When at The Cacao Mill by Subko–Mumbai’s first chocolate factory–you can watch the transformation of a cacao pod into artisanal flavours of the all- time favourite treat!
Gear up Mumbai, for you have never seen something like this in the city before. Cocoa, chocolate and coffee meet at The Cacao Mill by Subko, a brand that was a pioneer in introducing the city to great artisanal coffee in 2020. Now it’s time to indulge in sweet goodness with some exciting and innovative chocolate flavours, while experts walk you through every stage of creating the magical treat — starting from the cacao fruit itself.
Mumbai’s Chocolate Factory
In a former textile mill and art gallery located in Pasta Lane, Colaba lies the chocolate factory with a sign that reads: Real Chocolate Melts. Once you enter the bright, sunlit space, you’ll know why they said it.
The word ‘cacao’ is spelt in different Indian languages on the left wall; while the pod, bean and bar artwork on the right wall demonstrates that they mean serious business when it comes to understanding chocolate. “Coffee and cacao are like cousins, so we wanted to take the experience to the next level by being a pod-to-bar café, rather than bean-to-bar,” says Rahul Reddy, founder of Subko.
He explains that the beans are sourced from farmers in four states of South India. Then, they are roasted at Subko’s Byculla facility. The following steps are done here at the Cacao Mill – cracking, winnowing, grinding, refining, conching and tempering. Don’t get confused by the terms! If you’d like, the team can take you on a tour to explain the nuances of what all this involves. And I highly recommend that you do this.
The sprawling 2,000 square-feet space is spread over two levels, with the café located on the first floor. There is a small cacao tree plant on the lower level. Alongside this sits a retail space named Dukaan, from where you can pick up Subko favorites.
When I enter, I am handed a glass of Cacao Shell Tea Tonic — tonic water mixed with cocoa shell tea that is concocted using roasted husk from the cocoa shell. They make use of every part of the cocoa fruit, and to fully fathom that, try the edible ‘pod to bar’ experience board which showcases the transformation journey of the cacao pod to the chocolate bar. The 12 stages make use of all senses and involve seeing, tasting, smelling and feeling everything. Sample the raw cacao fruit, its juice, or cacao butter; crunch the beans and sniff the cacao powder, and then ultimately bite into that bar of chocolate. Heavenly!
The Chocolate Cellar
The Cellar at The Cacao Mill by Subko makes my chocolate dreams come true. But before heading there, I indulge in chocolate tasting, daintily using tweezers to pick up chocolate bits placed on a wooden board neatly labelled according to the farm of their origin. Manali Khandelwal, Director of Chocolate at The Cacao Mill by Subko walks me through it.
The terroir chocolate range goes from 70 to 76 percent dark, with an 80 percent variant slated to be introduced soon. The milk chocolate is made using A2 milk powder. To my surprise, I relish the Flat White, made using white chocolate and single origin coffee beans which lend a crunch to each bite.
I walk into the cellar to encounter a mind-boggling range of chocolates, all kept at a cool 17 degrees centigrade. Truth be told, I feel like a child wanting to pick up everything! There are bars, cubes, coated chocolates and a range called experimental where they’ve gone all out to make some insane flavours. Think a milk chocolate with podi and almonds, a cold brew bar, and more. I love the spicy kick from the podi. It packs in so much flavour that I picture devouring it with a cocktail or wine.
The ‘terroir’ range comes as a full slab, half and mini sizes. Love classic chocolate brands like Reese’s, Twix, Bounty and Snickers? Try The Cacao Mill by Subko’s versions of the same, which are spelt backwards. For example, Reese’s (named S’eseer) is made with chocolate brownie and a peanut praline filling. The cubes are available in three sizes and the flavours range from Pista Cherry, Peanut Butter & Jelly, to even Rustic Apple Tart. I try two of the cubes: Almond Sea Buckthorn, a big single origin dark chocolate shell with a ganache made from sea buckthorn sourced from Ladakh, courtesy of chef Prateek Sadhu; and a smaller Sea Buckthorn Meringue Pie.
Beyond The Sweet
My final stop is the experiential café on the first floor. Perched on a stool at the coffee bar, I watch the barista experts whip coffee and hot chocolate. They have a range of bakes and toasts here. I have a sourdough toast topped with melted brie cheese, and three slabs of the mini size milk chocolate. The combination of cheese and chocolate is a match made in heaven. Weight watchers, just ignore the calories and go for this treat with your eyes closed!
Next in line is a chocolate sourdough toast slathered with 45 percent milk chocolate. With each bite, there is a hint and crunch of sea salt which balances the chocolate perfectly. As if I hadn’t had enough chocolate already, I order another 70 percent dark hot chocolate that comes with a marshmallow.
They have a range of savoury dishes as well. I opt for the signature podi toast with cream cheese, sea salt, fried curry leaves and sesame seeds. But truth be told, it is the chocolate in all its moods and flavours that leaves a lasting impression on the palate. As I leave, for just a brief moment, I want to retrace my steps and indulge some more.
The Cacao Mill By Subko
Price for two: INR 2,000 for a coffee, some craft bakes or chocolate
Address: 2nd Pasta Lane, Market, Badhwar Park, Apollo Bandar, Colaba, Mumbai
Timings: 09:00 am – 09:00 pm
Related: Meet The Chocolate Makers Of Thailand And Learn About The Country’s Craft-cacao Movement