Kiama Chocolate Company is a proud and passionate producer of bean-to-bar chocolate. Why? Here’s our story.
My name is Shaye Lucassen and Kiama Chocolate Company is my baby. Actually, it’s not my only “baby” – I am a Kiama businesswoman and mum to an ever-growing family. Making chocolate is the realisation of a childhood dream: I can remember, as a little girl, marvelling at the amazingly smooth, creamy brown treat, which seemed to have the magical power to unite families and friends, comfort us, and make people happy.
I’m a person who’s driven by learning. I am compelled to understand the how, what and why of things. I sought all the information I could and, through trial and inevitable error (which my children happily helped me “dispose” of), taught myself how to make chocolate.
I didn’t want to make just any chocolate. I educated myself on the way cacao beans are farmed, produced, sold and shipped. My research led me to seldom-discussed details of the international cacao market, the health ordeals and poor wages cacao farmers in third world countries endure so that multinational chocolate companies can stock supermarket shelves. I saw the lists of additives on the labels of those chocolates and wondered why anyone would eat them.
My resolve was set: I would secure cacao beans from a supplier that operated openly and transparently and provided the best opportunities for everyone involved in the process, especially the cacao farmer and their families. And I would maintain that openness through every step of my chocolate making, so that my customers could enjoy my chocolate knowing it came from a place of goodness and honesty.
ABOUT MY CHOCOLATE
All my chocolate is handmade in small batches. It’s called “bean-to-bar” chocolate making, as I buy fresh dried cacao beans, roasting and grinding them to make chocolate.
The beans I have chosen, after careful consideration, are from a privately owned social enterprise, Makira Gold, which sources cacao from farming communities in the Solomon Islands. The social enterprise ensures the farmers are paid well for their labours and has improved and modernised processing conditions in villages for the wellbeing of the communities.
Through Makira Gold’s improvements, farmers are now paid 75%-200% more than bulk commodity cacao market prices. The company arranges transport, so farmers don’t need to leave their families to take the beans to market.
Before it’s sold, the cacao is box fermented for 5-6 days to give it a depth of flavour. The beans used to be dried over smoky open fires, with resulting health risks for workers, but now they are sundried or processed in a solar bubble dryer.
All beans are stored in hermetically sealed green GrainPro bags, to protect against pests, reabsorption of moisture and mould.
This is the pretty green bag I get them in.
Once they arrive, we sort, lightly roast, crack and winnow them, separating the nibs from the husk. There’s no waste at Kiama Chocolate Company: the nibs are made into chocolate and the husks, which many chocolate makers discard, are turned into a delicious tea.
Then it’s time to grind! Nibs, cocoa butter, sugar and milk powder go into a melanger, a fancy tech refiner, for 24 hours. Then we get liquid gold!
No two batches of cacao beans taste the same. Through Makira, I experienced for the first time the effects of climate and seasons on a cacao crop. The species grown in the Solomons is primarily amelonado with some criollo, with flavour notes ranging from honey sweetness to full-bodied bitterness.
At least that’s what I’ve learned. I’m always learning and experimenting, adding a little citrus, perhaps spices or nuts, to make something delicious. Hopefully some are combinations you’ve never tried before. Like me, you can learn!
Oh, before I finish, I’m often asked about the names and look of my chocolate bars. There’s the Wheatley, the Devenney, and the McCarthy, moulded in bars that look like rocks. My town Kiama, home of my precious family, base of my businesses and origin of Kiama Chocolate Company, has had three female mayors: Ruth Devenney (1991-92), Joyce Wheatley (1992-2000) and Sandra McCarthy (2000-12). I find it empowering to know this small seaside town has recognised women in this way.
And the rocks? They represent the 400 heritage-listed dry-stone walls that ramble through the hills and valleys of the region. They’ve stood the test of time. Here’s hoping that, with your support, Kiama Chocolate Company will too!