I was invited to Cochin last week by Mr CT Kuruvilla of Cocoacraft, India’s Bean to Bar Chocolate Maker, to their Chocolate Factory (cafe/showroom) to be introduced, taste and discuss their chocolate collection. I must admit upfront that Mr Kuruvilla along with his able daughter Sanjana left a lasting impression upon me! My travels for chocolates have taken me places and when i learnt a few years ago that our very own Cocoa beans grown in Kerala have been exported and used by leading Swiss companies to make chocolate bars, I naturally got curious and started to research more. I then found that devotees of a particular Murgan temple in Kerala offered chocolates and received back the chocolates as Prasadam after the poojas! I was itching to discover more. I also noticed Cocoacraft products selling on retail store shelves across India (Delhi, Mumbai, Banglore & Chennai) and I was instantly sure that the 13,000+ chocolate lovers at my Chocolate tasting Club (Cocoatrait) would want to learn more about Cocoacraft and about what can be done with cocoa grown in India.
I learnt that, historically, India had a very good supply of some of the best varieties of cocoa beans in the world! Kerala as always had topped the charts even then. Further, during my research, i came across many small/medium farmers who prided themselves of selling their cocoa beans to large multinationals at their farm gate for fixed prices. This seemed to be the convenient and accepted trend. The small farmers usually have very little knowledge about what really happens to the cocoa that they produce. They know it eventually gets converted to chocolates but they do not exactly know how! The small farmers have not particularly learnt a lot about the chocolate making process over the years.
However, as younger generations step in, things are bound to change. Some medium sized farmers have turned entrepreneurs themselves and have started offering chocolates that are made from their own beans. Many realise the difficulty and do the necessary course correction and some get back to what they do best. Grow and protect the cocoa pods! Some realise that it is best to work with expert chocolate makers and help them make the best chocolates rather than doing everything by themselves. Hence they play an important role in supplying cocoa beans to chocolate makers based on their specifications who then convert them to bulk chocolates.
At this stage it is important to understand the difference between a chocolate maker and a chocolatier. A Chocolate Maker works with the farmers (most times), buys and roasts cocoa beans and grinds them into bulk chocolate. A Chocolatier is someone who uses these bulk chocolates and makes the final chocolates, those cream filled, dipped, nutty or fruity confections that we all know and love. When someone combines the skills of both and makes the final chocolate themselves, they are called a Bean to Bar Chocolatier. A chocolate maker has to make larger investments into the process, equipment, Skill etc. Apart from chocolate pieces, many bakers use chocolates to make cakes, desserts, mousse, pastries, muffins, brownies, hot/cold chocolates etc
Bean to Bar chocolatiers are a growing trend in Europe and around the world. They are even enabling americans to look serious about their chocolates! However, the bean to bar makers seldom sell their bulk chocolates to others. They use the bulk chocolate for their own final chocolate creations. This is where Mr CT Kuruvilla of Cocoacraft in Kerala is playing a very impressive, differentiated and inclusive game! An inclusive strategy that promises growth of not only himself but also of the many chocolatiers & bakers across India who use his bulk chocolates to further innovate and make chocolate creations and who did not have access to this quality of bulk earlier.
To introduce himself and his business, Mr Kuruvilla is ex-Navy commander, took voluntary/premature retirement and has meticulous planning capabilities. He has huge and in-depth experience in the art of chocolate making on both the technical and practical aspects. A fashion designer in Wellington gave him a basic chocolate making recipe way back in 1984 while he was still serving in the navy. Since then he has constantly experimented with various recipes and chocolates and was naturally drawn into making the base chocolate from the bean. Being in Kerala and the plantation background of his wife’s family helped a lot. He retired in 1993 and tried his hands in the bamboo business. Today, he is ably assisted by Sanjana who has devoted her life to ensuring that Cocoacraft reaches the national level gradually.
He does what no other Indian Chocolate maker does. He produces fine bulk chocolate (which is called couverture) and works with different farmers to offer 4 different types of it including 85% Bitter, 70% Bitter Sweet, 52% Dark and Milk in 1 Kg blocks. He also offers Prime Pressed Cocoa Butter in 1 Kg blocks. AND offers to sell bulk chocolates directly via retailers rather than the traditional distribution route. This ensures that his brand becomes more visible and the consumer has easier access to his products. He believes in demonstrating how his bulk chocolates can be used and he started making Belgian style Coconut Pralines commercially using his bulk chocolates in 2008 when the market for fine bulk chocolates were not very promising as comparison to compound chocolates were unavoidable. Thus came into being the Chocolate Factory (Cafe) in Cochin. Almost like milling your own wheat to make the best full 7 course meal! This is in short what Cocoacraft is doing.
Having a praline with the main ingredients (Cocoa and Coconut) growing in Kerala was indeed very intriguing and it did not disappoint! As they say, fine food is all about fine ingredients. Apart from coconut, I tasted a collection of all the additions he has made over the years, like, Coffee, Nut Caramel and Mint. I tasted their Hot/Cold Chocolates, Squares (in all the different variations), Brownie and Mousse. They also offer Cocoa Powder, Cocoa Butter and Chocolate Syrup. Their Hot Chocolate scored a 10/10 personally for me. The Brownie and Chocolate Dipped Cookie can make anyones day! Their mousse was a very delicate and dissolving delight! They also have 2 variants of a small retail bar called charge which can be sold at a supermarket shelf. Apart from this, they do boxes of specific variety and assortment of Belgian style pralines. I did miss out on their ice creams, chocolate spread and cup cake due to lack of time.
Quite easily the largest collection of chocolate products in consumer packs any chocolate maker offers in India! Apart from the retail products for end consumers, Cocoacraft has a hugely impressive collection of chocolate products appealing to chocolatiers and bakers. Can we call it the “one stop shop” for Indian chocolates? Each product has evolved over a period of time based on customer feedback but Mr Kuruvilla insists that he is open for changes based on the changing customer taste preferences. On that note, I was humbled when Mr Kuruvilla made a note of my feedback on specific bulk chocolates and other offerings I could see that he already knew what he should work on! We should be happy to have such genuine people working in the chocolate industry aiming at improving their product with every little feedback and ensuring that we continue to proudly enjoy our very own chocolates entirely made in India! For once, he had another critic apart from his wife! 🙂
Mr Kuruvilla aims hard at retaining the fine flavours that exist naturally in cocoa but does not plan to go the “Raw” route. In my opinion, while a little more work requires to be done for Cocoacraft to compete directly with the large chocolate makers of Europe, there is every reason to award Cocoacraft the crown of achievement towards chocolates in India! Actions speak louder then words and even some large brands cannot gather this kind of strength to develop and offer such a large range of products. Ofcourse, a bit more focus based on customer feedback will go a long way in establishing leadership among Indian chocolate makers. Cocoacraft is firmly positioned with a clear differentiation strategy. They are way ahead in the game as compared to their competition that there is sufficient reason for me to believe that they would grow from strength to strength and soon become the torch bearer of the Indian chocolate making industry. The quality and fineness of dairy and milk powder that europe uses in their tempting milk chocolate delights, have no match in India. This aspect must be considered while evaluating their milk chocolates to any european brand. I, for one, would never compare an indian milk chocolate to a european one. Cocoacraft is a proud example of what can be done in India with Indian Cocoa beans!
Cocoacraft has also agreed to curate a box of Belgian Style Pralines based on my specific needs and this one of its kind collection will be up for winning based on a contest at the chocolate tasting club! Like and follow one our facebook pages below to participate and win a chance to enjoy the specially curated chocolate box!