My last day in Malaysia and Chow Boi has arranged a really interesting trip for me to visit a cocoa farm and meet some interesting industry folk.
We climbed out of Kuala Lumpur – into the Titiwangsa Mountains, home to the Genting Highland resorts. This is a very beautiful drive - wonderful forest in these hills, and cool. We meet up with a whole group of cocoa industry movers and shakers; they are all good friends and associates and have been involved in cocoa for many years.
We head off to a small town and meet Kou – a farmer who is also a trader. We meet him in his ‘shop’ full of cocoa bean sacks, and then head off to see his farm – and end up in a beautiful valley – with forest on the upper slopes, and cocoa and palm oil at the base of the valley. Kou’s cocoa farm is exemplary – he has been farming here since the mid 80s and the trees are extremely well managed and cared for. He can get 3000kg from a hectare through good management – including grafting, pruning, spraying against disease, and good hygiene. He is an innovative and intuitive farmer – taking on ideas from experts and then developing them further to work for him.
Our talk that day was mainly about this – the last death throws of the cocoa industry in Malaysia. The Malaysian Cocoa Board claims that the annual production is 20,000ha, but no-one I met that day could identify where that production came from. Cocoa is disappearing fast, being replaced mainly by oil palm, but also rubber. The talk was about resisting being sentimental about this, but the need to look to the future and the industry’s need to focus elsewhere on securing future cocoa supplies. Hence the industry’s focus on work with small holders in Indonesia, and also on the new ‘wild east’ of cocoa production – Vietnam and the Phillipines.
Monday 12 March 2012
Thursday 8 March 2012
How lucky I was to come across Mervyn – he seems to be close to the heart of a really exciting movement to raise the chocolate game in Indonesia, and he very kindly arranged for me to meet two of the critical actors in this. William Chuang is one of the Managing Directors of Petra Foods; his father started the company and so he has lived and breathed cocoa all his life, cocoa flows through his veins. It was such a treat to meet someone not only so knowledgeable about the business – all the ins and outs of the international cocoa trade, the many issues facing the industry – but also who really likes chocolate and is as committed to raising awareness about how fantastic it can beas he is to making sure the business runs effectively.
He had a dream to set up a chocolate school and has achieved that – a school where professionals and amateurs can learn more about getting the most out of chocolate. His next ambition is for a chocolate museum – which if the School is a measure to go by – will be fantastic.
There are many such chocolate schools in Europe; for example, I think there are at least two in Edinburgh – and even occasional workshops in Acharn! This Indonesian school offers the same high quality training – learning about chocolate, how it is made from cocoa, how to handle and temper, how to taste, how to make delicious pralines, how to decorate. In addition it can also offer a day on a cocoa farm and visiting a chocolate factory! Chocolate tourism of the very best quality – I would recommend it to anyone; Indonesia is a fascinating country, and I could see the Chocolate School courses being a must-do visitor activity in Jakarta.
There is a growing interest in high quality chocolate in Jakarta’s top hotels and restaurants and so the school is really responding to that. Most of the domestic market though is for milk chocolate confection – brands Silver Queen and Delfi are all popular brands under the Petra Food company. William’s company works at all levels of chocolate – trading, processing, chocolate making and product retail. They are also distributors for some major brands – such as Japan’s Royce'. Indeed they have just brought Royce chocolates to Jakarta and after our meeting I went down to the basement of the mall we were in to the Food Hall and found the Royce' counter. One of the lines that Royce' make is Nama chocolates; they are amazing – sort of naked ganache – perfect rectangular blocks of cocoa dusted chocolate ganache, with no chocolate shell around them. They are so simple and exquisitely pure.
William’s knowledge of the cocoa world is immense, so our conversation was fascinating. He patiently and very clearly explained to me the way the market works – for once I really think I do understand why commodity futures exist and how they work! But all is not great in the cocoa world; it seems that we are eating more cocoa than can be grown. In fact we consumed 367 million tonnes of cocoa last year and only 366 million tonnes were produced. Production is going down, and demand ever-increasing – which will lead inevitably to higher prices. I hope this means that as people have to pay more they will want better quality!