As you trek down from the capital city of Taiwan, Taipei, down south to Pingtung County, you will notice the significant change in climate and temperature. About 370km away from Northern Taiwan, Pingtung County is noticeably warmer and more humid, which provides a suitable environment for growing cacao trees. The Tree to Bar concept in the chocolate-making process has only been around in Taiwan for the past decade or so, many people still do not know Taiwan grows cacao and makes them into award-winning chocolates!
History of Cacao in Taiwan
The Japanese were the first to grow Cacao trees during their colonization of Taiwan for 50 years. But at the end of World War II, and retreat of the Japanese, the Taiwanese government, cut down most of the Cacao trees and replaced them with other plants and crops. Cacao was nowhere to be seen until about the 1980s when farmers try to cultivate the trees again. However, due to the high labor cost and difficulties in harvesting the crop, growing cacao was still not widespread.
Instead, many farmers were growing betel nut trees during the ’90s, as they were the most profitable crop in Taiwan at that time. Chewing betel nut was very common in Taiwan, and growing the trees made a lot of profits for the farmers. However, as studies showed chewing betel nuts increases the chance of getting oral cancer, the Taiwanese government began to discourage the consumption of betel nuts. The government gave incentives to farmers to cut the trees and replace them with other crops such as tea, mango, or other fruits.
Tree To Bar chocolates made in Taiwan
It was during this period when Mr. Chiu Ming Song, the owner of Choose Chius Chocolate in Pingtung County, decided to switch from growing betel nut to cacao trees. He was the first in Pingtung, Taiwan, to turn cacao into chocolate!
Mr. Chiu figured that cacao and betel nut trees could be grown side by side, complementing each other. Betel nut trees can provide shades for cacao trees to prevent cacao from staying under the sun for too long. He spent four years growing cacao trees and finally harvested his first batch of cacao beans. Then Mr. Chiu faced a problem. At that time, almost all chocolate production facilities import their cacao beans from overseas. There was no market for him to sell his cacao. With no thoughts of giving up, Mr. Chiu began to produce his chocolates from scratch using the cacao beans he grew. And this took him another five years as he trialed and tested different ways to make chocolate. It was not an easy process as it was tough to find information on how to produce chocolate from scratch.
After five years, in 2010, Mr. Chiu and his son finally made their first batch of Made in Taiwan chocolate! The Pingtung government even held a press conference introducing Pingtung’s first batch of Tree to Bar chocolates. It was after this historical event that many farmers in Pingtung followed suit and began growing cacao and making their chocolates.
Taiwan Chocolate wins international awards
In 2017, Taiwan chocolate won its first medal at the International Chocolate Awards (equivalent to the Academy Awards of the movie industry). Fu Wan Chocolate, owned by Mr. Hsu Hua Ren, came out of the competition with gold and silver awards in many categories. Being the favorite amongst the judges was the Taiwan Tie Guan Yin Tea 62% Dark Chocolate. Mr. Hsu spent only two years to produce his first batch of award-winning chocolate. Because of his background in cooking and his exceptional talent in taste testing, he was able to create unique chocolates in a short time. He sourced his cacao beans from nearby cacao tree farmers. In one year alone, Fu Wan Chocolate can use up to fifteen tons of cacao beans.
It is hard to imagine, Taiwan, a small island in the Asia Pacific, can produce internationally renowned chocolates, many comparable to the French and South American chocolate makers. With the hard work from local farmers and the government’s continuous support, Taiwan is telling the world that they, too, can make the best chocolates in the world!
In addition to award-winning tree-to-bar Taiwan chocolate, Taiwanese wineries also won international praises and recognitions. Click here to read our blog about “Award-Winning Wineries In Taiwan.”