Rolf Gibbs: Chocolate Maker


Rolf Gibbs is the fifth child of English parents (architect father and sculptor mother). From an early age his family moved around a lot, living first in England, then Jakarta (ages 4 to 9) and New Zealand (ages 9 to 14). When his father died when he was 18, Rolf left his home in England and moved to Paris, where he became the youngest ever fashion photographer to work for French Vogue, among many other magazines. He moved to Berlin in 1989, shortly before the Wall came down, and continued his photography work there for 7 years. Then, after a brief, but successful career directing films in New York and Hollywood, he decided to travel the world. After 10 years on the road, Rolf finally chose to put down roots in Bali in 2014, and created UBUD RAW Chocolate Factory, with the goal of producing Bali’s healthiest and most delicious chocolate.

 

Where did you get the idea of starting a business?

When I settled in Ubud after 10 years of travel, I had very little money left. I felt the need to create something meaningful and lasting, and something that could support me for the rest of my life. But I had no idea yet what it would be. When my chocolate business started up, seemingly by itself, I felt so inspired and energized that it grew quickly and began to demand more and more of my time.

 

Where did the inspiration come from?

I considered imported Swiss chocolate too expensive in Bali and I wasn’t impressed by any of the raw chocolate I could find in Ubud. So I started playing around in my kitchen. I hoped to make something that I could enjoy, something smooth and creamy, but also healthy and nutritious. My neighbor showed me how she produced home-made chocolate. I started from there, gradually developing my own style and technique of preparation.

 

How did your experimenting develop into a business?

After just a few months, I quite suddenly realized that I had created a new kind of chocolate, which tasted better than any other I knew. When friends tried my raw chocolate, they immediately asked for more. So I started with an investment of just Rp100,000 to make one kilo of chocolate and sold it easily on consignment at a local juice bar. Then I had enough money to make 3 kg, then 10 kg, and so on. I have continued growing in this purely organic way and my business expanded quickly. Today we produce around 400 kg per month, employ 18 people, operate two branded stores in Ubud, and sell at 90 locations around Bali.

 

What does “raw chocolate” actually mean?

Traditionally, chocolate has always been made from roasting cacao beans, a way to enhance flavor, like with coffee beans. Roasted cacao is relatively rich in antioxidants, but raw cacao is four times richer. In fact, raw cacao has more antioxidants than any other natural food in the world. Therefore, raw chocolate is much healthier to eat than conventional chocolate. I had found a way to make my raw chocolate taste creamier and more delicious than traditional Swiss or Belgian chocolates.

 

Where do you get your cacao from?

We source our cacao directly from local farmers in Tabanan Regency. We trained our farmers to grow, ferment and process cacao beans according to our organic and raw standards. We pay them well above normal market price. Although cacao can be grown in many tropical environments all around the equator, I personally find that Balinese beans have a very interesting and fragrant flavor profile.

 

Can people grow cacao and make their own chocolate at home?

Theoretically, yes, at least in tropical regions, but one would have to wait a few years for the cacao tree to become mature enough to produce fruit, learn about fermenting the beans, invest in some kind of grinder, and manually remove the shells, which is all quite difficult and time consuming.

 

Have you developed any special manufacturing techniques yourself?

We make all our chocolate by hand, in the simplest way possible, using low-tech spoons and bowls, knive and fridges. We pioneered the use of coconut milk as a vegan alternative to cow milk in chocolate. Coconut milk creates a creamier and smoother chocolate than traditional dairy chocolate. The only “problem” is the high water content. This means that our chocolate has a short shelf-life, and needs to be made fresh, and kept refrigerated at all times.

 

Do you support Bali’s environmental sustainability movement?

We are working to minimize our use of plastic and other non-biodegradable materials in packaging. Most of our chocolate is sold “naked,” i.e. directly from refrigerated displays. We have also pioneered the use of reusable stainless steel vacuum thermal jars, which can also be used for storing food, soups and beverages. They keep our fresh chocolate cool and airtight for several hours, even in a tropical environment. Customers who bring our thermal jars back for refills get a 10% discount on chocolate each time they use it. And for take-away chocolate drinks sold in our shops, we are working with local potters and EcoBricks.org to create inexpensive earthenware EarthCups to replace problematic plastic-coated paper cups. We are also members of BookGreener, a community of sustainable business owners who support each other towards environmental sustainability, with projects including Refill My Bottle (refillbali.com), a network of business locations that offer drinking water refills to consumers and tourists in order to reduce the use of single-use plastic bottles.

 

What are the most important things for consumers to be aware of when buying chocolate?

Simpler is better. Generally, the more ingredients found on the label, the lower quality the food will be. We make our chocolate using just two local plants: cacao and coconut. Local means we know who grew and harvested the beans, we know that they own their land and are living a good life. Most people think of eating chocolate as a “guilty pleasure.” We like to think that we are redefining what chocolate can be. We want people to know it can also be a fresh and healthy “superfood” without compromising on taste and texture.

 

How may readers contact you?

Send a message through our Facebook page: @ubudraw or email rolf@ubudraw.com.

 

 

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