What is your ‘go-to’ dessert when you want something sweet? The first word that comes to my mind is – Chocolates!
Creamy, silken and sweet, this versatile dessert can just elevate anything to the next level be it cakes, fudge, or pancakes. Can you even imagine a brownie that does not taste chocolaty?
Interestingly, whenever I rush to meet an aunt or uncle returning from a foreign country (rushing was only for the chocolates they would bring), I often wondered why those chocolates taste different. Don’t you?
A few years ago, the question hit devout chocolate lover Devansh Ashar when he was munching on a bar of Swiss chocolates.
“I started wondering why these chocolate bars taste so different from the locally-available ones in the country. Why did it readily melt on my palate as compared to a regular bar of chocolate,” recalls the 33-year-old.
This genuine curiosity led Devansh, who has a degree in hospitality, to look up on the process of chocolate making. The chocolate bug had caught hold of this connoisseur so much that sometime around in March 2014, he enrolled himself in a three-month online chocolate-making course from Ecole Chocolat, the world famous chocolate school based out of Canada.
Once Devansh realised that the difference in the taste of chocolates lay in the superior quality of naturally-produced cocoa beans, he knew he wanted to pursue it professionally.
Confident about his recently acquired skills, Devansh set up a stall at a pop-up in June 2014 in Mumbai, offering the chocolates he had whipped up in his kitchen. Needless to say, these chocolates were a great hit among tasters and this is what propelled him to start Pascati, his organic chocolate brand in May, 2015.
“The reason why I named my business ‘Pascati’, is because it is derived from the Sanskrit phrase, ‘pascat parivasya’, which means a ‘sweet meal’,” explains Devansh.
Incidentally, Pascati produces India’s first organically-certified chocolates, informs Devansh.
Since Pascati began its operations, they have developed at least 14 different types of chocolates. Devansh sources the cocoa beans from farmer’s collectives in Kerala’s Idukki and Malabar regions, impacting the livelihoods of at least 2000+ farmers.
With Pascati chocolates finding more fans with each passing year, he sourced about 3.8 metric tonnes of cocoa beans from these farmers last year.
To taste Pascati’s handmade chocolates, click on this link.
Restaurant Manager to a Chocolate Maker
With a deep interest in food and business, Devansh pursued his Bachelor’s in Hotel and Restaurant Management from California Polytechnic State University in Pomona, USA.
He returned to India in 2008 and started working with Starwood hotel in Mumbai as an Assistant Restaurant Manager for over two and a half years. Later, he joined the Taj Group of hotels as a Restaurant Manager, and worked there for about one and a half years.
Devansh quit this job in March 2013 and took a sabbatical for a year.
In January 2014, the chocolate bug took over. After he completed his chocolate-making course, he immersed himself in research that would help him set up his own business later.
During this period, he came across the online presence of a ‘Bean to Bar’ community. The term basically refers to a process where the manufacturer or chocolate maker control every aspect of production of the chocolate. In this trade model the brand closely scrutinises everything starting from the purchase of the cocoa beans to the final chocolate bar.
This knowledge helped him extensively when he finally set up his business.
Great Taste for Fair Trade
When operations for Pascati first began, the first thing that needed to be done was to establish a stable supply chain. To this end, Devansh started identifying farmer’s collectives that were going cocoa and visited the farms himself.
“I discovered the concept of pure chocolate and found that there are very few chocolate makers worldwide that follow the ‘Bean to Bar’ concept. Unlike the West, the Indian market did not have too many players doing this. So, when we started in 2015, we were the company to be following this model,” explains Devansh.
The biggest feature of the ‘Bean to Bar’ model is that it practices the values of fair trade. By adopting this model, Pascati also started practising fair trade and has been certified by Fairtrade India. This basically means that they pay a premium for the cocoa beans that they source from the grassroots. More than anything, Devansh believes that this has a positive impact on the quality of the cocoa sourced.
“Because we pay a premium, the farmers ensure that the cocoa beans are fermented and dried properly before they send it to us. When you actually pay the farmers less, they end up skipping a lot of processes like the fermenting or the drying. This results in the taste of the final product,” explains Devansh.
Furthermore, Pascati also has a USDA organic certification meaning it does not use any kind of health-harming components.
Once the fermented and dried cocoa beans reach them, it is roasted, cracked, winnowed, conched and tempered in a controlled environment. The process of roasting can take up an entire day and people at Pascati roasts about 320 kgs of beans in a 12 hour shift.
“The factory is filled with the rich aroma the entire day,” informs Devansh, his love for chocolate apparent.
Devansh is heavily involved in the process of making these chocolates and supervises all levels of production once the beans have been sourced.
Creating a Sustainable Ecosystem
Devansh’s close attention to detail has won over several people. “Some of our best selling chocolates include the Hibiscus-raspberry chocolate, the Blueberry-walnut one, which contains certified organic walnuts and the Malabar dark chocolate,” says Devansh.
Additionally, Pascati also sells organic and fairtrade unsweetened cacao powder which is in turn used by smaller businesses for value addition.
Ambala-based entrepreneur Vipan Sarin is a great example. An Electronics Engineer by training, the 50-year-old started his business, ‘Farmer’s shop’ last year in November. What he basically does is sells sugarcane-based products in his job by adding value to it.
He discovered Pascati last year while he was travelling to Delhi. Devansh had set up a stall at Fab India and Vipan found Pascati’s concept really interesting. He ended up buying a few chocolates and 5 kgs of cocoa powder from him.
“I wanted to use it with the sugarcane juice and blended it to see what it would taste like. The results were amazing and people loved it! Thus, I came up with the ‘Hot cane cocoa’ and the ‘Cool Cane cocoa’ creations which I added to my menu,” says Vipan. Needless to say, Vipin is now a dedicated customer.
Recipe for a Sweet Success
Devansh starts his day at 8 by taking stock of what needs to be done for the day. Be it the roasting of the cacao beans, or pressing cocoa butter or moulding into chocolates.
However, operational challenges are hard to pass-by.
“Consistency is the key to a sustainable business. The harvest of cacao changes from year to year, region to region and climatic conditions. So, roasting cacao and controlling the percentage of fat in a bean is a difficult process since there is no equipment to measure the same. Each batch when roasted is monitored by our craftsmen and they take a call on when roasting needs to be completed,” explains Devansh.
The chocolate maker and entrepreneur also has a few tips for small business owners.
“Always remember that the quality of product is of paramount importance. Do not compromise on the product or its packaging as these are very crucial. It will take time to build a well-loved brand, but remain patient,” he says.
So, what’s in the pipeline for Pascati?
Devansh explains that they are developing four more products which will be launched soon. Also, this year they want to source about 5 metric tonnes of cocoa beans from farmers.
“We are exploring to go completely solar in our production process. But, this would depend on subsidies the Maharashtra government extends to make this option work. We hope to be a part of an ecosystem where our practices are 100 per cent sustainable and have a minimal carbon footprint while providing great taste,” he says signing off.
*An entrepreneur you admire.
Ans: Elon Musk
*New tech that can transform the future of small businesses
Ans: Drones being used to deliver packages in the future.
*One value that can help small businesses thrive
*Your favourite book
Ans: The Bourne Identity
*In my free time I ____…
Ans: Go for a walk by the beach.
* Before this interview I was ____…
Ans: Spending time with my family.
*Something they don’t teach in college but is important to run a business is
*One question I always ask people while hiring is ____…
Ans: Why do you want to work in the chocolate business?
*Best advice you ever got is to ____…
Ans: Never comprmise on quality.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)