Bean to bar Nugali to open visitor center and Greenhouse-filled mini rainforest

By Jenny Eagle

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Cocoa Chocolate

Hot off the heels of winning silver at the International Chocolate Awards, Nugali is growing bigger and better with plans to open a visitor center next year, the launch of a Cupuaçu product and a Greenhouse-filled mini rainforest.

Co-founders, husband and wife, Ivan Blumenschein and Maite Lang, take great pride in their bean to bar chocolate which comes from a single origin source, a farm in Bahia, Brazil.

International Chocolate Awards

Ivan Blumenschein

The duo are gaining recognition for their hard work, having placed silver in the Plain/Origin Dark Chocolate Bar category, at the US International Chocolate Awards for their Dark Chocolate Serra do Conduru (80% cocoa), second only to Soma Chocolatemaker for its Porcelana 70% from Canada, which took Gold.

Now plans are afoot to build a second factory at its headquarters in Pomerode, Brazil, designed for visitors to come and see the processing steps and different stages of manufacturing chocolate via a glass wall and it is building a greenhouse with its own cocoa trees, which are ready to be moved in.

In an exclusive interview, Blumenschein talks to ConfectioneryNews about the challenges of producing a product from bean to bar with only natural ingredients, the importance of Bahia’s ‘cabruca’ sustainable process and survival amidst a turbulent economy.

Both with a background in engineering, the father-of-two met his wife while working in the flight testing department at Brazilan aircraft manufacturer Embraer. They both traveled a lot as part of their jobs and friends and relatives would always ask them to bring back specialty chocolate from Europe.

As chocolate lovers themselves the pair hit upon the idea of starting their own firm and in 2004 their dream started to become a reality.

At the time, imported products were not common in Brazilian supermarkets. The Brazilian chocolate industry was not following European trends at the time. The ingredients were replaced with substitutes such as synthetic vanillin instead of vanilla, hydrogenated butter instead of cocoa, replacing ingredients to make it more accessible, for people who wanted real chocolate they were abandoned so that was the niche we wanted to tap into​,” said Blumenschein.

It took us a year to develop the formulas and make everything work, we visited a lot of factories abroad but most manufacturers don’t produce the chocolate themselves they buy it from a supplier and then make it from that​.

'Dark chocolate has been increasing at a fast pace'

At first our most popular product was milk chocolate then Brazil nuts, but in the last few years dark chocolate has been increasing at a fast pace and our 70% cocoa is becoming the bestseller. Brazilian tastes are changing. This happened with wine in the last 20 years, the wine here was very sweet with a lot of sugar which is considered unacceptable now, this has changed a lot and today we have good qualities of wine, people are familiar with varieties of grapes, they know good wine should not taste sweet​.

The same goes for chocolate, people have access to more information moving from sweet to high content cocoa chocolate, even our milk chocolate has up to 40% of cocoa. People want less sweet taste and they are more concerned about the health benefits. Cocoa is praised for its antioxidants, it’s higher than green tea and red wine, but this is only present in the cocoa not the sugar. We believe our dark chocolate will become the best seller in the next few years​.”

Blumenschein said when he and his wife started to manufacture their own chocolate the growers in Bahia had no knowledge of the process of bean to bar as it was completely new to them and they had no experience of the next stage after they collected the beans.

As a result, the entrepreneur worked with a fifth generation family of cocoa growers to develop the taste and the drying to achieve what they wanted.

It was pioneering of us at that time and we learned a lot and the growers learned a lot about the product they make and the chance to see how the beans will taste. In the past they had sold the beans to large mass manufacturers who processed it themselves​.

Depending on the climate, the cocoa will change the taste of the cocoa beans, roasting allows us to alter the flavor, we try to do this as little as possible to not destroy the taste of the beans​.

Most bulk beans are not edible. If you can eat the bean that shows it is a good quality, over-roasting creates more bitterness and flavorings mask ‘off flavors’​.” 

‘Witches Broom’

Bahia was once home to one of the biggest cocoa plantations in Brazil in the 80s which was ultimately devastated by the ‘Witches Broom’ fungus. Blumenschein said Brazil used to export up to 450,000 metric tons (MT) of cocoa beans a year, but after the plague this was reduced to 50,000 MT, a little more than a tenth than what it was originally producing.

Many of the growers gave up growing cocoa and abandoned the land. For the ones who strived to keep the plantation going some of them tried to change perspective and instead of producing bulk cocoa they started producing quality gourmet cocoa, looking for better varieties, taking into consideration of all the steps during production, harvesting, and drying​,” he added.

It is essential to having a good cocoa bean for a quality product and we are happy we were pioneers of this. Gourmet cocoa achieves a higher price of sale than cocoa as a commodity, this is also a way to keep those cocoa growers in business and not moving to another economic activity​."

Sustainable ‘cabruca’ cocoa bean production comes from the word ‘ca’ for forest and ‘bruca’ Portuguese ‘to create a path’. The trees create shade in the forest for the beans to grow.

Nugali used two types of trees to grow the cocoa; Trinitarios, from Trinidad, and Forastero,​ native from the Amazon rainforest.

“It’s very clear that we can’t turn over a huge amount of products and still keep the same quality level, i.e. with the roasting - if you want to control and taste each batch you need someone to be continually there tasting it but it is not feasible to do this and have batches of tens of tonnes a day,”​ added Blumenschein.

Our business has grown over 20% a year since we began. It doesn’t seem a lot when you start out as a small business but at the same time we do not intend to become a large company. There is room to increase production but we don’t plant to grow tenfold because we can’t keep the same quality level, or take the same care we try to do at each stage​.”


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