Thailand

Join Us For A Sweet Ride As We Meet The Chocolate Makers Of Thailand

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in northern Thailand, Travel + Leisure India and South Asia Contributors meet and photograph the chocolatiers leading the country’s craft cocoa movement.Chris Schalks

After eating in Thailand for almost a decade, I moved there from the Netherlands in 2013 and my tongue is no stranger to the salty taste of northern curries or the tamarind soup of southern gaeng som’s sour fish soup. However, it was only recently that I had my first taste of something I had yet to taste in the terroir of Thailand: chocolate. One steamy morning last November, I flew from Bangkok to Mae Teng, a mountainous region between Chiang Mai and the Myanmar border, to find the source of an ingredient that has become a staple in the kitchens of Bangkok’s top pastry chefs: Kad Kokoa’s Single Origin chocolate.

Open a ripe cocoa pod

Meet the Chocolate Maker

paddy
A paddy field in Mae Teng, where Kad Kokoa runs one of its four cocoa farms.

Mentoring me are Bangkok-born Paniti and Nuttaya Junhasavasdikul, founders of Kad Kokoa, who proudly lead the country’s burgeoning bean-to-bar movement. The three of us climbed a muddy one-kilometer trail to one of the company’s cocoa farms (Kad Kokoa runs four farmers’ cooperatives). Along the way, Paniti recounts how, in 2017, he and Nuttaya left their successful legal careers to forge a sweeter path in the world of chocolate.

The creation of a chocolate maker
Chocolate pastries at Kad Kokoa Cafe in Bangkok

It was a bold move as Thai coco was undervalued at the time. “Most Thais find our artisanal chocolates weird,” says Nuttaya. “They were used to the sweetness and bitterness of commercial products, and ours was too fruity. When we shared our plans, friends told us we were crazy.” But they persevered. Now their chocolates are sold in Japan, Thailand and the US and have won awards in competitions such as the Asia Pacific International Chocolate Awards and the London Golden Bean Awards. On the Mae Taeng farm — some 800 cacao trees on top of the hill, surrounded by coffee groves and birdsong — Panetti opens a banana-yellow cacao pod. Inside are rows of seeds covered with fleshy pulp. After each harvest, the seeds are dried and fermented under banana leaves before being shipped to Kad Kokoa Chocolate Lab in Bangkok’s Sathorn district. A few weeks later, I visited the lab, which hosts workshops and wine tastings, and will soon be joined by a cocoa-centric bistro in the Sukhumvit area.

make dessert

When Cocoa Cafe
Tasting at Kad Kokoa Cafe

I watched the seeds roasted, graded and crushed into nibs and mixed with organic sugar – that’s all. This mixture was then machine milled for 48 hours until it became a velvety paste. Next, the chocolate is tempered, poured into moulds and cooled. Kad Kokoa uses most of the chocolate in its signature single-origin chocolate bars, though some end up being combined with experimental ingredients like Chanthaburi black pepper or salted tamarind. “Like in Burgundy, a Pinot Noir may taste different than the one grown across the road, and the taste of the cocoa varies depending on the soil and weather conditions in which it was grown,” explained Panetti, who handed me a piece of 70% Prachuap Chocolate from Khiri Khan, a province between Myanmar and the Gulf of Thailand.

chocolate maker
Company founders Nuttaya and Paniti Junhasavasdikul

Every sip swirls around my mouth like a sip, and I get a tart taste reminiscent of an unripe banana, drawn to the coconut undertone. Chocolates from the red soil farms in the southern province of Chumphon are more intense, with hints of plum, while the bars at the high-altitude farms we visited near Chiang Mai were floral, almost honey-like.

After tasting, Paniti told me that Kad Kokoa’s mission is not just to make delicious products. Cocoa was a cash crop in the 1970s, but many farmers let their trees wither after Western companies that bought the beans began to move to cheaper areas. With Kad Kokoa, chocolatiers hope to revive the industry by buying from smallholder farmers who still grow cocoa on their land. They buy beans at reasonable prices and hire experts to educate farmers on growing and fermentation methods. “Even though we’re young,” Panetti said, “we’re building an ecosystem that benefits everyone.” Farm tours are available by appointment.

reach there

Thai Airways, Thai Smile and Air India offer one-stop flights to Chiang Mai Airport. Mae Daeng is a 47 km drive away.

stay

Sibsan Resort & Spa Maetaeng offers beautiful villas and suites with wooden furnishings. Double from Rs 7,111.

RELATED: Refined Indulgence: 9 of the World’s Most Expensive Chocolate Brands



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