Bob & the Chocolate Factory: Meet Bob Formston

Meet Bob Formston. The chocolatier also known as ‘Chocolate Bob’.

Bob FormstonBob, how did you get into making chocolate?

My wife and I bought land up near Papua to build a holiday house. It was an old overgrown coffee plantation. So me and a couple of guys got a chainsaw and were working our way through this jungle when we come across these trees with huge pods on them. I said, “What’s that?” and was told it was cacao, chocolate. So I said “OK, leave that, I’ll make some chocolate.” That was four years ago.

Does cacao usually grow on a coffee plantation?

Yes, amongst the coffee they grow cacao. Cacao grows high and coffee grows low and you can taste the coffee in the cacao. Cacao absorbs flavours. You put chocolate near anything and it absorbs the flavour.

You are a small business and are able to overlook all aspects of production. What is the process you use to transform cacao into this sinfully delicious chocolate?

The seeds of cacao have an intense bitter taste and must be fermented to develop the flavour and reduce the bitterness. The seeds are fermented for five days and after this they are laid out in the sun to dry for five or six days, depending on the weather. Then the seeds are roasted at a controlled temperature. Like coffee you must roast it for exactly the right amount of time – you can burn it if you roast it too long, destroying the flavour. It’s an art.

The seeds are a bit like almonds with a thin skin which detaches during the roasting process. Then the roasted bean is ground for three days to a fine consistency, while natural vanilla seed, brown sugar and extra cacao butter is added to make the chocolate smoother. Cacao butter contains many beneficial ‘good fats’. After the chocolate is ready we make bars and pralines by adding ingredients such as your favourite, the passion fruit and chilli.

Bali Chocolat Factory

I love that one! Actually I love dark raw chocolate, but have no interest in the cheaper chocolates. Why is the mass produced chocolate so different?

Large corporations need to make large profits so cut costs where ever they can. One of the ways they cut costs is to replace expensive cacao butter with cheaper vegetable fats. Indonesia is the world’s third largest producer of cacao, the bulk of this being exported as cacao butter and cacao powder. The popular cheap brands sold here are very low in cacao butter but high in cheaper, high melting temperature, vegetable fats, some of it doesn’t even melt in the sun, so you can imagine it doesn’t want to melt in your mouth! There are a few other companies now in Bali making high quality raw chocolate along with other organic natural products. Our factory is very small, hands on and I live above it. It is a small company and I like the slow growth. Our chocolate bars are in Bali Deli, Grocer and Grind, Made Manis and other select outlets in Bali, while Made Manis in Made’s Warung is the only place to buy our pralines.

So, what brought you to Bali in the first place, Bob?

I first came here in 1974 on holiday before attending La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science with honours. My honours thesis was in marine biology but my degree was in biochemistry and physiology. So I know my chemistry! When I finished University in 1981 I was looking for a job in my profession, which at that time could take up to a year. At the time I met a guy doing fashion out of Bali during his summer vacation and I invested in his enterprise and we ended up manufacturing and selling garments out of Bali for years. It was fun then wasn’t it?

Then I went on to export furniture and antiques to Holland. I spent three months here followed by three months there for a number of years. Twelve years ago I met a beautiful, clever Javanese woman whom I married and we started a jewellery business in which she designs, produces and sells – one of our outlets is right next door to Made Manis. The jewellery business enabled me to get into the chocolate business so my wife is actually responsible for putting me through chocolate college!

Are you planning on creating other sweets?

I’m not just a chocolate guy. I make nougat, caramels, jellies and marshmallows. One day perhaps I will do a sweet shop, but chocolate is my passion. It is one of the top five brain foods and the number one source of magnesium, which balances brain chemistry and builds strong bones. Real chocolate contains cognitive mood enhancers which our brain releases when we are in love or in bliss.

Changing the world with chocolate… Sweet!

To get in touch, email info@balichocolatfactory.com

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Karen Davis is a NYC artist and writer.