Zeng Zhi-yuan Chocolate


At his first time taking part in the International Chocolate Awards (ICA) in 2018, Zeng Zhi-yuan (曾志元) took home four gold medals with a bar of 85% dark chocolate. Yet prior to this Zeng, from Neipu Township in Pingtung County, was but a layman in the world of chocolate -- but who nevertheless in just two weeks managed to produce chocolate to a world-class standard. The reason Zeng was able to beat the famous chocolate-producing countries of Belgium and Italy was all down to the excellent quality cocoa from the farmers of Neipu Township.
 
Zeng Zhi-yuan
(Image: FTV)

In order to get natural cocoa butter, he bought cocoa pods from farmers which he thought he himself would dry and press to get the butter. This turned out to be not as easy as he thought; after laying the pods out for some days he discovered that cocoa doesn’t dry out. After some further research he learned that the pods have to first undergo “fermentation” to consume the pulp, and only then the beans may be dried. Now going “down the rabbit hole,” Zeng looked to his past experience of raising insects and applied his know-how related to fermenting feeding soil and ways to control temperature and humidity to the fermentation of cocoa beans.

Starting from the “Tree to Bar” method of fermenting the cocoa beans himself, Zeng says he initially thought these processes and techniques could simply be looked up online. It was only later that he discovered that everyone turns out to have their own exclusive fermentation method: “Ten people ferment, you get ten different styles.” By trial and error, he successfully created the unique Zeng Zhi-yuan style of chocolate.
 
Zeng Zhi-yuan Chocolate
(Image: FTV)

Zeng says that while at first he bought cocoa pods in order to press cocoa butter, another purpose was to help the farmers. Aware of the poor sales for cocoa farmers in the early years of cultivation, he started to buy up their cocoa in order to help them.  From there he started exchanges of skills with the farmers and used what he had learned from cocoa training courses organized by the county government and from field management: from the selection of seeds, preventing pests and disease, and recognizing when crops were ripe. He helped the farmers raise their quality to obtain better prices while not using pesticide and without neglecting any step of the process. He currently has 20-30 farmers working with him.
 
Cocoa beans
(Image: FTV)

Zeng also hopes that cocoa can become a cash crop for Pingtung’s Hakka villages in the future. Even though development may not happen that quickly, he nonetheless believes that by starting off small you can gradually reach the world.