How artisan chocolatiers got inventive this decade

Chock-a-block with choices: From modifying an idli grinder to creating upcycled cotton waste wrappers, this was an inventive decade for artisan chocolatiers

December 12, 2019 03:09 pm | Updated December 13, 2019 11:57 am IST

Cocoa composition with real cacao fruits, cacao leaves, nibs and dark chocolate chunks, showing the different stages of the cacao to become chocolate. Vertical photography. Top View. Close-up. Studio shot. No people.

Cocoa composition with real cacao fruits, cacao leaves, nibs and dark chocolate chunks, showing the different stages of the cacao to become chocolate. Vertical photography. Top View. Close-up. Studio shot. No people.

“We are not just in the business of making machines, but of creating chocpreneurs,” says Andal Balu over a phone call from Riyadh. She and her husband, Balu M Balasubramanian, are in Riyadh, for an event in their official capacity as small-scale chocolate-making equipment innovators and co-founders of CocoaTown.

CocoaTown was officially started in 2008, having created waves among the chocolate-making community in the US when they made modifications to an idli grinder, to create a machine that could grind cocoa beans in small, frequent batches instead of huge, industrial quantities. That was just an early modification; their designs are constantly changing, the product often getting upgraded.

Says Andal, “We had to modify it a lot, the grinder was just a base. The machines ground rice flour for 20 to 30 minutes twice a week. For cocoa, a grinder will have to run for two or three days continuously.” This meant looking into concerns about overheating, safety, variations in electricity supply, and of course, affordability. Updated variants of those grinders are exported to chocolatiers in 50 countries today.

CocoaTown has, since then, also developed other devices like cacao bean crackers, winnowers, and roasters that are both affordable and have the ability to control temperature as per the chocolate maker’s wish. The idea being that pre-decided results be achieved consistently.

“The changes we made to the grinder were a small contribution. Our main contribution is that we were the first ones to think it is possible to work on small batches of chocolate,” says Balu.

Cover story

When chocolate is bean-to-bar and in small batches, there are high chances of it having a carbon footprint, simply because of the nature and scale of the manufacturing process. But there is one aspect that is still a point of concern: packaging.

Packaging of any food item needs to be, among other things, waterproof. This usually means that there is some sort of plastic lining or seal. But in 2017, Chennai-based Cocoatrait set its sights on developing packaging that is not just plastic-free, but also 100% biodegradable.

“The thought was first planted in our minds in 2017, but we launched it in Amsterdam in February 2019,” says Nitin Chordia, founder of Cocoatrait, “As of last month, our line of chocolates in biodegradable packaging is available in 25 stores in Chennai.”

What makes this packaging so interesting? For starters, it is made — for the most part — from upcycled material. Cotton waste from the garment industry is reprocessed into material that can be used to wrap and is printable in a process that is quite labour intensive. Cocoa husk, which usually goes to waste, is also added to the mix. “We try to keep the thickness to 200 gram per square metre (GSM), but there is usually a variation of about 20% since this isn’t machine made,” says Nitin.

What about moisture and water damage? There is an inside layer of plastic-free, recyclable aluminium.

Another waste-reducing decision is to print information on both sides of the wrapper.

Taste of culture

Since 2012, Mysuru-based Naviluna — or Earth Loaf as it was called earlier — has not only been one of the earliest craft chocolate-makers in this country, but also one of the most indulgent. Of course, when you pay upwards of ₹300 for a single bar of quality chocolate, indulgence is what you expect.

The brand’s chocolate slabs are a treat to look at, engraved with intricate traditional patterns. “The moulds [in which chocolate is set] are inscribed with Chittara folk art, the traditional art style of Malnad (Karnataka) from where we sourced our first lot of cacao beans. It’s a way to draw consumers back to the origin of the raw materials through culture,” says founder David Belo.

David gets chocolate moulds custom made for different purposes. “Food grade PVC moulds are very affordable to get customised. Polycarbonate are more expensive though,” he says, refusing to divulge where he gets this customisation done. No surprises there.

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