01 Mar 2018
With Easter just weeks away, what better time to take an inside look at Bahen & Co., WA’s own truly bean-to-bar chocolate maker. Here, producer Josh Bahen explains what makes his chocolate a cut above the rest.
WORDS: Jessica Zoiti
On a family farm in Western Australia’s Margaret River region, there’s a factory filled with vintage machinery – some over 100 years old. It’s here that husband and wife team, Josh and Jacqui Bahen, are producing some pretty special chocolates under the Bahen & Co. banner.
Formerly a winemaker, Josh uses a truly artisan chocolate making process that’s not dissimilar to creating high-end wine. He has established long-term, personal relationships with cacao farmers in Papua New Guinea, Madagascar and Brazil who hand-pick, ferment and dry only the best beans.
Back in the Margaret River-based factory, the beans are slowly roasted at low temperature to preserve the unique flavor of each origin. The cocoa nibs are then separated from the husks, ground with organic raw sugar into a paste, tempered after aging and poured into the moulds.
The resulting chocolate is truly ‘bean to bar’ and full of the unique aromas and flavours of the cacao’s exotic origins.
But don’t take our word for it – here’s what Josh Bahen has to say about the fine art of chocolate making.
TBT: Why the move from winemaker to chocolate maker?
JB: In 2004 I crossed paths with a fourth generation chocolate maker whilst working a vintage in France. The family was kind enough to give me a tour of their factory. I was intrigued by the huge vintage machines slowly grinding the cocoa beans into rich dark chocolate. The bags of cacao and the smell of roasting beans certainly had an impact.
TBT: How has your business changed/grown since its inception?
JB: We have added new origins and have some great heirloom beans coming in from some new projects in Guatemala, Bolivia and Colombia.
TBT: What makes your chocolates different to others on the market?
JB: The key different is our chocolate is made from fine flavoured cacao beans. Most chocolate is made from a mix of cocoa mass, fats and emulsifiers. It is very difficult to compare the two products as they are polar opposites. With ‘bean to bar’ chocolate you can taste the terroir.
TBT: What’s the most difficult aspect of making your own chocolate?
JB: As we work with an agricultural product, there are many variables that come into play. It’s very similar to winemaking in that way – no two seasons are the same and you have to make decisions based on your experience. It’s a big challenge in the process, but it can be highly rewarding if you get it right.
TBT: And the best?
JB: For me it’s working and visiting the farmers on their plantations. Whether they are in the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam, Epi Island in Vanuatu or the Dominican Republic, the farmers and their families all have a deep underlying respect for their beans.
TBT: Where do you source your beans from and how do you ensure they’re ethically farmed?
JB: Currently we source our beans from Madagascar, Brazil, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam. We focus on fine flavour and heirloom strains, which have been well fermented and sun dried. From there, we build relationships at a farm level. Through these relationships we can impact everything from genetics, harvest, fermentation and drying.
TBT: What’s next on the agenda for Bahen & Co?
JB: We are currently planning our new factory, which will have a large focus on education and the chocolate making process.
TBT: What’s your favourite product and why?
JB: The Madagascar 70 per cent bar from Somia Plantation. The bright citrus and red berry flavours are so lively in this bar, it tastes more like fruit than chocolate. I certainly recommend this bar if you want to experience ‘Bean to Bar’ chocolate.
TBT: Do you ever get sick of chocolate?
JB: Absolutely! Everything in moderation.
Keen to try Bahen & Co. chocolate for yourself? The Black Truffle sells a wide range of the company’s truly awesome bean-to-bar blocks ($9.90 each). Also, make sure you enter our March competition to win a Bahen & Co. gift pack valued at $50.