We grow cocoa beans in Cambodia and will eventually either create or support a Cambodian bean-to-bar brand. What Cambodia is still lacking – local chocolate brands – has already taken off in many other countries in Asia.
Local Chocolate Brands in Asia
In this series, we won’t be looking at chocolate brands in the Americas or Europe, instead focusing mainly on countries in Asia. Since 2010, many new brands have exploded in popularity. Chocolate really is a rising star in Asia, most certainly due to the region’s rapidly growing middle class. The famous Michelin Guide has also taken notice of this remarkable phenomenon, especially in Southeast Asia.
We will kick off this series with the Philippines. We have to begin somewhere and the Philippines is a great place to start. It actually surprised us how many chocolate brands are already produced locally in the Pearl of the Orient. We found no fewer than 15 excellent local choices.
The following list is in random order, but we will start with bean-to-bar producers using cocoa of Philippine origin. According to the Philippine Department of Trade and Industry, the Philippines produce more than 10,000 metric tons of cocoa beans per year, while the government has established a target for annual production of 100,000 metric tons by the year 2020.
The story of Malagos started 15 years ago when Roberto and Charita Puentespina took over an
existing cocoa farm in Malagos, near Davao City on Mindanao. Malagos chocolate is the most
award-winning chocolate brand in the Philippines. All their cocoa beans originate from
Ralfe Gourmet Chocolate is all about its founder, Racquel Choa from Cebu, known as the
Chocolate Queen of the Philippines, and she is determined to put the Philippines on the map as
a cocoa nation. In and around her “Chocolate House” in Cebu city, she not only roasts and
grinds the cocoa beans, but also ferments and dries them, after they arrive fresh from the
surrounding farms. There is a very nice interview with her on the Spot blog.
A Pinoy chocolate with an Italian origin: Italian chocolatier Simone Mastrota discovered that the
Philippines is one of the oldest cocoa-producing countries in Asia (Indonesia also claims that
title, but it has yet to be decided). He named the brand Tigre Y Oliva, after his two daughters.
One more exciting detail… he also created Santa Maria, a chocolate bar infused with whiskey.
Oro is a young brand produced by Ginto Luxury Chocolates, with 30-year-old Dalareich Polot as
its driving force. After studying the fine craft of chocolate-making in Belgium, she returned to the
island of Bohol, where her parents ran a small chocolate-making business. When Dalareich
joined forces with her parents, production increased significantly. As the company needs more
cocoa beans than local growers can produce, it currently also buys cocoa beans from
Chocolatiers are creative not only with chocolate, but also with their brand names—and founder
Philo Choa is no exception. You would expect that this bean-to-bar brand from Davao would be
named after him, but Philo apparently refers to the Greek word for love, while Theo is a
shortening of Theobroma Cacao (Theobroma is the Greek word for cacao: food for gods).
Theo & Philo characterizes itself by using native Pinoy ingredients like mangos, turon (a type of
banana lumpia), siling labuyo (a small native chili pepper) and barako coffee.
The chocolate from Kablon Farms (they produce other things as well, including fruits, coconut
oil, jams, juices and vinegar) is bean-to-bar made in South Cotabato on Mindanao. The family
business began operating in 1956 and is now led by Ernesto Pantua Jr. Their chocolate bars
have collected quite an impressive number of awards. However, it is not just their own chocolate
bars that receive acclaim—artisans in Europe using Kablon Farms cocoa beans in their
products, such as Dormouse and Pangea, also win awards for their chocolate.
This highly praised chocolate brand is led by Pam Cinco, who calls herself the Chief Eating
Officer, according to this Pepper blog post.
One of the unique ingredients in the chocolate created by Risa are the pili nuts. In combination
with coconut sugar, it is a fantastic taste experience that brings out the nutty flavor.
Chocoliz chocolate is made from organic cocoa beans from Luzon. Interestingly, Chocoliz
doesn’t use cane sugar, only coconut nectar. I suspect that they mean coconut sugar or coconut
syrup, both of which are made from the nectar, but I’m not sure. Adding pure nectar might make
the chocolate mass too watery. They also don’t seem to use milk powder, so their bars contain
some of the purest cocoa you can get.
Francis Gonzalez, a former meditation guru, started in Davao by producing coconut sugar, but
he eventually became a chocolatier, joining forces with entrepreneur Peteri Makitalo. They use
cocoa beans from the Subasta Cooperative in Davao. Naturally, the key ingredients are organic
coconut sugar and even coconut oil. Inspired by Risa chocolates, they are now also using pili
nuts in one of their bars.
Magdalena’s was started in 2011 by Gerry and Cynthia Baron. They only make 20 kilos per
week, so this is currently one of the smallest chocolate brands in the Philippines. They don’t use
a mold to create the bars; they simply make chocolate drops, setting this brand uniquely apart
from other Pinot chocolate bean-to-bar producers. They use the cocoa beans from their own
small farm in Magdalena, in the Laguna province.
This company is only a few years old, launched by Kelly Go and Mark Ocampo, but they already
have exclusive deals with over 2,000 local farmers in Mindanao. They found the money to buy
cutting-edge machinery from Italy and Germany, and with their good eye for marketing and their
good taste for high-quality chocolate, Auro is poised to conquer a major market outside of the
Another bean-to-bar producer, Hiraya was founded in the last decade, but it is already one of
the best-selling local brands in the Philippines, and it doesn’t shy away from bold experiments.
Recently, it came out with a bar with roasted coconut particles. That might not sound too crazy,
but how about a spicy dark chocolate bar with crunchy pork skin (chicharon) or a bar with salty
Edam cheese chunks (Queso de Bola)?
Tuesday Baker is a chocolate bakery in Quezon City. It makes individually wrapped chocolate
shards, but it is unclear where they buy the chocolate mass. It is clearly not a bean-to-bar
chocolate maker, but that doesn’t harm the company’s growing popularity.
Raul Matias is the genius behind Manila Chocolatier. He has created a line of pralines with
Pinoy flavors and decorated with Pinoy illustrations. Think of Palawan honey, Kalamansi, Purple
Yam, and Coconut Wine and you’ll get an idea of the flavor profile for these treats.
Although the Goya chocolate snack is definitely not considered an artisan product, it is still
locally produced (since 1956). Since becoming part of the Delfi Corporation from Singapore, the
company has been rebranding itself in order to rediscover its previous popularity.
More information on local Philippines chocolate brands can be found on the expat blog Primer
and on the blog Pepper, which posted a very interesting taste test.
If you are interested in learning more about the first Cambodian cocoa, feel free to message the
company at email@example.com or visit their website at kamkavfarm.com.