February 1, 2024 - The Tagalog word “kasama” evokes many meanings: companion, partner, collaborator. It also evokes various levels of togetherness: kasama sa buhay means life partner while kasama ka ba means “are you with us?”
To have kasama as a chocolate brand now brings it to an altogether different word association. Kasama Chocolate, based out of Vancouver BC on Granville Island, has elevated the chocolate experience by winning international awards in the chocolate industry in the short time that they have been on the market.
As the name suggests, Kasama Chocolate has roots in Filipino chocolate.
Four friends during one fateful meet-up embarked on a business that none of them had any prior experience. In 2014, Vince Garcia shared with friends over beer that he had inherited a small plot of land in rural Tuao in Cagayan Valley, Philippines where mature cacao trees thrive. Garcia and friends, now business partners, Stefan Klopp, Oliver Koth-Kappus and Dominik Voser thought it would be a “fun weekend hobby” to make chocolate from scratch using beans from the Philippines. A month later, the first Ziploc bag of dried, fermented cacao beans arrived from Garcia’s dad Mario in Cagayan Valley.
In an exclusive with Canadian Filipino Net (CFNet), Garcia remembered: “It started as a weekend hobby, where we would meet up and make different types of chocolate bars, try different roasting profiles, etc.” All these from a group of young men who started learning how to make chocolate by doing online research and reading books about chocolate. “None of us had any previous experience as chocolate makers or chocolatiers.”
“Since the beginning, everything was serendipitous,” Garcia told CFNet. “It wasn’t until friends and family started requesting chocolate from us and offered to pay us that we realized we were on to something.”
A year later, the group attended the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle, Washington where they realized how massive the emerging craft chocolate industry was. At the festival, they met with chocolate makers from around the world who produced bean-to-bar premium chocolate made from quality cacao. “Shortly after that, we decided to create a brand and thus Kasama was born.”
Bean-to-bar refers to the process of making chocolate in small batches straight from cacao beans, as opposed to the wider practice of pre-made chocolate which is then melted down and poured into molds. The bean-to-bar process is time and labour intensive but allows the maker to control the chocolate’s flavour every step of the way.
When Kasama Chocolate launched in 2015, the company started with just a handful of flavours: 70 percent dark, 88 percent dark, Early Grey Tea, Goat’s Milk and Coffee Bar. Now, Kasama Chocolate sells over 20 varieties, many of which are not only popular and constantly sold out but have won international awards. “I think our customers enjoy them because of the quality and consistency of the chocolate as well as the thought and innovation that goes into recipe development,” shared Garcia.
Sourcing of cacao beans has also expanded since then. From Tuao, Kasama Chocolate has been connecting with cacao farmers and cooperatives in Lasam and Santa Teresita (both in Cagayan Valley) as well as in Apayao (Cordillera region), Echague and Jones (Isabela province), Bayombong in Nueva Vizcaya, Malvar in Batangas as well as in Zamboanga del Sur, Davao de Oro and South Cotabato. Garcia travels to the Philippines about three months a year to meet with cacao partners. He added, “Many connections have been made organically through stakeholders in the cacao industry in the Philippines.”
Kasama Chocolate’s best sellers include the Philippine Durian White Chocolate, Philippine Muscovado Tanned Chocolate Bar, Rosemary & Sea Salt Dark Chocolate, Single Malt Whisky, Tanduay Rum (a popular rum brand in the Philippines) and vegan white chocolate bars made with local berries. Garcia added, “We recently launched a Patis (fish sauce) Caramel Truffle in Toronto and they have been very popular.”
Another recent innovation is a Lunar New Year collaboration bar made with a local Taiwanese pastry chef. Called Buzzed Ginger Longan Biscuit with Dalandan Milk Chocolate, it is made with Philippine dalandan (Philippine oranges), cacao from Davao de Oro and roasted, smoked longan fruit from Tainan, Taiwan. The bar’s wrapper designed by a Taiwanese artist who happens to be married to a Filipino from Pampanga.
For the love month of February and around Valentine’s Day, Kasama Chocolate can be found at the Riley Farmers Market in Vancouver and the Winter Chocolate Festival in Toronto both on February 10. Kasama Chocolate calls Granville Island its home but can be found in various stores all over Canada. Find where you can buy them on their website at https://kasamachocolate.com/.