Last Updated November 2018
Thailand is hot. Sticky, melty hot. It’s not the kind of hot you normally associate with chocolate, but Thailand has actually been growing cacao— the raw material for chocolate— for over a century. Over the last few years, this fruit has been cropping up in both southern and northern Thailand as a potentially large source of income for small-hold farmers. And boy is it growing.
Thailand’s Brief Cacao History
There is not much complete information on the history of cocoa trees in Thailand, but farmers, researchers, and local makers all seem to agree that the country began growing cacao in the early 20th century. The crop was brought to Asia via the Spanish territory of the Philippines, in the late 17th century.
From there, it spread to Indonesia, India, and Malaysia over the next 200 years, most all of the cacao being of the forastero varietals. There are cacao trees being grown in most every tropical country in Asia, and Thailand has refused to be an exception.
The majority of Thai cacao is grown in the Chumphon region in the south, along with some the Chiang Mai region to the north. This is still a secondary pursuit for Thai farmers, with cacao profits being a sort of “extra” seasonal income rather than a main goal. Fine flavor is optional.
Yet researchers in both areas have taken it upon themselves to pursue growing quality cacao in Thailand, and hopefully at much larger scales than it’s being grown now. This is still a project under construction, but the demand for a quality home-grown product is increasing.
At last count, the Kingdom produces several hundred tonnes of cacao per year, a paltry sum when compared to the hundreds of thousands of tonnes produced in neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia. Read more about the future of Asian cacao here.
Tasting The Chocolate
As mentioned in the overview on chocolate in Bangkok, there are three types of chocolate at all worth pursuing in Bangkok and beyond. We have the imported “premium” chocolate, from Europe, North America, and Japan, which is fine if you’re in a hurry and looking for something recognizable.
Then there are the few locations dotting Thailand where you can visit a cacao farm and try Thai cacao, and possibly local chocolate. And finally are the value-added chocolate makers, the bean-to-bar craftspeople who take their local fruit and turn it into luscious chocolate. Read more about each of these categories below.
The big-name chocolatiers are largely centered in the country’s capital, and are imported from the typical France, Belgium and Switzerland. A few chocolate companies are based in the US or Japan, but the appeal of these “gourmet” or “premium” chocolates comes largely from the fact that they’re European.
Unfortunately, and until now rightfully so, chocolate made in Thailand had a less than stellar reputation. Other western chocolate imports range from a delectable chocolate buffet to Cadbury and Mars bars.
Try Thai Cacao
Despite the small but growing community of cacao farmers and chocolate makers in Thailand, there are still a few places you can go to learn about cacao farming. By visiting a cocoa plantation, either in Pattaya or Chiang Mai or possibly Chumphon, you can experience the process of making chocolate from bean to bar. If you’re lucky, you can also taste fresh cacao pulp, and see the seeds fermenting in the shade on the farms themselves.
Some chocolate makers are growing their own cacao on personal farms throughout Thailand, so it’s worth inquiring directly with makers if they’d be able to accommodate a visit. To book a cacao tour or to see one of the cacao farms, be sure to contact the respective operators and inquire about rates and availability. It’s polite to give at least a week’s notice before visiting.
The Online Market
I imagine that importing chocolate is tough not just because of the weather, but because of the Thai government’s restrictions on imports. So it’s not that surprising that as of November 2018, there is only one online chocolate company operating within Thailand. This is Chocolate Selector, a new player to the craft chocolate game, currently importing bars from makers around the world, as well as selling bars from some Thai makers. Their international bean to bar selection includes Akesson’s, Raaka, Pump Street, and Dick Taylor.
I look forward to watching their selection grow, especially as they migrate from their current platform of Facebook to a more permanent website or home.
Home-Grown Thai Chocolate
There are currently chocolate makers using Thai cacao to craft their chocolate, as well as some makers importing cacao to make chocolate.
These makers are focused in two areas: Chiang Mai and Bangkok. The cacao still comes from all around Thailand and the world, but these two cities have emerged as hubs of the gourmet chocolate market in Thailand. In Chiang Mai we find Siamaya, Mark Rin, Clean Chocolate, and Aimmika.
Currently, nine other up-and-coming makers are producing chocolate in Thailand using Thai cacao, though I suspect that there will be even more soon. It’s unclear where they’re based, as they don’t have permanent cafes, but three of these makers are Chocolasia, Kai Cocoa, and Metha Chocolate. The Thai cacao users based in Bangkok are Xoconat, Sarath N. Chocolatier, Shabar Chocolate, Kad Kokoa, PARADAi, and Vinn Chocolate. Going against the grain is another Bangkok-based maker using imported cacao to make sugar-free chocolate: Böhnchen Chocolate.
Outside of South East Asia, there is a Thai expat in Toronto (Amy from Mojihouse Coffee and Cacao) using cacao from her Chumphon farm, and an American company (Parliament Chocolate) using Thai cacao for one of their bars. Madre Chocolate also had a limited edition bar using cacao from Thailand.
Hope for the Future
Cacao has a relatively short history in Thailand, so most of the chocolate culture there is European-based. Some even hails from Japan and Mexico. Most all of the chocolate in Thailand is imported and of low quality, though 2018 has seen a huge shift in that paradigm. With now over a dozen chocolate makers, Thai chocolate culture is undoubtedly on the up and up.
There are even a few cacao farms you could visit in Thailand, though you have to book appointments ahead of time.
Even though I am by no means an expert in Thailand’s chocolate or cacao scene, I do consider myself well-informed. So if you have any questions or clarifications, feel free to drop them in the comment box below. I hope to visit a few cacao plantations during my next visit, in late 2019, and include even more resources.
Have you ever tried chocolate made with Thai cacao?
Map of Bangkok Chocolate Makers
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