You would not believe the number of ‘Willy Wonka’ quips I heard when I told my friends and colleagues that I’d be travelling to Hyderabad to visit a chocolate factory. Truth be told, I genuinely had no idea what to expect. Were there going to be Oompa Loompas? Was I going to fall into a gigantic vat of something? Could there be impromptu singing and dancing? Perhaps even a sketchy grandfather who's conned his family into thinking he's an invalid for decades?
With my imagination running somewhat amok, I set out for Hyderabad with an open mind and a palpable sense of excitement at the prospect of observing, listening, and learning about a whole new world of Indian artisanal chocolate.
Once I arrived, I realized that there was practically nothing I could’ve done to prepare myself for the level of sophistication and attention to detail that I witnessed during my short visit to the Manam Chocolate Karkhana in Banjara Hils. Everything about the space, from the facade to the shop floor to the dedicated confectionary stations is designed to envelop you in the decadent, titillating, aromatic realm that Manam’s founder Chaitanya Muppala is aiming to bring not just to the country but the whole world. Indian chocolate has not enjoyed the greatest reputation amongst global chocolatiers and this is precisely what Manam is trying to change.
Rather than imitating global standards and practices when it comes to artisanal chocolate making, Manam Chocolate is attempting to establish a new paradigm; one that potentially presents a direct challenge to some of the more unscrupulous practices currently being followed by Big Chocolate. The brand’s philosophy, vision and business model remain firmly rooted in the land and aligned with the people responsible for cultivating the beans that are the lifeblood of their chocolate.
The word ‘manam’ translates to ‘we’ or ‘us’ in Telegu and Manam sees itself as “a collective of passionate craftspeople including farmers, fermenters, chocolate makers, chocolatiers, and storytellers.” Every member of their team is dedicated to a collective vision of moulding Indian craft chocolate to the tastes of both local consumers as well as chocolate afficianados across the world.
To do so, they’ve partnered with a diverse network of farmers across the West Godavari District, covering almost 1500 acres of farmland. They’ve also taken responsibility and ownership for the entirety of the lifecycle of a bar of chocolate. Manam’s sister company, ‘District Origins’, has set up a Cacao fermentery that is aiming to revolutionize the erstwhile inferior fermentation and drying processes that have traditionally been undertaken in India. The fermentery works directly with farmers in the region and allows them to focus solely on cultivating their crops rather than working with limited resources and infrastructure while fermenting their own beans. Manam recognizes the pivotal role that farmers play when it comes to chocolate making and every bar of Manam chocolate can literally be traced back to both the farm and farmer responsible for its origin via a QR code on its packaging. This reverence for the individuals in its collective is admirable and goes a little beyond the mere lip service that some craft brands choose to rely on to sell products.
Manam’s full range of craft chocolate is staggering, particularly for an operation that’s as new as theirs is, with 45 different categories that are each made up of a total of 250+ unique offerings, each designed to promote and highlight a different aspect of the craft, artistry, care, attention and scientific method that goes into every product that is on display. Manam sees the potential in Indian cacao and has dedicated itself to realizing this over the course of the next couple of years.
The Manam Chocolate Karkhana is the physical manifestation of everything the brand stands for. It’s an experiential space that seamlessly combines a 24-hour factory, with a retail section, a chocolate lab, a chocolaterie, a multi-cuisine cafe and even a dedicated chocolate classroom where patrons can learn about Indian cacao and refine their palettes through specialized workshops and tasting sessions with expert chocolatiers. The Manam Cafe, tucked away in a scenic outdoor area towards the back, is a picturesque space which gives its patrons a whole host of delectable dishes that combine local ingredients and regional flavours with Western staples like tacos, burgers, and toasted bread. There’s also an assortment of speciality chocolate-infused coffees.
Our tour through each section of the factory took about six hours in total and even then it felt like there was so much more to see and take in.
The star of the show at Manam is undoubtedly the chocolate itself. If you were to put aside all of the extra bells and whistles including the gelato stations, the chocolate fountains, the state-of-the-art machines, the meticulously researched science, the aesthetic interiors, and even the scenic cafe, there’s something tantalizing yet wholesome about every single sliver of their chocolate. Whether you’re eating a piece of 90% dark or a blueberry-infused piece of white chocolate, it dances delicately on your tongue and fills you with a sense of warmth.
From the very first sample we were given, it became clear that their product is a far cry from the industrial, mass-produced varients we see in stores every day. What Manam is creating is very much a labour of love, care, and artisanship that could herald a long-term qualitative change for Indian chocolate across all its stakeholders, from farmers to chocolatiers to connoisseurs to everyday consumers who are just looking for something to munch on between meals.
The brand is aiming to offer Indians across the country an alternative to the mass-produced chocolate that’s become the norm and provide craft chocolate experiences that are on par and in many ways even surpass those available to our global counterparts. For the world of craft chocolate, it’s clear that Manam’s not just here to take part; they’re here to take over.
There’s beauty in the beans in Hyderabad and you truly have to see it, and taste it, to believe it.
You can follow Manam here.
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