A trip to Rajahmundry, where lies India's haven of artisanal bean-to-bar chocolates
Welcome to Bon Fiction, a fort filled with cocoa goodness and a multitude of flavors for all our chocolate lovers
As kids, we were always bribed with chocolates. But as kids, we never really dwelled on the flavors or textures, we just devoured the bars and revelled in the sweetness.. But now with limitless possibilities and being spoiled for choice, we are able to pick and bookmark our favorites. From dark, milk and white, to bars with nuts or fruits, the list goes on. But keeping our childish wants aside, and pampering my desire to only indulge in premium chocolates with rich textures. I still ponder over the question, what makes a good chocolate? So, to clarify and introduce you to what real and great chocolate is, we took a flight to Rajahmundry, a small quaint town in Andhra Pradesh.
The town is known for its fertile lands, magnificent history and agriculture. A welcoming place renowned for its hospitality, where people of the Godavari district believe in their contribution towards the society and in acts of service, as is witnessed during Pushkaram (celebration of the river). Here we met Akhil, the co-founder of Bon Fiction, a homegrown artisanal chocolate brand. The French word 'Bon' translates to good, and upon taking my first bite of the bar I have no doubts indeed.. Their chocolates have a peculiar taste and cannot be replicated, owing to the passion and dedication poured in by Akhil Grandhi and his wife Prathina Grandhi, in the entire process.
The sunset at the Godavari ghats acts as a reminder to calm yourself down and wake up to the endless opportunities tomorrow. A few kilometers and a scenic drive away from the ghat is Bon Fiction's farm. The farm is surrounded by about 200 different trees and guarded by palm and coconut plantations. In the shade, you'll find the sheltered cocoa trees. The excitement of recognizing the bean for the first time is real, as you realize and take in the fact that this fruit hanging low on the tree can be transformed into something as beautiful and widely loved, as chocolate.
The artisanal Bon Fiction chocolates you bite into today are a result of the curiosity of two extremely diligent and innovative people. They figured out a standardized way to produce and market cocoa which was grown in abundance in the fields and some of it owned by their family. Since they had the main component they gave their thoughts some momentum and began their research. With a lot of trial and error and trying to make the most of the available resources, Akhil and Prathina were able to set an SOP (standard operating procedure). And this is what makes their chocolate different from the hundreds sold in the market.
India experiences the cacao season twice annually, from September to January and April to June. Apart from manufacturing their classic chocolate, they also endeavor to help the locals and farmers. It is a nurturing relationship between the two, as the farmer's understanding of the land, seasons and the skill to cultivate is a prized possession for any entrepreneur. In peak season there are around 50 to 60 people working in the fields, where they pluck and de-seed the cocoa, which is later sent to a fermentation plant around seven to eight kilometers away.
The cocoa pods are hand plucked by these farmers and also make sure they are free from pests or insects. After the beans are fermented for almost 2 weeks they are then dried and taken to the factory. When we entered the factory for the first time it was like walking into heaven. I mean who wouldn't love a visit to a chocolate factory. The beans are roasted and broken into nibs here, which are then put in a melanger, a large grinder used to make a fine and smooth cocoa paste.
The duo had to undergo a number of trials and errors during the tasting stage, to finally decide on their 14 unique flavors. All the ingredients and flavoring components used are 100% natural, enhancing the quality of the bar. With names like The Mango Menace, The Sweet Life of Nuts and Raisins, A Rose In Pistachio Skies, Lost In Orange Haze, Out In The Dark, the nomenclature used for their exotic flavors are catchy. The packaging is also modern and engaging with illustrations on it. The bars are well infused with the flavoring agents but don't overpower the taste of the chocolate. Every bar has a different percentage of cocoa in it, starting from the 73% dark chocolate variant to the bars with 45% milk content.
I loved the Mango Menace, a 55% dark chocolate bar with a touch of Mundu chili striking the perfect balance between spice and sweetness. A bar so unique in taste is further topped with dehydrated mango chunks. If you love a classic fruit and nut then the Sweet Life of Nuts and Raisins is the one for you. Not leaving behind the true-blue fans of dark chocolates, their 75% cocoa bars prove to be the perfect options for you.
Akhil and Prathina are entrepreneurs of the age with the zeal to contribute to the community and the environment while giving the world a sweet taste of Indian artisanal chocolates. The future definitely holds something huge for them as their visionary mind is always chasing and scaling new heights and hopefully, newer and more exciting flavors for us. In the coming years we can expect new product lines while Bon Fiction broadens its horizons by expanding into different cities across the country. While currently they are serving Hyderabad in brick and mortar and online pan-India, the day isn't far when we will see Bon Fiction's chocolates having a distinct place not only in the artisanal market but also the first choice in our minds every time we crave something sweet.