My best performances are the collaborations/articles on my blog, through which I deepen the knowledge on the major topics of the craft chocolate movement. Let us delve again in this subject with a new craft chocolate maker based in Vancouver, Canada. A group of friends who make small-batch, handcrafted, and bean to bar chocolate (truffles included) without a ball mill grinder is a big deal!

It all started when Vince’s dad, Mario, sent a picture of himself holding some mangoes on their small family property in the northern Philippines. The only problem was that those weren’t mangoes, they were cacao pods hanging from the branches of a cacao tree!

But who are the people who contributed to the success of Kasama Chocolate? They may look alike, but they have a different story.

Since the beginning of Kasama Chocolate, we always knew that one of our main strengths was the makeup of the individuals in the company. Dominik has a background in fine arts and professional animation; Stefan in web development and scalability with a focus on project management; Vincent in branding and design; and Oliver in computer science, and interests in food science and urban and rural foraging. All facets of the business from cacao sourcing and chocolate making; branding and packaging; website development and management; marketing, communication and outreach; and business development and management are done in-house.

These are questions that reveal a great deal about a chocolate maker backbone.

How exactly do the four of you divide up the tasks? 

When it comes to chocolate-making, we all get to wear different hats at Kasama Chocolate and they’re all interchangeable. We all know how to execute all steps from bean sorting to starting batches, to tempering and wrapping bars. Some tasks require more specialized skills/knowledge like website management & business analytics and marketing & design. Luckily we have all those bases covered internally!

How did you learn to make bean to bar chocolate? Did any of you attend dedicated courses or watch youtube videos? 

As crazy as it sounds, we actually taught ourselves how to make bean to bar chocolate. We’re a curious, knowledge-thirsty bunch and when Vince’s dad, Mario, brought back cacao beans for us we just started Googling and watching YouTube videos on how to make chocolate. We had no clue what we were doing at the time, but we just continued making chocolate (and lots of mistakes) and kept improving and learning with each batch of chocolate. Luckily, we also stumbled upon John Nanci’s website (www.chocolatealchemy.com)  and Clay Gordon’s website (www.thechocolatelife.com) which are terrific resources and have great online communities from which we learned plenty from. David Mincey, who runs The Chocolate Project in Victoria, was also super kind to give us feedback on our earlier chocolate creations. He actually put us in touch with Pam Williams at Ecole Chocolat and her recommendation to us was to continue doing what we were doing (it’s actually documented on our Instagram feed!).

What made you decide the name Kasama? 

We had a long list of names before settling on “Kasama Chocolate”. We thought it was a great name since our story started with Philippine cacao and we’ve been friends for a very long time. For those who might not know, “Kasama” is a Tagalog (Filipino) word for friendship, camaraderie, and collaboration – values that we strongly believe in and will always do our best to embody.

Who takes care of your packaging? Any special collaboration with local artists too?

We do our own stunts! Dom has a background in fine arts and animation. It was Dom and our friend-local artist Fernanda Ribeiro that did our first packaging designs, while Vince took care of the typography and typesetting. Oliver, a part-time poet and philosopher, handles the majority of our copywriting which really helps the packaging sing! We do have some collaborations with local artists and designers lined up in the new year, but those are top secret for now.

When and how many awards did you win? If you would like to share the fulfilling experience at the time...

Last year (2019) we entered the International Chocolate Awards and won 3 awards in the Americas competition:

  • 1 Silver Medal for our Raspberry White Chocolate,

  • 1 Silver Medal for our 70% Papua New Guinea (Karkar Island) Dark Chocolate,

  • 1 Bronze Medal for our Wallflower Gin Dark Chocolate Bar.

We then went on to win 1 Silver Medal at the World Competition for our 70% Papua New Guinea Dark Chocolate bar. It was a great experience. Unfortunately, none of us were able to attend the World Finals ceremony in Antigua, but we were watching the event online and were so happy and honored to win a silver medal and to be mentioned alongside other amazing chocolate makers from around the world.

How do you supply cacao beans?

All of our Philippine cacao is direct trade. Vince travels to the Philippines quite often and visits with cacao farmers and growers all over the archipelago. This past year our Apayao bar and Isla De Tanduay bar were made with cacao that Vince fermented alongside our farming friends in the Northern Philippines. Our other cacao sources are fair-trade and supplied to us from Canadian importers.

During the bean to bar process, what is the differentiating step for each cacao bean origin?

Over the years, we started to develop our own systems and processes for differentiating each cacao bean origin during the bean to bar process. At our current size and scale, we find that the roasting profile is probably the key step and one that we have the most control over (we don’t have a ball mill yet!). We have “production standards” for conching that’s consistent for most of our origin bars and we typically go through multiple test batches and tastings before we settle on a recipe for a given origin.

I noticed your inclusion options are always cacao origin related. Well thought and never by chance. Are you going to keep the same philosophy of "cacao origin inclusion centric"? The same is for white chocolate bars that are "cacao butter origin centric". Honestly, I find it remarkable and it also piqued my interest.

Great question! We try our best to find complementary ingredients and create complementary flavor pairings when making chocolate. It’s a bit of a Yin and Yang process to create a balanced chocolate bar when you have access to so many different ingredients from all over the world. We are mindful of this and try to keep bars origin-centric when possible, especially when it comes to inclusions. We also find that having the origin information available to our customers helps create more transparency on where the ingredients are sourced from.  

Any new projects or releases? Maybe a modica-style dark chocolate bar?

We do have neat collaborations in the works and a few new origin releases slated for release in the fall that we’re really excited about. It’s funny you mention a modica-style dark chocolate bar. After one of our chocolate-making workshops at the Italian Cultural Centre, one of the organizers gave us a Bonajuto bar and told us to try making "Cioccolato Di Modica". Perhaps it’s something we can look into in the new year. We’re also working on some really classic style chocolates and some really unconventional ones that we hope people will appreciate and enjoy. Stay tuned!

How do the personal culture/experience/palate of each member of the Kasama Family influence the team's job and the final product?

Excellent question! It’s the terroir of the makers that matters or something along these lines. Vince’s family is Filipino, Stefan and Oliver’s families are German, and Dom’s family is Swiss. Our cultures, experiences, and palates are all really unique and you see that in the final product. Some examples are the Durian and Dark Chocolate Mango bar and the Black Currant and the upcoming Milch Schoggi/Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte bar... Oops! Did I just ruin some of the surprises!? We draw a lot of our chocolate creativity and inspiration from our upbringings and experiences and we’re very lucky to draw upon the multicultural diversity of our “chocolate tasting feedback network” when we’re coming up with new chocolate recipes.

Kasama is just a male-owned business?

When we started Kasama Chocolate, we were a bunch of single guys with time on our hands. Kasama is a male-owned business, but since we started Stefan got married and has a daughter, and Vince and Dom found love (through chocolate!). Our better halves have played instrumental roles in helping us grow as a business. Oliver is still single and available though!

Usually, craft chocolate makers start with the classic trio Madagascar-Ecuador-Belize. You decided on a different starting point. But did you experiment with other origins and variety or since the beginning, did you focus on your actual selection? And why?

We started with Philippine cacao because Vince had cacao growing on his family property. But our earlier test batches were actually made with cacao from Madagascar and Ecuador - they were easy to access beans with interesting flavors. It wasn’t until Stefan and Vince visited CATIE and cacao farms in Costa Rica where we then started to learn more and experiment with other origins. Luckily, one of our suppliers in Ontario, MABCO, was able to source some great cacao from Honduras, Papua New Guinea, and Mexico – all of which produced great craft chocolate. It’s always fun and interesting working with new origins, but also equally interesting working with different harvests, year-to-year from the same origin. As the company continues to grow, so does our supply network and that keeps things fresh and interesting.

Do you think there are some underestimated cacao origins/varieties?

That’s a tough question to answer. Any country or origin that grows cacao has the potential to produce varying qualities of cacao from great to poor. From our experience and what we’ve read, it’s mostly the post-harvest processes that really have a significant impact on the final result and quality of the chocolate in bar form. Over the past few years, Vince has been traveling regularly to the Philippines where we continue to do fermentation experiments with our farming friends and partners. There are roughly 5-8 varieties with very little documentation or research done on fermenting conditions (rainy/dry season and types of wood used during ferment). We hope to share many more interesting flavors from this origin (our “home origin”) in the coming years!

Do you support any project (chocolate-related or not) with a percentage of your sales?

Kasama Chocolate is still quite small in scale and we haven’t gotten to a point yet where we can regularly donate a % of our sales; however, we have donated our chocolate to various organizations like front-line healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and small non-profit organizations like Tagalog Time Vancouver (a local Filipino language lesson program run by volunteer caregivers and their children). We’ve also donated chocolate equipment like melangers and chocolate molds to some of our farming partners in the Philippines.

What is your chocolate message to the world?

There’s a famous saying by communication theorist and philosopher Marshall McLuhan. He said that today, we live in a global village where all of us are always connected. He said, “The medium is the message” – at Kasama, chocolate is our medium. I also would like to add...

The following video was shot in the summer of 2016 by our friends at Infinitum Films and shows how we got started and how we make chocolate. Many of the processes are still the same today, just with better equipment and workflow Kasama Chocolate

Last but not least, we are super excited to be building our very own Bean-To-Bar Chocolate Workshop on Vancouver's iconic Granville Island. Granville Island is a top attraction in the city and we couldn't be happier to be joining the amazing community of artists, designers, and crafters that have made Granville Island famous throughout Vancouver and Canada. We hope to open sometime in December.

Thank you, Kasama for your friendship.