Reviving the Thai chocolate industry with American know-how

Two former Thai lawyers are helping to revive Thailand’s long-dormant chocolate and cacao-growing industry, achieving success with their organic artisanal brand after traveling to the U.S. to learn some of their chocolate-making skills.

“Thai cacao is something that was lost in Thailand, and we wanted to revive it by promoting it as a specialty crop, or specialty bean, in a way that is more sustainable,” Paniti Chunhasawatikul told Channel News Asia.

Multinational chocolate companies once sourced cacao in bulk from Thailand but switched to other continents because of lower costs. Today’s Thai chocolate is a niche product, but one with great potential because of its distinctive character and quality.

Panti and his wife Nuttaya were successful lawyers but gave up their legal careers to launch, Kad Kokoa, their artisanal brand sold at their bean-to-bar café in Bangkok and grown on land they purchased in the northern province of Chiang Mai.

“I wouldn’t say Thai cacao is better than others, but there’s a distinctiveness and beauty of the terroir in which it’s grown; Thai cacao is quite fruity,” Paniti said.

In fact, there is a “chocolate revolution” taking place in Thailand, according to articles on the World Cocoa Foundation website. “A number of entrepreneurs have taken on the challenge of producing fine flavor Thai chocolate, including Kad Kokoa, PARADAi, Shabar Chocolate and Xaconat in Bangkok, and MarkRin Chocolate Company in Chiang Mai,” wrote photo-journalist Lucy O’Bryan.

Longing for a simpler life, Nuttaya and Paniti bought land in Chiang Mai. A farmer there suggested they grow cacao because it easy to cultivate. They began making chocolate in their kitchen three years ago but realized they needed more knowledge.

“We decided to go to Hawaii and meet Nat Bletter, the owner of Madre Chocolate, who taught us how to make bean-to-bar chocolate,” Nuttaya said. “After Hawaii, we flew to San Francisco to find out how to grade beans,” added Paniti.

Their Chiang Mai farm is a collective where they acquire organic cocoa beans from local farmers. As their business has grown, they now also source beans from Chanthaburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan, and Chumphon provinces.

Kad Kokoa has won several awards for its chocolate variants. Top hotels and patissiers in Bangkok are using Kad Kokoa raw chocolate, including Chef Laurent Ganguilllet of the Sukhothai Hotel in Bangkok, who uses it in his dessert menu.

“The chocolate wowed me. I love acidity, and I found exactly what I wanted. I consider it as being the first Thai-origin chocolate; that we can call real chocolate in Thailand,” Ganguilllet said.

Paniti and Nuttaya are determined to remain organic and follow sustainable principles as their business, and the revival of Thai chocolate continues to grow.

“We use fine chocolate as a canvas conduit or a chocolate color to paint the story about Thai fine cacao. We want to see Thai cacao change from bulk to specialty. Our cacao beans through the entire ecosystem will elevate the level of Thai cacao and raise its awareness,” Paniti said.

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