Indonesia was the world’s third largest producer of cocoa beans (after Ghana and Ivory Coast) with 260,000 metric tons in 2017/2018. However cacao production is on a decline and going for some 200,000 metric tons in 2020/2021. But as everywhere else in South-East Asia a chocolate wave took off with the rise of local bean-to-bar chocolatiers. With Indonesia still as the largest Asian cocoa producer, it is no surprise that the two oldest bean-to-bar chocolatiers in South-East Asia are located here, more precise on the island of Bali. In this article, we will not only present these two but also try to give you a complete list of all the Indonesia-based artisans. And show you why Bali could turn the $100 billion chocolate industry on its head.
Let’s kick off this Indonesian chocolate discovery tour with a fascinating company, founded in 2013: Krakakoa (previously using the name Kakoa). The beauty of this company is the care and guidance of cocoa farmers. They teach them during a 2-4 months period sustainable farming methods. They partnered up with SwissContact ( https://www.swisscontact.org/en/topics/areas-in-focus/cocoa.html ) and already trained about 1,000 farmers in Lampung, Sumatra and West Sulawesi. Farmers are trained in organic farming techniques, disease management, fermentation, and conservation. Farmers are also equipped with the tools they need to farm and process their cocoa. The company was co-founded by the charming Indonesian Sabrina Mustopo, who exchanged the safety of a consultancy job for the rough but beautiful world of Indonesian chocolate creation.
Even more striking – but obvious, considering that Indonesia is home to the Arenga Palm Tree – is the use of Arenga palm sugar as a replacement of the unhealthy white sugar.
This bean-to-bar chocolate company is co-founded in March 2013 by Irvan Helmi and his sister Tissa Aunilla, who left her job as a corporate lawyer. Pipiltin collects their cocoa beans from Pidie Jaya, Aceh, and Tabanan, Bali. They have the aspiration to expand to cocoa beans from all over Indonesia. They have stores in the districts Menteng, Barito, and Senopati of Jakarta. You can even visit their chocolate factory in Barito. Pipiltin also supplies chocolate to Jakarta’s top hotels, including the Grand Hyatt and Fairmont Hotel.
This is a bit of a strange chocolate duck in this list. The founders are all born and raised in Indonesia (Radinal Latuconsina, Yohanes Makmur and Argha Fachsa), the beans are originating from Indonesia (more in particular from the island group, the Moluccas) but the processing takes place in California, USA. Argha however controls and buys the cocoa bean supply in Indonesia.
The super interesting part is that they had to overcome a huge struggle with the US FDA (Food and Drug Admin.). 96% of the cocoa beans from Indonesia (Malaysia and Brazil) were known to be swarmed with live insects. The problem was the duration and conditions of the shipment but the situation at the cocoa farms. Shockingly a lot of farmers were used to drying the beans without first fermenting them. Big buyers like Callebaut and Cargill want volume and care less about the quality. I can confirm this myself. Once I talked with one of the buyers of Callebaut in Singapore and learned that the price for unfermented beans was almost as high as the price for fermented beans. So why go through all the trouble as a farmer and waste your time on fermenting? Now I realize that bean-to-bar chocolatiers like Moluccas have to heavy task of creating a shift in mentality with the farmers.
Primo Bali is a very small producer of high quality, single origin chocolate based in Bali, Indonesia. And to my surprise, already founded in 2008 by the Italian Giuseppe Verdacchi in Kuta, Bali. This makes Primo almost the primo, the numero uno, the very first bean-to-bar artisan in South-East Asia. Almost, because they are only beaten by one other company and this chocolatier happens to be in Bali as well. Read further to reveal this ‘elephant’ of South-East Asian artisans. According to the website of Primo Bali, they create a unique flavour to their chocolate by roasting the beans at very low temperatures and grinding them extremely long for almost 4 days. Primo is keeping a close relationship with their farmer-suppliers and only uses beans from Bali itself.
Again, one exciting Artisan located in Bali. This island is really the chocolate center of Indonesia. Australian Toby Garritt really explored Indonesia as an adventurer as from 2001 before he became Indonesian himself and married an Indonesian (the website speaks poetically of a Balinese princess and somehow I hope this is true ;-)). Pod really took off in 2013 and a larger investment allowed to open a larger scale factory in 2017. Visits to the factory are free of charge, as is the tasting, and are possible 7 days a week. They are using pure lontar nectar to sweeten. First I thought this was a new kind of palm tree but after some research, I must conclude that it is in fact the same tree (Coco Nucifera) from which coconut sugar is originating (produced from the nectar of the blossom). Maybe it is also the coconut sugar that catapults the quality of the chocolate made by Pod to the extent that it alarmed Michelin Guide which names Pod as one of the Southeast Asia-based chocolate makers “who is turning the $100 billion chocolate industry on its head – by producing world-class chocolate bars from locally grown cocoa beans.”
One of the latest artisans, only coming to the scene in 2016 but their concept promises a bright future. Australians Amanda and Paul focus on the more difficult approach of raw, vegan cacao. This means that they don’t add any milk powder but also that they don’t roast their cacao beans. We as cocoa farmers know that wet cocoa beans need the heat during the fermentation process, in order to give the bean her first flavors. Roasting is normally the second step to bring out the real chocolate flavor. Paul and Amanda, however, don’t allow the temperature during their ‘roasting’ to go any higher than 42 degrees. On the other hand, they expose the beans for a far longer time to the (lower) heat then other artisans do. Strictly speaking there is nothing raw about it (the beans have now been treated twice before they are processed: fermented and heated) but somehow the international chocolate community agreed on the term ‘raw’ for this process.
They add local coconut sugar as a sweetener which -as they rightfully point out themselves – has also been treated (boiling the nectar). And they complete the picture by adding beautiful ingredients like acai berries and goji berries.
And here it is: the very first bean-to-bar artisan of South-East Asia, founded in 2003 by Australian Ben: Big Tree. Hey set up a beautifully designed chocolate factory partially made from bamboo. Big Tree gets supplies from 14,000 farmers but it is unclear how many are providing coconut nectar and how many cocoa beans.
Coconut sugar has become the major source of income for Big Tree. Their website right now is mainly about the healthy coconut sugar, which by the way is more and more applied by chocolatiers as a white sugar alternative.
Big Tree is also a front runner when it comes to raw cocoa products. They are probably the only ones in the world who really produce raw cocoa butter and raw cocoa powder. Some customers complain that these raw cocoa products hardly taste like chocolate but that is unavoidable. When you don’t heat or roast the cocoa beans, you will not develop the chocolate flavor itself.
The agricultural researcher, I Wayan Alit Artha Wiguna was involved in many agricultural projects before he decided in 2014 to make the big leap and invest in machinery for a chocolate factory in his home village Cau, close to Denpasar, Bali. He and his director Surya Prestya Wiguna want to prove that a chocolate company is not the exclusive domain of Westerners but that a Balinese owned chocolate company can also make high-quality chocolate. They purchase their beans from local farmers in Tabanan and Jembrana. They also struggled with the strange practice of farmers who previously didn’t ferment but sold the beans unfermented to the ‘big boys’. They made a serious effort to educate the farmers and learn them to ferment and therefore receive higher prices for their cocoa. Proud as they are on their new developments of producing premium chocolate from organic cocoa beans, they also decided to open their factory for tours. you can book a tour through their website.
And another fully Balinese owned chocolatier: Sorga. Founded in 2011 by Made Rutana and Wayan Suwita in the Bali village of Jasri.
It took them two years of trial and error before they decided to hire foreign consultants who could assist them. Botanist Dan O’Doherty and Swiss artisan Andy Koller were prepared to help them and learned them to create a unique cocoa taste discovery, a true Sorga (heavenly) chocolate taste. And indeed all these efforts propelled the quality of their chocolate to very high levels. One of these unique creations is the Sorga Rambutan which of course has the refreshing rambutan fruit as one of the main ingredients.
Indonesia cocoa production is going through a difficult time. In only a decade the production declined to 200,000 MT. The official numbers show a sharp, disturbing decline from 410,000 MT in 2012/2013.
The big cocoa processors, Callebaut, Cargill, Mars, Nestle and Mondelez put in a lot of effort to break this trend but up till now not with any visible results. Maybe the push will come from the fast rise of these small scale chocolatiers who all are creating a close connection with their cocoa farmers. These artisans are also all prepared to pay higher, premium prices for the beans, and they have a clear goal of helping farmers develop more sustainable farming methods. The island of Bali seems to be the Mekka of chocolate Indonesia with the highest concentration of bean-to-bar artisans.
I tried to be as complete as possible but I might have overlooked certain chocolatiers. If you have any information on other bean-to-bar artisans in Indonesia that I didn’t mention here, please let me know. Then I will update the article. I am also looking for local artisans in Papua New-Guinea but I can’t find any at the moment.