Artisanal craft chocolates made in Rajahmundry

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Akhil Grandhi

Akhil Grandhi
| Photo Credit: Special arrangement

The Godavari region in Andhra Pradesh has always been the green belt of Andhra Pradesh with its deciduous and mangrove forests and agricultural activities. While coconut, paddy and fish have been traditional favourites, a recent agro-allied activity that has captured the spotlight is chocolate, courtesy the cocoa beans grown here.

Bon Fiction is one such craft chocolate brand from Rajahmundry in the East Godavari region. Barely a year old, the brand founded by Akhil Chandrasekhar Grandhi has stood out for its chocolates at UK’s Academy of Chocolate. Bon Fiction chocolates are crafted with the tree-to-bar concept, and two of its flavours — Out in the Dark and Mango Menace — won a bronze in the ‘tree-to-bar flavoured’ category in July 2022, alongside some of the world’s finest chocolates.

A good harvest of cacao

A good harvest of cacao

Akhil, 32, who grew up seeing cacao farms in the region, often wondered why no one made chocolates from the fruit that grows in his State. Akhil recalls, “Witnessing what is cultivated in our farms for over 30 years, I consciously noticed the richness of my region in terms of agriculture. I was determined to harness the potential of the Indian agro-industry.”

Workers at the farm extracting fresh cacao beans from the fruit

Workers at the farm extracting fresh cacao beans from the fruit

After a Master’s in Industrial Engineering from the State University of New York at Buffalo, USA in 2012, he dabbled in Uganda’s plantation business, which he considered “the most nerve-wracking, yet fulfilling endeavour” .“I started to direct my thoughts towards doing something with cocoa from our farms. Having grown up around the plantations of Rajahmundry, I was intrigued that the State produces good cocoa but never thought of producing a world-class chocolate.”

Fermented cacao beans at the drying shed

Fermented cacao beans at the drying shed

In 2019, Akhil went on to attend a workshop on chocolate making by Cocoashala in Chennai and then another workshop with his wife on chocolate tasting to identify different notes of chocolate and its good and bad parts. “In the first workshop on chocolate making, I learnt about the process followed by chocolatiers. The second workshop was a step forward to getting the fermentation right, identifying the right flavours in the cacao, etc.,” he shares.

And then the experiments began. That involved using cacao from local farms and fermenting it to make chocolate. It took hundreds of trials spread over three years before Akhil was happy with the outcome. “Just when I started experimenting after completing my R&D and reading all about chocolates, the lockdown happened. So there was everything in abundance for me, even time to experiment,” he says

Now, Akhil is happy that the single-origin cacao in every Bon Fiction bar is hand-picked from farms in the Godavari region. “At our estate, we work closely with our farmers, and each cacao pod is sorted, fermented and dried. Our chocolate is made using traditional processes,” he says, adding, “Some of the most important aspects of tree-to-bar chocolate are control, transparency and traceability, this allows the chocolate makers to offer an ethical and sustainable product.” 

cacao beans getting dried at the farm

cacao beans getting dried at the farm
| Photo Credit:
Special arrangement

TThe process of making Bon Fiction too was indigenous, he explains. “I used basic machinery such as grinders and roasters. I designed a winnower using PVC boards and fans from CPUs (yes, from computers) because there was no other way to procure one during the lockdown. My roasting machine and the grinder are also made in India.”

In his journey from the experimenting stage to releasing 14 unique flavours (including mango, cranberry chilli, coffee, mint and orange), Akhil is proud to have given farmers their much-needed due.

“Seeing what we have done with the cacao from our farms, more farmers are ready to work with us,” says Akhil.

   Bon Fiction bars

Bon Fiction bars

Bon Fiction bars are priced ₹225 upwards and are available at speciality stores and online.

Who is a tree-to-bar chocolate maker

Tree-to-bar defines a chocolate maker who produces his/her own cacao beans. Which means, apart from growing his own cacao beans, he/she also ferments and dries it. These cocoa beans are then made into chocolate, following a chocolate making process that preserves all the best natural flavours and unique characteristics of the local, fine cacao.

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