Edited Jan 1, 2017: Kakoa Chocolate have now rebranded themselves as Krakakoa.
Hey hey, this is the first post in the series that covers Indonesian chocolate makers who are making chocolate with Indonesian cacao beans. Kakoa Chocolate was the first result when I Googled “Indonesian chocolate” and I thought it’d be appropriate to put them first.
The first part of the post will be an interview with the chocolate makers or co-founder, the second part is the chocolate tasting and reviews of their bars. Bear with me, it’s a long post but insightful!
For this blog post, I was corresponding with Simon Wright, co-founder and current COO of Kakoa Chocolate. Simon was kind enough to answer all of my questions with insightful answers. He gave me helpful advice on the different chocolate makers out there, as well as ensuring that my “chocolate mule” received the bar in time to transport them to Berlin from Jakarta.
How did Kakoa Chocolate came to be? Somehow I see Kakoa Chocolate as being more of a platform for farmer/smallholder education to improve cacao bean quality, with the chocolate-making arm as the front-end for educating the market on what can be achieved with great chocolate. Not far off actually, either great intuition or our website and social media helped!
Kakoa has three missions as a company:
- Empowering Indonesian cocoa farmers
- Improving the profile and reputation of Indonesian cocoa and chocolate through the creation of delicious chocolate and cocoa products
- Increase the economic value creation in Indonesia by keeping processing domestic
Kakoa was co-founded by Sabrina Mustopo and I. Prior to starting Kakoa, both Sabrina and me worked as management consultants. Sabrina focused on agriculture development and Kakoa was started because she saw that there were many issues in the Indonesian cocoa industry, but also a lot of potential. Even though Indonesia is the third largest cocoa producer in the world, a large proportion of the cocoa grown here is unfermented, and farmers see very low yields due to diseases and poor farm management. Moreover, very little chocolate is actually produced in Indonesia. Most of the cocoa is exported in the form of intermediary products such as cocoa butter, cocoa powder and cocoa mass.
Before even knowing what “bean to bar” chocolate was, we believed that the way to address a lot of the issues we saw in the sector was to integrate the value chain – training farmers, buying the cocoa direct from them, passing them a greater proportion of the consumer dollar, and keeping processing local. You were right in that, only after we already decided what needed to be done did Sabrina go off to learn about cocoa post harvest processing and chocolate making in Belgium, and learned that we were getting ourselves into an already existing “bean to bar” movement, mainly from online sources.
What programs are you running for farmers/smallholders to improve cacao bean quality? We provide a 4-to-16-week training program to farmers where they learn how to prune their trees, make organic compost and fertiliser, organic pest management techniques, farm sanitation, grafting, fermentation, and drying. On top of that, Kakoa provides farmers with equipment they need to take care of their plantations and ferment and dry their beans.
After farmers have finished their training, our trainers follow up with them on a continuous basis to ensure that they are able to implement what they learned on the farm and actively doing so.
What aspect of the chocolate-making process do you/Kakoa think have the most impact on flavour? In the fields, it would be fermentation. In the factory, we think roasting probably changes the flavour profile of the beans more than the other steps.
What is Kakoa Chocolate’s definition of good chocolate and good chocolate maker? Chocolate that not only tastes good, but also does good. And for us that’s not limited to farmer impact and sustainability, but also our 2nd and 3rd mission goals, and, of course the feeling that bar evokes in the eater, beyond just the taste.
A good chocolate maker is someone who has a relationship with where their cocoa comes from (as a good part of flavour development happens before the bean reaches the factory), is ethical and honest about their cocoa and production process (don’t claim Criollo if it isn’t!), makes chocolate that simply tastes great, and is not all about the hype...
I assume your current/first market is Indonesia/Jakarta. Were there any specific challenges in marketing and selling to an Indonesian market? Yes, certainly. We could probably give several reasons, but they are probably all somewhat tied to the fact that Indonesia is a tropical country whose per capita income is still fairly low. Chocolate consumption tracks GDP/capita, since it’s a luxury product, and most Indonesians just don’t have the spending power to pay a lot of money for fine chocolate. I’ve met plenty of locals who tell me they “love chocolate” or “eat a lot of chocolate”, and when you ask them how many bars they eat, they’ll say something like one a week to even one a month!
Further complicating things for fine chocolate makers, is that most chocolate produced and sold in Indonesia has been and still is poor quality, compound chocolate. This is partly because of the low spending power, partly because of the poor post-harvest processing of cocoa in the country and partially also because compound chocolate is more resistant to high temperatures. The consequence of this is that most Indonesians grow up thinking compound chocolate is how chocolate is supposed to taste, and good chocolate is actually “aneh”. Then, even if they are interested in better chocolate, they are still price sensitive (as always), but also because “you’re made in Indonesia, why are you so expensive?” even if we’re selling at 50%-66% less than would be the case internationally.
Overall, the craft and fine chocolate market is still very underdeveloped in Indo, and probably where coffee was 10-20 years ago when the idea of a $5 dollar coffee would have seemed insane, but which is now completely accepted. A lot of education needs to happen.
What’s currently your best seller product? Easy, our 70% dark chocolate bar.
Do you have plans on becoming tree-to-bar in the future to better control the end-to-end process? With our mission to empower cocoa farmers, our plan is to continue to source beans from smallholder farmers primarily; but we do hope to someday have an estate that will function both as a demonstration farm for farmer education and also to grow unique cultivars of cocoa collected from around Indonesia. That said, using the Tree-to-Bar vs Bean-to-Bar infographic on your first post, we are already blurring that distinction. We work very closely with our farmers on steps 1-3 (who did not ferment until Kakoa’s training and incentive scheme), and we share steps 4-5.
Thanks so much for your time, Simon! Watch a video of Kakoa Chocolate’s farmer program here or scroll to get to the chocolate reviews!
The tasting and tasters
I have to thank my old friend John who kindly agreed to become my chocolate “mule”, carrying goods from Kakoa Chocolate and Pipiltin Cocoa in Jakarta to Berlin; from his side, he needed to get some Indonesian gifts for his collaboration partners in Europe anyway, so Kakoa and Pipiltin was a happy serendipitous discovery.
Usual suspects for the tasting: myself and Phil, officially. I write this because various people tried the Kakoa Chocolate bars over the course of a couple of days. Ash and Astrid tried the cacao nibs, Abi and Astrid tried a few and I grilled them all for feedback, which were mostly positive!
Phil and I did 2 x 3 flights, the first three Kakoa bars followed by the next three bars, cleansing our palates in between. We analysed the flavours and rearranged the bars in order for the tasting, based on what we thought would be the most intense flavours and putting them last:
- 70% dark chocolate
- 58% Sea Salt and Pepper
- 35% Salted Cashew and Coconut Brittle milk chocolate
- 53% Cinnamon
- 41% Creamy Coffee
- 60% Chili
The bars at a glance
My Kakoa Chocolate bars arrived in a beautiful gift box with a ribbon tie, and six 50g bars inside. Each bar has a distinctive batik print, the bar name and the Kakoa logo on the front. Inside, the bars are wrapped in gold wrappers and beautifully molded with cacao-bean-related visual elements.
The bars are all flavoured, apart from the 70% dark chocolate. Simon informed me that it’s Kakoa’s intention to “to make bars that have ingredients and flavours that reflect (and are sourced from) Indonesia.”
This set my expectations for a Dolfin- or Rococo-like experience; flavoured bars imply novelty to me. The handsome-and-talented husband, and plenty of our friends enjoy Dolfin and Rococo bars though, so I do buy them although I don’t consume them.
Anyhoo, with Dolfin and Rococo Chocolate as reference, let’s get started with the Kakoa chocolate bars!
Kakoa 70% dark chocolate bar
Very long, slow melt and takes a while to detect flavours; smooth once it starts though. I enjoyed the smoky roast and tobacco, with a subtle sweetness at the end (honey?). What I tasted like dried fruits, Phil picked up as raisins.
It was a nice bar to start with, and I think an easy introduction to dark chocolate for Indonesians with sweet tooth (I can write an entire series on how sweet-toothed I think Indonesians are and correlate it to studies of diabetes).
List of ingredients: cocoa bean, sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla.
Kakoa 58% Sea Salt & Pepper chocolate bar, under the dark chocolate in the picture above
Faster melt compared to the 70%, obviously. To me, it starts out nicely with the salt, then came something that reminded me of the Indomie instant noodles seasoning. I realised this was the pepper flavour.
I’m writing this because I think it’s worth highlighting that ingredients taste different based on their origin. This pepper has a completely different flavour, when compared to the peppers I have in my kitchen (FYI: white, black, pink and Szechuan). Somehow my senses associated it with Indomie instant noodles seasoning, which is weird because I rarely eat Indomie instant noodles.
After this brief pepper-overwhelms-salt moment, it actually rounds out nicely, back to this earthy-spicy dark chocolate flavour. Phil definitely tasted the rollercoaster of pepperiness too, ending with a warm post-melt mouthfeel.
List of ingredients: cocoa bean, sugar, cocoa butter, black pepper, sea salt.
Kakoa 35% Salted Cashew & Coconut Brittle chocolate bar
The first time I read about this bar on their website, I was immediately curious about the flavours. I think it hits all my fat-acid-salt-sugar buttons, haha! I had tasted their Salted Cashew and Coconut Brittle cacao nibs prior to the tasting and you can read my review of that below.
For a 35% milk chocolate, this has a surprisingly slow melt. The flavour intensity was in the sweet camp. We liked that each bite is subtly different. I loved the nutty, caramelly flavours. The coconut lent a toasty flavour to the bar. Just lovely.
List of ingredients: cocoa bean, milk powder, sugar, cashew nuts, dried coconut, sea salt, aren/palm sugar, soy lecithin, baking soda, vanilla, lime. Total of 11 ingredients!
Kakoa 53% Cinnamon chocolate bar
To me, there was an overwhelming flavour of cinnamon and at the end a honey-like sweetness. It was like a bar of cinnamon, with a bit of very milky chocolate, instead of a chocolate bar with cinnamon flavouring which complements or enhances the chocolate.
Phil, on the other hand, loved this bar! He found it to be a delicious and exotic blend of spicy, caramelly and sweet. This was his favourite bar of the entire tasting!
List of ingredients: cocoa bean, sugar, cocoa butter, cinnamon, vanilla.
Kakoa 41% Creamy Coffee chocolate bar
The packaging said “deep-bodied Robusta beans from Sumatra and aromatic Arabica beans from Java”. To me it had a quicker start, and that it was like the Indonesian Kopiko candy, in chocolate bar format. It was indeed creamy, with a smooth melt. I’d like to see this bar with less sugar and maybe with coffee beans for added crunch.
Phil liked this less than I did, feeling like the coffee detracts from the chocolate rather than enhancing the flavour, and thought perhaps a darker chocolate would’ve been a better vehicle.
List of ingredients: cocoa bean, milk powder, sugar, coffee bean, cocoa butter, vanilla, soy lecithin.
Kakoa 60% Chilli chocolate bar
I detected a subtle roast/smoky flavour, and I think smoky chillies are a good thing, so they should up the smokiness! It’s a good bar, well-balanced. I’d like to see this in “hot chocolate” format; not powder, but in that unrefined Central American style of chocolate to melt in hot milk. Maybe they can expand their chocolate flakes family to include this flavour! Is someone from Kakoa’s product division reading this? : )
List of ingredients: cocoa bean, sugar, cocoa butter, dried chilli.
Kakoa Cacao Nibs with Coconut and Cashew
OK, this is not a chocolate bar but I thought it definitely deserves a mention.
Wow, this was SO good in my breakfast yoghurt, sliced bananas and muesli bowl. It’s way too sweet to eat on its own (ahem, for me, whose sweetness/sugar threshold is pretty low) but I imagine for most Indonesians, this hits the sweet spot. My friends and I tried it as a side, with an espresso, and works pretty deliciously too!
I’d totally do a breakfast bowl with natural/Greek yoghurt, dried tropical fruits (mango+banana) and Kakoa’s Coconut-Cashew Cacao Nibs. Something to stock up on during my next visit, and even take to the islands with me.
List of ingredients: cacao nibs, coconut, cane sugar, cashew nuts.
I liked their bars more than I expected. I was a little anxious prior to tasting because Astrid and I had nibbled on the cinnamon bar, the one I disliked most. Also, like I mentioned earlier, I’m not normally into flavoured bars, although I do enjoyed salted chocolate. The way they do flavoured bars I’d put them in the same camp as Dolfin.
Generally Kakoa Chocolate had a consistently slow melt across their bars and I find this unusual. I assume this is due to the processing, so that the chocolate bars are more shelf-stable in tropical climates. It’s not a big deal, just something I noticed when waiting for flavours to unfold.
Edit: Simon pointed out that perhaps being in European winter might have to do with the slow melts. Yes, I live in a Berlin “altbau” where the day room temp is about 20C and night room temp is 15C.
Personally the Salted Cashew and Coconut Brittle chocolate (and cacao nibs) are my favourites! Kakoa Chocolate bars didn’t suddenly turn me into a flavoured chocolate fan and I surprised myself that I didn’t like their 70% dark chocolate more. Their bars did open me up more to flavoured bars!
Their 70% dark didn’t meet my “flavour complexity” standard for dark chocolate, which doesn’t mean that it’s a bad bar, it’s just mellower than what I’m used to. I’ve been eating a lot of 2-3 ingredient dark chocolate bars lately, more than usual. Hopefully this means that there’s little to distract from the natural flavours of the beans. It also means that when I eat chocolate bars with more ingredients, I pick up on the additional ingredients and am more sensitive to these.
And as usual, to prove that even we’re eating the same thing and can come to a common definition of good/bad characteristics, we each have our own preferences:
- Yasmina’s ranking: 1. Salted Cashews and Coconut Brittle, 2. Sea Salt and Pepper, 3. Creamy Coffee, 4. Chilli, 5. 70% dark, 6. Cinnamon.
- Phil’s ranking: 1. Cinnamon, 2. Salted Cashews and Coconut Brittle, 3. Sea Salt and Pepper, 4. Creamy Coffee, 5. Chilli, 6. 70% dark.
Kakoa Chocolate bars are an easy and delicious introduction into fine chocolate. Their Salted Cashew and Coconut Brittle family has a permanent place on my list. All the bars are worth trying and would make lovely gifts; just because I don’t like the cinnamon bar, doesn’t mean that you won’t. If I showed up with a box of these to a social/family gathering, they wouldn’t last long at all!
I’d love to visit the place in Sumatra where they’re doing their farmers program. Looking at their iniatives and tasting their chocolates, the Kakoa team seem to be delivering on their intended vision!
- More on their website http://www.kakoachocolate.com
- Are you in the Jakarta area and wanting to get a bar or six for delivery? They have an online shop at https://www.bukalapak.com/kakoachocolate
- You can also find them in 3 Ranch Market branches in Jakarta (Oakwood, Grand Indonesia and Lotte)and Kem Chicks Pacific Place.
See you in the next edition!
I’ll be posting about Pipiltin Cocoa, a Jakarta-based restaurant chain who make chocolate too, and Molucca Chocolate, a small-scale, craft, bean-to-bar chocolate company based in California, using cacao beans from the historical Buru Island in eastern Indonesia.