Elevating Filipino chocolate

Filipinos are very lucky. Why? Because the location of our country makes it one of the perfect places on Earth to grow cacao. Yes, chocolaaaaate.

Traditionally, Filipinos have been drinking and using chocolate in dishes. Like our Mexican brothers, chocolate is an important part of our diet. If Mexico has its mole sauce we have our tablea. Tablea is a chocolate product of different provinces of the Philippines, from Cavite to Cebu to Davao.

Tablea is a processed cocoa—a small puck-like disc made of compressed ground roasted cacao beans. It is used for tsokolate or traditional hot chocolate drink, our version of hot coco. Tablea is also used to flavor champorado, a chocolate rice porridge served during breakfast or afternoon merienda.

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‘Chocolate Queen of Cebu,’ Raquel Choa

Today, the humble tablea’s use is not only limited to tsokolate or champorado because it’s now also used in more Western chocolate desserts like truffles, cakes, and bars. There is one Filipina who is bringing this traditional local product to greater heights. Known as the “Chocolate Queen of Cebu,” Raquel Choa is using traditional tablea in artisan treats that elevates the Filipino chocolate.

Choa, who owns Ralfe Gourmet, Casa de Cacao, and The Chocolate Chamber—all located in Cebu—has been churning out chocolate treats out of tablea. Her shops actually one of the stops during the APEC Summit. Since then, her shops became more popular and her truffles are selling more and more. She also offers regular Chocolate Appreciation Tours to tourists.

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Raquel Choa touring APEC delegates inside Casa de Cacao.

The “Chocolate Ambassador” first learned how to make chocolate through her lola. When she was younger, she lived with her grandmother whose livelihood was making traditional tablea. Her grandmother’s house was located in the mountains of Balamban, Cebu, which she also considers as a mystical place. Her lola told her the legend of Maria Cacao.

“I believe that tablea making is a Filipino treasure especially in the Visayas but it hasn’t been given much importance. That is why I elevated it. It’s not only for sikwate (hot chocolate drink) or champorado, I elevated it to other chocolate products,” Raquel says.

One of her best selling products is the hand-rolled chocolate truffles. Two truffle variants I was, which came straight from Cebu were the Ganache Truffle (made of tablea ganache, sprinkled with cacao powder) and Caramel Truffle (tablea caramel garnished with pure cocoa nibs). Both were really good. The chocolate has a mild bitterness and not overly sweet—it’s perfectly balanced.

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Ralfe Gourmet’s hand-rolled truffles

I’m just very happy that there are more Filipinos who are taking local products to higher levels. I guess entrepreneur Richard Sanz (I’ll post a story about him soon) is correct by saying that local brands are upping the ante because Filipinos are getting more sophisticated and more international brands are making the market more challenging.

Read my detailed Manila Bulletin Lifestyle article here.

Ralfe Gourmet, 3349 Topaz St., Cebu City (www.ralfegourmet.com)/ The Chocolate Chamber, 22 Pres. Quirino St. Villa Aurora, Cebu City

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