India is well known for its tea, less its chocolate. Yet there is an equally delicious craft cocoa scene as we discovered on our recent trip to Tamil Nadu in South India.
We were in the region earlier this summer to visit tea gardens in the Nilgiris Hills but had heard a lot about the cocoa scene in the region and couldn’t resist a detour to one of the country’s most celebrated cocoa growers.
And so, on our descent back down the windy roads from the misty ranges of the Nilgiris, we continued our road trip through the hot, humid plains around Coimbatore cruising past coconut farms and nature reserves on the way.
A few hours later, rising almost out of nowhere were the majestic Anaimalai Hills (also known as the “Elephant Hills”) in the distance. At their base, amidst jungle, palm trees and lush tropical vegetation we had finally reached our destination, Regal Farms.
Regal Farms is a cacao farm owned by fourth generation farmer, Harish Kumar and his family, and is a little slice of heaven on earth. Cacao trees are grown here without pesticides under a canopy of coconut palms, alongside nutmeg, cardamom and other crops to diversity and keep the land healthy.
We marvelled at the plump, bright yellow bumpy oval pods growing off the tree trunks and tasted the fleshy sweet juicy fruit growing inside the pod. Once harvested, beans are then brought to a processing facility in the nearby town of Pollachi where they are fermented, roasted and further processed into chocolate. The end result is a chocolate bursting with flavour and fruitiness.
Cacao was first introduced in India in 1948 when the UK chocolate producer Cadbury set up operations in India. Initially planning to use India as a distribution hub, they quickly realised that southern India had the perfect climate and conditions for growing cacao and launched a programme to introduce cacao production. To this day, most of the cacao production grown in India is sold to Modelez (owner of Cadbury) but a very small percentage stays and is turned to pure bean to bar chocolate locally.
Having found this chocolate treasure, we couldn’t resist experimenting with the local bean and the local leaf to create an irresistible, unique blend that perfectly balances the depth of the tea with the fruit of the chocolate. After a few trials we finally found just the right combination of roasted cacao nibs and rich malty black tea which you can try for yourself here.