Dried shrimp and fish flakes are probably the last things that you’d expect to find in your chocolate. But Fossa Chocolate, a craft chocolatier based in Singapore, is all about pushing the boundaries of taste, conjuring new varieties every one to two months that surprise even the most passionate chocolate lovers.
Their shrimp and bonito dark chocolate was inspired by a trip to the famed Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. Throwing seafood into chocolate provided an unexpectedly tasty umami-flavoured treat, reminiscent of Japanese cuisine is so well-loved for.
The trio behind Fossa is founder and chief chocolate maker Jay Chua, chocolatier Charis Chia, and business and marketing director Yilina Leong. They make what’s known as bean-to-bar chocolate, whereby the same company controls every stage of the production process.
All of Fossa’s chocolate is made by hand using the finest quality ingredients, producing 500 to 600 bars a day that are sold through its online store and selected retailers. It offers 18 varieties, including favourites such as sea salt, lychee rose dark milk chocolate, candied ginger and Uji matcha.
“The Uji matcha chocolate is made from ‘watakake’-grade matcha – the highest grade of culinary matcha,” says Leong.
While its products have naturally found popularity with foodies and chocolate lovers, the barista community is also a fan of Fossa’s single-origin chocolates. Like roasting coffee beans, roasting cacao bring out the beans’ complex, natural flavour notes. “We are able to draw these flavours out from the cacao through careful curation of the beans we bring in and refined roasting techniques,” she explains.
Store-bought brands are made using chocolate compounds, and often have high sugar levels to make up for the loss in taste.
“Health-conscious chocolate lovers also love this range because they are made with only two ingredients (cacao beans and sugar) which make them vegan, and free of gluten, additives or substitutes. Some of the cacao we use are also organic,” Leong says.
From cocoa pod to chocolate bar
The journey from bean to bar typically spans continents and for Fossa begins with sourcing cacao from growers and fermentaries. The best cacao accounts for just the top 5 per cent of the world’s cacao crop and this is a major factor in the higher price of Fossa’s chocolate, which sells for SG$8 to $10 for a 200-gram bar.
The quality is most evident in Fossa’s single-origin bars, which are made only with cacao beans from the world’s top-producing regions, such as Tanzania, Indonesia and Madagascar.
Farmers in these fertile regions have cultivated cocoa for several generations. They work with cacao fermenters, who have perfected their techniques over many years.
Leong says the fermentation process is key – the correct technique will release the optimal level of taste required by chocolate makers – and it usually takes five to seven days. That is why bean-to-bar chocolatiers are picky about who they work with because poorly fermented beans make for an unsatisfactory product.
Fossa names their single-origin products after the farmers or estates from where the cacao has been sourced in order to educate consumers on where their chocolate comes from. For instance, Kokoa Kamili is named after the Kokoa Kamili Fermentary in Tanzania.
After the beans have been fermented and sorted, they are brought into Fossa’s factory where flawed beans and debris are removed.
The beans are carefully roasted to further develop the flavours. Leong describes the roasting process as a crucial flavour-determining step, with each batch of cacao beans roasted just enough to bring out the right taste profiles.
The roasted beans are then cooled before they are passed through a machine to crack and remove the shells. Broken down into cocoa nibs, it is grounded into a paste called cocoa liqueur, which has a texture similar to nut butter. Sugar is added to smoothen the chocolate’s texture.
The cocoa liqueur is left to churn in a cacao bean grinder (known as a melangeur) for 48 hours. After this, the liqueur is tempered just enough to give it gloss and a rigidity for a “clean snap”. It is poured into moulds, cooled further into bars and the final product is hand-wrapped.
Putting Singapore on the chocolate map
The founders’ love for bean-to-bar chocolate began when a friend brought them a single-origin chocolate bar from Madagascar as a Christmas gift. They had not tasted such fine chocolates before and were “blown away” by its taste, says Leong.
“With Singapore being renowned for our high food quality and safety standards, we were appalled by the difficulty to find fine, real chocolates that are not made from mass-produced covertures or compounds,” she says.
“Since then, we’ve embarked on our chocolate discovery journey – sourcing beans directly from farms and experimenting with micro-batch making in our home kitchen.”
All three were making chocolate at home just for fun, hand-peeling cacao beans and roasting them in their own ovens. But as word of their chocolates spread they decided it was time for them to make a career switch.
With some savings in tow, they gave up their comfortable office jobs and channelled their energies into Fossa. It was a leap of faith, says Leong.
“We never thought it’d become a business. As more people tried our chocolates and there was demand, we reached the turning point where there was no way we could fulfil the orders without dedicating more time and resource. That was when we decided to pursue this full time,” she says.
They named their new outfit Fossa, after a cat-like creature native to Madagascar. “The fossa is also nimble, agile and well-known for its fierce and wild personality. This is similar to our approach in chocolate making, where we constantly challenge ourselves to create bold yet delicious and memorable flavours,” she says.
Taking the leap into the unknown has paid off for the trio, with the brand garnering recognition both in Singapore and abroad.
Last year, the salted egg cereal blond chocolate won a Bronze Award at the Asia Pacific International Chocolate Awards and Leong says it is “an all-time favourite”. “Surprisingly, even our customers in the US and Canada love it,” she adds.
Fossa has moved production from a shared kitchen into its very own facility and now exports to the Maldives and Hong Kong, as well as the US and Canada. But quality is something they will not compromise in spite of growing demand, so each batch of chocolate will be kept “small”, says Leong.
“We now have a small team of chocolate makers and chocolatiers working very passionately to produce fine authentic chocolate from cacao beans. From roasting the beans, grinding and tempering in small batches and finishing them in hand packaged chocolate bars, the process is time-consuming but rewarding.”