Local Artisan Chocolatiers Enjoy The Sweet Taste Of Success
If there is one food that can be described as the food of the gods, it has to be chocolate.
World Chocolate Day is celebrated on July 7 to mark the date chocolate was first introduced to Europe in the 1550s.
This international celebration kicked off in 2009.
With a history that can be traced back to the ancient Olmecs of southern Mexico, the indulgent treat that we enjoy today was previously enjoyed as a bitter-tasting beverage that was drunk during rituals and even used as medicine.
Chocolate has evolved so much over the centuries and is now used as a sweet treat and even to enhance the flavours of savoury dishes.
While imported chocolate products have always taken precedence over locally made ones, some local chocolate makers are proving that they can put out chocolate using locally grown cocoa beans that are as good or even better than top-tier imported brands.
Malaysiakini spoke with two Malaysian chocolate makers who used local single-source cocoa beans to make their delectable delights.
Chocolate is in his blood
Ong Ning Geng, the founder of Chocolate Concierge, shared with Malaysiakini a childhood memory.
“My father ran a bakery supply business when I was in primary school. This meant that growing up, I had to help out during school holidays, moving stocks or packaging ingredients.
“One bakery ingredient was particularly enticing for me as a kid – chocolate – and seeing large blocks of it being packaged and sold sparked in me an idea to sneak a block away to eat when no one was watching.
“I’ve not shared this story before, but I managed to sneak away with what I thought was the largest block of baking milk chocolate I could find.
“Then, I hid in the office on a weekend when no one was in, I started to chomp at it from the edge. Needless to say, it was a huge mistake, but I’ll circle around to say why in a bit,” recalled Ong, leaving us wondering.
Ong Ning GengOng founded Chocolate Concierge in 2015 but had been experimenting with chocolate for years before that in the kitchen of his home.
“What sets us apart is that we only use beans from a single estate, or kampung/village, when making chocolate. This preserves the flavours unique to that area and climate that makes each chocolate stand out in its character.
“After going at it for a while, I started to recruit chefs and professionals who were aligned in our vision of making a truly Malaysian chocolate,” explained Ong.
Working with the Orang Asli community
Asked where he gets his cocoa beans from, Ong emphasised that it was important for Chocolate Concierge to be socially and environmentally responsible.
“We are currently working with three Orang Asli communities in west Malaysia and a Dusun farmer in Sabah.
“We also work directly with farmers in Perak. Initially, all of the cocoa beans we use were fermented and dried at my farm, but starting a couple of years ago, we are trusting our farm partners to ferment more and more of the beans we use.
“Chocolate is made from beans that are grown without chemical input and are all-natural and taste out of this world. But I invite you to join our regular blind tasting to come to your own conclusion!” he said confidently.
Ong believes that the mindset that imported chocolate is best does work against local manufacturers such as Chocolate Concierge.
“Malaysia has some of the world’s best produce, but I can’t be certain if it is a certain inferiority complex or that consumers are lacking in a sense of national pride because whenever we read about Malaysia in the news, it has not been for the right reasons.
“Having said that, I am grateful that chefs, restaurateurs, baristas and professionals in the industry with far greater experience than me have rallied in support of our local chocolate and, through word of mouth, formed a loyal base of customers that have allowed us to pursue our passion, day after day and year after year,” he said.
Like many industries, the pandemic took its toll on his business. Nonetheless, Ong said that their sales volume is on the verge of returning to pre-pandemic levels, but costs have gone up as well.
“It is tough, so we need to find new ways to continue forward, so we can do what we love. Having said that, I do think that people eat chocolate to feel good and loved. But I’ve learned from a young age that overdoing it is absolutely not fun!” he said, finally revealing the big mystery earlier in the story.
The chocolates are available for delivery via Chocolate Concierge, and customers can enjoy them in a variety of ways at their retail outlet in the Bangsar Shopping Centre.
“We do have a hidden chocolate lab around Bandar Menjalara. We open our doors to willing individuals to taste our experimental creations for two days each month. Follow us on Instagram or Facebook or write to us for a private invitation to our next tasting,” he said.
Ong added that Chocolate Concierge is looking into exporting its products to other countries in the near future.
All in the family
Family business Harriston Chocolates is currently run by sisters Teng Wei Wei and Teng Wei Tzyy. The business was started by their father, Teng Sze Choong, in 2005.
Back then, it was called Chocolate Gallery and Cocoa Boutique. It was later named Harriston after a rebranding exercise.
Wei Wei, who worked in the retail industry, joined the family business in 2008. In 2012, Wei Tzyy, who was a commodities purchaser in the US, took over the business as Wei Wei was expecting a baby.
“Basically, my dad worked as a tour guide when he was younger. He had this vision to bring Malaysia to the world. He decided to open a shop selling chocolates.
“Everybody loves chocolate. His idea was to add Malaysian flavours to chocolate, such as durian, tongkat ali, chilli, curry and ginger.
Teng Wei Wei (left) and Teng Wei TzyyHis plan was to market it so that visitors just had to buy these chocolates and bring them to share with their families. He was the one who invented the durian-flavoured chocolate. I would say he has been in the chocolate industry for the past 15 years,” said Wei Tzyy.
However, Wei Tzyy says that they don’t introduce themselves as chocolate players but instead call themselves tourism players. Their retail outlets are most targeted towards tourists, but they have more than their fair share of local fans.
Initially, the chocolates they made used imported cocoa beans.
“Our chocolate supplier, Barry Callebaut, was a leading chocolate producer,” said Wei Tzyy.
In 2012, they opened their factory, TSC Chocolate Manufacturing, named after their father’s initials.
Teng Sze ChoongShowcasing Malaysia cocoa
Wei Tzyy said they had become more aware of the Malaysian cocoa industry and discovered how fabulous Malaysian cocoa beans really are.
“In 2019, we started to produce and sell Malaysian chocolate. So we worked with cocoa farmers who supplied their cocoa beans to us. For now, we use cocoa grown in Pahang and Malacca.”
The sisters said their products essentially showcased how cocoa from other parts of the world can go well with Malaysian flavours and, at the same time, offer their customers a taste of how good locally produced cocoa is.
“More than 30 years ago, Malaysia was the second-largest cocoa producer in the world. It was replaced by oil palm. We are trying to put Malaysian cocoa beans back on the map. Malaysia is also known as the fourth largest cocoa grinder in the world,” said Wei Wei.
Wei Wei said that together with the farmer partners, they want to showcase Malaysian cocoa beans and educate Malaysians on locally produced cocoa.
She explained that cocoa grown in the same region, such as Pahang, could differ from one area to another.
“They all have different taste profiles,” she said.
Wei Wei explained that weather and soil play a part in the tasting profile, just like coffee and grapes for wine.
She said different beans have different fermentation and roasting processes.
“It all influences the taste of cocoa,” she said.
Wei Tzyy explained: “Our single-origin chocolate only has two ingredients. We have 64 percent and 72 percent pure cocoa content, and the rest is pure cane sugar. Most commercial brands add flavouring and use beans from all over the world.”
She said that beans from different regions have different tastes, but commercially made chocolates seem to have the same taste all the time.
Wei Tzyy and Wei Wei said they would also be adding cocoa juice to their menu this July. The cocoa fruit is juicy and tastes very different from what we normally associate with the taste of cocoa.
The Covid-19 pandemic did hit the sisters hard as they are closely associated with the tourism industry, and they are only just restarting again.
Wei Wei said it is like resetting.
“We are 99.9 percent tourism-based, so when the world was in lockdown, we were in lockdown too. We closed down most of our retail outlets, but we maintained the Matic Harriston Boutique outlet,” said Wei Wei.
They ventured into the food and beverage industry by opening a Harriston Café in the Pavilion Bukit Bintang during the pandemic.
“Luckily, we managed to get the Christmas crowd, but shortly after that, we had the second lockdown,” Wei Wei added.
The pandemic hit in 2020, which was also supposed to be a Visit Malaysia Year and all the preparations made in 2019 went down the drain.
The sisters are determined to pick up from where they left off before the pandemic.
Asked about their experience working with their father, Wei Wei said that it was not easy initially because he was set in his ways. However, these days he comes by and tastes the chocolates.
“He is the founder and always advises us on how things should be done,” she said. - Mkini
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