From Bean to Bar: The Art of Chocolate Making at Mason Chocolates

Mason Chocolates Workshop

Immerse yourself in the flavours of premium Indonesian chocolate with an insightful workshop hosted by Mason Chocolates. Witness the full ‘bean to bar’ process and make your very own artisanal chocolate creations.

Shining, state-of-the-art stainless steel machines aren’t what one expects to see out in the middle of the Bali rice fields, but there they are. A pristine, lab-like chocolate factory sits in the corner of Koko Bambu, juxtaposed against the bamboo structure of the open-air restaurant in the verdant hillsides of Taro. Inside, cacao beans are roasting and grinding away, tempering taps and churning vats flow with smooth, velvety chocolate in the making.

Less out of place are the thriving cacao trees, spread across five hectares of land around Koko Bambu. These aren’t just any cacao trees, these are criollo, the rarest and most precious of all cacao varieties, accounting for only 1-3% of global production, explains Founder, Nigel Mason.

This criollo is like the godfather of cacao, first cultivated by the Mayans and Aztecs who then introduced it to Europeans. Contrary to popular belief, cacao is not indigenous to Indonesia: a Spaniard brought the plant from Central America to Minahasa, North Sulawesi, back in 1560, but it quickly took to its new home in tropical Asia. Mason Chocolates is cultivating the rare cacao in hopes of producing a new single-estate chocolate, and adding to their ‘Tropical Blend’ of Bali-made, Indonesian-sourced chocolate sold across the island. The brand’s tour and workshop offer a window into this special produce.

The tour starts with a visit around the criollo plantations, to see the bright red pods swelling like balloons beneath the broadening branches of the cacao trees. A unique fertiliser graces the ground here, elephant dung (apparently highly sought after), courtesy of the 31 elephants at the nearby Mason Elephant Park, making their contribution to the family business.

Back at Koko Bambu, you’re offered your first taste: a refreshment of hot or iced chocolate, or even a chocolate cocktail, whilst enjoying the views over the restaurant’s infinity pool. Then, it’s into the lab. Taking hygiene seriously, every guest is geared up in a lab coat, apron, booties and hair net before entering.

Inside the factory, the artisan chocolate makers — young Balinese who have undergone expert training in Italy — share the intricate process cacao goes through from tree to chocolate bar. The equipment in the lab is top of the range, using Selmi machinery for every step in the creation. Importantly, guests are shown the step-by-step process, from fermenting, drying, sorting, roasting, winnowing, grinding, conching, ageing and tempering. The master chocolatiers explain the importance of each step, how they contribute to making great chocolate, and the different processes between dark, milk and white. Did you even know that (good) chocolate is aged, like a fine wine? Seeing these steps adds a real appreciation for the food, especially when produced at this level.

Mason Chocolates’ ‘Tropical Blend’ is made using the finest cacao sourced across Indonesia: Sumatra, Sulawesi, Java, Sumba, Papua, Kalimantan and of course Bali. Again, like wines, the bean variety and its terroir will affect the final flavour of the chocolate. The next part of the workshop introduces you to these varieties, presenting pots of melted chocolate from each region at different percentages of cacao for you to try.

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Taste the honey notes in the 71% dark chocolate from Sumba, or the light sultana after-taste of the 68% from Java, or the gradual flavour changes through the ageing process. Through this exercise you’ll awaken an ability to pick up and appreciate nuanced differences between chocolates — it also means you’ll likely never be able to enjoy a big-name brand bar again!

With newfound knowledge in chocolate, it’s time to make your own. As part of your workshop experience, you’re given the chance to create three of your very own chocolate bars: dark, milk and white. Mix and match a selection of fruits and nuts, and fill up your bars with chocolate taken fresh from the tempering machine. You’ll also make your very own chocolate-rich truffles and pralines, once again mixing and matching your fillings or chocolate of choice.

Whilst your creations are cooled, lunch is served in Koko Bambu: a gourmet, three-course meal where an element of chocolate is subtly introduced into every dish. Examples include the Pan-Fried Salmon crusted in cacao nibs, or the Seared Duck Breast, served with a fine chocolate orange and balsamic sauce.

It’s not over yet, after lunch, it’s back in the lab for a surprisingly enjoyable process: packaging. Yes, you’ll wrap each of your custom bars in golden foil, and personally arrange your truffles and pralines into their jar. The ultimate souvenir… though you may wait a few days to indulge after all the chocolate ingested during the tour! For more chocolate goodies, the next-door store stocks some other premium collections, like the Chocolate Thins, which are great for gifting, or the award-winning Single Origin bars for those who wish to continue their chocolate tasting at home.

The Mason Chocolates combines both tour and workshop, providing a real in-depth exploration of this fine Indonesian produce. Available daily, two tiers are on offer: ‘Experience Tour’, which includes transport, welcome drink, chocolate tasting, chocolate bar making and lunch; the more immersive ‘Maker Class’ includes a visit to the plantation, entry into the laboratory, a more extensive chocolate tasting and addition of praline and truffle making. Children aged 5 and 8 (respectively) are welcome to join.

Find out more:
+62 8113 979 480 (WA)

Edward Speirs

Edward Speirs

Edward, or Eddy as he prefers to be called, is the Managing Editor of NOW! Bali and host of the NOW! Bali Podcast. He enjoys photography, rural travel and loves that his work introduces him to people from all walks of life.

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