Sweet success: How a chocolate brand from Kochi made India proud globally
Congratulate Vikas Temani, by all means. Paul And Mike, his bean-to-bar chocolate brand, became the first Indian company to win silver at the International Chocolate Awards world finals last month. However, it might be more fitting to just cheer, “Surprise!”
Temani, 40, is founder and business head at Paul And Mike. He has no background in chocolate-making; he’s largely been an industry analyst. The brand, barely three years old, is produced and marketed out of Kochi, Kerala. And the winning chocolate, a 64% dark vegan blend with Sichuan pepper and orange peel, was the only Indian entry across the competition’s 40-odd categories.
“We have participated every year since we launched in 2019, to earn accolades for our chocolate rather doing paid promotions,” says Temani. Their jamun-blend chocolate picked up a bronze award at the Asia-Pacific regionals in 2019. But global competitions are fierce. Peru, France, Japan and Taiwan, nations with strong chocolate-making industries, dominate. No one was expecting India to win. Not even Temani.
He’s still bemused. The pandemic meant that the awards were held virtually. “We have no idea what our competition was like; I haven’t even tasted them,” Temani says.
But life at Paul And Mike has certainly changed. Where e-commerce sites typically blame delivery delays on the lockdown, Paul And Mike’s website attributes them to high demand. International orders are pouring in even as the team of 60 struggles to fulfil domestic ones.
They properly celebrated only last week. “We had a party with cake, and gave everyone small bites of the winning chocolate,” he says. There isn’t enough stock left to give out full bars.
The award marks a decade of change in India’s chocolate habits. In big-city supermarkets, many slickly packaged brands now come not from faraway Belgium or Switzerland but from India’s hot southern states, where cacao is now grown. Indians are slowly coming to appreciate dark chocolate and single-origin bars over sugary, mass-market fare. And, as we did with wine 20 years ago, we’re celebrating local produce.
Temani didn’t set out to disrupt the chocolate market. “It fell into my lap,” he says. He was analysing the cacao industry for Synthite, a Kochi-based company that is a top global supplier of food, fragrance and flavour extracts, when inspiration struck in 2016. Kerala, he realised, was the perfect place to grow and process the beans to meet rising demand for high-quality chocolate. “I made my pitch and got rejected,” Temani says. “But Aju Jacob [Synthite founder CV Jacob’s son] financed a pilot project, in a fatherly gesture.” It worked. Synthite eventually greenlit the chocolate business.
They christened the brand Paul And Mike after two cacao experts from Brazil and the Dominican Republic who shared their chocolate-making expertise with Temani’s team. Close to half the beans for the chocolate still come from Paul And Mike’s own farms near Kochi, the rest from plantations nearby. Internationally trained fermenters, roasters and processing experts help pair the beans with unexpected ingredients like Alphonso mango, custard apple, thandai and Amazonian pink pepper, to create small-batch flavours.
“Ours is a scrappy process. We do a lot of experimenting,” Temani says. Their prizewinning Sichuan-orange recipe, for instance, was created with an eye on Chinese buyers. Some 150 bars made it to a chocolate fair in Shanghai in December 2019. They were sold out by the second day. Temani says the hot-and-sweet flavour is probably what wowed the International Chocolate Awards judges too. The judges typically look for unusual pairings, a good flavour profile and of course assess the quality of the chocolate itself.
New experiments are now afoot. This year, Paul And Mike collaborated with Indian winemaker Sula to create a Dindori Reserve Shiraz dark vegan chocolate bar. They aged the beans in wine-soaked oak barrels so that the berry and sweet-spicy flavours could pass on to the cacao. Paul And Mike has also launched a chocolate bar infused with curcumin and piperine, key components in turmeric and black pepper.
Temani’s dream is to blend cacao from Kerala with a summer berry from Rajasthan. Growing up in Jaipur, he recalls purple falsa, mashed with salt and sugar, served as a cooling treat. This recipe hasn’t worked out for their chocolate yet. “The seeds are too big,” he says. But he’s confident he’ll figure it out.
A GLOBAL PLATFORM FOR CHOCOLATE
The International Chocolate Awards are an independently organised global competition, held annually since 2012. The 2020-21 World Final was judged remotely.
Partners based in the UK, Italy and US joined tasters, pastry chefs, food journalists, sommeliers, chefs, to hold blind tastings and award prizes in over 40 categories.
The aim is to help the industry grow in new markets by recognising top-quality products by chocolate makers, chocolatiers and cacao farmers.
Paul And Mike was the only Indian entry. It lost the gold to Brazilian brand Mission Chocolate, for a 70% dark bar with rare candied cupuaçu fruit and caramelised seeds.
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