Rumor has it that Coenraad Johannes van Houten visited Java prior to his world-changing discovery that changed the world’s way of consuming chocolate in the early 19th century. However, the history of Cocoa in Indonesia has dated almost a century before Van Houten’s discovery.
The cacao beans from Acapulco, Mexico arrived at the port of Manila in the 1660s, this event marks the first cacao that reached Southeast Asia. A botanist named Georg Eberhard Rumphius later suggested that cacao trees should also be introduced to Indonesia in order to complete his work, Herbarium Amboinense.
In 1778, the Dutch decided to bring cocoa plants from the Philippines all the way to Jakarta and Sumatera where they established propagation facilities. The Dutch East Indies Company awarded trophies awarded to the first person to plant more than 50 cacao trees in Indonesia, in a plan that intended to promote large scale production of cacao. The harvest reached a peak of 50 tones of annual export in 1830, making it the biggest producer in the region.
Far away from the Indonesian archipelago, Coenraad Johaness van Houten; came up with an innovation that revolutionized the chocolate industry in 1828. Van Houten treated the cocoa powder with alkaline salts to remove the bitter taste and turned it water-soluble. This resulted in a dark colored chocolate with subtle bitterness and strong cocoa taste that we now all know as “Dutched” Cocoa Powder.
Indonesians & Chocolate
For most Indonesians, chocolate is considered a luxury. Although the country produces a lot of cacao beans, 70-80% are exported to Europe and the United States. These chocolates are then marketed back to Indonesia with prices that are extremely expensive due to the imported goods tax duties which are levied upon them.
When asked about their chocolate memories, older Indonesians will remember the brand Ayam Jago immediately. Cokelat Ayam Jago was a milk chocolate bar that was produced by the company Ceres in the 1980s. Priced then at Rp. 500, the product favored well as an affordable luxury by many Indonesians.
In the 1990s, the big hotel chains have started importing chocolate of a high quality for their amenities and in-house shops. Many of Indonesians started to recognize a well-produced chocolate that contains higher percentage of cocoa and –of course, lesser sugar. It is not until the 2000s, this luxurious idea of chocolate started to crack.
The early 2001 marked the start of affordable luxury trends in chocolate. Few brands had come up with store concept that promises better quality chocolate with a much affordable pricing.
Throughout the years, Indonesians have developed a more sophisticated palate towards food. Demand of finer ingredients and artisanal products have increased up to 70% over the last 10 years. This growing trend also affected the pastry and bakery industry –that revolves heavily around chocolate, as many European chocolate brands have penetrated the scene. Given the options provided, many chefs were benefited as to created more innovative and complex products for the customers.
The inclining interest of the market has driven chocolate into what it is now in Indonesia. As more brands and products are being introduced and tested for the market, Indonesians have better appreciation towards chocolate with more bitter and tannic flavor for both enjoyment and health factor. Though it will never be a staple like it is with the Swiss and French, chocolate will eventually reach the level of appreciation as a product of thoughtful researches and intensive labor that gives off a delightful texture and heavenly flavor that become a good definition of happiness.