Awards: Tell us about the philosophy behind your work with chocolate and cacao.
Cocomas: My philosophy of working with cacao and chocolate is “cacao first”. We aim to make chocolate which prioritizes the individual characteristics and flavours of cacao, and to take advantage of cacao’s potential. Our core ingredients are only cacao and sugar. No added cocoa butter, no other flavors mixed in. (In our milk bars we use only a very small amount of added cocoa butter). Also, I am always grateful and want to show respect to the local farmers who produce cacao beans. Without cacao producers, people around the world would not be able to eat chocolate.
Awards: What cacao do you use for your chocolate and why?
Cocomas: We only use cacao beans from Mindanao Island, in the Philippines. Our award-winning chocolate uses cocoa beans purchased from a cooperative BARBCO in Davao City in Mindanao Island, and is a single Trinitario variety called BR25. I used it simply because I thought it was delicious. Mindanao is the place where I saw cacao trees for the first time. When I ate cacao beans there for the first time I was very impressed by the fruity taste. At the same time, I was shocked by the harsh environment surrounding cacao cultivation there.
Actually, at first, I wanted to start my own Tree to Bar Chocolate maker there, so I moved to the area and rented a farm to grow cacao for myself. But as I got to understand the local situation around cacao growing, I changed my mission. I redirected my energy into importing cocoa beans to Japan in order to support Mindanao cacao producers.
Most of the cacao farmers in the Philippines are small-scale farmers. Cacao beans are often purchased raw, before fermentation and drying, at a low price by major overseas buyers for commodity chocolates. It makes it difficult for the farmers to generate enough income from cacao. As a result, many farmers cut down cacao trees and replant with other crops that make more money. By purchasing their cacao at a reasonable price, I can help to create an environment where they can produce high-quality cacao that has undergone a proper post-harvest process. We purchase cocoa beans directly from excellent agricultural cooperatives which are devoted to working with farmers passionate about cocoa beans. We can only buy a small amount at the moment. But I hope that by winning awards we will draw attention to the production area and farmers, spread the word about their cacao around the world, and create a better environment for them.
Awards: Can you tell us the meaning behind your name ‘Cocomas’, and about the beautiful mould you use for your bars.
Cocomas: “Coco” means “cacao”, and “mas” means “more” in Spanish, which is also used in the Philippines. I chose the name as I wish for more cacao to be cultivated and eaten. The chocolate mould is not our original, it is one that I found. I wanted to use a motif that connects Japan and the Philippines, so I chose a wave that evokes the beautiful sea around Mindanao Island. This pattern, called Seigaiha, is an auspicious pattern that has existed in Japan since ancient times and has various meanings. Seigaiha is based on the motif of waves that never stop, so it means a wish for eternal happiness and a peaceful life. The same pattern is used on our traditional Japanese gift packaging. It contains a wish that the person receiving Cocomas chocolates feels happiness.
Awards: Where are your chocolates sold now?
Cocomas: It is currently sold in our store located in the suburbs of Tokyo, Japan, and online (in Japan only). Thankfully, we have received several inquiries from overseas since winning this award. If it is an area where delivery is possible, we will respond individually.
Awards: What are your plans for the future of Cocomas?
Cocomas: As I mentioned earlier, the reason we started Cocomas was to make Philippine cacao more widely known. So we will make more fine chocolate, spread the word about Philippine cacao, and make many more chocolate lovers.
Asian cacao has a very small share in the world now and is not well known worldwide. But I think, like coffee, cacao is entering a new era highlighting single varieties, single origins, terroir, after-crop processes, where people enjoy the differences, just like wine. I would be happy if I could help establish cacao as a healthy ordinary food, not just as an ingredient in chocolate.
Awards: Your bar – Smooth 73% – won the ‘Best in Competition’ overall winner award in the dark/origin bar categories at the 2021-22 Asia-Pacific heat of The International Chocolate Awards. Congratulations! Can you tell us something about this particular bar, and what winning this award means to you.
Cocomas: Thank you very much for the award. It has been a great honour just to receive the gold award, let alone win first place in the overall evaluation. I still can’t believe it.
The award-winning “smooth” chocolate is made with cacao, refined and unrefined cane sugar. The reason why the sugars are mixed is that if it is only unrefined sugar, it has a little bitter taste, and if it is only refined sugar, the sweetness becomes single note and a little too direct. I designed the recipe to ensure that the flavour of the cacao was sufficiently forward. Also, since it is made with a small melangeur, it does not have the fine particle size of commercial chocolate. But if we process it for too long important flavours will be lost. So, we turn it for about 72 hours, and age the chocolate for about a month.
I believe that when a simple chocolate made of only cocoa beans and sugar wins an award the cocoa producers win the award. I hope that this award will raise awareness of Philippine cacao.
I am very happy to have won the gold prize because I feel like it’s a reward for our work so far. I would like to gain new strength from this award and move on to the next stage. Thank you very much again.
Awards: Thank you!