Arun Viswanathan is the chocolatier at the helm of Ganache for Da Chocoholics, a chocolaterie out of Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India. On a sourcing trip to the Coimbatore region in late 2015, Greg, our Chocolate Sourcerer, met Arun. While visiting the U.S. in February, Arun decided to come by our Valencia street location for a few days to learn how we make chocolate from the bean, in the hopes of bringing those skills back to his company in Coimbatore. We caught up with Arun towards the end of his time here to learn more about his business and the chocolate industry in India.
So, it’s been great to work with you for the past few days on the production floor here. What’s your background, and what do you do in India?
Well, I got my masters in food science and technology from Cornell University, and later I got my second masters in food engineering and marketing in India. Studying food science, I realized there that chocolate is one of the only fields where I get to bring in a lot of science and creativity.
From there I decided I wanted to specialize in chocolates. Then, I was in Bruges, Belgium, where I got certified as a chocolatier, making bonbons, truffles, and pralines. I worked in a store called The Chocolate Line, run by Dominique Persoone—one of the best [chocolatiers] in Belgium. So then I got back to India, and started my own company—Ganache for Da Chocoholics. We opened our first store in June last year, and now we plan to expand to other cities in India.
What kind of chocolate do you make?
Basically we’re working on the Indianization of Belgian chocolates.
What does that mean?
If you look into a box of our chocolates, you would find flavors like saffron, lemon and pepper, Madras filter coffee, which is like a South Indian delicacy, Gulabi Lassi, which is a rose petal-based product. We also do international flavors like Wasabi, and now we work with farmers in India to help them develop good quality cocoa which we intend to use over time.
What is your relationship with the farmers?
In the global market, Indian farmers are slowly getting recognized for growing cacao, and we would like to one day soon make a single-origin chocolate from Indian cocoa. We’re building a factory now where we want to produce Indian bean-to-bar chocolates.
Have you found a difference between Americans’ taste and the Indian palate? Is there a culture of bean-to-bar chocolate making there?
The American market and Indian market are similar in one way: they both like sweet and milk chocolate, but dark chocolate is definitely surging in popularity in both countries, possibly because the health benefits of dark chocolate are more well-known now. I would say we expect the Indian market in five years to be where the U.S. chocolate market is today—supporting the small batch bean-to-bar chocolate makers, and our chocolate.
Right now you’re selling to people in Coimbatore, which is your home base. Are you selling anywhere else?
Also in Chennai. But we’re planning a franchising model, and we have a factory coming up. Once we have more production capacity, we will be selling it in those two cities plus Bangalore. The factory will also be in Coimbatore, right near all the cocoa farms. We can use all the fresh produce from the farms, which after learning here [at Dandelion], fresh cocoa makes the chocolate taste a lot better.
Bean-to-bar chocolate is so different from the way chocolate has been made for decades. Are there people where you’re from that are skeptical of your chocolate business?
Yes—people are sometimes a little bit skeptical about whether I should be planning for a trend that won’t be existing in the very near future. But from what I’ve noticed, there’s been a really good response so far. We’re coming up with a lot of new concepts and plans, and it’s definitely just the beginning of what we want to do. So someday, we hope to enter the American market. We also started doing workshops for people in India on chocolate, and I’ve also done a chocolate workshop at Cornell University.
For those who want to make chocolate in India, what are the difficulties that you and others face?
First of all, it’s the market. We have to educate every customer on why the chocolates we make are expensive. So once they understand that, and taste it, they really enjoy it. I wouldn’t really call it an issue, it’s just hard work. Another problem is the sourcing of the cocoa, and specifically the licensing of it. Because it’s a new market, it can be hard to understand how licensing and exporting works, or what laws we need to follow. In terms of bean-to-bar in India, there isn’t really anyone to look up to, so we really have to rely on Google. Other than that, there aren’t really any problems, just huge potential. There’s a huge population who have travelled well, been educated abroad, and who want to taste good products.
You’ve been spending some time at Dandelion, do you have any favorite bars here?
I really like the Zorzal, and I think Madagascar was good too. I’ve eaten so much chocolate here that it’s hard to know what’s what. There was one that I really, really liked, I forget which one though.
Was it Guatemala?
Yes! Guatemala is my favorite. So Guatemala, Zorzal, Madagascar. 1, 2, 3.
It’s been really fun to work with you. What was it like working at Dandelion for a minute?
I’ll put it this way: In India, there’s this grandmother’s philosophy that says when you’re happy in the kitchen, the food always tastes good. I think that comes through a lot in your chocolate. On the production team, I couldn’t see a single face who didn’t enjoy what they were doing. I definitely think that’s one of the main reasons why the chocolate tastes so good. You guys have so much fun here, I don’t know if i’ve had as much fun as I’ve had here in my own factory! I feel like it’s a huge part of your success.
Well gee. I think we do genuinely have fun on the production floor, and it really feels like we’re a team. It’s special that you actually noticed it! Thanks for taking some time to sit down with me.