In a tastefully designed cafe in Hyderabad, a flutist plays a tune facing an audience dressed in all green. The music is meant to enliven that tall spectator. It may not sway or clap, but it is standing tall, and that’s what matters to the musician.
At Manam Chocolate Karkhana, a newly opened craft chocolate store at Banjara Hills in Hyderabad, chocolate is taken seriously. The audience comprises a lone cacao tree, planted aesthetically inside the indoor seati ng space, and music therapy is applied to ensure the tree survives the unfavourable terrain.
In Andhra Pradesh’s West Godavari district, known for having the highest cacao production in the country, farmers and workers adhere to strict protocols. Manam sources cacao from a select group of progressive farmers who agreed to work according to their preferences. Men and women sing songs to foster a sense of unity while carefully breaking the cacao pods with wooden clubs instead of sickles, as it could damage the beans inside. Once again, Manam takes every step of its chocolate-making process very seriously.
The Hyderabad-based brand, founded by entrepreneur Chaitanya Muppala doubles up as an R&D factory of chocolates where extreme care is taken, right from scientifically nurturing cacao trees to unconventionally developing chocolates, all aimed at enriching the flavour and taste of their diverse range of end-products.
Unlike Charlie, who had to win a golden ticket to enter Willy Wonka’s fantasy chocolate factory in ‘Charlie and Chocolate Factory’ movie, Manam (which translates to ‘We’ in Telugu) Kharkana (factory) is more realistic, yet equally fascinating and accessible to everyone.
The entrance to the outlet is in the form of a giant chocolate tablet, and customers are warmly welcomed by the sight of a thick chocolate fountain. Once inside, you will notice the hand-casted terrazzo flooring inspired by cacao plantations. Adorning the walls is a clear message about the philosophy of the team behind Manam—they are farmers, fermenters, chocolatiers and storytellers, all rolled into one.
On the colourful shelves are Manam’s tablet collections, which includes 43 different varieties. Most notable among them is the ‘Single farm series’. Simply turn the bar around, open your camera and scan the code and voila! You are transported to the farm from which the chocolate’s cacao beans were sourced. It includes the farmer’s name and photos of the farm as well as the process involved in it. This is one way Manam wants to recognise and appreciate its farmers.
In West Godavari district, Manam, through its sister concern Distinct Origins, has partnered with 100 farmers cultivating over 1,500 acres of cacao farms. The majority of other farmers in the region are involved in supplying cacao to industrial-scale production by multinationals. Chaitanya, the founder of Manam and District Origins, invested close to three-four years to study the market and has initiated a movement to focus on improving the genetics of the cacao farms in this part of the country.
Farms associated with Manam broadly undergo five distinct steps, which constitute an elaborate exercise compared to the traditional way of mass cultivation and processing followed by other farmers.
The first step is harvesting where each tree-ripened pod is cut only at the peak of its flavour. Each cacao tree is capable of producing 20-30 pods. The next step involves breaking the pod to separate the outer shell from the healthy beans. From here, the seeds go into the exclusive fermentery of Distinct Origins. The beans and its surrounding white pulp extracted from a pod are placed in wooden boxes lined with banana leaves and jute bags. Over a 6-8 day period, the beans undergo a series of biochemical reactions to develop aroma and flavour. Post that, the beans are dried, alternating between exposure to sun and shade, to remove excess moisture for a period of one to two weeks. The final stage involves sorting and bagging, where defective seeds are separated, and only the high-quality beans are bagged and dispatched to the Manam Chocolate Karkhana in Banjara Hills.
The rest of the journey unfolds here. Batches of dried beans are roasted, cracked, milled, couched and tempered through various machines that are on display in transparent enclosures at the store. The customers can observe these processes to get a better understanding of what goes into making chocolates. Once the fine chocolate is ready it lands up on the table of head chef, Ruby Islam and her team, who transform the main ingredient into craft chocolates and confections.
On the menu are bonbons, truffles, fudge, brownies and cubes made with various combinations including local banana varieties like Chekkar Keli. Additionally, there are chocolate snacking options like crispy clusters and barks, which are hand-broken chocolate slabs. One of their products recently won an award at the International chocolate awards as well.
Still craving knowledge about chocolate? Then head to Manam classroom, where workshops are held for tasting sessions and knowledge exchange on the topic. There’s also a corner where one can order a customised chocolate tablet, similar to ordering a Subway, share your name, pick your ingredients and in a few minutes you have your own chocolate bar printed with your name. Manam has indeed set the chocolate ‘bar’ really high for its competitors.