From bean to bar–to the world
The thin, brown paper sachet feels delicate in my hands—its refined, matte texture interrupted only by a smooth, salmon-pink pentagonal label. The artwork features a playful, yet cryptic, array of symbols: rays of pink light emitting from a green sun, and colourful beans tumbling from mountain-like shapes. In the centre dance a male and female couple: two halves of a single cacao pod shaped in a heart—holding hands and revealing a deep pink core bursting with yellow confetti. What this all means, it seems, we’ll discover upon experiencing the contents.
Tearing the top off this petite packet feels almost like a trespass; yet, I go ahead. Shaking the envelope gently, my reward inches out: a glistening, wafer-thin bar of dark chocolate. No extravagant debossed logos or psychedelic patterns here: just 24 small oblongs, each patiently waiting to be discovered. I snapped off a tiny 1cm-wide block. As it melts in my mouth, it reveals a tantalizing poetry of flavours: a dark sweetness that, in time, unveils a complex fruitiness reminiscent of red berries; a noticeable acidity—but one that’s well-balanced by a round nuttiness. Moments later, I feel a palpable lift in energy, clarity and focus—and reach for more.
This 22g of goodness is the chocolate of Shabar, an emerging micro-batch chocolate producer based in Bangkok, founded by 30-year old Narut Ampakorn. Narut’s calm demeanour and measured tones belie his fiery passion for this dark ambrosia. He is part of the growing collective of young Thai craft chocolate makers seeking to elevate Thai cacao and chocolate—and put them firmly on the map. When he’s not exploring the country’s hinterlands for quality cacao, you can find him deep in R&D, concocting new formulas and techniques, facilitating workshops with renowned expert Hazel Lee—or working alongside some of Bangkok’s finest F&B establishments (including Asia’s top 50 bar, Teens of Thailand).
Cacao has actually been growing in the kingdom for over a century, though it only began to be seriously researched and produced around 40 years ago. Initially brought to Asia by the Spanish via the Philippines, the superfruit eventually made its way to Indonesia and Malaysia—and was from there introduced to Southern Thailand. While the majority of cacao is today produced in Chumphon, a large proportion is also grown in the north, in Chiang Mai; producers are now also emerging elsewhere—including Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chiang Rai—and even Khao Yai. Indeed, the bar that I’m in the midst of demolishing is Shabar’s 70% cacao dark chocolate, made from 100% single-origin beans from Chanthaburi in eastern Thailand—a region usually best-known for its durian and snake fruit.
As I finish my (Sha)bar, flip over the packet to examine the back label. The cacao couple now dance in the apex of the pentagon. Their epithet reads: ‘Heart-warming fine chocolate, crafted by Shabar to fill your day with happiness and ignite your bliss’. As I bound into my day with a newfound lightness and joy, I’d say it definitely delivers on its promise—and the artwork is a mystery no more.