Who are Oialla?

The cacao trees from which Oialla source their beans were only discovered growing upon islets of an Amazon tributary in the Beni region of Bolivia in 2002. When Danish chef Rasmus Bo Bojesen visited the area, he was so struck by the potential of its cacao that he determined to become a craft chocolate maker. Today, Oialla bars are crafted using beans from 6 Bolivian islets. Rasmus must take five flights, spend a day canoeing across the dark rivers of the jungle, and undertake a 15-hour hike through soil and mud to reach the mangrove swamps on which the cacao trees grow.

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How Oialla source their cocoa beans

Oialla believe that roasting cocoa takes great skill and an even greater deal of patience. Oialla roast their beans in a ball roaster – a rotating metal cylinder that tumbles the beans while roasting them with hot air. Preserving the quality and taste of the beans is imperative for Oialla. The chocolate and beans are tasted every step of the way to ensure impeccable quality – especially over the final stages.

The journey of Oialla’s beans start from growing from the tree with careful observations and perfect environmental factors. Once a year the cocoa pickers set up a camp in the rainforest and spend two or three months harvesting the ripe cocoa pods. After these early stages, the beans are then left to ferment. The pickers dig out the beans and let them ferment in baskets covered by banana leaves for three days. After these three days are up, the beans are left to dry out under the warm Bolivian sun. Once the beans are dried out and all moisture is gone, the beans are roasted in a modern cocoa roaster as unlike old methods of roasting into an open fire, this method is too unpredictable. Once fermented, dries and roasted the beans are ready to be conched. Without this method, the beans would be gritty and dull – a conching machine grinds and kneads the chocolate to achieve the perfect texture.

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How Oialla help the Communities in which their Cocoa is grown

Oialla works closely with Sumar, a company composed of local cocoa-harvesters. In partnership, they employ hundreds of indigenous workers to harvest the Beniano beans so fundamental to Oialla’s vision. Most of these people are from the small community of Baures. Oialla believe that their chocolate would not exist were it not for these people, and thus try to help the locals in every way that they can. Oialla works alongside Danida, an aid programme founded and run by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Demark. During almost a decade of co-operation with Sumar and Danida, Oialla have succeeded in many projects bettering the local community. These include the employment of 34 women – providing social security for their families and paid absence on the first sick day taken, and the offering of education in forest management to all employees.

In order to bridge the gap between the vastly differing cultures of Denmark and Bolivia, representatives of each team visit the other in their home country each year. Rasmus’ team sheds light on European customer requirements and expectations, in return for a Bolivian insight on how to work with the jungle and the people to whom it is home. Despite coming from opposite sides of the globe, the two groups have forged a relationship of mutual respect and interdependence – married by the unbreakable bond that is Beniano cacao.

Rasmus now partners with his good friend Mikkel Friis-Holm to roast, winnow, grind, conche and temper these beans into three different bars (a 100%, a 72% and a milk bar).

 

 

Cocoa Runners Interview with Rasmus

 

What’s your background? Why and how did you get into chocolate?

My background as a chef began at the age of 15 when I embarked on what would soon become an international career, working in top restaurants in France and Japan. My curiosity about chocolate started back in 1981, during my stay in Lyon, France. Here, the legendary Monsieur Bernachon introduced me to the difficult art of cooking with chocolate. After that, I became truly passionate. In the late 80s I started working with chocolate in a new way, combining my insiders’ knowledge as a chef regarding herbs and spices with a budding interest in chocolate. I began experimenting with the two groups, producing, for example, ganache filled with thyme and chili.

 

What mission have you set yourselves for making chocolate?

My mission is to make organic bean-to-bar chocolate that is among the best in the world.

 

When did you start your company — and with whom?  How many are there of you?

I started Oialla in 2010 together with my wife, Pernille Lützhøft. Our aim at that time was to make organic chocolate for use in our own restaurants. However, before we started Oialla, I was sceptical about the taste quality of organic cocoa beans – we spent years searching for beans of the highest quality. One day, I heard about wild cocoa beans growing in the Amazonas jungle in Bolivia. We went there and found exceptional cocoa beans of the finest quality. With support from the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we managed to establish a close relationship with the local people in Baures, in order to collect the Beniano beans and have them fermented and dried in a manner artfully developing their unique flavour. We started importing the beans directly from Bolivia, and I experimented with the strength with which we roasted the beans, the temperature of grinding them, and the time taken to conch them. All this was in order to bring about the absolutely top texture and taste. After experimenting for about a year, the recipe of my first bean-to-bar chocolate, Oialla dark 72%, was ready, and I started using this chocolate in my own restaurant. However, it did not take long before other chefs, including Daniel Boulud from New York, also wanted Oialla for their restaurants.

Although Oialla is still a rather small company with only four employees, we have grown slowly since we started, and today our chocolate is sold to many customers around the world including Singapore airlines, and many top restaurants in Denmark such as Noma and Geranium. Alongside this market for business-to-business sales, we have started focusing also on the retail market, and we supply to Harrods in London among others.

 

Where do you want to go next?  New bars?  New beans?  New markets?

I would like to increase our assortment of new bars for the retail market. At the moment, we are working on finding more wild cocoa beans of high quality alongside our Beniano chocolates. We are also working on new products with other flavours using the beans we already harvest.

 

What inspired your choice of wrapper/mould design?

We wanted a clean and unembellished design that would match not only the purity of the wild cocoa beans we use, but also the recipe of our chocolate, which is 100% organic and only contains cocoa beans, cane sugar and a bit of added cocoa butter. We do not use any emulsifier or other additives, and we wanted our design to match this purity. Therefore, we chose a white design for our bars and a simple logo.

 

What is your favourite food?  Wine?  Other chocolate makers?

The food, ingredients, history, composition, craft, presentation and not least, the friends and family with whom you share a meal has always been a huge part of my life. It is so important to me that I’m a graduate chef. I have three code words: Taste, taste, and taste! The same goes for grapes – I enjoy the classics, but do not restrict myself to only traditional wine. The last case of wine that I bought was made by a man who is just as crazy and engaged with his craft as I am with my chocolate: Dave Powel from Australia – a 2014 Shiraz. It was more than drinkable!

With such an incredible culture of food, patisserie, desserts and strong respect for artisan tradition, it may come as little surprise that Japan has now embraced bean-to-bar chocolate. One of these Japanese makers is Cacaoken by Yukari Nakano and her parents.

Cacaoken is short for ‘cacao laboratory’ in Japanese. It crafts all its chocolate bars in its laboratory in Fukuoka. It sells in coffee stores throughout Japan and also via a caravan that Nakano-san drives around Japan (in which she and her mother, demonstrate how small batch chocolate is crafted) And on top of this it has a farm and research lab in Vietnam. Here Cacaoken grows cacao and experiments with bean fermentation. The bars all use these Vietnamese cacao beans (sometimes blended with Ghanaian cacao).

As well as plain milk, dark and white bars, Cacaoken also creates chocolate using local Japanese ingredients. Two of its dark milks won Bronze at the Academy of Chocolate Awards 2015. One is flavoured with Sansyo – Japanese green peppers from Wakayama Prefecture. The other is infused with Hojicha – a roasted green tea from Kyoto Prefecture.

Cacaoken is governed by three founding principles: Origin, Beauty & Health, Farm To Table.

Origin
Many of those who purport to make chocolate, do not source the cacao themselves. For Cacaoken, this was simply not an option. They believe that it is impossible to call yourself a true bean to bar maker if you do not understand the challenges faced by those at origin, and the conditions in which the cacao is grown. In their quest to understand the cacao beans they would use to make their bars, they sought to learn as much as they could about fermentation. The search for their ideal taste drives this curiosity and their passion for conducting research on every stage of production from cacao fruit to chocolate bar.

Beauty & Health
Cacao was drunk by aristocrats, with chocolate being melted in hot water. They believed that it would act as a cure to a whole raft of ailments, such as soothing the stomach and acting as a spiritual stabilizer. At Cacaoken’s cacao laboratory, the team is collaborating with university professors who specialize in nutrition to study the nutrition of cacao and its effect on health and beauty.

Farm To Table
Cacaoken is very much aware that the farmers who grow their cacao live a tough life. Even though chocolate remains popular globally, there is no guarantee that this popularity will filer through to those at origin. Many farmers around the world are not seeing an increase in their income and an improvement in their livelihood will improve. With this in mind, it is perhaps understandable that many have to make the decision to convert their cacao plantations to farms for more profitable crops. Therefore, at the Cacao Research Laboratories, the team is working with cocoa farmers in Vietnam to help to find ways to make it possible to produce high-quality cocoa in more efficient ways. Cacaoken is committed to buying cocoa beans at a price that matches the quality of the beans and helping to improve the lives of the farmers that grown them.

Fu Wan is dedicated to sharing with the world the delicious ingredients that Taiwan has to offer, through the medium of chocolate.  Fu Wan started its life not as a chocolate brand, but as a resort in Taiwan. Warren Hsu was the executive chef at Fu Wan Resort.  When the resort opened in 2011, Hsu’s mission was to provide guests with the very best local fusion cuisine.  While sourcing ingredients locally, he met a cacao farmer who introduced him to the Taiwanese cacao bean.  Hsu was inspired, and Fu Wan Chocolate was born.

The cacao industry in Taiwan is a relatively young industry, with the government encouraging farmers to plant cacao crops in response to the damage done to the land by the over farming of betel nuts.   Over the past decade, the industry has flourished, with cocoa plants reaching maturity and producing pods.  In contrast, it is still extremely rare to find bean to bar chocolate makers in Taiwan, so much of the native cacao is exported.

Warren Hsu is one of only a handful of people crafting chocolate from beanto bar in Taiwan.  He trained with expert bean to bar makers, before returning to Taiwan to start crafting bars.  Through his chocolate, he is able to share the flavours of his native cacao not only with those who stay at Fu Wan Resort, but with people from across the world.

Fu Wan’s bars have been well received across the world, and gained a number of awards at their first outing at the International Chocolate Awards, both in the Asia Pacific Regional Awards and in the World Final.

Hailing from the Netherlands, Mark Schimmel’s journey to craft chocolate started in rather humble beginnings. He was working as a 14 year old pot wash in a bakery when he found himself captivated by the work of the talented chefs hard at work around him. He marvelled at their creations and dreamed that perhaps one day he too could create such wonders.

He embarked on a training course, eventually qualifying a pastry chef and rising to the top of his field, working as head pastry chef in Michelin star kitchens in Europe for a number of years. In time, he grew curious about the processes that went into making one of the ingredients he used most frequently – chocolate. As a pastry chef, he was used to seeing bags of couverture arriving in his kitchen for him to melt down and craft into stunning desserts. But Mark wanted more. He wanted to understand the complexity of cacao. He wanted to learn about how small batch makers turn fine cocoa beans from bean to bar.

Ever a ‘hands on’ person, it was perhaps only a matter of time before his investigations led him to have a crack(!) at crafting beans into chocolate bars himself. He started with a small scale grinder, before graduating to a slightly larger set up. Today Mark makes chocolate for top chefs across Europe. He takes the time to work with with each chef to understand their precise needs – are they looking for an astringent chocolate with a clean finish, or a rich, nutty chocolate with a buttery texture. He then sources a cacao and crafts a bespoke recipe for each restaurant. It is no surprise that with this attention to detail Mark’s couverture is very much in demand. So much so that he only makes very limited runs of bars for sale under his ‘Krak’ brand. We caught up with Mark in person in Amsterdam and set about trying to persuade him to make a run of bars to share with the members of our Tasting Club. We are so pleased that he was able to do this, and we are happy to report that we have secured a limited number of bars for general sale in our Chocolate Library.
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We asked Mark a few questions about Krak:

I started in the classic way: at 14 my first job was as dishwasher at my local pastry shop. I spent my time cleaning the chocolate bowls that had been used by the pastry chefs… This inspired my interest in chocolate and prompted me to train to be just like them! Once I finished pastry school, I started working in a Michelin starred restaurant – I loved the fact that they made everything themselves rather than buying in ready made pastries. For me, that job was the real start of using the best ingredients, using classic techniques and find new combinations of flavour, design and craftmanship. During this time, I won some international pastry awards, completed an internship in a French 3* Michelin restaurant and eventually rose to be head pastry chef in a Dutch 2* Michelin restaurant – a role I held for almost four years. At every turn, there was always chocolate…..

2010 was the year I started my own pastry based company. I was still working with the same people and restaurants that I had worked with previously, but now I had my own company with my own vision. Filled chocolates and chocolate decorations where my main business, but I was still working with couverture. It was around this time that I first started tow wonder about how the couverture I was using was made. In 2011 I reached out to the Dutch cacao trader Daarnhouwer and bought my first cocoa grinder. Then Krak was born in 2013. At the moment, I have a lot of help, but I’m proud to say that I’m still making the bars for Krak myself.

My mission is to let people taste and learn what the real beauty of cacao can be. The chefs I have worked with always want the finest truffles, caviar and the best dry aged meat …. But then they would reach for a bag of commercial, factory killed chocolate. Perhaps my higher level mission is to convince people that chocolate is not a candy.

When I started making chocolate from the bean, a lot of people – and even pastry chefs! – didn’t know how chocolate is made. For me, there is a parallel with grapes and wine. So now I craft single origin chocolate bars to recipes that I think are best for each specific origin and each batch of beans. For chefs and pastry chefs, I want to create a new blend, recipe or a new dish. Savoury or sweet. I also look forward to working more together with more cacao growers.

Maybe you can imagine…

For the design of my packaging I have to thank two people. The first is the guy who painted my logo. It’s actually a big painting – 100cm x 70cm. I’ve know the artist, Ted Parker, for a couple of years now – he’s a member of my inner circle of friends. Some time back, I told him my story about chocolate and my plans and after a while we got to this idea and painting. The design incorporates a lot of stories about myself and my journey to this point in time. The second person I must thank is another close friend – this chap brings super smart ideas for the design of the packaging itself.

I source my beans together with the Dutch company: Daarnhouwer. Working with them gives me access to the most diverse speciality cocoa that sails into the world’s largest cocoa trading harbour.

My journey into cocoa inspired the design of the packaging

For me, the key is to continue my search for interesting and unique beans and using my senses to understand how best to transform these fantastic beans into wonderful chocolate bars.