, which is defined by the International Institute of Chocolate and Cacao Tasting (IICCT). We are attempting to seize that market, and our estimate is that it’s about 10,000 million tonnes.”

The cacao is fermented at the Distinct Origins (sister company of Manam Chocolate in Hyderabad) fermentary at Tadikalapudi in Andhra Pradesh’s West Godavari district. Here, women labourers extract beans from pods. “The wet beans are fermented in large-sized wooden boxes. Each box is filled with 300 kg of wet beans and lined with banana leaves. This is where the team also attempts some creative fermentation, using various fruit pulps to create interesting results with mango-ginger, regional mangoes, and banana.

The beans are then sun-dried and sifted by hand with broken ones being discarded, small beans separated from the big ones and stored separately. The stored beans are left to sit for 30 to 60 days to de-infest and then for another year to age. “This allows the beans to mature in flavour. This process is exclusive to Distinct Origins; we borrowed this idea from pulses,” says Mupalla, who is also the country’s first Level 3 Certified Chocolate Taster from the International Institute of Chocolate and Cacao Tasting (IICCT), USA.

Manam Chocolate offers Indian and international origin series, single-farm series tablets, infusion bars, and others. Manam Farm Tablet No. 3 (68% Dark) owes its origin to the farm of GVS Prasad, one of Manam’s first farmer members.

Chaitanya Mupalla, founder of Manam (Daksh Chindalia)
Chaitanya Mupalla, founder of Manam (Daksh Chindalia)

India now has a considerable number of farms growing cacao. They are mostly concentrated in the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala with West Godavari in Andhra being the largest grower in the country. The quality of cacao beans produced in Andhra is comparable to the world’s best-quality beans produced in Ghana. “The West Godavari district region has been growing cacao as an intercrop with coconut, arecanut, and several other spices. A large part of these farms supply cacao beans to MNCs that produce chocolates. Around 150 farms are supplying high-quality cacao to Distinct Origins. We have partnered with these farmers to grow good-quality cacao. It is gradually becoming a cacao-growing region, with more and more farmers joining in, seeing the rich dividends this exotic crop brings,” says Mupalla.

Signature Blend Tablet No. 3 (43% milk chocolate), a series by Manam, which recently won the International Chocolate Award, instituted by the IICCT, is made with cacao sourced from farmers in the Ben Tre and Lam Dong provinces of Vietnam. Its debut collection, the Indian Craft Chocolate Edition 2023, features over 300 unique products across 50 categories including signature tablets, bonbons, barks, fudge, clusters, macarons, giandujas, spreads, cakes, pastries, viennoiserie, and more. The company is already planning a robust expansion with high-street stores and travel retail outlets set to open soon.

Finally, Indians can indulge their craving for superior chocolate that isn’t mass produced. The perfect excuse to extend World Chocolate Day celebrations to include the rest of the week.

Shireen Quadri is the editor of The Punch Magazine Anthology of New Writing: Select Short Stories by Women Writers.

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