New Delhi: Inside an upmarket, wheat-mill-turned shopping complex in Delhi’s Chhatarpur region awaits one of the city’s most unique experiences for chocolate lovers. At an outlet of Colocal – a single-origin artisan chocolatier – in Dhan Mill, one can see the chocolate being made, before indulging in its exquisite taste.
Opened in October 2020 — in the midst of the Covid pandemic — the Colocal facility at Dhan Mill is a cafe which doubles as a chocolate manufacturing unit.
Customers can see chocolate being made through the factory’s glass doors, while waiting for their orders in the cafe.
It was a difficult idea to execute in a world of social distancing, necessitated by the pandemic. But co-founder and head chocolatier, Sheetal Saxena, was adamant the brand would not have a virtual launch.
“Thanks to Covid-19, we were clear that we would not be launching online until our physical store opened. Although this delayed our timelines, we waited to launch the physical store experience. Our uniqueness lies in the fact that the customer watches the chocolate being made and then decides how they want to consume it, whether to eat it, drink it or add it to something,” said said Saxena.
The other thing that sets Calocal apart from many other gourmet chocolate brands is that, from ‘bean to bar’, all ingredients are sourced and produced locally.
While the brand sources its cocoa beans from cocoa plantations in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, other ingredients needed for chocolates – butter, sugar, etc. – “all also come from local sources,” said Anshi Saxena, who manages operations at Colocal.
For Sheetal, the quest to create Colocal began in 2019. “It started as a passion project, which then morphed into a larger goal of changing people’s relationship with chocolate and the way they consume it” , she said.
Her passion for Colocal is evident in the fact that she never strays long from the chocolate making process. Even when she chatted with ThePrint last week, she oversaw the roasting of a new batch of cocoa beans, walked into one of the many kitchens to taste a new flavor.
It’s the same for almost everyone at Colocal. Chief Roaster and Head of Operations Saurabh Aggarwal has an eye on the kitchens at all times. And Anshi bends over spreadsheets to track supplies as she speaks.
“For a long time, I was looking for origin and locally produced chocolates. When I heard about Colocal and its philosophy, it was an instant match,” said Mrinal Kanwar, a software developer who frequents Colocal.
“Being able to identify where the chocolate comes from and see how it is produced is a big plus for me. The ambience of Dhan Mill Cafe adds another dimension. With Colocal, I feel like the experience goes beyond just eating a bar of chocolate,” she added.
Read also: The real story of this Valentine’s Day is how heart-shaped chocolate became inseparable from February 14
‘No chemicals, no preservatives’
“There is a shortage of Indian chocolate chip manufacturers. After researching, I realized that Indian chocolate beans are just as good as Indian coffee beans. It made me want to start a chocolate business,” Sheetal Saxena said.
Independent India’s date with chocolate and cocoa (the seed from which chocolate is made) dates back decades to the 1960s. Cadbury established a cocoa planting in Wayanad, Kerala, in 1965.
Other plantations have appeared over time in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. South India offers the ideal climatic conditions for growing cocoa.
But while conglomerates like Cadbury and Nestlé still import many ingredients to make their chocolate bars, Colocal is completely desi.
The essence of “bean to bar” lies in the fact that the chocolate bar is produced only from the cocoa bean. No extracts, chemicals or supplements are added to make the bar from the bean, the Colocal team asserted. “We don’t add any emulsifiers or preservatives to our chocolate,” Anshi added.
All manufacturing is done at Dhan Mill. Above the high-ceilinged cafe, with its colonial pillars and plant-filled atrium, is the manufacturing unit.
“It starts on the farm, where the cocoa beans are extracted, picked, sorted and fermented. After that, the whole operation is transferred to Dhan Mill,” Sheetal explained.
“The entire process of roasting, cracking, winnowing the beans, then blending (the process by which the winnowed bean is converted into liquid form) and cooling the liquid is done using a set of machines at Dhan Mill,” Aggarwal said.
He added: “The final product is then made into chocolate bars and other products, such as chocolate powder, hot chocolate syrup, cookies and candies.”
“Any customer can walk up and see the cooking process through the kitchen windows. We want people to know how what they eat is made.
The brand follows a meticulous and time-consuming conching process (a step in the manufacturing process that helps build the flavor and texture of the chocolate) to avoid any bitter aftertaste, according to management.
Over time, the brand has expanded beyond chocolates to include cookies, baking chocolate, hot chocolate syrup, candies, cakes and more.
“The team is very creative. We continue to experiment and diversify products every month. We change percentages of existing products, modify them or come up with a new product to improve our offerings,” said Nupur, a trainee chef.
Building on the success of her business, Sheetal Saxena is optimistic about the future of the artisanal chocolate industry – only the focus should always be on sourcing locally and promoting indigenous planters, while producing chocolate from high quality, she added.
The brand recently opened its second outlet in Delhi’s upmarket Khan Market. “We didn’t go into this with big financial plans, but Delhi welcomed us with open hearts,” Sheetal said.
She added that there’s a lot more to come from the Colocal team, as they plan to open a third store on their second anniversary. “Details will be released soon,” the chocolate maker said.
(Editing by Poulomi Banerjee)
Read also: ‘Asli swaad zindagi ka’ – this Cadbury Dairy Milk ad from the 90s changed Indian advertising