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Friday, June 14, 2024

Better choco-late than never or Cacao nuts about chocolate

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Manam Kharkhana, India’s first craft chocolate experiential centre in Hyderabad, is everything chocolicious with a chocolate lab, factory tour and edible delights

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“Thank you for not wearing perfume today. The cologne interferes with the activity we will be doing now,” says Chaitanya Muppala as he puts forward a tray with cacao (pronounced ka-kau, beans from which chocolate is made) nibs. “These nibs are nature’s chocolate chips, crushed pieces of cacao bean that have gone through the fermenting, drying and roasting process after they have been plucked,” explains Muppala, a second-generation entrepreneur and the CEO of Manam, India’s first craft chocolate brand, based in Hyderabad.

He is addressing a motley group of eight ‘students’  comprising writers, communication professionals and chocolate aficionados in what he calls the ‘classroom’ where you get to understand the journey of craft chocolate. The classroom is part of the immersive experience called Manam Kharkhana, a craft chocolate workshop, lab and retail space in Banjara Hills, Hyderabad. Muppala himself is India’s first and only Level 3 Certified Chocolate Taster certified by the International Institute of Chocolate and Cacao Tasting (IICCT, USA). His passion for the bean made him come up with his own craft chocolate brand for which he started work in 2018. Craft chocolate, he explains, is one that’s been produced on a small-scale, made with whole beans from scratch by one company pod to bar, where the quality and sustainability of the cacao beans is prioritised. This is in contrast to industrial chocolate which is made in bulk and has multiple companies working on it at various stages, that we often pick up in supermarkets.  

“Close your eyes and feel it on the tongue. What do the aroma, texture and taste you of,” he prods. Katoris of polenta is served as palette cleansers as this fun exercise rolls on. One of the participants exclaims, “It reminds me of my summer holidays in my granny’s house”. Another talks about feeling happy because the aroma reminds him of the treat his mother gave him whenever he sulked as a toddle. After more discussions, the group concludes that what they have tasted is an exquisite piece of single-origin West Godavari cacao that has grown in Tadikalapudi farms in West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, 350 km away from Hyderabad, the largest cacao growing region in India. The participants also got to taste single-origin Dominican Republic Beans to be able to compare and contrast the beans.

The tasting session is just one of the many features of Manam Kharkhana, an experiential centre that opened to the public and for retail sales on August 15. Manam means ‘us’ or ‘we’ in Telugu. The Classroom will host workshops designed to educate various customer groups about the world of specialty chocolate. “Discover, explore, and interact with cacao and chocolate in all its interpretations and forms,” says the passionate entrepreneur.

After one’s choice has been established, the next step is to make your own chocolate tablet in the ‘Chocolate Lab’ right next to the classroom. This is homework everyone loves! You can pick from the milk and dark chocolate variants (different percentages), pick your fruits, fillings and nuts and the in-house chocolatiers will create your flavour and christen it after you. The wait time is about an hour.

Meanwhile, for enthusiasts captivated by the chocolate’s narrative, a tour of the chocolate factor awaits. Muppala’s face lights up as he personally escorts the visitors through a guided journey where he briefs them about roasting, crushing, melting, blending, and ultimate flavour enhancement. The 30-minute tour dressed in a face, head and feet mask is a sensory voyage where one can inhale the aroma of roasted beans and witness its transformation into velvety milkiness, culminating in a splendid piece of edible artwork. On a good day, one can engage with chef Ruby Islam to gain entry into her kitchen observe her processes while she addresses any inquiries. “Craft chocolate 101,” she quips playfully. Visitors need to check their website or social media pages to book sessions at Manam.

It’s not surprising if one finds themselves in the ‘child in a candy store’ scenario as the Manam Kharkhana is a world full of specialty chocolate in various colours, sizes, shapes and tastes. From signature tablets (bars), bonbons (with fillings), truffles (with seasonal fruit) to rochers (with a hazelnut core), there is a vast gamut to pick from in the 2,000 sq feet of space (CONFIRM THE EXACT FIGURE) done up in white and chocolate brown.

In less than three minutes of entering the experiential centre, one is bound to go into a click mania, trying to capture the ‘Insta worthy’ wall chocolate fountain, or the chocolate being roasted in the machine in one’s camera. “The various options are an attempt to demonstrate how versatile Indian Cacao can be. These include our single farm series, single origin series, creative fermentation series, signature Blends, and our exciting range of infusions and inclusions,” adds Muppala.  How experimental is the experiential? Try the coconut and curry leaf bonbon, a single-origin west Godavari piece, made of crispy toasted coconut in a curry-leaf infused white chocolate ganache concealed in a matcha-infused creamy white chocolate shell. This helps you appreciate the variations and innovations, he remarks. Their entire range is available to customers pan India through their e-commerce platform by the same name as well.

The tour ends with the chocolate lab assistant handing over your customised crafted chocolate tablet. The boxes of these treats in your hands, and chocolatey memories in your phone may remind you of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Or should it be Chaitanya and the Chocolate Factory!

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