For Davao to be one of the preferred sources of premium chocolates, if it were up to award-winning chocolate maker Rex Puentespina of Malagos.
Located in the Baguio district of Davao City, Malagos takes its name from malakas na agos, which means “strong flow”.
Internationally acclaimed chocolate maker Malagos sources wet cacao beans from more than 80 small growers and employs more than 50 in-house farmers for its own cacao farm.
“In Malagos, the soil, the sun, the climate — our environment — come together to create a unique terrain that gives our cacao beans an identity that cannot be replicated anywhere in the world,” said Puentespina.
Davao City, located 10o above the equator, is believed to possess the best conditions for cacao to thrive.
The Puentespina family’s venture into the business of chocolate began when Roberto and Charita Puentespina in 2003 leased a cacao farm in the foothills of Mount Talomo in Malagos.
A farmer at heart, Charita thought of going into something that she loved. She rehabilitated the trees and soon after, harvested the cacao pods. From the harvest, she made chocolate tablea (tablets) the traditional way by open roasting the beans over firewood, then grinding and molding them.
Soon, the Puentespinas were selling cacao beans to a trader in Singapore who distributed the beans to chocolate manufacturers worldwide.
In 2012, the family established Malagos Agri-Ventures Corporation and started making premium cocoa liquor. It was a welcome addition to their line of fine food products. The company invested in solar dryers, precisioncontrolled roasters, ball mill grinders and tempering machines.
With its equipment and technology upgraded, there remained the question of know-how. This was where the Mars Cocoa Sustainability Team and the Programma Uitzending Managers (PUM) came in.
The former gave the Malagos farmers training on how to grow and produce high-quality cacao beans. The latter, an organization of senior experts based in the Netherlands, provided the technical assistance on chocolate making.
Once they had the equipment and the training, not to mention the passion, for chocolate making, the company commercially launched Malagos Chocolate in August 2013. Today it also produces other premium chocolate products such as Malagos 65%, 72% & 85% Dark Chocolates and Malagos Roasted Cocoa Nibs.
Malagos Chocolate has won five international awards to date. In 2017 and 2016, it won the silver in the Drinking Chocolate Category of the Academy of Chocolate Awards held in London, England, up a notch from the bronze it won for the same product and category in 2015. The Malagos 65% Dark Chocolate won the silver in the World Drinking Chocolate competition, organized by the International Chocolate Awards, in Hannover, Germany in 2015.
“The entire process of planting, growing, fermenting, drying, sorting, roasting, and manufacturing the chocolate is done right on our farm, giving our products a more distinctive and pronounced flavor.”
The following year, the Malagos 100% Pure Unsweetened Chocolate was awarded Two Stars (out of 3 Stars) by the Guild of Fine Food (also known as the ‘Oscar’s’ of the food world) based in the United Kingdom.
“The entire process of planting, growing, fermenting, drying, sorting, roasting, and manufacturing the chocolate is done right on our farm, giving our products a more distinctive and pronounced flavor, ” Puentespina said.
Malagos Chocolate, he added, is made from tree to bar through the efforts of many people, especially the farmers. To help the farmers learn good cacao growing practices, they built a training facility on the farm.
One of the small farmers who has benefitted from Malagos Chocolate is Alex Ancla. He owns a farm planted with cacao and sells his beans to Malagos AgriVentures Corporation.
“Malagos has given us a good livelihood by buying our wet cacao beans,” Ancla said. Wet cacao beans are fresh beans just harvested and separated from the pods.
Another farmer, Bebot Cajes, grows cacao and sells beans to Malagos. He has had the opportunity to attend one of the company’s workshops.
“They help us by teaching us how to plant cacao and then buying our harvest,” said Cajes.
Malagos sources wet cacao beans from more than 80 small growers. It also employs more than 50 in-house farmers for its own cacao farm.
“We don’t have problems sourcing cacao beans. The small farmers know our arms are open to them and we are always ready to help,” Puentespina said.
“We aim to maintain a reputation for ethical and sustainable farming, for production processes that adhere to strict quality standards, and for steadfastness in upholding excellence in everything that we do.”
In 2017, the Puentespinas opened the Malagos Chocolate Museum, a first in the country, at their Malagos Garden Resort. The museum features interactive cacao and chocolate exhibits and a chocolate laboratory.
Today, Malagos takes pride in its Philippine-made chocolate, a single-origin product, which means that the beans come from only one place thus ensuring its distinct taste.
“We aim to maintain a reputation for ethical and sustainable farming, for production processes that adhere to strict quality standards, and for steadfastness in upholding excellence in everything that we do,” Puentespina said.
Given this, his vision of making Davao one of the main sources of premium chocolates for the world may not seem like an unreachable dream.
This story is part of a series of articles written by GO NEGOSYO writers being published by GoodNewsPilipinas.com as part of our support to Philippine businesses.