Chaterine Yap visited Cambodia as a tourist in July and as a chocolate lover she said she enjoyed the chocolate of local chocolaterie Wat Chocolate, which processes and makes the chocolate starting from the beans all the way to the bars.
“The French owner of Wat Chocolate creates a range of chocolates with unique flavours using the cocoa beans from Mondulkiri. I’d love to visit their chocolate factory and outlet in Siem Reap,” Yap wrote on her Facebook page, adding that “my favourite is the power-packed Chocolate brownie that melts in your mouth at every bite.”
Wat Chocolate Phnom Penh sells a variety of chocolate-based products at their Temple Cocoa of Cambodia cafe, which is located in Boeng Keng Kang I of Boeng Keng Kang district in the capital.
“We’re trying to export our chocolate and for the moment we are working on exporting our products to Singapore and Thailand in Asia, and maybe after that to Europe,” said Gaetan Brosseau, the founder of Wat Chocolate Phnom Penh.
The chocolaterie has small tables set outside the shop which are shaded by trees and umbrellas, while inside the shop there is a long sofa with tables and a display of chocolate bars sitting under the glass of the mirrored counter.
Behind the counter and prominently placed is the logo for Wat Chocolate and Temple Cocoa of Cambodia, along with a chocolate cabinet and one round counter displaying packs of chocolates.
Twenty-one different types of chocolate are produced in Wat Chocolate’s first-ever factory in Siem Reap, under French ownership and management.
Brosseau and his wife first visited Cambodia in 2018 and learned that there was no chocolate factory in the Kingdom, despite the fact that cocoa beans were being farmed in Mondulkiri.
As a chocolate producer with five years of experience who first learned the trade in India, Brosseau started working with Mondulkiri’s cocoa and says he discovered that it is some of the best he’s ever seen.
“This cocoa is grown by Cambodian farmers in Mondulkiri province and now there are more than one hundred farms,” Brosseau told The Post.
This is a new area of agriculture that is becoming bigger and bigger each year, so the farmers created a cooperative so that they do all of the fermentation and drying of the cocoa in one central place, according to Brosseau.
Aside from the currently small quantity of cocoa the Frenchman, whose business opened in 2019, buys from the farmers, their crops are exported mostly to Japan and Malaysia.
“This package says 95% on the pack, which means I add 5% sugar, while this one says 90% so that means I added 10% sugar,” he says, presenting the varieties of chocolate on display in his cafe.
Among those different percentages of chocolate mixed with sugar, there is also pure chocolate available for those who love a very strong and more bitter than sweet chocolate flavour.
There are 21 types of chocolate Brosseau has produced to date and he makes chocolate at varying levels of sweetness at every five percentage points for added sugar starting from 65 (35% sugar) on up to 100 (no sugar), while adding flavouring such as chilis, pepper, coffee, cinnamon, ginger and galangal, and all of the ingredients he uses in the chocolate come from Cambodia.
To sweeten the chocolate, he uses palm sugar from Ratanakkiri province. Flavours like coffee are from Mondulkiri, while chilli, pepper, cinnamon, ginger and galangal come from Kampot. Cashew nuts comes from Preah Vihear and peanuts come from Kampong Cham. All of the products processed from bean to bar is from local sources.
“Cocoa beans contain about 50% fat called cocoa butter, 5% water, 7% starch, 4% cellulose, 2% theobromine, 20% other proteins and 6% mineral substances,” said Brosseau, pointing out that people’s association of chocolate with candy doesn’t show the whole picture given the bean’s complexity.
From growing the beans for five years to harvesting, fermenting, drying and shipping then sorting and grading, the process of producing the beans is handled by local farmers. Brosseau’s chocolaterie does the roasting, cracking, winnowing and grinding and then adds sugar or flavourings and does the tempering, moulding and packing.
“Every three days, we can produce around 100 kg of chocolate. When we have chocolate ready we then mould and package the final products,” he says.
For dark chocolate he keeps the flavouring at around 85-95%, which is very strong, while the 65% is much sweeter because it’s got more sugar. For his own tastes, he recommends his chocolate at 70% with cashew nuts added inside for a pleasant and mild taste that isn’t too strong or too sweet.
He says the Siem Reap-based factory usually produces around 250kg of chocolate per month right now and does so according to demand.
Brosseau said that in 2018, as far as he knew he was the first to produce chocolate in Cambodia and still today he isn’t sure if there is another person doing it in the whole Kingdom.
“I was interested in producing chocolate here because nobody else does it. When I arrived I found this great cocoa in Mondulkiri and nobody was making it into chocolate locally. So I decided I would try since nobody else was doing it,” he says.
Brosseau first made chocolate in Cambodia in July of 2018, but the first chocolate he sold was in December of 2019 after a lengthy development process during which he refined his recipes and made business preparations.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Frenchman developed his products further and went from nine types of chocolate to 21 different types.
“Covid-19 gave me time to develop everything. It was not what I wanted, but like everybody else I had no choice. The business is going slowly so far, but we’ve developed a lot of very good and very different products,” he says.
Now that things in Cambodia have returned to normal again his chocolaterie has started to work with hotels like Sofitel, Rosewood, Baitong and Park Hyatt Siem Reap.
While things are getting better in general and more tourists are coming back, he says that right now Phnom Penh is doing better than Siem Reap, where everything is still very quiet.
“We still have the factory there. So the factory is perfect. But we don’t have a shop there, only the factory because it is so quiet. You can buy the chocolate, but we don’t have the cafe like this. When tourists come back I might make another small coffee shop like this there,” he said.
One of five chocolate makers at the factory in Siem Reap, Noun Vathkhanitha turned from chef to chocolatier because she wanted to learn a new career and additional food-related skills.
“I have experience in the kitchen but with chocolate this is my first job because it’s new to Cambodia. I’ve worked in the factory for about a year,” she says. “While working for this factory, I have learned and have come to understand so much about chocolate I didn’t know before and importantly now I can say I know how to make chocolate.”
Aside from producing the chocolate, Khanitha also makes presentations and gives tours to visitors who want to know about the process of introducing the cocoa plants harvested from Mondulkiri to mixing the beans with sugar to moulding it into shapes and adding flavouring to create the 21varieties to packaging it all up.
Brosseau said that some local people have started to support the business. Previously, many Cambodian people didn’t know about dark chocolate, but they liked the sweet kind. He says his customers mostly are Japanese, Koreans and lately more and more Cambodian people have started coming in who like chocolate.
He said the main reason why he has ambitions to export his products to the world is that the cocoa in Mondulkiri is of very good quality with large size pods and after fermentation it dries very well and has a rich flavour.
“Next step, it will become better and better if they can grow a lot of cocoa. I think Cambodian cocoa products can travel everywhere in the world given their quality,” he says. “In my factory, there are five Khmer employees doing chocolate. I don’t hire other foreigners to make chocolate, it’s just me and my wife.”
Today Wat Chocolate Phnom Penh has seven local staff members with five in factory in Siem Reap and two in Phnom Penh’s Temple Cocoa Cambodia cafe.
Interested customers can find praline chocolates that have caramel, Asian nuts and almonds inside. There are also pistachio, orange skin, mango and white chocolates along with cafe latte chocolates and even small cakes, including tiramisu, lava cake, orangette, manguette, nama, pistachio and truffle.
Wat Chocolate Phnom Penh’s Temple Cocoa Cambodia cafe is located at #23 St 360 in Sangkat Boeng Keng Kang I of Khan Beong Keng Kang in Phnom Penh.
For more details, visit their website at: www.watchocolate.com