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At remodeled Delhi mill, enjoy desi handcrafted chocolate & watch how bean becomes bar

New Delhi: Inside a wheat-mill-turned-upscale shopping complex in Delhi’s Chhatarpur area, awaits one of the most unique experiences for chocolate lovers in the city. At an outlet for Colocal — a hand-crafted, single-origin chocolatier — in Dhan Mill, one can see the chocolate being made, before surrendering to its exquisite taste.

Opened in October 2020 — in the midst of the Covid pandemic — the Colocal facility at Dhan Mill is a cafe that doubles up as a chocolate manufacturing unit.

Guests can see chocolate being made through the glass doors of the factory, as they wait 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 chocolate-maker, Sheetal Saxena, was adamant that the brand wouldn’t have a virtual launch.

“Through Covid-19, we were clear that we would not launch online before our physical store opened. While it set back our timelines, we waited to launch the physical store experience. Our uniqueness rests in the customer watching the chocolate being made and then deciding how they want to consume it, whether to eat it, drink it, or add it to something,” Saxena said.

The other thing that sets Calocal apart from many other gourmet chocolate brands is that, from “bean to bar”, all ingredients are sourced and made locally.

While the brand acquires its cocoa beans from cacao plantations in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh, other ingredients needed for the chocolates — butter, sugar, etc — “are all sourced locally too”, said Anshi Saxena, who manages the operations at Colocal.

For Sheetal, the quest to set up Colocal began in 2019. “It initially started as a passion project, which then transformed into a larger goal to change people’s relationship with chocolate and how they consume it,” she said.

Her passion for Colocal is evident in the way that she is never away from the chocolate-making process for long. Even as she chatted with ThePrint last week, she oversaw the roasting of a fresh batch of cocoa beans, walked into one of the many kitchens to sample a new flavour.

Colocal products on display | Photo: Suchet Vir Singh | ThePrint
Colocal products on display | Photo: Suchet Vir Singh | ThePrint

It’s the same with almost everyone at Colocal. Chief roaster and head of operations Saurabh Aggarwal has one eye firmly on the kitchens at all time. And Anshi pores over spreadsheets tracking supplies as she talks.

“For a long time, I’d been on the look out for locally sourced and produced chocolates. When I heard about Colocal and their philosophy it was an instant match,” said Mrinal Kanwar, a software developer who frequents Colocal.

“Being able to identify with where the chocolate comes from and seeing how it’s produced is a big plus for me. The ambience at the Dhan Mill cafe adds another dimension. With Colocal I feel the experience goes beyond just eating a bar of chocolate,” she added.

Also read: Real story this Valentine’s Day is how heart-shaped chocolate became inseparable from 14 Feb

‘No chemicals, preservatives’

“There is a dearth of Indian chocolate bean-makers. After research, I realised that Indian chocolate beans are as good as Indian coffee beans. This made me want to start a chocolate business,” said Sheetal Saxena.

Independent India’s tryst with chocolate and cocoa (the seed from which chocolate is made) dates back several decades to the 1960s. Cadbury set up a cacao plantation in Wayanad, Kerala, in 1965.

Other plantations came up over time in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Southern India offers the perfect climatic conditions for the cultivation of cacao.

But while conglomerates like Cadbury and Nestle still import many of the ingredients to make their chocolate bars, Colocal is completely desi.

The essence of “bean to bar” rests in the chocolate bar being produced from only the cocoa bean. No extracts, chemicals, or supplements are added to make the bar from the bean, claimed the team at Colocal. “We do not add any emulsifiers or preservatives to our chocolate,” added Anshi.

The entire manufacturing is done at Dhan Mill. Above the high-ceilinged cafe, with its colonial pillars and atrium filled with plants, is the manufacturing unit.

“It begins at the farm, where the cacao beans are sourced, plucked, sorted, and fermented. After that the entire operation shifts to Dhan Mill,” explained Sheetal.

“The entire process of roasting, cracking, winnowing the beans and then the mellanging (the process by which the winnowed bean is converted into liquid form) and cooling of the liquid is done using an array of machines at Dhan Mill,” said Aggarwal.

He added: “The final produce is then made into chocolate bars and other products, like chocolate powder, hot chocolate syrup, cookies, and bon-bons.”

“Any customer can walk up and see the cooking process through the kitchen’s glass windows. We want people to know how what they eat is made.”

Chocolate being made at the Colocal kitchen | Photo: Suchet Vir Singh | ThePrint
Chocolate being made at the Colocal kitchen | Photo: Suchet Vir Singh | ThePrint

The brand follows a meticulous and long conching process (a step in the manufacturing process that helps build the flavour and texture of the chocolate) to prevent any bitter after taste, according to the management.

Over time, the brand has expanded beyond chocolates, to include cookies, baking chocolate, hot chocolate syrup, bon-bons, cakes and more.

“The team is very creative. We keep experimenting and diversifying the products every month. We tinker with percentages of existing products, tweak them, or ideate a new product to enhance our offerings,” said Nupur, a trainee chef.

Buoyed by the success of her venture, Sheetal Saxena is bullish about the future of the handcrafted chocolate industry — only the focus must always be on sourcing locally and promoting indigenous planters, while also producing high-quality chocolate, she added.

The brand has recently opened its second outlet in Delhi’s upscale Khan Market. “We didn’t get into this with any big financial plans, but Delhi has welcomed us with an open heart,” said Sheetal.

She added that there’s much more to come from the team at Colocal, as it plans to open a third store on their second anniversary. “Details will be disclosed soon,” said the chocolatier.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

Also read: ‘Asli swaad zindagi ka’ — this 90s Cadbury Dairy Milk commercial changed Indian advertising

Source: The Print

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