Who would have thought that a chocolate farm/factory would be close enough for a day trip from Saigon? But it is! And it’s surprisingly easy to get to – apparently, there are some tour groups that go there on road bikes? I’m not that eager for pain, so we decided to take private car courtesy of Clown Cars. Driving there on a bike would also be quite interesting. At any rate, the Alluvia chocolate farm is a great place to learn about how chocolate is made and to see the process firsthand. You’ll also get to taste some of the chocolate, of course! And if you’re lucky, you might even get to meet the awesome owners. It’s a great experience for chocolate lovers, families, people who want a nice little destination for a unique day trip – or basically anyone who just wants to be disappointed that Oompa Loompas don’t exist in Vietnam. If you’re looking for something different, be sure to set up a Saigon day trip to Alluvia chocolate factory!
They’ve been doing these factory visits for a while now, at least 5 years, so the whole process is quite streamlined with a quick introduction into chocolate making (with a nice glass of an iced chocolate drink), followed by a walk through the farm, and then a guided tour of the factory floor (in English).
Chocolate trees apparently like the shade, so they also interplant coconut trees to optimise land and irrigation, giving shade to their main product, as well as providing a second source of income. You might want to ask about the irrigation system. It’s quite fascinating knowing that they have mini rivers fed by the Mekong.
I’ve been assured that they in fact do NOT have a river made out of chocolate – so one can only assume that kids have not gone missing.
Steps in Making Chocolate
The first step in making chocolate is harvesting the cacao fruit. The fruit grows on the cacao tree, which was native to Central and South America. Now, thankfully, cacao trees can also be found in Asia – including just 2 hours outside of Saigon. When mature, each tree can yield upwards of 30 pods in a year. The fruit is typically harvested by hand, when the fruit turns yellow/orange.
After the fruit has been harvested, the next step is to remove the beans from the pods. At Alluvia, this is done by hand and you can even give it a go! It was quite an enjoyable process, to be honest. The fresh “fruit” itself is edible, but without the classic chocolate flavor. It’s very reminiscent of mangosteen.
After the beans have been removed from the pods, they’re hauled to a fermentation bed. This is a critical step in the process as it develops the chocolate flavor. The beans are placed in wooden boxes and left to ferment for 5-7 days, during which time they are turned multiple times a day in order to evenly distribute the fermentation.
There’s no additional starter yeast, or magic to be added. This is basically just leaving the beans in a wide, plastic covered, wooden box to do their thing.
After fermentation is complete, the beans are sun dried for another 5-7 days. Again, this is just a process of turning them multiple times a day to evenly distribute the beans and make sure they all dry at the same rate. This helps to further develop the flavor and also makes the bean harder, which is necessary for the next step. At this stage, there’s already a noticeable aroma of chocolate in the air.
It apparently takes on average about 12 kilos of raw pods, to be turned into 1 kilo of sundried beans.
Roasting and Hulling
The next step is roasting and hulling, which are usually done together. The beans are roasted at about 120C for a few hours by their master roaster. The equipment they use is quite reminiscent of those used at coffee roasting shops. I have to note, the smell inside the roasting room was just magical. Enough to make you want to stand beside hot, heavy machinery. After roasting, the beans are then hulled to remove the outer shell, leaving only the nib – which is the edible part of the cacao bean.
These nibs by themselves are quite tasty, I would recommend these for a healthy snack! You can use the nibs as-is or grind them down to make cocoa powder – both nibs and powder are available at the shop.
Grinding and Conching
The next step is grinding and conching, which are usually done together. The nibs are ground into what’s called “chocolate liquor”. This is a paste of sorts that contains cocoa butter and cocoa solids. The liquor is then conched, which is basically just a long process of mixing and kneading the liquor to further develop the flavor. At Alluvia, they use a series of machines that run for over 70 hours, just to get the right, standardized texture. It’s quite a mesmerizing sight, and it really gives you an appreciation for how much work goes into making chocolate!
And yes, conching is a real word.
Tempering and Moulding
The next step is tempering and moulding. This is where the chocolate liquor is heated and cooled several times in order to get the right consistency for moulding. The chocolate is then poured into moulds and left to cool. This is the final step in making chocolate!
But Definitely Not the Last Stop in the Tour!
Stepping out of the warm area, you’ll be able to see Alluvia workers making cool little chocolate sculptures. There are free samples of about a dozen different flavors, including mandarin, coconut, and blueberry. I was very tempted to scoop a few handfuls into my bag, but I also still wanted to move on to the next part of the tour, which was making and packaging a bar of chocolate.
There’s a separate airconditioned shed for making and packaging the chocolate. The whole process is very streamlined and efficient, and it’s amazing to see how quickly a bar goes from being just chocolate liquor to a finished product. With gloves on, you’ll have the opportunity to pour your own bar of chocolate, which will then be wrapped up and given to you at the end of the tour.
All in all, the tour takes about 2 hours, though we were lucky enough to have visited when the owners were onsite, along with their highly energetic son, Charlie. That’s not really his name, but I’m going to call him that anyway.
Mrs Nguyen Ngoc Diep had apparently been in Germany for a while (with her husband working as an engineer), and they were inspired to start Alluvia after visiting a chocolate factory. After initially starting off as farmer-exporters with 200 trees and counting, they’ve eventually moved up the value chain and made their own brand. And what a brand – We ended up buying 4 boxes (10 mini chocolates in each box), and 6 bars of premium flavours, all for the princely sum of… 1,000,000VND. I know right?
NOTE: You can also pre-order lunch. It was an extremely well balanced meal as well. Highly recommended if you’re looking to try something local.
You might have high end chocolate establishments in Saigon with fancy “tap rooms”, but if you’re looking for something that’s down to earth, interesting, and family oriented, Alluvia offers very well made products, and a very well organised tour.
They’re currently distributed in places like Annam and Naman, but go to the factory/farm, and see just how much love they pour into their product. Highly recommend this for families, day trippers, or maybe even business people looking to export a brand of chocolate that’s proudly made in Vietnam.