The Swiss are known for their chocolate. The Belgians, too. And the French boast some of the world’s best chocolatiers. But the beans from which such bars and bonbons originate does not grow in any of these places, but rather far to the west, the south or, increasingly, the east.
Native to central America, the cocoa, or cacao, bean, has its roots in Mexico. And when it was first brought to Europe in the sixteenth century by the Spanish it was enjoyed as a drink, mixed originally with chilli in accordance with Mexican custom. Later, it was flavoured with vanilla and other sweet spices such as cinnamon. Italy embraced the chocolate drink next and it spread through northern Europe, adopted by the wealthy for its purported medicinal and therapeutic qualities and even aphrodisiac effect.
The chocolate bar came later––in the mid 19th century––attributed to Joseph Fry who combined cocoa powder and sugar in a paste that was pressed into a bar. Such bars are now somewhat ubiquitous, though the quality ranges from low grade examples where the percentage of actual cacao is often less than a third, to artisanal examples produced by hand, many of which are coming out of Asia.
Indonesia is the third largest producer of cocoa beans in the world, and while for many of Asia’s other nations chocolate production is a nascent industry, particularly as domestic demand has to date been small, there is growing interest, as the increasing number of premium producers attests to. The proximity of chocolate makers to cocoa bean growers allows for quality control, which is also contributing to the renown of Asia’s rising chocolate scene. Local chocolatiers can source the finest beans, allowing for the production of award-winning chocolate from the region.
Here, Tatler Dining highlights the brands behind Asia’s most exciting and creative chocolates––the bars and bonbons that evoke the flavours of the place they are made, express the terroir of local beans and, in many cases, are contributing to a more sustainable cocoa farming industry in the region.