An impromptu trip to Pondicherry over the weekend lead me to drop by the Mason & Co's chocolate factory.
Through my childhood to today, if there was a specific food which could up my mood instantly, it would be chocolate. So it was obvious for me to go document and learn about how it's made.
As soon as I entered the workshop, I was greeted with the effervescent scent of dark chocolate in melancholy with the humid air. The place, surrounded with all things chocolate, evoked multiple senses which made me feel almost child-like as I happily walked around to stop, stare, smell and sample everything that was being made. Moreover, it was the process and every ingredient involved that got me inquisitive about the culture at Mason & Co and the reason behind why they are fondly know as the purists when it comes to chocolate making in this part of the world.
Mansi Reddy, who is a part of the team was kind enough to guide me through their artistic process and answer a few questions I had.
As we walked through the room where the cacao beans were being separated from their shells, we spoke about the anecdotes on how Mason & Co discovers new flavours. Through the conversation she spoke about how they borrow most of their inspiration from the food they have every day.
"It comes from our own preferences of eating chocolates all around the world. It's very organic because we just put together all the flavours that we find interesting and what we have access to. If we want a berry flavour for our bon-bon's we use Kokum. We also use the ingredients we eat everyday along with our food, something we like such as turmeric and curry leaves. It takes us about 4 to 6 months to develop a flavour from the beginning. We make them in small batches and tweak them till we get the flavour we desire in the bars."
To me personally, it was amazing how a team of 11 – 12 artisans come together every morning in one corner of Auroville to create magic with chocolate. As we walk in to the room where chocolate is processed, she opens the lid of the machine to let me smell the chocolate melange with cacao butter. From traditional Indian flavours to creating something where ingredients juxtapose each other, that burst in your mouth almost instantly giving your taste buds a high, she described the importance of innovation in chocolate even for purists like Mason & Co.
“We don't really plan about what flavours they'll have but they go along with the flow. While certain limited edition bars like Coconut Masala chai was made to have flavours that resonate with the Indian food, the others were a product of spontaneity. The more unconventional flavours are never planned. If we hear people like us to bring out something in our chocolates, we work around it to see what we can make. We never really have a particular formula for what we have or will come up with."
20 minutes at the workshop and I am almost certain that experiencing chocolate is a multi-sensory experience. Especially the touch, feel and sound of chocolate. The most distinctive part of the process however is the tempering of the chocolate, where the hands of the artisan play with its properties to give it a smooth texture while simultaneously creating a sublime visual treat for anyone witnessing it.
Mansi carefully guided me through the process of feeling the texture of a chocolate bar, hearing the snap while the bits are broken and tasting the bittersweet symphony of a range of flavours. She describes how carefully they articulate the same sensory experiences to people who consume their chocolate.
"We carefully communicate this experience right from the packaging of the bars to their taste. For our packaging we chose craft paper with a certain coarse texture that you can feel. Moreover, the colour of the bars are mostly referring to the nature of ingredients used in the bar so it can be more relatable. When it comes to the chocolate, I'd like it to be in perfect temper so when you hold it, it's not too smooth that it melts but is still whole. It should be had in room temperature and not too cold or hot. If it's a bar with a high percentage of cacao, people shouldn't bite into it so they can taste the flavours well. But with bars like sea salt and rosemary, it's supposed to be bitten into to experience the texture of the bar more than the flavour itself."
As I walked around their space, we spoke about the need for upcycling waste especially in today’s day & age.
Almost organically post this conversation, a cup of their cacao herbal tea was served to us and to my utter surprise every time I held the cup closer to take a sip, it was like taking a whiff of their chocolate bar, except it was a more healthier version of it.
My inquisitiveness only grew further about what lies at the heart of Mason & Co but with the interview almost coming to an end, I was led to one special person. Saraswathi, the factory manager and the first employee of Mason & Co four years ago. On how she wants to see Mason & Co a couple of years down the line she responded with a wide smile.
“I want the world to enjoy our chocolates.”
Photographs & Words: Chaithraa Jagadeesha
The Mason & Co is an artisan chocolate brand based out of Pondicherry, India. You can check out their chocolates here - https://www.masonchocolate.com