In the second installment of Indonesian chocolate makers, we have Jakarta’s Pipiltin Cocoa. One of the founders, Tissa Aunilla, took time to correspond with me and answer my questions about their company, their bars, and the chocolate industry in Indonesia. She and her brother, Irvan Helmy, co-founded the company in 2013 and continue to be business partners to this day.
Like the previous post, this comes in three parts: an interview with the founders or team members, the bar reviews and a concluding section about the chocolate maker and our impressions.
Here we go with the interview…
So, how did you go from being a lawyer to founding a chocolate company? The founding of Pipiltin sprung from our bewilderment, that in Indonesia, chocolate consumption and popularity with the locals aren’t as high than when compared to, say, Switzerland and Belgium, when actually Indonesia is the third-largest chocolate-producing nation in the world. Irvan then focused on finding quality cacao beans, and I focused on the chocolate-making process and handling.
Irvan comes from a F&B background, because he’d already founded and co-owns Anomali Coffee. However, I didn’t have any F&B background at the start of Pipiltin Cocoa. I taught myself, and at home, I set up a “chocolate room” with a marble table to learn the tempering of various branded chocolate, the melting points of each individual chocolate and generally getting to know the chocolate couvertures that are available on the market.
At the time, we tried Felchlin, one of the Swiss chocolate brands. Felchlin produces one of the best chocolate couvertures in Europe, and actually their website states that one of the cacao beans that they use originates from Jember, East Java. From that point onwards, the two of us continued to study and learn about the ins-and-outs of producing chocolate couverture, and finally in 2011, I went to the town of Schwyz in Switzerland to get a Master Chocolatier Certification in the Felchlin Condirama.
After three years of deep research, experiments and learning, we finally opened Pipiltin on March 7th 2013, and began our own chocolate production. For the bean-to-bar process, we have a microsite that explains the overall flow: http://www.pipiltincocoa.com/beantobar.
You guys have a really diverse product portfolio: in addition to chocolate bars, you also have food in your cafes, and sell cookies, jam, cakes. Was there a specific reason for that kind of diversification? Was it for business/market reasons, e.g the Indonesian market behaviours? Has this positively impacted your chocolate business? The reason that we opened a restaurant is based on our research finding that chocolate consumption in Indonesia is still very low compared to the chocolate consumptions in European and North American countries. At the time, we thought of introducing our chocolate flavours through innovative plated desserts, served in our cafe because Jakartans are familiar with the dessert concept. So our cafes and restaurants are just a “tool” to introduce the tastes and flavours of Pipiltin chocolate.
And of course this has positively impacted the chocolate business, since the cafes and storefront provides easy entries into the market.
Can you tell me about your search for cacao bean farmers? How did you select which beans and farmers to work with? Did you have specifications, e.g organic, bean types? We wanted to work with farmers who applied organic agriculture and has a well-managed plantation. Our specifications include things like there should be a maximum of 95 beans in 100 grams of cacao, wet and dry sortations, fully-fermented cacao beans. We selected the farmer or smallholder on the quality of the beans they produce, and whether they can deliver to our specifications and requests.
What aspects in the chain of chocolate making have the most impact on flavour, in your opinion? Type of beans, the process in the plantation, the process in the chocolate factory, and terroir.
What’s your definition of good chocolate and good chocolate maker? Good chocolate has flavour complexity, is palatable and has a clean finish. Good chocolate maker are bean-to-bar chocolate makers, who understands well the methods and results of roasting profiles for each cacao bean type and origin, a good winnowing technique, grinding, conching until the right tempering temperatures before the chocolate can be used or consumed.
What’s your best selling product? The Tabanan Bali 60% chocolate bar, for Jakarta customers.
Thanks so much for your time, Tissa.
The tasting session
My old friend John kindly became my chocolate “mule”, carrying goods from Kakoa Chocolate and Pipiltin Cocoa in Jakarta to Berlin; from his side, he was thankful that I sent him to Pipiltin Cocoa’s cafe in Jakarta’s Senopati area, because he found out how delicious their cheesy tortilla snack was. Win win.
(No, really, John is so well-traveled that I want to do a victory dance whenever I can tell him new places or new eats for him to discover).
As usual, it’s me and my good friend Phil from FlavorPhil. I asked my friend, Katie, from Cookies and Cream Berlin to join us since I hadn’t seen her in a while. Andrei, the owner and founder of Belyzium Chocolate, was in town from California, and made time in his busy schedule to join us and graciously offered the Belyzium shop as a venue. His colleague, Eike, Belyzium’s lead chocolate maker joined us as well. Thank you, Andrei and Eike!
The bars at a glance
The 80g bars are wrapped in pretty packaging paper, reminiscent of the Mast Brothers packaging. The wrapping papers indicate the “product siblings” based on origin of the beans; the Bali bars are in a floral-patterned paper in different colours, and the Aceh bars in a darker pattern with cacao bean illustrations. All clean lines and clear product families.
The bars all had consistently good snap, warm hued as expected from the various percentages, glossy, and survived the trip unbroken although dented and crumbled here and there. The moulding is simple rectangles with a cacao bean graphic on each; pleasantly simple and pretty, matching the overall packaging look and feel.
Descriptions of the bars/flavour notes are on the packaging label: “Berry, caramel, medium intense chocolate” (ooh!) for the 70% Tabanan Bali and “Intense chocolate, tobacco aftertaste” (ooh ooh!) for the Pidie Jaya Aceh. I liked the tobacco undertones in Chocolatier Bonnat’s Java and Surabaya bars, so I was looking forward to this. I was not-so-secretly hoping that it wouldn’t be in the Willie’s Cacao Javan Dark Breaking corner.
All of the bars list five ingredients: cacao nibs, cacao butter, sugar, milk powder, soy lecithin. I was confused that the labels stated “cocoa nibs” and “milk powder” as ingredients; the cocoa nibs for texture maybe, but milk powder in what is supposedly dark chocolate? Oh well, let’s go and see!
Note: In a later email (post-tasting), Tissa confirmed that the 73% and 84% Pidie Jaya Aceh bars do have milk powder in them.
Pipiltin 73% and 84% Pidie Jaya Aceh
I couldn’t believe it! “Intense chocolate” was not applicable here. Both bars were very mild to the point of being bland; it doesn’t have any of the “intense chocolate” flavour I get from, say, Akesson and Beschle bars or the flavour complexity of the Bonnat Java, or the smoothness of the Domori bars. All are from previous tastings of the Indonesian Chocolate Series.
The 73% had a nearly non-existent caramelly taste, the 84% was bland to me although Phil tasted a hint of tobacco. Texture was gritty, mouthfeel was odd, a slow melt that didn’t round out at the end.
Pipiltin 60% and 70% Tabanan Bali
Smoother texture than both Pidie Jaya Aceh bars, but oddly waxy. Someone said it was “plasticky” and another said “almost artificial”. Nearly bland although there were more coffee, caramel and milk notes than the Pidie Aceh Jaya bars; still nothing of the berry and medium intense chocolate flavour printed on the packaging. Keep in mind, for bars with Indonesian beans, I use Akesson’s and Original Beans as reference points for “chocolatey” flavour.
The aftertaste was malty to me, reminiscent of Milo (the powdered milk chocolate drink), which is not a bad thing, just unexpected. As with the Aceh bars, the Bali bars didn’t have visible cacao nibs inclusions. So perhaps this is a different labeling convention than what I’m used to.
This was a hard experience to write about. I want to be objective, fair and credible when I write reviews, especially with this Indonesian Chocolate series: not giving a bad or good verdict but rather documenting where things are, recognising great work with praise, and giving constructive feedback to less-than-average experiences. That Pipiltin seems to be a thriving business after a few years in operation, made me question my approach and explore all possibilities before committing my thoughts on this post.
Afraid that maybe my tastebuds are off the mark, over the course of several days following the tasting, I did re-tastings and asked more friends to try the bars. I also outlined various explanations as to why/how Pipiltin chocolate bars are so different from the other chocolate bars we’ve tasted and liked (especially in this series).
My honest personal opinion is that the Pipiltin bars aren’t at the level of quality achieved by other chocolate makers I’ve been eating, most noticeably in flavour and texture. I’ve had better chocolate, in terms of flavour, texture and finish, from Marou, Dick Taylor, Chocolarder, who started out around the same time as Pipiltin Cocoa; they’re all around or post-2010.
The more chocolate I eat, the more I know of the variety and qualities available, and I learn what I like and don’t like in chocolate. An emerging model from all my chocolate eating is “there’s good chocolate, there’s bad chocolate, and there’s chocolate that’s right for you.”
Just because various friends and I don’t like the four Pipiltin Cocoa bars we tried above, it doesn’t mean that you won’t like it. So, maybe for you, the Pipiltin Cocoa bars hits all of your buttons, and you may really like their stuff.
Edit March 10 2016: I’m not a chocolate maker, so I can’t say much, or at least not from personal experience, on how “in factory/kitchen” techniques impact the final flavour of the chocolate. When I do write about process, it’s based on internet research and what chocolate makers I’ve spoken to tell me, e.g impact of soy lecithin on texture.
Einerseits anderenseits, as Germans say…
On the other hand, if you look at the broader Pipiltin Cocoa business, it’s impressive: three brick-and-mortar cafes in Jakarta that offer food and drinks, sell their own chocolate and various chocolate products like pralines, macarons, cakes, jam and cookies. Did I mention that they run chocolate workshops too? They offer chocolate workshops to suit various ages and group sizes.
John loved their food while he was over at the Pipiltin Senopati cafe to pick up my chocolate bars; I usually like the same food as John, we’ve eaten enough meals together all over the world to know each other’s tastes/preferences, and I trust his judgment when he says he found their food to be good, and well-prepared.
Googling around for Pipiltin Cocoa results in reviews of their cafes, food experiences, and their workshops; mostly positive, but hardly anything on how the chocolate bars taste, it’s all about the desserts. Same with their chocolate bars and food blogs, nothing on the flavour, texture and overall experience of their chocolate bars.
The only bar review I found was this review of two Pipiltin bars that the reviewer tried, and it wasn’t positive: “… it ends up tasting like bubblegum mixed with those little lentil pieces that often settle at the bottom of a bag of Bombay mix”.
As a side note, you can’t compare Pipiltin Cocoa’s business to how small-scale European or North American bean-to-bar chocolate companies start out. They usually take years to expand to retail and multiple cafe stage; and some just want to stay small.
Pipiltin Cocoa is a thriving restaurant/cafe business, who make chocolate bars. If their goal was to introduce Indonesians to the craft of chocolate making, they are on course with their workshops. If their goal is whet the appetites of Indonesians for chocolate, they’re on track too, with a wide range of chocolate products.
However, if you take Tissa’s definition of good chocolate above, “Good chocolate has flavour complexity, is palatable and has a clean finish”, then in my personal view, Pipiltin doesn’t deliver yet. At least not with these four bars that we tried.
- More on their website http://www.pipiltincocoa.com — which is also where you can buy their bars for delivery in Jakarta area.
- They have brick-and-mortar stores in Jakarta’s Menteng, Barito and Senopati districts.
- The chocolate factory where you can see their bean-to-bar chocolate being made, is in the Barito location.
See you in Part 7!
Thanks for reading all the way to the end; this was a long post. If you’re an Indonesian reader, you are an outlier because most Indonesians don’t like to read for longer than 5 minutes and videos are a much better medium to communicate.
Feedback in the comments please, or contact us via our contact form. One more Indonesian chocolate maker coming up in the series, which I’m very much looking forward to. Watch this space!