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 embraces its Japanese culture of enjoying not only the look and taste of its desserts, but also enjoying their names. Names, along with taste, touch and smell, play a significant role in the sensory experience. A few translated examples of Cacaoken’s bar name include: Hazy Moon, A Song of Ice and Brine, and Valley of Red Clay.
Cacaoken is governed by three founding principles: Origin, Beauty & Health, Farm To Table.
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.