UPDATE: We’ve just revisited the factory and they now run daily tours at 14:00, 35,000 rupiah if you call in advance, (50,000 rupiah if you just drop in, 100,000 rupiah for a tour outside regular hours). The cafe is yet to open but should be ready in July. The chocolate is still delicious, and a new product worth snapping up is their liquid coconut palm nectar — it’s palm sugar a step earlier in the processing and it’s amazing.
Bali‘s Big Tree Farms has been around since 2000, starting small but then developing into one of Indonesia’s top growers of sustainable produce; today the company deals with some 9,000 small farmers and exports products such as pyramid sea salt from Kusamba and the world’s first certified organic coconut palm sugar. Last year they opened their new headquarters, which is also the world’s largest commercial bamboo structure. And sure, that’s interesting from an architectural and a business perspective. But from my perspective, and possibly yours? It’s set to be Southeast Asia’s first bean to bar chocolate factory. Your correspondent thought she should check it out.
The opening party of the headquarters was held on November 11, 2011, but the building is still being completed, though it doesn’t appear to be too far from being polished off now. Tours are open to the public, though you should book in advance — it’s 25,000 rupiah for a tour through the building and factory, which is guided by staff member Ningsih and takes about an hour.
It will be made more formal down the track, with a welcome hot chocolate drink and proper samples of products, but at the moment it’s a casual affair — though, importantly, it did still involve a few squares of their amazing 70% chocolate (the other 30% is comprised of their organic coconut palm sugar, which helps create a complex, full-bodied, caramel flavour).
Ningsih took me through the chocolate-making process step by step. My visit occurred on the first day the factory was back to work after a few days off for Bali’s Galungan festival, so the machines were just gearing up for operation again. Above is the machine, an Italian, decades-old machine, that breaks organic cacao beans, sourced from Bali and Sumatra, down to cacao nibs.
Next the nibs get ground in a machine called the Ammann, which weighs in at seven tonnes and was built in 1932, for 12-20 hours.
Then it gets placed, in smaller batches, in another machine (locally made) to be ground and refined even further — we’re talking particles crushed to the several millimicrons level — for something like eight hours.
Then the pure chocolate gets mixed with coconut palm sugar to create what will end up being Big Tree Farms’ chocolate. Or it gets moved to a pressing machine, which slams five kilograms of chocolate for an hour straight to create 1.8 kg of cocoa butter plus a substance that becomes pure cacao powder. Mmmm hmmm, all of it is good, and all of it is good for you.
The building isn’t just about the chocolate; other stuff happens, such as cashew nut packaging, and the distribution of their wide range of retail products, across Bali but also to the United States and Europe.
Below is the warehouse — air flows through the bamboo slats that are the walls. Some production areas (such as, I think, the cashew nut room above) have been concreted in order to meet Indonesian food health regulations (but still over woven bamboo for strength rather than brick or steel). But most of this building is simply bamboo, with some floors coconut wood as well.
The factory is located about 20 minutes from Ubud, and it took me about 45 minutes from Seminyak. If you’re a chocolate lover and you’ve never seen chocolate being made, I’d absolutely recommend a tour here; if you’re an architecture buff, the building really is fascinating; and if you’re interested in fair trade and socially responsible business, well, you’ve got a pretty sweet reason to visit here too.
By Stuart McDonald
Last updated on 18th April, 2015.