There were two attempts to introduce cocoa in Vietnam: at the end of the 19th century and at the end of the Cold War in the 1980s. They both failed. But Vietnamese don’t like to quit easily. So there was a third try. And this time it worked. In the early 2000s, Vietnam finally could embrace the brown gold. And only a decade later bean-to-bar chocolatiers started creating chocolate out of Vietnamese cocoa beans in their home country. In this article, I will point out the first 7 bean-to-bar artisans in this mystical South-East Asian country.
A late-comer in the Vietnamese chocolate scene who only opened his modest chocolate factory in January 2017. Nevertheless, it is a beautiful story to tell. Kimmy’s chocolate is the brainchild of Mr. Bui Durassamy (71) who returned to Vietnam at an old age. Within two years, the chocolate has become hugely popular, especially under the Vietnamese themselves. Kimmy’s chocolate is definitely focusing on an Asian taste. Recently they introduced the green tea chocolate.
Marou is one of the first bean-to-bar chocolatiers in the whole of South-East Asia itself. Initiated not by Vietnamese but by two adventurous Frenchmen, Vincent Mourou and Samuel Maruta, in 2011. Especially in the US and Europe, they created a large international fanbase. While they still sell the majority of their chocolate bars is sold within Vietnam, many westerners praise the quality of Marou. The company won several international awards as well. The packaging is beautifully designed and immediately attracts attention.
A truly Vietnamese adventure, run by two generations namely mr Xuan Ron and his daughter Diep. They have their own cocoa farm in Tien Giang, in the Mekong Delta. When they don’t have sufficient cocoa beans themselves, they buy extra from nearby farmers. In other words, this is a unique combination of tree-to-bar and bean-to-bar. Their brand name derives from alluvium, which describes the sediments of clay and sand, left by floodwater of the Mekong, on which their cocoa trees grow. They also run a cafe in Ho Chi Minh where they sell not only chocolate drinks, mocha, and coffee but also chocolate desserts and of course their full range of chocolate bars. They also have an exclusive deal with the airline Jetstar who treat their passengers on mini chocolates of Alluvia during the flight.
Also a newcomer on the scene. Obviously, ‘vie’ is referring to Vietnam while ‘bel’ seems to link to the Belgian way of making chocolate – whatever that might be – but even more to the Belgian origin of one of the founders Marc Vanborren. He and Jannie Ha Tran founded Belvie in early 2016. From what I discovered Marc is quite a globetrotter: born and raised in Congo and living for a decade in Dubai before moving to Vietnam. They like to be very transparent when it comes to the origin of their beans. They name all their bars after the Vietnamese region where they collected the beans.
Stone Hill is for us as cocoa farmers at Kamkav Farm in Cambodia the most intriguing chocolatier. They are actually a tree-to-bar company. They own their own farms and control their own fermentation and drying process. Even more interesting – especially in Vietnam where chemical fertilizers and pesticides are so omnipresent, also in cocoa farming – is their organic approach. They claim to be pesticide-free and mainly use bio-control with the help of ant colonies they raise themselves. They also create their own organic compost (like we do) and combine it with charcoal. The fact that they can control the quality of the bean from the very start of growing the cocoa pods at the tree until processing and tempering the chocolate mass must resolve into very high-quality chocolate products. They make not only chocolate bars, and cocoa nibs mixed with fruits, but also cocoa butter soaps and other skincare products based on cocoa.
TBros, previously known as T-Brothers is located in Đà Nẵng. I can’t find much about this newcomer but they proudly announced that in their short existence they already received an Academy of Chocolate Award last year.
Cacaoken is already a household name in the Japanese chocolate world. In 2018, mister Nakano Toshimi decided not only to install a chocolate factory and a showroom in Da Lat City, but also to invest in their own cocoa Vietnamese cocoa farms. His goal is to get complete control on the quality of the cocoa beans and the chocolate and to create a complete tree-to-bar process that follows the high Japanese standards.
No doubt that these first 7 bean-to-bar chocolatiers in Vietnam will not be the last. More Vietnamese are planning to start as a chocolatier. It is a growing trend everywhere in South-East Asia. The margins on chocolate are much better than the margins on the cocoa beans themselves. On the other hand, cocoa production in Vietnam is under pressure so supply could become more difficult. While the highlands region of Buon Ma Thuot seems to be doing well, there are more and more rumors of yield problems in the Mekong Delta. Back in 2010, the Vietnamese government was aiming for 20,000 MT in 2020, pushing farmers to switch to cocoa. That is a far cry from the official numbers which remain stagnant around 5 till 6,000 MT per year. More Vietnamese bean-to-bar artisans could be a (partial) solution to this stagnancy. He or she is ‘closer to the fire.’ Relationships with farmers are easier built and maintained. More Vietnamese artisans could stimulate farmers to start or expand cocoa.
If you think we are missing out on a new bean-to-bar chocolatier in Vietnam, please don’t hesitate and let us know. We are more than curious and can adjust this article when necessary.