When we say “craft”, it usually follows with “coffee”, “spirits” or “beer”, some of the things that get connoisseurs stirred up with passion about how they’re made and consumed.
Beverages aside, a trend for small-batch craft chocolate made by artisans has also been on the rise.
The craft produce landscape in Singapore may still be in its adolescence compared to countries with established communities, but the makers that have been emerging here put as much heart into their craft as anyone around the world.
That can surely be said of 30-year-old chocolate maker, Jay Chua, who devoted himself to learning the art of crafting chocolate by hand all the way from bean-to-bar.
He always had an innate curiosity for things he loves to eat and drink, which led him to start experimenting with beer brewing during his university days at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
Some time later, he received a small sample of cacao beans from a friend and tried making his own chocolate.
Fast forward 5 years, and he now runs a factory producing craft chocolate sold in Singapore, Maldives, Hong Kong, the United States and Canada.
The Three Chocolatiers
Alongside Jay are Charis Chia (24), who works the beans and bakes pastries, and Yilina Leong (27), who doubles up as both chocolatier and business manager.
They met each other at different points in their careers, and eventually formed a friendship through a shared love for good food.
Having previously been on the pastry line of a few local businesses, Charis got involved in Jay’s chocolate making experiments from the get go.
Yilina, whose background was in media and international business, joined them later to turn the hobby into a business venture.
Complete with Jay’s experience in F&B marketing, the team of 3 has been self-sufficient since day one, putting their individual skills together to support their startup.
They’re equally passionate about food, and share a dream “to travel the world to learn about cuisines and food cultures that are different from our own.”
Fierce And Wild Spirit Of The Fossa
Every story about a master of their craft begins with a moment of inspiration—for them, it was an unforgettable gift from a friend.
“About five years ago, a friend bought us a Madagascar single origin craft chocolate bar as a gift for Christmas,” they say.
It was full of raspberry and almond flavour!—But there were only two ingredients on the list: cacao and sugar.
Chocolate was never the same for them again, as they realised how craft chocolates could possess complex flavours even with the most minimal ingredients, while the taste of commercial chocolates fell flat on the other hand.
However, replicating the quality of the chocolate they tasted was no easy task, so the artisans perfected their method for years before setting up shop in early 2017.
“The moment we started making [chocolate], it hit us that there were so many things to learn about chocolate and cacao.”
They delved deep into research on the internet and in books, although much of it was written with mass manufacturers in mind.
They even travelled overseas to learn more by visiting cacao farms and meeting other chocolate makers.
“The first few batches of chocolate we made were nasty, but fortunately, they got better,” they say.
Keeping close to their origins, they named their business Fossa Chocolate, after an animal native to the forests of Madagascar.
“The fossa’s fierce and wild personality [is] similar to our approach in chocolate making, [as] we constantly challenge ourselves to create bold yet delicious and memorable flavours.”
Made With Cacao, Sugar, And Time
Anyone who isn’t familiar with the process of chocolate making would be blown away by the amount of time it requires.
That’s why Jay often advocates that Fossa’s main ingredients are “cacao, sugar, and time”.
Creation begins at sourcing high quality beans with “great flavour potential” from trusted plantations around the world.
Farmers grow cacao trees, harvest the ripened pods, ferment the seeds and pulp, then dry them and ship them off.
At their factory in Tuas, the Fossa team sorts through the beans by hand to remove any defects that could compromise the taste.
The next step, roasting, is crucial in determining the flavour of the chocolate.
“We roast every cacao differently to bring out the flavours we think are best for the beans,” Fossa’s website explains.
Once the beans have been roasted, they remove the husks to collect the nibs inside, a process called ‘winnowing’.
The nibs are then ground in a machine called a melangeur for as long as 4 days, to thoroughly smoothen and refine the texture of the chocolate.
The makers then temper the chocolate on a slab of granite which removes temperature from the liquid chocolate, and promotes the forming of Type V crystals that give the finished bars a “beautiful gloss and clean snap”.
Finally, the chocolate is poured into moulds, vibrated to get rid of air bubbles, and put into a fridge to cool and harden.
The entire process takes about 7 days per batch.
Beyond bringing out the diverse flavour profiles of each cacao, the team at Fossa also gets playful with added ingredients to create the unique flavours they dream up.
As if pure dark chocolate isn’t inviting enough, their special flavours will really pique your curiosity to try a bar for yourself.
Some of their creations include Salted Egg Cereal Blonde Chocolate, Chilli Peanut Praliné, White Sesame and Seaweed, and Shrimp and Bonito Dark Chocolate.
The wonderful flavours [of cacao] make versatile canvases to complement other ingredients. We strive for harmony in flavours—ingredients you wouldn’t think of putting in chocolate can be made unexpectedly delicious with the right combination.
Ideas for new flavours often come from their travels and experiences of food from other cultures.
For example, the friends visited Tsukiji market in Japan where seafood was used abundantly, and it got them wondering if they could mix those flavours into chocolate.
“When we came back, we tried [using sakura shrimp and bonito furikake] with various cacao, and found a savoury and nutty one that was perfect,” they say.
“It’s one of those unexpectedly good flavour combinations.”
Would You Pay A Premium For Craft?
Their first bars were sold through word-of-mouth, thanks to friends who knew what they were working on and introduced Fossa to others.
With the high quality ingredients sourced, and the amount of labour put into crafting their chocolate, Fossa’s customers understand why a single bar is priced at $8 to $10.
As the makers love to share the stories behind their single origin flavours, customers get to learn about the farmers who grew the beans.
Yilina explains that sometimes it’s “difficult and expensive to source” these high quality beans and ingredients, adding to their production costs.
Sadly, not all consumers accept the fact that artisan chocolate comes with a premium price.
In a market flooded with cheap mass-produced chocolate that people are used to, it is an uphill task to change consumers’ and retailers’ mindsets that good chocolate should be priced reasonably higher.
As they have yet to fully overcome this barrier, they’re striving to make even better chocolate in hopes that customers who get a taste of quality will experience an “aha!” moment of revelation.
Collaborations With Brands, Stockists Around The World
Fossa has also extended their efforts to reach out and educate the public about craft chocolate by participating in pop-up markets and conducting workshops.
Beyond basic bars, they teach people to make other sweet treats like chocolate truffles, which make great gifts for loved ones.
Fossa Chocolate may be a small factory run by just 3 members, but they’ve collaborated with a few local cafés and hotels, and even international companies like makeup brand, MAC.
Now, Fossa produces 500 to 600 bars of chocolate daily, and their products can be found at 18 locations in Singapore, and 40 stores overseas.
The founders have never stopped experimenting since the beginning.
Just last month they launched their first sugar-free single origin 100% dark chocolate bar, featuring nothing but the flavour of cacao.
As they continue to innovate and add new creations to their brand, they say we can soon expect to see some tea-based flavours, and even a single origin chocolate for drinking—doesn’t that sound like pure indulgence?
Featured Image Credit: Fossa Chocolate