A Sweet Vision:

Taiwanese Chocolate’s Road to the World
:::

2019 / December

Lynn Su /photos courtesy of Lin Min-hsuan /tr. by Scott Williams


It can be hard to fully appreciate Taiwan’s many charms until you’ve been abroad. Our island may be small, but its diverse climate and geography have given rise to a cornucopia of natural resources, produce and products. And when our farmers and industry work together, there’s little they can’t do. Though we already produce top-tier coffee, whiskey and wine, few would have guessed that Pingtung in Southern Taiwan would develop a cocoa industry that has begun to win international renown.


In the film Chocolat, starring Juliette Binoche, the residents of a conservative village lose themselves in a love of chocolate. The sweet treat may have originated in Central America, but in the centuries since the Western colonial powers first carried it abroad on their ships, it has gone on to charm the whole world.

Cocoa trees first arrived on Formosa when the Japan­ese brought them from Indonesia during the half-­century in which they ruled Taiwan. But the Japanese proved unable to overcome the various hurdles that arose in growing and processing the crop, and their efforts to produce chocolate here failed. Nurseries and farmers began trying again some 20 years ago, and succeeded in cultivating the heat- and humidity-loving trees in Pingtung.

A craftsman returns

Cheng Yu-hsuan, the proprietor of Yu Chocolatier, which is located in a back street near Taipei’s Ren’ai Traffic Circle, recently posted on Facebook about the path he’s trodden since returning from France in 2013.

For all that Cheng makes a product associated with sentiment, he is himself a logic-driven person. After completing his studies and returning to Taiwan, he began working step by step to “take Paris.”

When Cheng opened his shop, he began by selling the most basic, the most classic products. His approach differed sharply from that of most Taipei confectioners, which typically sold only one or two kinds of decorated chocolates, whereas Cheng has sometimes offered as many as seven or eight kinds of chocolate tarts alone.

Once he had the basics down pat, he began to get creative with his flavors. Then, in 2016, he decided to compete in the highly respected International Chocolate Awards to test his skills against those of his peers. To his surprise, he earned both a silver and a bronze medal in ICA’s Asia‡Pacific region competition, becoming the first person from Taiwan to win an ICA award. His success sparked a chocolate fever in a Taiwan that had previously lacked much of a chocolate culture.

Cheng is steeped in French techniques and the French concept of using local and seasonal ingredients. His incorporation of local ingredients like maqaw (Litsea cubeba, a lemony-flavored evergreen), jasmine flowers, pickled plums, and smoked sesame oil into chocolate has amazed many Taiwanese, who had never imagined such flavor combinations were possible.

Spotlighting southern Taiwan

We happened to visit Pingtung during its hosting of the 2019 Taiwan Design Expo. The expo’s “Super South” theme allowed locals to indulge in a bit of self-mockery by quipping that Pingtung’s lack of a high-speed rail station and direct air links made attending “super hard.”

Though somewhat out of the way, Pingtung shines in every way. The rise of the local chocolate industry even brought ICA’s Asia‡Pacific competition to Taiwan from New York in 2019. Taiwan’s chocolates proved up to the challenge, following up on 2018’s nine gold medals, 30 silvers and 29 bronzes with 13 golds, 44 silvers, 32 bronzes, and 18 special awards in 2019. Many of these were clustered in Pingtung, where the concentration of 20 to 30 cocoa farms and chocolate producers attracts visitors from far and wide.

Zeng Zhi-yuan Chocolate participated and achieved an especially high level of acclaim: in 2018 its medals in the Asia‡­Pacific regionals earned it the right to take part in ICA’s World Final in Italy, where it won four golds.

Zeng says his customers “forced” him to open a shop. The simply decorated chocolates he sells from his storefront in Pingtung’s Neipu Township have attracted a steady stream of both foreign and domestic customers. The shop buzzes with the hum of the cocoa grinders that operate around the clock in the back.

Estate-grade chocolate?

Taiwan’s cocoa farmers have grown more confident as the awards have piled up, but the industry still faces a number of challenges to its long-term growth.

First of all, local cocoa beans are on the expensive side. Factors such as fragmented fields and high labor costs make it difficult for local growers to be price-competitive with growers in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia. In fact, the local product costs five to ten times as much as beans from those regions. Unable to produce in large volumes, or sell via large-scale commercial channels, local growers are instead developing estate-grade beans that highlight the local terroir. 

A second issue is that it isn’t clear which varieties of cocoa they are producing because local farmers have imported many foreign varieties, crops have been randomly cross-pollinated, and farmers have cultivated intentional crosses. Growers have now begun grafting plants to ensure the purity of their varietals.

However, the situation is not all to the bad. “As one of the latest comers to cocoa development, Taiwan’s cocoa has been crossed repeatedly. But this gives it a more balanced flavor,” says Warren Hsu, founder of Fu Wan Chocolate. His first chocolate, the balanced and refined “Fu Wan Taiwan #1 62% Ping Tung,” won the favor of ICA’s judges, taking a gold medal at the ICA World Finals in November 2019.

Processing is another challenge. Most people in the cocoa industry admit that even though the Pingtung County Govern­ment made a big push to provide technical assistance a few years ago, Taiwan isn’t like traditional equatorial production areas, which are hot year-round. Taiwan’s winter weather requires processors to gain experience adapting to local conditions and making the constant adjust­ments neces­sary to produce the flavors they envision.

Some farmers have begun working together to improve product quality and open up new markets. “You need at least 500 kilos of cocoa pods to fill a single fermentation tank. If you’re using only your own beans, the quality of the fruit can fluctuate. And what do you do if you don’t have enough to fill the tank?” asks Chiu Chun-wen, founder of TC Cocoa.

Chiu Chun-wen, his brother Chiu Chun-yu, and 12 other growers formed a production and marketing group representing six hectares of chocolate fields that reliably produce more than 500 kilos of cocoa pods ­every two weeks. This rate of production has enabled them to accumu­late a great deal of experience in fermenting cocoa. The beans are subsequently roasted, graded, and then processed in accordance with their particular characteristics. Those with the best flavor become dark chocolates, while chocolate from second-grade beans is mixed with cream to make ganache confections.

Chocolate meets...

For reasons of historical chance and necessity, most of the world’s cocoa producers have always been nations with hot climates within 20 degrees of latitude from the ­equator, while most chocolate consumers have been located in the cooler higher latitudes. When the “from bean to bar” movement, in which the entire chocolate production process is managed by one company, got started roughly ten years ago in the United States, it still used imported ingredi­ents. Taiwan, however, has extended this model to one that runs “from tree to bar.”

While Taiwan’s domestic market is currently quite small, with Taiwanese consuming an average of just 0.5 kg of chocolate per person per year, chocolate makers universally believe that it won’t be hard to get Taiwanese consumers to appreciate fine chocolate. They therefore feel that the market is on the verge of taking off. After all, boutique coffee culture is already flourishing in this land of tea.

Noting the correlation between chocolate and other food products, Wilma Ku, a food hunter and food-brand innovator, created the COFE and COTE brands.

Ku’s brands reflect both her playfulness and her ambition. “I started them just because I love coffee and I love chocolate. But I quickly realized that coffee and chocolate have very similar appeals: both emphasize origin and variety, and they develop their flavors in similar ways—from terroir and variety through fermentation and roasting. We also talk about coffee having cocoa flavors, and hear cocoa being described as having coffee notes. Plus, Taiwan produces both.”

COFE draws on the process for making white chocolate, mixing whole coffee beans, cocoa butter pressed from Pingtung cocoa beans at low temperature, and a small amount of sugar to produce an “edible coffee” reminiscent of chocolate.

Meanwhile, COTE, whose slogan is “tea to bar,” makes tea-flavored chocolates using the whole leaves of eight classic Taiwanese teas rather than brewed teas. Unlike most makers of tea-flavored chocolates, Ku doesn’t add powdered milk to hers to counter the astringency of the tealeaves. Instead, she uses locally produced soybean powder, creating a surprising new application for the legume.

Cheng Yu-hsuan, who hopes to one day plant his flag on chocolate’s “front line” in Paris, has observed that Euro­peans see East Asia as basically Japan and some other countries, and imagine Japanese flavors as limited to pomelo and macha. He says that if he were to open a shop in Paris, he’d like to continue to sell his “Taiwanese-style” chocolates in hopes of introducing a broader range of East-Asian flavors to this huge and stable market.

Local chocolate culture has become the newest addition to Taiwan’s global export lineup, one that Taiwanese farmers and chocolate makers, themselves recent additions to chocolate’s long lineage, are seeking to develop in new ways.

Relevant articles

Recent Articles

繁體

甜蜜的野望

台灣巧克力的世界之路

文‧蘇俐穎 圖‧林旻萱

台灣的美好,不走出國門、不深入遠地,還真不知道。雖是東方的蕞爾小島,多變的地理氣候卻孕育出豐饒物產,農民與職人攜手無間,專成就人之所以為的不能。誰料想得到,繼高品質的咖啡、威士忌與葡萄酒,今在國境以南的屏東,又崛起新興的可可產業,再度讓島國之名,昂揚國際。


就像茱麗葉畢諾許主演的電影《濃情巧克力》,保守小鎮的居民為巧克力所神魂顛倒,不能自已。巧克力有種神奇的魔力,雖源於中美洲,因著西方海權殖民的力量,流傳到海外,令全世界的人著迷。

美食作家謝忠道在《巧克力千年傳奇》中如此寫道:「在這上千年的可可豆歷史裡,巧克力從印第安人的錢幣,變成歐洲宮廷裡國王情婦的催情劑,從南美洲土著的飲料,成為現代人的高級甜食,巧克力並不一直是我們認識的樣子。」

可可樹引進福爾摩沙的時間,最早可追溯至日治,日本人由印尼爪哇引進,卻但因種植與加工技術無法克服,以失敗告終。近二十年,種苗商與農友重新投入,性喜濕熱的可可樹終於在屏東扎根成蔭。

這幾年,國人在國際重要的巧克力賽事鋒芒畢露,也順勢喚醒消費者,原本你我只認得M&M's或七七乳加,但如今絕對有更充分的理由,踏入進階的精品巧克力世界。

海歸職人,詮釋在地風味

就座落台北市仁愛圓環旁、巷仔內的「畬室」(Yu Chocolatier),店主人鄭畬軒近來才在臉書上回顧,從2013年從法國海歸、一路走來的心路點滴。

製作著訴諸感性的巧克力,鄭畬軒卻比任何人都理性。從他的修業之路結束,回到台灣,誓言「反攻巴黎」的他,開始步步為營。

畬室開張,從最基礎、也最經典的品項開始蹲馬步,坊間甜點店的巧克力甜點不過點綴性的一兩種,但光就巧克力塔,畬室在最高峰時期一口氣推出七、八種。

直到團隊在基本的經典款已游刃有餘,才開始揮灑風味上的創意。想了解自己水平的鄭畬軒,2016年參加業界最具公信力、譽為「巧克力界奧斯卡」的ICA(International Chocolate Awards世界巧克力大賽),居然抱回亞太區一銀一銅,是台灣史上第一人,沒有巧克力文化的台灣一度掀起一股巧克力熱。

受法式技巧涵養的他,同樣崇奉法人「吃當季、吃在地」的理念,當他開始運用本土素材的馬告、茉莉花、醃梅子、柴燒麻油……做成經典的夾心巧克力,許多台灣人紛紛驚豔:「原來這些味道也可以用在巧克力裡?」

但加入在地食材並不是刻意之舉,「尤其我們對自己的文化都有很鮮明的想像,像提到芒果,就會想到剉冰、芒果乾。這固然是我們對自己的理解,但我更在意,這個東西必須像日本的拉麵,是世界認同的語言。」

鄭畬軒說:「創作的時候,我希望靈感是自然產生的,很歐式的也罷,或許恰好有台灣的元素在,這會比一開始刻意做出來的更自然。」

好比一枚雪莉桂圓巧克力,定調在黑色果乾、木質調的風味基礎,其中有著台人備感親切的煙燻桂圓,也有洋人不陌生的雪莉桶威士忌,人人都能從熟悉的角度出發作探索。面向國際市場的鄭畬軒,試圖藉巧克力,搭建起一座橫跨歐亞的橋梁。

可可產業崛起,點亮國境以南

採訪之際恰好碰上今年在屏東舉辦的台灣設計展,展覽的主題「超級南」,這讓在地人自我揶揄,高鐵到不了,沒有飛機直達的屏東,確實「超級難」。

不過,雖然是邊陲之地,屏東各方面大放異彩,伴隨著「可可新產區」的榮耀,讓ICA亞太區域賽從紐約移師到台灣舉辦,台灣業者也不負眾望,2018年拿下9金30銀29銅,2019更上一層,勇奪13金44銀32銅與18個特別獎,群聚了二、三十個莊園、品牌的產業聚落,也讓遊客甘願不辭千里前來朝聖。

在這當中,曾志元巧克力名氣尤其響亮,先在亞太區獲獎,取得資格再赴義大利參加世界盃,抱回四金的好成績。

過去從沒過要以巧克力謀生的曾志元,原本只想取可可油脂來做手工皂,因地利之便向農友收購了好幾年,後來在老婆的支持下,購買最陽春的小型研磨機、大理石板、刮板與模具,做成巧克力磚(bar)投件,沒想到勢如破竹,從義大利回台後,「曾經一天就接到超過300通詢問電話,聽到巧克力都害怕。」曾志元幽默地說。

「被客人逼著開店」的他,在內埔倉促啟動了門市,裝潢雖然簡單,客人卻始終絡繹,甚至不乏外國客慕名前來。店裡頭不曾停歇的低頻嗡嗡聲,緣於「前店後廠」的設計,門市後方的加工室,研磨機正24小時馬不停蹄地趕工。

發展莊園級巧克力「可」不「可」?

得獎讓農友對種植可可更有信心,但產業想走長走遠,還有許多關卡。

台灣因為可可豆價格奇高,農地破碎、人力成本高等因素,難以與非洲、拉丁美洲與東南亞競價,動輒別人的五到十倍價差,既然無法以量取勝,走不了大宗採購的商業豆路線,這讓業者心無旁騖,朝向突顯風土特質的莊園級可可豆發展。

接踵而來的隱憂,是品種不清的問題。外來的可可品種本來就多,還會異花授粉,農友交雜栽種,是產量少、風味優的Criollo,還是產量高、風味次等的Forastero,還是兩種雜交的Trinitario?就連農友都無法掛保證。因此,近年開始有農友投入嫁接,確保品種純正。

「不過,作為可可發展的最下游,台灣可可經過不斷地混種,在風味表現上也比較均衡。」福灣巧克力莊園創辦人許華仁依舊樂觀。就像咖啡一樣,單品咖啡所標榜的是風味上的明亮度,經拼配的的調合豆則講求四平八穩、親近宜人,由他所研發的第一支巧克力「台灣一號62%」,就以平衡、優雅的特性,抱回2019年ICA世界盃的金牌。

再來,是製程。可可和咖啡的生產程序雷同,仰賴微生物介入,藉發酵過程來形塑風味,但是發酵的know-how,牽涉溫度、濕度、氣候、時間、菌種,是每家業者的不傳之祕。

大部分的可可業者都承認,雖然縣政府幾年前大力培力技術,但台灣終究不如傳統赤道帶上的產區,終年如夏,屏東夏有颱風,冬有寒流,想做出心目中的風味,得依照條件配合上經驗,從細節中不斷調整。

為了提升產品品質,開拓市場,開始有農友放下單打獨鬥,改走團體戰術,「可可單桶發酵的量,少說要500公斤,如果只用自己的豆子,果實品質又難免有起伏,若是遇上產量不足,該怎麼辦?」TC巧舖創辦人邱濬文說。

邱濬文、邱濬宇兄弟倆與十幾位可可農友組成產銷班,將農地拉大到六甲,可以穩定兩週收果一次,每一批次都超過500公斤,藉著密集的製作頻率,從中累積發酵經驗,到了烘焙好的可可豆,則依品質分級、適才適性加工,風味最突出的做成黑巧克力,次等的加入鮮奶油修飾,做成生巧克力。

當巧克力遇上……

是歷史的必然與偶然,一直以來,巧克力的生產國多在燠熱的南北緯20度以內,消費國卻位於寒冷的高緯。近十年前,從美國吹起了「From bean to bar」(從可可豆到巧克力磚都在一家店完成)的風潮,用的往往還是進口原料。直到最北界產區的台灣成了例外,甚至有條件進一步奢談「From tree to bar」。

雖然就目前消費市場看來,台灣每人每年在巧克力的消費量不過少量的0.5公斤,與歐美國家動輒七、八公斤,與日本的2.5公斤,還有不少成長空間。但職人們總說,要台灣消費者辨識精品巧克力的好,應不是難事,市場崛起指日可待,畢竟台灣精品咖啡文化興盛,還是茶的原鄉。

食材獵人、食品牌的創新者顧瑋,就因此注意到巧克力與其他飲品的呼應。已有許多「成名作」的她,在繼「在欉紅」、「土生土長」、「米通信」以後,將可可與台灣的咖啡、茶文化跨界連結,催生出了新品牌「COFE」、「COTE」。

這是顧瑋的玩心,也是企圖心,「一開始只是因為,我愛喝咖啡,也喜歡吃巧克力,很快地就發現到,精品咖啡與精品巧克力訴諸的價值很像。像是強調產區、品種;風味發展的歷程也類似,是從風土、品種、發酵製程、烘焙裡發展出來的;談咖啡會講到可可味,可可會聽到咖啡味的形容詞,而且,台灣都是產區。」

她從白巧克力的作法取經,以「南投國姓向陽咖啡莊園的日曬咖啡」、「嘉義阿里山卓武山咖啡莊園的蜜處理咖啡」、「屏東三地門石頭咖啡莊園的水洗咖啡」,偷天換日取替巧克力磚裡的可可豆,原粒咖啡豆與低溫壓榨的屏東可可脂、少量的冰糖結合,做成似巧克力又非巧克力,「可以吃的咖啡」。

打著「Tea to bar」口號的COTE,用上三峽碧螺春、坪林包種茶、高山烏龍、凍頂烏龍、木柵鐵觀音、東方美人、台東烏龍紅茶、魚池紅玉紅茶……等八種經典台茶,同樣是完整的原葉,而非沖煮出來的茶湯,為了抑制茶葉的苦澀,顧瑋不願如坊間的茶巧克力,加入奶粉來修飾風味,反倒神來一筆地用上了本產的金珠黃豆粉,意外地為雜糧應用開出了一條新路。

盼著有朝一日能在一線戰區的巴黎插旗的鄭畬軒曾經說,在歐洲,東方幾乎等同日本與其他國家,日本味則不外乎柚子與抹茶,歐洲人的東方風味想像還很狹窄,因此即便赴巴黎開店,依舊希望供應具台灣風味的巧克力,希望為這個穩固且龐大的市場,「介紹更寬廣的東方風味。」他說。

恰似這番話,當流轉千年的巧克力來到了台灣,台灣之於巧克力文化,意義不僅是最新躋身全球版圖的另一小片拼圖,站在許多饒富新意的有趣位置,台灣農民、職人的野望,是想從可可流傳帶最下游出發,嘗試拓展出不一樣的想像。

X 使用【台灣光華雜誌】APP!
更快速更方便!