Give us a brief about your background. Back in 2013, curiosity bug bit me while enjoying a Lindt bar, making me wonder what made it different from a Cadbury Five Star bar. What made Lindt readily melt on my palate. This led me to research the process of chocolate making and the ingredients that go into making chocolate. I discovered the concept of pure chocolate and that there are a handful of chocolate makers worldwide that make their chocolate from bean to bar. In early 2014, I undertook an online bean to bar chocolate making course by Ecole Chocolat in Canada. The idea of making chocolate at home, in a stone grinder, was fascinating. I went to a local market, got myself a melangeur and started experimenting. In India, however, the trend was at the start unlike west where the craft chocolate market was fairly developed. When we launched Pascati in May 2015, we were third in India to make chocolate from bean to bar and the first Indian to do so. A lack of quality bean to bar chocolate options for the well travelled and exposed Indian, was one of the main inspirations that led me to take this path. ‘Pascati’ is derived from a Sanskrit word ‘Pascat Parivesya’ which translates to 'sweet meal'.
Guide us through the process of chocolate making. Our chocolate manufacturing process is called bean to bar. We take fermented and dried cocoa beans from farmers in Kerala. Once the cocoa beans arrive at our factory they are cleaned, sorted and profiled for roasting. Our craftsmen skilfully roast small batches of cocoa beans in our drum roaster. Each batch when roasted behaves differently, hence the craftsmen are well trained to know when the roast is completed. Once the cocoa beans are out of the roaster, they are cracked and winnowed. The winnowed beans are now called 'nibs' which are ground up and put inside the ball mill along with cocoa butter and sugar. The final step is conching the chocolate which means that we are developing the final flavour profile of the chocolate. The chocolate from the ball mill is transferred to a conch where a little amount of heat is introduced along with a suction fan to remove all the acidity and volatiles that might be present. At the same time the rotating arms of the conch knead the chocolate. When the chocolate is ready, it is tempered and moulded in the chocolate moulds and put inside the refrigerator. It is then packaged and shipped nationwide for customers to be enjoyed. Where do you source your ingredients from? Our cacao is sourced from certified organic farms in Kerala, sugar from Solapur Maharashtra, nuts from Kashmir, Rajasthan and spices and freeze dried fruits from Kerala. You promote dark chocolates more, tell us why. We mainly promote dark chocolates for our love of it. We wish to create our niche in the dark craft chocolate space.
What are people most curious about when it comes to chocolates? People are curious about many things such as the process, if there was child labour involved in cacao farming, if the process is sustainable, terroir of cacao, how dark is the chocolate - % of dark, whether the chocolates are vegan, among many others.
How does one decide chocolate flavour profiles if they’re trying a dark chocolate for the first time. Flavour profile is inherent to a cacao origin and depends on terroir it grows in. It cannot be developed but only enhanced by minimal processing techniques. Indian cacao will have a different flavour profile as compared to cacao from Vietnam, Ghana or Belize. Cacao is grown as an inter crop in tropical regions and is usually found growing between two coconut trees or spices or fruits such as cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, jackfruit, papaya, bananas, pepper etc. in Kerala, which highly dictates the flavour notes of that cacao. Lastly, the tasting notes depends highly on the individual consuming the chocolate.
What was the most challenging part about starting an organic chocolate brand? Sourcing and maintaining complete organic supply chain locally. While we have been successful at sourcing almost all our ingredients locally, we still struggle with finding certified organic hazelnuts or pistachios which are generally not native to India. We are India's first chocolate brand to be certified USDA Organic and Fairtrade. We applied for organic certification back in 2016. A lot of research was done prior to the very first audit by the certifying agency. USDA organic standards are stringent and require a certified organic supply chain in place which for us includes cacao, sugar, nuts, flavours, spices, freeze dried fruits and flowers used. Once the first audit happened in 2016, we were confident that we could make a packaged product with the USDA organic logo on it. We are required to undergo a yearly audit since 2016.
How do you support the local communities through your brand? Our main objective is to support the India cacao farmer. Through Fair-trade, we pay a premium for the cacao which goes back to the Indian cacao farming community in Kerala. It helps generate a better livelihood for the farmer and several community initiatives to sustain the ecosystem. It also ensures that no child labour is used. Fairtrade is a global, not for profit agency which works with manufacturers to ensure compliance with sustainable sourcing practices, support for the farmers and their communities and ensures no child labour is employed. Fairtrade certification on our packaging places us amongst a handful of global chocolate makers committed to good sourcing practices. Sustainable and responsible sourcing are traits which are not usually associated with mass cocoa producers in Africa. Ours is a collaborative effort where we work closely with a farmer's group to educate them on good harvest and post harvest practices such as harvesting pods, fermentation, drying and storage. At every stage, feedback has to be given to the farmer for every batch of cocoa for him to tweak his process to achieve desired quality parameters.
Chocolate making is an art. Tell us about your team and how you pick flavours. The Chief Chocolate Maker at Pascati, Devansh Ashar is the one who has developed the flavours we have. He is a certified Bartender and his experience and knowledge in mixology and cocktails inspires him in picking flavour combinations. A lot of trial and error is also involved to balance the flavours and texture of ingredients that go in to the chocolate. Which flavour is your bestseller and why? Blueberry Walnut and Raspberry Hibiscus are our bestsellers. Our consumers love the delicate balance of fruity blueberry with nuttiness of walnuts where as raspberry accompanied with dried hibiscus which is tangy in taste has been a winning combination.