Single-origin production. Small batch production. Sustainable sources. No, we are not talking about coffee, but another bean in town. Cacao. Artisanal chocolate-making is taking off in Singapore, with at least three small-batch chocolatiers setting up shop in the past 11/2 years. Their sourcing and production methods are just as serious and technical as the coffee purists. Instead of bean-to-brew, think bean-to-bar.
The newcomers are Patisserie G cafe, which branched out into making chocolates in-house in its new OUE Downtown outlet last month; Fossa Chocolate, a five- month-old chocolate-maker; and Demochoco, a small-batch chocolatier that was set up in April last year. This crop joins other early birds on the scene, such as the four-year-old Anjalichocolat in Loewen Road. Besides chocolate retailers, more chocolate-centric cafes have opened. Last month, The Dark Gallery, a 30-seat cafe that specialises in using single-origin dark chocolate in desserts, opened in Millenia Walk.
Most local chocolatiers started making chocolates after trying single-origin varieties abroad. This was the case for Mr Lim Jialiang, 27, owner of Demochoco, who spent six months in Paris on a university exchange programme. His brand, for which he makes and distributes the products, carries adventurous flavours such as hae bee hiam chocolate bars. There are also “rojak-style” nama chocolate truffles in flavours such as miso with gula melaka and salted egg and cereal. Mr Lim, who invested $20,000 in the start-up, says he sells 200 boxes a month. The market for chocolate is evolving in a similar way to that of coffee, say chocolate business owners.
Nowadays, consumers are more conscious about the product’s origins and are open to trying a variety of flavours, says Mr Victor Seah, 33, who owns Beans To Bars. Set up in 2014, the distribution company carries a range of hard-to-find craft chocolates from countries such as Lithuania and Indonesia. Despite the potential, there is a bittersweet side to the chocolate business. The trade depends on seasonal sales and prices have been on the rise due to increased demand from markets such as China and India.
Chocolate is also hard to store – it needs to be kept in a cool and dry place such as a chiller. Singapore also lacks a craft chocolate culture. Not many people will pay for artisanal chocolate that costs two to three times more than a generic brand, says Mr Jay Chua, 29, owner of Fossa Chocolate.
“There is an information gap on the hard work that goes into bean-to-bar chocolate-making that justifies the higher prices.”
He sources, makes and sells chocolate in a factory in Tuas. It takes him a month to make a 30kg batch of single-origin chocolate, or about 850 bars. Fossa mainly sells single-origin chocolate bars made with cacao beans from Bolivia and Indonesia. He sells about 120 bars a month. For Ms Anjali Gupta, 53, owner of Anjalichocolat, the biggest challenge is finding experienced chocolatiers for this “labour-intensive” business. Her shop sells confections such as pralines and bars made from Belgian chocolate. Last week, she launched a From Singapore Lah collection that features 15 pralines in local flavours such as Singapore Sling and kaya toast.
She says more than 1,000 boxes of chocolates are sold a month, mostly through corporate orders. Loyal customers include Ms Gayathri Santhi- McBain, 42, who is a trustee for a medical non- governmental organisation. She says: “They are not overwhelmingly sweet or milky like in generic brands. These chocolates go well with a whisky or cognac at dinner parties and make good door gifts.”