Cacao, PH’s ‘hidden treasure,’ goes luxe
From being tagged as “dirty chocolate,” Philippine cacao-based products are being elevated to luxury status with the efforts of champions such as tablea maker Raquel Choa, the “Chocolate Queen of Cebu.”
Choa, who grew up surrounded by cacao trees in Balamban town, Cebu, said she had been processing cacao beans since she was a little girl, but it was only recently that she realized that cacao was the heart of chocolate making. She now considers homegrown cacao a “hidden treasure” in plain sight.
The woman behind chocolate destinations Ralfe Gourmet, The Chocolate Chamber and Casa de Cacao holds high hopes for the Philippines’ chocolate industry after having partnered with the likes of the Manila Hotel, Manila Polo Club, posh island-resort Amanpulo and, most recently, Shangri-La Hotel Mactan. Choa teamed up with Shangri-La Mactan to offer special chocolate creations and chocolate-based recipes to guests.
Choa said she and Shangri-La Mactan were developing a Chocolate Tour that would showcase homegrown Philippine chocolate to discerning guests who were used to luxury products and five-star hotels.
When she was still starting making chocolate the old fashioned way, Choa said people didn’t believe in the quality of her homegrown tablea and unfairly branded her product “dirty chocolate.” But years of creative tweaking, research on product packaging, client education and a whole lot of perseverance resulted in the birth of Ralfe Gourmet (produces handmade chocolate products from homegrown cacao beans), Casa de Cacao (venue for the famed Chocolate Appreciation Tours) and The Chocolate Chamber (chocolate retail store).
She also owns and runs a 15-hectare cacao plantation in Cebu.
Last year, Choa served participants of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit since The Chocolate Chamber was an official stop for Apec and IEC delegates.
Choa said that, beyond learning new techniques to transform cacao beans, she felt she could fulfill a bigger purpose—to help elevate Filipino chocolate, support cacao farmers and put the Philippines on the world map of chocolate-making, which she planned to do through Cacao de Filipinas Fellowship (CFF).
Early this year, she was invited to share her story at TEDxChiangMai and for International Women’s Month, she was invited by the Philippine Consulate of Agana to be the guest speaker at this year’s Women Forum. She also gave a chocolate-making demonstration at the Guam Community College to students of the culinary art program.
Through CFF, Choa is also embarking on a program to distribute 25,000 cacao seedlings to former rebels in Balamban, Cebu, and to share with them ways of processing cacao or selling the beans at a profit. She has also started developing a training program, again through CFF, for those interested in learning how to handle cacao and in making handcrafted chocolate products for discerning clients.
“Cacao is part of our heritage. It is also our hidden treasure, something to be discovered and something we should fight for recognition,” Choa said.
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