For some it is a health food, for others an aphrodisiac, but most eat it for pure pleasure. While chocolate is a delight for many, it is also a growing business in Indonesia — and that’s just what Jakarta’s new Chocolate School is catering for.
Fitted with glass walls at the Belezza Shopping Arcade in South Jakarta’s Permata Hijau, passers-by can watch future chocolatiers learn the craft of making the sweet treat. The students, often bakers, chefs, entrepreneurs or people in the culinary industry, observe the experienced chocolate lecturers creating the perfect cocoa-based candy.
Food producer Freyabadi in cooperation with Petra Foods and Fuji Oil Japan had several reasons for creating Chocolate School in Indonesia, where chocolate’s popularity is growing rapidly.
Educating people about Indonesian chocolate was the main reason.
“General chocolate consumption around the world is growing between 1 and 3 percent every year, but it’s nearly 20 percent in Indonesia,” said Mervyn Pereira, the school’s consultant.
But Indonesia is not considered a “chocolate country” despite the large quantity produced here.
“We have more chocolate than the Germans, the Belgians and the French, who all claim to be chocolate countries,” Pereira said.
The only difference is that the majority of Indonesian chocolate, about 95 percent, falls into the compound category, “which we don’t consider real chocolate because it uses vegetable fats instead of cocoa butter,” Pereira said.
“Real chocolate uses cocoa butter [because it] melts at body temperature, that’s why it melts very nicely and smoothly in the mouth.”
Because Europe uses 90 percent real chocolate, Chocolate School also uses real chocolate so its students will be more competitive internationally.
“We are telling them to go one step forward. Using gourmet chocolate will increase your profit margins and give the customer a quality chocolate,” Pereira said. “That’s our objective. We want people to use better quality [real] chocolate.”
Despite the fact that compound chocolate is cheaper and easier to work with, there are many reasons to pick cocoa butter-based chocolate.
“It’s better, it’s tastier and it’s real gourmet stuff,” Pereira said.
He added that there are many health benefits of real chocolate.
“It’s good for the heart, good for the skin, good for the brain,” said Pereira, who admitted to eating and drinking chocolate every day.
The consumption of gourmet chocolate will grow as more people eat dark chocolate for pleasure and health reasons, Pereira predicted.
“It’s becoming more than just a food, it’s becoming a good food. And we want to spread that knowledge, we want to educate people about chocolate.”
Chocolate School offers an introductory one-day course about gourmet chocolate, and a three-day course where students learn recipes, how to melt chocolate properly and how to use the instruments.
Professional classes, including praline courses, are also offered, and participants can even obtain a masters certificate in chocolate-making.
Pereira said the school is also planning a business model to teach wannabe chocolatiers how to market gourmet chocolate — from packaging to presenting.
“In some places chocolate is presented like jewelry, in Europe for example. It has not caught on yet [in Indonesia],” he said.
Pereira added that future plans include chocolate tours to plantations and production sites near Jakarta, a chocolate museum in Makassar, South Sulawesi, and educating 240,000 Sulawesi farmers “who grow cocoa beans, harvest them, dig the beans out and sell them.”
“But to get good chocolate, the beans must be fermented first and then dried. [Then] they get a better price for their beans. These things haven’t been talked about with the farmers yet,” Pereira said.
He added that consumer chocolate will become an important export commodity.
“We make a lot of chocolate. People don’t realize it. So we want to spread the knowledge of chocolate and make this a chocolate center,” he said. “I mean, it is a chocolate country — it’s good for export, it’s good for tourism, it’s good for everything.”
From S. America to Sulawesi: A Taste of Cocoa’s History
While European states such as Belgium, Switzerland and France claim to be chocolate’s earliest inventors, at least one scholar believes the cocoa tree, which originated in South America, was actually cultivated in Indonesia first.
“The Spaniards brought chocolate back from the Americas in the 1520s, and the Spanish kept it a secret,” said Mervyn Pereira of the Chocolate School in Jakarta.
He added that two to three thousand years ago, chocolate was still only ingested in liquid form. “They just crushed the nips inside the beans and melted it and drank it, principally for health reasons.”
Pereira, who has been trying to uncover the mystery surrounding chocolate in Indonesia for the last 10 years, said the food form was developed much later out of concern for taste.
The recipe eventually spread to France, and then the Swiss invented the first chocolate bar about two hundred years ago.
“So the Europeans have always claimed that chocolate is theirs,” Pereira said.
But in reality, he said, a Spanish sailor had earlier brought chocolate to Sulawesi from Caracas, Venezuela, in 1560.
“I believe the chocolate came here, but at the time there was a war between the Dutch and the Portuguese, so the ship must have avoided coming to Jakarta and gone to Sulawesi,” Pereira said.
While chocolate in Europe is only referenced in the 1700s, records show that cocoa beans were already growing in Java in 1706.
Pereira said that from 1760 until the end of that century, Indonesia was exporting cocoa to Holland.
“We have a very long history of cocoa,” he said. “[Indonesia] really is a cocoa country.”