With chocolate sales in China doubling over the past decade, and the Asia-Pacific region making up 15% of chocolate sales worldwide, it’s safe to say China is home to its fair share of chocolate lovers.
Right now the likes of international chocolate moguls Mars, Nestle and Ferrero dominate the chocolate market in China. A visit to any given convenience store in China proves this truth, with a selection of Dove bars almost guaranteed to be on display in the candy section.
But the one thing these mass-produced chocolates can’t offer – the unrivaled complex tastes of single origin small-batch chocolate bars, hand made with love and care.
A Beijing-based husband-and-wife chocolatier team, Pan Yong and Wang Linhao, are setting out to start a chocolate revolution. They are among the few bean-to-bar chocolatiers in China. Bean-to-bar, also known as small batch chocolate, requires fresh, often single-origin, cocoa beans which are then cleaned, roasted, cracked, winnowed, and ground, by hand, to make individual chocolate bars. The resulting bar has unique tasting notes and flavors which are impossible to replicate in multi-origin mass-produced chocolate bars.
Who are the people behind this grassroots chocolate revolution?
One half of the chocolatier team, Pan Yong, attributes his interest in food to his childhood. In his youth, many of Pan Yong’s classmates came from farming backgrounds, and through school-organized work-study programs and Spring Festivals spent with friends in their hometowns, he spent much of his out-of-the-classroom time in the fields, helping pick hops for local breweries and digging up beets with local farmers. This childhood steeped in farming and harvesting sparked Pan Yong’s early love of all things gastronomy. Later, when he met Wang Linhao, his now wife and business partner, they decided to channel this into a passion for chocolate. The team now call themselves “the chocolate designers”, as they carefully and artfully design both the constitution of the chocolate itself and the packaging it is wrapped in.
How is bean-to-bar chocolate made?
One of the main determiners of good chocolate is the source of the cocoa beans. In the beginnings of their chocolate business, Pan Yong managed the sourcing of the cocoa beans. He started by importing cocoa beans from traditional production areas in South America and West Africa. However, sourcing the beans from abroad proved problematic for a multitude of reasons. The price and quality of the beans fluctuated unpredictably, and the middle-men who handled the transactions were unreliable. In one specific incident, Pan Yong purchased a shipment of cocoa beans from Ghana, which when opened, revealed instead a bag full of moths. In short, sourcing beans from abroad was not going smoothly.
So, five years ago, Pan Yong decided he needed better knowledge and control over the source of his cocoa beans, and the best way to do this was to harvest directly form the source. But, cocoa trees require tropical locales for reliable and prosperous growth – in essence, not the cold dry climate of northerly Beijing.
Pan Yong set out for China’s southern tip – the tropical island of Hainan. Despite the pristine climate, perfect for cocoa trees, it seemed the concept of growing cocoa here was still in its infancy. Most of the farmers in Hainan were accustomed to growing practical crops that would yield sure revenue. One example being rubber trees, the harvested rubber of which could be sold easily to China’s tire-producing industry. Cocoa trees did exist on Hainan, but the resulting cocoa was not suitable for high quality and complexly flavored chocolate production.
Pan Yong reached out to the Chinese Academy of Tropical Agriculture Research Institute, and was given several research teams to work with. Together, they created a process by which to purify and filter Hainan’s cocoa bean production. The multi-faced approach now involves detailed selection screening and processing techniques to select only the best cocoa beans, which are then baked, ground, and eventually made into Pan Yong’s custom chocolate – Cocodeer.
Today, in Beijing’s trendy Houhai neighborhood, Cocodeer has a physical presence in the capital, with a lake-side café serving two of the world’s most famous beans – cocoa and coffee. For those based outside Beijing, Cocodeer chocolate bars are available for purchase on WildChina Bazaar in two types – 80% and 65% cocoa.
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With this idea sprouted the WildChina Bazaar, a marketplace connecting local artisans from around China with online consumers. And, as with everything we do, there is a story at the root.
In this series, we’ll be bringing you the story behind each of the products on our marketplace, so you know who you’re buying from and why the purchase these products is meaningful.