It has been a fantastic week for Devonport Chocolates.
The Auckland-based business, which specialises in hand-made chocolates and truffles, has won a 1 Star rating at the 2017 Great Taste Awards.
The success comes with a Samoan twist.
A key part of it is Koko Moni’s chocolate, the Samoan Single Origin Trinitario Coconut Milk Chocolate. The hardworking man behind Koko Moni is farmer, Tuiatafu Nusi Moa Maualaivao. The man from Utuali’i and Malie is happy about the achievement.
The Great Taste Awards is the largest and most trusted accreditation scheme for fine food and drink.
It encourages and mentors artisan food producers, offering a unique benchmarking and product evaluation service leading to an independent accreditation that enables small food and drink businesses to compete against supermarket premium own label brands.
During an interview with the Weekend Observer, Tuiatafu admits that he has come a long way in understanding the development of the koko Samoa, considering he has a background in Agriculture, where he majored in Soil Science and Agronomy.
“The only way to develop flavor is to ferment the cocoa well,” he said. “We have two types of cocoa beans available so one is bitter than the other. So that bitter cocoa bean must be fermented well.”
Tuiatafu had spent more than 20 years of his life working overseas – including the United States.
When he came back to live, he said he found that there was no taste in the flavour of the koko Samoa people were buying off the streets and at the market.
That presented him an opportunity.
“I started off my own small experimental fermentation. I started with four days ferment, five days ferment, six days ferment, and seven days ferment.”
A key part of the process is the having trusted friends and family taste the end product and provide him with honest feedback.
“Seven days ferment was preferable by most of them so that forms the basis of my Koko Moni. I went and registered the name under the brand name so it belongs to me.”
But he didn't stop there.
“So the koko that I sell locally; Koko Moni is seven days ferment but I thought about koko for chocolate.
“People have changed their taste as well so they now want the koko that doesn't have the strong koko flavor but this auxiliary taste.
“I sent samples of these different fermentations to Hawaii and they came back with the opinion that the seven days is the most bold flavor you can get in that length of a fermentation and its very good for our koko Samoa and koko alaisa.”
Still, Tuiatafu was not satisfied.
“I went and did eight days ferment, nine days ferment, ten days ferment and then I sent samples to S.R.O.S. (Scientific Research Organization of Samoa) to get an idea of how much acidity and bitterness has reduced by the length of fermentation.”
It was there he found a secret.
“Eight days is the fermentation that I used on the cocoa bean that goes to make this chocolate that we are now reading about,” he said about the koko je supplies for Devonport Chocolates.
“I didn’t agree with this koko maka (raw koko) that people were selling because koko is not good for consumption if it’s not fermented.
“Reading the literature, it says that you have to ferment in order for the compounds in the cocoa beans to be reduced to a state where it’s good for the body to absorb because if you don’t, it just goes in and out, no benefits to that.
“All you get is high sugar because it’s bitter, so you have to add more sugar.”
Key to the success of Tuiatafu’s Koko Moni venture is his daughter, Suisala Mele Maualaivao. Both have no intention of stopping with their experiments when it comes to koko and chocolates.
They are thrilled that of more 13,000 food products submitted for the competition at the Great Taste Awards, only 35% of those were given any recognition.
According to an article written by Pacific Periscope on July 19 2016; Devonport Chocolate owner Stephanie Everitt says it has always been a goal of hers to find a local source of ethically grown cacao to produce a South Pacific chocolate.
The cacao beans are sourced from “a rare and rather unique cacao supply” giving the new chocolate higher cocoa mass solids making it ideal for sweet or savoury dishes.
“This chocolate really speaks of its origin with its dark earthy richness,” Mrs Everitt said. “…for something to taste this spectacular you have to allow time for nature and Nusi to do their work.”
The future looks bright and yummy for Devonport and Koko Moni.