Artisan chocolate maker chooses Papua New Guinea cacao

Papua New Guinea cacao is being increasingly used in the high-end global chocolate market. Business Advantage PNG reports on why one Australian chocolate maker uses some unique PNG beans.

SONY DSC

Chocolatiers Josh and Jacqui Bahen at their HQ in Western Australia’s Margaret River region.

Tucked into a deep alluvial valley in Morobe Province is a cacao plantation providing the raw material for some of the world’s finest chocolate.

It is planted with rare heirloom Trinitario beans, which were introduced by German colonists from Samoa at the beginning of the 20th century.

These heirloom beans have finer aromatics, more fruitiness and complexity of flavour, and less bitterness than other common varieties—and that is the Holy Grail for fine chocolate makers.

For the past three years, Australian boutique chocolate producer Bahen & Co has been sourcing raw cacao from this plantation.

‘This is the number one farm in PNG. Full stop,’ says founder and former fine winemaker Josh Bahen.

‘We believe the combination of their heirloom genetics, well-drained volcanic soils, regular rainfall with periods of hot dry weather, and high standards of farming practices make their cacao beans so complex and special.’

Story continues after advertisment...

Two ingredients

These days, most chocolate is made in huge factories from as little as 20 per cent cacao (largely from hybrid beans) and lots of additives like emulsifiers, fat, vanilla, sugar and preservatives. But a small cadre of artisanal chocolate makers around the world is bucking this trend and doing things the old-fashioned way.

1910 melangeur

The Guitart stone melangeur dating from 1910 grinds the beans into paste.

These makers, like Bahen & Co, use vintage equipment designed for small-batch production to create the finest stone-ground bean-to-bar chocolate, with 70 per cent cacao and nothing else, except raw organic sugar.

‘With only two ingredients, our raw materials must be of exceptional quality,’ says Bahen. ‘There are only a handful of producers in the world who can turn out cacao to a standard suitable for our chocolate.

‘Part of the reason is that this old plantation is located in a very remote and isolated region that was bypassed by modern plant-breeding practices designed to service the bulk-chocolate commodity market,’ Bahen says.

‘The challenge of finding lost pockets of fine-flavour beans may be painstaking but, in this case, it was an immensely rewarding exercise.

‘I heard about this farm through a friend in Europe and basically we took out a pencil and drew a line around the general area on a map and my dad went looking for it,’ Bahen laughs.

‘Once we found it, we worked hard to build a long-term relationship with the grower based on solid principles of mutual benefit, transparency and fairness,’ he says.

‘With only two ingredients, our raw materials must be of exceptional quality. There are only a handful of producers in the world who can turn out cacao to a standard suitable for our chocolate.’

‘Genetics are crucial but farming practices make or break a product. Being farmers ourselves, we understand what is involved in nurturing plants and we want to reward exceptional farming practices.’

A win-win situation

Bahen & Co’s small chocolate factory is located on the family’s vineyard in the Margaret River region of Western Australia.

‘By dealing 100% direct and cutting out the middleman, we exceed Fair Trade and pay prices that respect the farmer’s efforts,’ he says.

‘This PNG cacao basically underpins our entire business, which is all about pure, good-quality chocolate.’

‘That way it is a win-win situation all the way round. The farmers make more money by producing the exceptional raw materials we need to create an exceptional chocolate that high-end consumers are willing to pay for.

The roaster is another piece of vintage machinery perfectly suited to purpose.

The roaster is another piece of vintage machinery perfectly suited to purpose.

‘It’s a beautiful bean to work with and makes our job simple. This PNG cacao basically underpins our entire business, which is all about pure, good-quality chocolate.’

It’s not just the type of cacao tree but also where it is grown that affects the distinctive flavour of the cacao produced here, just like the terroir of specific grape varieties grown in distinctive wine regions around the world.

‘The single-origin chocolate we create from here is bright and luscious with flavours of strawberry cream, red fruit, vanilla and sweet pipe tobacco,’ says Bahen.

Bahen & Co sells its chocolate into Harrods in London, as well as other specialty stores around the world in countries including France, Holland, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the US.

‘It’s something about the flavour of cacao sourced from the wilds of Papua New Guinea that appeals because it is so scarce and exotic.’

Speak Your Mind

*