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Bali’s Willy Wonka

A chocolate factory tries to tap new tastes in Indonesia.

Big Tree Farms, which got its start in sustainable farming, is currently the only company in Indonesia producing organic chocolate from the bean to the bar, and the only chocolate-maker that offers local farmers an above-market price for their products.

On the sourcing side there is more competition. Top chocolate maker Barry Callebaut is setting up a cacao grinding plant in Sulawesi and agribusiness giant Cargill has expressed interest in building a cacao-processing plant there too.

“Indonesia has tremendous potential to produce fermented beans and sell those into the premium dark chocolate market,” says Ripple, whose company sources its beans from Aceh, East Java, Central Java and Bali.

Built with sustainability in mind, the Bamboo Chocolate Factory, Big Tree Farm's "cathedral," as Ripple calls it is the world's largest commercial bamboo structure. (Sara Schonhardt/GlobalPost)

But first, it will have to overcome the flavor factor.


“A lot of this product was planted for volume; a lot are not suitable for chocolate,” Ripple explains, saying many grinders don’t want Indonesian beans because their buyers want “a classic cacao taste.”

The global standard for cacao flavor comes from the Ivory Coast and Ghana, the world’s two biggest producers. Ripple describes the flavor as a “mass, blocky chocolate,” like a Hershey bar. But the beans in Indonesia, producer No. 3, are cheap butter beans that typically go into grinders to be used for cocoa butter and powder.

“It’s not that the quality is inferior; it’s just not the standard.”

His company is trying to change that. With a rising middle class and changing tastes among consumers, he says now is the time to start processing high-quality chocolate at its origins.

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