Move aside, Switzerland. A new culture of Thai chocolate has entered the building, and it goes by the name of Kad KoKoa.
Now long a regular at some of the country’s most renowned hotel mini bars, and a prevalent contender at the city’s beloved chocolate buffets, Kad KoKoa has taken the region’s chocolate scene by storm, bringing their locally sourced and lovingly packaged Thai cocoa beans under the world’s spotlight. Tucked into a sleepy soi off Naradhiwat Road, we recently sipped a hot chocolate at the cosy coffee-, chocolate-, and workshop, and uncovered what makes the “dedicatedly Thai” chocolatier so special. Read on for the full scoop.
[All images courtesy Kad KoKoa]
Two lawyers walk into a chocolate shop…
Or so at least, we’re introduced to the wonderfully warm powerhouse couple behind Kad KoKoa. The brainchild of husband and wife duo Nuttaya and Paniti, the chocolate brand was born out of a mission to promote Thai cacao beans and foster a new culture of Thai chocolate – even though sweet treats weren’t truly part of the original plan for the Bangkok-based couple.
It’s a tale as old as modern time, in which the two already hugely successful lawyers sought out a life outside of the hustle of the city, travelling around the North (on motorbikes, no less), and gradually falling in love with the slow food movement. As ‘tribe leader’ Paniti puts it, “we went looking for new specialty coffee, tried a diversity of gourmet food, and enjoyed different outdoor activities, such as a simple ride in the mountains. The travels soon opened our eyes, it brought us style and favoritisms.”
One of these was the uncovering of a piece of land in the Thai countryside, gleaming with lush greenery, crisp air, and a close-to-nature ethos. Many swooning visits back and forth to Chiang Mai later, the breeding ground for a sweet Thai cocoa revolution was born.
Chiang Mai Chocolate Terroir
The self-proclaimed ‘trail blazers of the new culture of Thai chocolate’, Kad KoKoa is dedicated to using single terroirs to make all of their chocolate bars, drinks, and pastries. The Chiang Mai Grand Cru cacao is grown on an organic coffee farm in Mae Tang, notable for its unique terroir and rarity, and it’s location right on the centre of – your mind is about to be blown here – the tropical Cacao Belt, where the climate and soil foster an ideal cacao growing environment.
Yet whilst it all began with Chiang Mai, the network now spans from Chumporn and Prachuap to Chantaburi, bringing in notable awards front, right, and centre. This last fact shouldn’t faze anyone who has actually tried a bite or seven of the store’s chocolates, but it’s a worthy feat to consider when talking about chocolate on a world stage. In fact, the Chiang Mai Dark 70% chocolate recently took home the International Chocolate Award 2018 (Bronze) for Asia Pacific, and the Chantaburi Dark 70% was the 2019 Silver Award winner at London’s Academy of Chocolate. We always knew Chiang Mai was the understated and charmingly wholesome home of the good life in Thailand, but these accolades proudly bring us into a whole new playing field.
Pride in chocolate
There’s chocoholics, and then there’s Chocoholics. And most clearly, Kad KoKoa falls into a category which appeals to the true troopers of the latter.
Every Saturday morning, the outlet hosts a free walking tour of its on-site factory, educating guests on all things Thai chocolate within the midst of their small Bangkok cacao tree garden. Beyond this sweet invite into their home, the brand also regularly hosts sessions on how to pair chocolate with wine, sake, or even tea.
Yet while these workshops are an equal ratio of fun to educational, they also highlight Kad KoKoa’s founding and underlying mission from the get-go: to foster an appreciation for Thai cacao. Lest we forget, many of our earliest memories of chocolate in Thailand stem from the likes of a Milo, Ovaltine, or a street-side coco yen, and whilst definitely addictive and a formative beverage in the life of any Bangkokian, they’re a far cry from the complex tasting notes of the actual bean.
As quoted in Chocolate Connoisseur Magazine, Nuttaya outlines, “we want chocolate culture to grow and develop in our country. We want people to know how we source, grade, and get the most out of Thai cacao beans. It’s inspiring to watch them enjoy our fine chocolate.”
Pride in homeland
This last point is an important one, given that Kad KoKoa is largely about chocolate, but puts a heartfelt emphasis on it being Thai. This is evident from the design and packaging (and even colour of packaging) of each chocolate bar in the store, yet begins at the very source.
Embracing a bean-to-bar philosophy, Paniti and Nuttaya foster a close relationship with the cacao farmers they work with, encouraging ethical sourcing and sustainable practices. “We work hard in the sourcing and committing to buy cacao beans directly from the growers and the collectives who we meet and trust to work with. We help farmers and bring cacao products of Thailand to the global level, and we support Thai minority groups.”
A new culture
It’s an exciting time to be a chocolate lover in the city right now, with plenty to be proud of as a Bangkokian, a Thai, or a die-hard chocolate lover. Driven by an utterly inspiring couple with a mission to innovate and celebrate local cocoa beans, Paniti and Nuttaya are at the reigns of a new era for the sweet treat. Infusing their products with anything from jasmine and Thai tea to coconut and shiso, there’s something for everyone to fall a little bit in love for.
Cocoa? From Thailand? Groundbreaking — and utterly delicious. Chiang Mai today, tomorrow the world.
Kad KoKoa, 1076 Naradhiwat Rajanagarindra Rd., Sathorn, Bangkok, +66 83 684 3921; Open daily 8am-7pm.
This article first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Bangkok on 28 August 2019.