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KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 9 — Just when you thought you knew everything about chocolate, here comes single origin artisan chocolates.
Yes, you read right. We are talking about single origin cacao beans.
Most of us are already familiar with single origin coffee beans and specialty coffees so it is interesting to hear someone talk about cacao beans in the same way. In fact, the vocabulary used to describe the beans and process is the same: growing regions, fermentation, drying and roasting.
Ong Ning Geng, the founder of Chocolate Concierge, is a chocolatier who not only enjoys chocolate but knows it literally from the roots. Ong owns a handful of cacao trees here which he tends to regularly. The first cacao trees he planted got swept away by a flood in 2013 but he replanted and is now waiting for the first harvest of the new trees.
“On average, It takes five years for a tree to harvest but I’m lucky because I had some cacao fruits after two years. I prune very often and aggressively to direct the trees’ development,” said Ong.
So what is Chocolate Concierge? “Chocolate Concierge is a service provider and not a product provider. We match people with chocolates that they enjoy,” said Ong.
A look at their website will give you an idea of this “matching” Ong is referring to: the chocolate descriptions even come with a “perceived sweetness rating” so you kind of know how sweet a particular chocolate is going to be.
The reason he ventured into chocolate was because he was interested in the fermentation process which is similar to that in wine making, cheese making and craft brewing. “I wanted to utilise something local so I looked into chocolate. I like the fermentation process and I feel like the time for chocolate is now,” he said.
According to Ong, raw cacao beans taste nothing like chocolate. The precursors of chocolate flavour are first developed during the fermentation process. Good fermentation is fundamental in the making of fine quality chocolates.
When he started to look into chocolate, he visited a number of cacao farms; most recently he went to Costa Rica, Vietnam and a local farmer in Banting. He also attended a basic course with the Malaysian Cocoa Board called the Kursus Asas Teknologi Koko. When he was in Costa Rica, he visited the cacao research centre of CATIE (Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Centre).
“I am very grateful to the Malaysian Cocoa Board because they gave me the young cocoa saplings. The board is working with farmers and giving assistance in order to increase cocoa farming in Malaysia,” he said.
He sees parallels between coffee and chocolate because of the artisanal characteristics. “Generally, fine flavour cacao are mostly found in Central and South America as opposed to the African varietals, which tend to produce larger beans and are more disease resistant,” said Ong.
While farmers are concerned about the resistance of the beans, best yield, fast yield and size, they are not concerned about whether it is flavourful. This is now beginning to change internationally with the rise of single origin artisan chocolate.
He wants to connect with cacao farmers and chocolatiers to share experience and to refine their techniques. He doesn’t see them as competition but friends who are on the quest for fine cocoa and chocolates.
The chocolatier and entrepreneur enjoys “geeking out on the fermentation process.” He built his own incubator to ferment beans so that he can influence the temperature of the fermentation.
If you think bitter chocolate means good chocolate, Ong says otherwise. “If it is too bitter, it means it is burnt and has nothing else in terms of flavour profile. Like wine, with good chocolate, you tease out other flavours and you will notice that other flavours are coming out other than bitterness,” said Ong.
“Cocoa is now an interesting flavour experience with a dimension. People don’t buy chocolate just to fill their stomachs but to experience its flavour. A Vin de Table (table wine) is a wine classification for wines made without having to abide by regional and origin requirements. It is usually of low quality. The same can be said of chocolates that are made without origin information,” he said.
Consumers have become more discerning and want to know more about the source of the bean beyond a country origin.
The fruits of cacao plants have different colours and they ripen differently so Ong is exploring different colours and learning about the varietals.
For now Ong is just working on finished products but he hopes to find ways to expand cacao in terms of growing capabilities and other options of cacao.
“Artisanal chocolate has a shorter shelf life compared to commercial chocolate. When the chocolate is made impacts the taste and profile of the chocolate. On average, Chocolate Concierge chocolates last 2-8 weeks in the fridge,” said Ong.
The best seller at Chocolate Concierge is the Caramelised Hazelnut in Milk Chocolate. The barks and brittles are priced at RM20 per 100grams before GST and truffles are RM4.50 per piece before GST. Customised chocolates are priced depending on ingredients.
Jason’s Food Hall, Bangsar Shopping Centre