18 Mar 2015

Vietnamese Chocolate

I have been busy last year with my job and nothing has been posted for quite a while. I have been to the usual stuff in London. The Chocolate Show and Chocolate Festival, but a visit to the Salon du Chocolat in Paris was the preparation of my Christmas holiday. I had in mind to visit Madagascar which I always wanted to visit. Back in 2005 I bought a book about this island, but after checking the weather like during Christmas I decided to abandon this idea and head to South East Asia.

Paris was the second time I met Vincent and Samuel from Marou Chocolate and when I told them about my plan they invited me to visit their factory in Ho Chi Minh City. I also met Arnaud from Erithaj Chocolat.

For most nationalities you need to obtain the Vietnamese visa in advance. It's quite easy to get it online, but if you want a multi entry one you have to use the services of the embassy. I needed to get few extra vaccinations and I bought the Malaria tablets as advised by my surgery which wasn't necessary where I travelled in that season.

The north of Vietnam doesn't have the right climate to grow cacao as I learnt and indeed it was too cold in December what would kill the trees if they were planted in this area. It's only from the centre of Vietnam heading south that you can find the cacao trees.

Just before heading back to London I visited first in Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon) Marou Chocolate. The factory is located outside the tourists area where I stayed. Saigon is split into several districts and it was about half hour drive to reach the factory in a small industrial estate in a middle of residential area. The entrance is where the beans are stored in bags and that area where the roasting machine is located isn't temperature controlled. The next rooms where the conching & refining, tempering, packing and storing the chocolate is done in air conditioned area.
Marou sources their beans in Vietnam from different regions. The climate and the soil change from region to region what gives the end product (our chocolate bar) different flavour.

Arnaud & myself visit the farmer
In the afternoon I visited in the downtown Puratos Grand-Place. They export Vietnamese cacao beans. It was interesting to listen to their presentation and to learn more about the cacao in Vietnam. i learnt they are part of an European enterprise and although the cacao is collected and fermented in Vietnam. It's transformed to the end product in Malaysia if I remember correctly. The cacao world in Vietnam is still in a virgin stage. I tried to organise with to visit the fermentation factory, but as I had to leave in a couple of days back home they didn't manage to arrange someone to go with me, but they gave me sample of beans and chocolate of a high quality.
Fermentation boxes - Erithaj

The following day was my last day in Vietnam and I took the bus to Bến Tre which is located on the Mekong Delta just over 2 hours on the bus away. I met Arnaud from Erithaj and we went to visit his fermentation place. It's located in the yard of an old school and what is interesting that probably most people who pass by don't even imagine what happens behind the fence. The process starts by opening the cacao pods and pouring the content into the fermentation boxes that are kept in what used to be a classroom. After about a week the beans are moved to the yard to be dried. If it's rainy there are a few local guys that help Arnaud and cover it with plastic sheets.
After a lunch in a local restaurant we went to visit the farmer. In Vietnam you can find forastero cacao trees. There are different varieties of trinitario and it's still experimented by people from the university to find which variety would yield the best results. I was told there is a professor from the local university that supervise that process.
Arnaud makes the fermentation process in Vietnam and then export the beans to France. In France Erithaj makes chocolate bars from their Vietnamese cacao beans.

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