In India, a country with a sweet tooth, chocolate cafes are the new trend and they are here to stay By Kahini Chakraborty
In India, over the last couple of decades, there has been a gradual transition from traditional sweets to chocolates with each changing demands of customers. While earlier having chocolates was considered as a luxury indulgence, nowadays chocolatiers, chocolate companies are promoting their campaigns in a manner which encourages customers to gift chocolates on festive occasions. Seeing a positive growth in the chocolate industry in the India market, cities are also seen evolving differently in tastes and preferences. There has been a sudden surge of chocolate cafes opening up across the country like- Theobroma, Choko la, Cafe Chokolade, The Chocolate Room, Chocolateria San Churros, and many more. Kainaz Messman Harchandrai, head of production, Theobroma Foods, says, “Mumbai city is gastronomically evolving. The customer today is far more knowledgeable, well travelled, has a more developed palate and is willing to experiment with new products and flavours. We are a chocolate obsessed people.” She opines that the two main chocolate trends are less sweetness and chocolate compound. “We welcome the changing palate and work hard to get the right level of sweetness in each of our products; sweet without being sickly. There is unfortunately a growing trend of using chocolate compound in India. It is heat resistant and easier to work with but what is gained in convenience is sacrificed in taste. Theobroma is proudly compound free, we only use real chocolate.”
If seen individually, at Theobroma, chocolate outsells non-chocolate 40 times over. “People routinely (periodically, if not often) eat chocolate cakes for breakfast or have a trio of desserts for dinner. We recently served a chocolate (and wine) buffet at a party where we offered a selection of chocolate desserts with only one or two bite sized savouries to puncture the sweetness in the mouth. Our cafes are delivering more. Our corporate catering service (finger food buffets, high tea, savories and sweet platters for meetings, individual lunch or snack boxes, logo chocolates, celebration cakes, corporate gifting, employee benefit schemes) is expanding,” says Harchandrai.
Though markets are witnessing a steady growth in the mushrooming of these established chocolate cafe outlets, there are some entrepreneurs like Delhi-based Harshita Khanna, chef-owner, The Chocolate Haven, who specialises in premium quality dessert- cakes, cupcakes, chocolates, cheesecakes, mousse and more, and customises treats as per the taste preferences of her customers. She says, “Indians are well known for their sweet tooth and are nowadays very open to trying out different innovative products, giving a boost to people like us to grow on creativity. Chocolates and chocolate based offerings are gaining equal footing in the ever growing Indian dessert market, with customers looking out for unique chocolate and cupcake platters to give away instead of the traditional fare even on occasions like Diwali and weddings and for corporate distribution.” She further opines that there has been a remarkable change from times when people would run to the market last minute to pick up a cake to today’s date when a lot pre-planning takes place. Majority of customers know exactly what they are looking for, in terms of design, theme, colour scheme and flavour.
And since Khanna caters to customised orders only, they procure/ create all their raw materials fresh for each order. “Each element that goes into the making of a cake is handpicked after conducting proper quality checks. We have tie-ups directly with the manufacturers, which ensures cost savings that are passed on to customers. Every piece of chocolate, every cake is individually hand crafted with utmost care. A good amount of thought goes behind the creation of each product and we proceed with the execution only once our clients are completely satisfied with what they will be paying for,” she adds.
The Chocolate Room India which has a pan India presence with 145 stores is planning to take that number to 250 stores by end 2016. Vikas Panjabi, managing director, The Chocolate Room India says, “We have customised the products to match the Indian tastebuds because we have traditional Italian and Belgian chocolate products and sometimes people in India tend to not get the real taste out of it so we have done the changes in presentation and recipes for the customers to accept our product. Like the hot chocolate is made much thinner than how it is served in Italy.” He adds, “We are the only chocolate cafe in India serving 16 flavours of hot chocolates and 16 flavours of iced chocolate frappes. Our menu consists of more than 200 chocolate items and we were the first to launch chocolate pizza what we call Chocizza in the country. Our menu also boasts of chocolate waffles, chocolate pancakes and chocolate fondues, etc to name some of them. Also we have a strong loyalty programme across all our stores.”
US-based pastry chef Aditi Malhotra whose grandfather owns the reputed Gaylord restaurant in Mumbai, started her own shop, Tache Artisan Chocolate in New York. A graduate of the Glion Institute in Switzerland, The French Culinary Institute and winner of Zagat’s 30 Under 30 Award, Malhotra was most recently voted as one of Forbes 30 Under 30 game changers in the Food & Wine category for 2014. She says, “We are a chocolate retail shop and café that also specialises in chocolate making classes for kids and adults. We have a little bit of something for everyone at our shop from something more traditional such as champagne truffles, to something fun for the kids (our brand new smores chocolate bar), or something fun and adventurous such as my new Moroccan five spice and date truffles with peri peri which is an African chili or our passion fruit white chocolate jam. Working in the chocolate industry has given me so many opportunities- I am able to tap into markets that I never knew I could reach.”
Malhotra derives a lot of inspiration for her chocolates and flavourings from her Indian heritage. “I love using different types of spices and letting flavours unfold slowly while you are eating/ savouring one of my chocolate truffles. One of my favourite chocolates at the shop, which is now one of our signature chocolates, is my spiced chai truffle. I was inspired by my many visits to India- I am a big coffee drinker and love a good cup of coffee, but in India I get my caffeine fix from a tall cup of masala chai,” she reveals.
Elaborating on her plans for India, she says, “We are about to launch an e-commerce site for our products that can be shipped internationally. I look forward to opening up some pop-up shops in Delhi and Mumbai over the next year or so. Back here in the US, I am working hard to get my beer and wine license and will incorporate light bites like cheese and charcuterie on our menu to go along with a fabulous selection of wine, high teas, fondues and chocolate. I would love to bring this concept to India, as well.”
Reiterating the same, Panjabi says, “It is the youth and corporate culture who have set the trend of chocolate cafes in India. Another reason is the number of NRIs moving back to the country who have tasted and tried similar products in other countries. And the fact that we have grown from one to 145 stores in five years, proves that the trend is here to stay and people have accepted the concept.”
Customisation to uniqueness
As Harchandrai’s culinary journey began in France, her brand- Theobroma has a strong French affinity but the menu has changed over the years and now reflects influences from all her travels. Theobroma’s menu offers a diverse range of American, Italian and British products but is greatly influenced by her Indian and Parsi roots. Among the diverse range of offerings, she points out saying, “Brownies are our most popular product.” Adding that, “we make foods we like to eat ourselves. We use good ingredients. We have a generous hand, we keep things simple, and we make things well. We make everything ourselves, all in our central kitchen and under my supervision. We listen to our customers and deliver what we promise. The entire family is devoted to making our customers happy and making Theobroma a success.” Choko la being an Indian origin brand, feels it is essential to have Indian specialities, and hence has formulated some interesting spice and chocolate blends, like black pepper hot chocolate, eastern medley chocolate bars. In terms of their product offerings, hot chocolate is their star product and the most decadent of creations. To make all of these, Choko la uses only the finest quality coverture chocolate from Europe, and gives the chocolates a personal recipe touch to lend a texture that is silky smooth on the palate.
While as Delhi/ NCR region is seeing rapid progress, at The Chocolate Haven, Khanna elaborates, “Keeping in mind the need for sweet somethings on the go, we came up with the concept of dessert-in-a-glass, wherein the focus is on providing individual portions of various treats like cheesecakes, mousse, souffles, etc in fancy disposable glasses. For those with accentuated desi taste buds, we have come up with flavours like paan in chocolates and hybrid cakes featuring rasgullas and boondi ladoos. This festive season, we created almonds half dipped in chocolate, and these were grabbed by many, for serving to guests as well as giving away in place of the regular dry fruits.”
“Specialising in customised orders for cakes, cupcakes, chocolates and more – we make sure every individual’s need for dessert is satisfied just the way they want it. We take into consideration a myriad of aspects from tastes and preferences to the budget and accordingly do up each order on a stand alone basis. Not every customer wants the same thing. Things like the flavour, colour, design, detailing, packaging, etc play a major role in our processes. Our hampers are personalised to the extent of having photographs, messages, tags and more bundled together with themed chocolates, chocopops and tea cakes to make for a delightful gift,” highlights Khanna.
For The Chocolate Haven, over last year, there has been a lot of demand for their eggless chocolate truffle cakes. Cakes like the Gems Tumble has been a favourite with the kids while adults are on the lookout for designer options. Handmade chocolate bars, with personalised messages and quotes have gone out to all corners of the country to loved ones. “We constantly experiment and have come up with many innovative products like the dry fruit and gems pizzas and our chocolaty take on the southern fruit pineapple. Our seasonal cakes such as mango and strawberry always sell like ‘hot cakes’,” says Khanna.