I got certified as India’s 1st certified chocolate taster in 2015 when most people did not look at this career as a serious option and laughed it off quite easily. Today, I taste chocolates for a living!
Nitin Chordia is living every chocolate lover’s dream. He is a certified chocolate taster and the Founder of Cocoatrait, a Bean-to-Bar chocolate brand based in Chennai. Nitin and his wife, Poonam, also have an academy to their name, Cocoashala, which works towards promoting Bean-to-Bar chocolates in India. This chocolatier is also very conscious of his carbon footprint and advocates eco-friendliness with his zero-waste chocolate, Kocoatrait. Let’s hear more about Nitin’s journey and his chocolate ventures!
Chennai Insider: India’s first certified chocolate-taster, such a unique profession. Tell us more about it and the journey that led you to chocolate tasting?
Nitin: I was a retail business consultant during the start of my work life. Chocolates were an important import category when we were setting up India’s first Gourmet food chain Godrej Nature’s Basket where I was working as a consultant in Mumbai in 2007. As part of the research to import chocolate brands into India, I interacted with several European chocolate brands and in specific an Italian bean-to-bar brand called Amedei. It was 2007 and no one spoke bean-to-bar yet in India. When I was sent a sample of plain chocolate bars for evaluation, I could taste red berries and other fruits with delicious cocoa notes. This caught my attention and this is when I started investigating this truly fascinating world of fine chocolates. We had imported and sold Amedei on Nature’s Basket shelves in 2008. My work has taken me to several countries around the world over the last decade or so and I have always followed fine chocolates very closely. One thing lead to another and I got certified as a chocolate taster from IICCT, UK after I had embarked on a 15-day chocolate backpacking trip to Belgium. I got certified as India’s 1st certified chocolate taster in 2015 when most people did not look at this career as a serious option and laughed it off quite easily. Today, I taste chocolates for a living!
Chennai Insider: Tell us about Kocoatrait. What is the story behind it?
Nitin: We are India’s 1st Zero Waste, Sustainable & Planet friendly Bean-to-Bar chocolate brand. Our inspiration for Kocoatrait comes from the Cocoa farm itself. A cocoa farm can and usually operates in a zero waste, self sustaining, circular economy model. Considering that chocolate as a product is loved by one and all and the chocolate industry is always blamed for generating a lot of single use plastic, we wanted to extend the Zero Waste concept adopted at the cocoa farm to the final product. Our packaging material is upcycled by using reclaimed Cotton and reclaimed Cocoa husk which both otherwise would contribute to landfill. This makes it paper, plastic & tree free and is also compostable, biodegradable and recyclable. We also only use water based ink for our screen printing. Screen printing itself is a very energy efficient technology. We operate in and contribute to the circular economy and the back side of our wrapper has various consumer engagement ideas. This is to help us give our consumers an option to increase the usable life of our chocolate wrapper before it goes back into the soil. This is an essential part of the circular economy. The ingredients that we use are organic and we ensure it travels the least distance to us making our chocolate overall the most carbon positive in the world. Bean-to-Bar chocolate makers in non cocoa producing countries do not have this advantage as the cocoa beans have to travel a lot to reach them. One of the ways we measure the benefits of our efforts is by the amount of single use plastic we have helped not use. We are proud to say that as of March 2020, 50 kgs of single use plastic has been prevented from reaching the landfill due to our efforts of using sustainable packaging!
Chennai Insider: Cocoashala aims to educate people on the process of chocolate making. Tell us more about your academy?
Nitin: Cocoashala has been conceptualized on the premise that India needs high quality and continuing bean-to-bar chocolate education to be imparted at all levels for the industry to spread widely and adoption to increase. Our aim is to ensure that the bean-to-bar revolution is propelled in India. We have been at it for the last 5 years. Cocoashala plays an important role in our overall efforts. We have aimed to be innovative and technology centric in the process of achieving our goals. We work with cocoa farmers and several bean-to-bar makers in different capacities. Starting from assisting farmers set up central fermentation and drying units, imparting basic to advanced levels of bean-to-bar training, helping set up turnkey bean-to-bar making units, product developments for clients and offering our institute as Infrastructure as a Service (IAAS), all, for the development of the bean-to-bar chocolate industry in India.
Chennai Insider: Your wife co-founded Cocoashala with you. How is it like working with your wife and what is her role in your chocolate journey?
Nitin: This is a blessing in disguise. In fact Poonam has been instrumental in helping us operationalize the knowledge that we had gained over the last several years and pushing the formation of the institute forward. Poonam’s sensory skills as far as chocolates are concerned are unparalleled in India. She demonstrates extreme understanding of chocolate flavors and combinations and plays an integral part of all the product development efforts that Cocoashala undertakes. We are extreme critics of each other’s work and I think that helps the cause. However, it is a challenge to keep work and personal life away from each other but we try as hard as we can because it is important to keep them disjoint to continue to progress on the work front. At office, just like at home, she is the boss!
Chennai Insider: Could you share your most memorable experience in your journey with chocolate and Cocoatrait?
Nitin: My 1st taste of bean-to-bar chocolates with Amedei is certainly a memorable experience from the start of my journey. However, if asked the “most” memorable experience, it was when I was representing India at a Indian origin bean-to-bar chocolate tasting session in Amsterdam to a packed audience of 150 chocolate lovers ! This was back in 2017. To me that was a high! It made me a truly proud Indian!
Chennai Insider: What were the challenges you faced in bringing Kocoatrait to life?
Nitin: We literally started from the scratch. Looking back it does seems like we have already run a marathon! Starting from developing and experimenting with the packaging material, to finding the right grade of wrapper, to finding the right flavor profile in the chocolate, to training the printers who work with differently abled individuals, it has taken a lot of effort. Each stage had thrown several challenges at us. We committed several mistakes but have never looked at them negatively. We do have very high self belief and strongly believe that “where there is a will, there is a way”. Fortunately for us, each closed door, opened up another beautiful opportunity. We demonstrated patience and determination and we feel that we have been rewarded when we see the final product selling on shelves at relevant retailers. We were recently awarded the second most admirable food start-up in India for 2020 by Images which is a prestigious award and recognition for us. We were given 5 minutes to demonstrate our work in Circular Economy to NitiAayog in Delhi and these are our proud moments till date and helped us keep “fueled” with enthusiasm and curiosity to help us progress further.
Chennai Insider: What are your future goals? What are your plans for Cocoatrait?
Nitin: Cocoatrait has been formed and is promoting the production, consumption and appreciation of bean-to-bar chocolates in India from 2015. Cocoatrait shall continue to invest efforts to further this cause using technology to reach a larger audience. Our aim is to reach every bean-to-bar chocolate made in India by any bean-to-bar maker to every chocolate lover in India.
Chennai Insider: What is the most fun and exciting part of doing what you do? What about it makes you the most happy?
Nitin: Each fine chocolate appreciation/tasting session is exciting because I meet new chocolate lovers, engage in chocolate centric conversations and we get to know each other’s chocolate side better!. I feel that I learn about chocolate with every conversation and engagement. The other thing that makes us extremely happy is the work we do at Cocoashala. We proudly look back at our achievements every now and then and we are pleased with the difference we have made in cocoa farmers lives, upcoming bean-to-bar chocolate makers and to chocolate lovers. Simply the number of dreams/lives we have touched and improved gives us immense satisfaction. We are inspired by what Dalai Lama famously said, “Share your knowledge. It’s a way to achieve immortality.”
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