Ong Ning-Geng, known simply as Ning, is probably the most famous chocolate-maker in Malaysia. His chocolate shop, Chocolate Concierge, creates delicious, creamy, Malaysian single-origin artisan chocolates with a distinctive taste.
From brittles, barks, to bonbons, Ning gives a new meaning to these words with his fascinating and melt-in-the-mouth creations. Unlike other chocolate shop owners, Ning has his own cocoa farm in Raub, Pahang.
In fact, the farmer has employed three separate teams, one at the farm, another for the bean-to-bar process, and a team of chefs.
The farming team focuses on planting, harvesting and fermenting cocoa, the chocolate-making team turns the cocoa beans into chocolate blocks at a chocolate laboratory while the chocolatier team creates an array of bite-sized gems, freshly crafted in small batches, such as truffles and many more.
Although he controls the chocolate-making process from cocoa beans to chocolate bars, Ning is always inspired to discover something new. He is passionate about finding new taste profiles and high-quality cocoa beans.
In search of high-quality taste, Ning has visited remote areas that not many would explore.
He discovered a unique taste in cocoa grown in the wilderness by the Orang Asli in Pahang, especially the Semai, Temuan and Temiar communities in Perak, and he took the initiative to work with them.
“Malaysia has many hidden gems in terms of cocoa beans. The chocolate flavours from cocoa beans, planted on the fringes of the Malaysian wilderness, at high altitude by the Orang Asli has a very surprising (special) taste,” Ning revealed.
“(Actually), I would say it is not surprising at all as these beans are not grown in farms. In fact, I should say it is expected because naturally-grown beans do not have a similar taste with farm-grown cocoa beans.”
“The Orang Asli grow trees in an area that is very diversified and this has a positive impact on the taste of the chocolates. It has a very unusual taste. The world has not experienced the chocolates from Malaysia in terms of style and (special) taste,” said Ning.
Preserving the taste
These single-origin beans harvested by the Orang Asli are fermented and roasted at his chocolate laboratory to create single-origin chocolate (cocoa beans that come from a particular location that have specific characteristics or taste).
“When we use chocolates from cocoa beans from one single origin (or location), we preserve the characteristic and expression of the origin, without blending with other cocoa beans, as every location has a different taste,” explained Ning.
“We are preserving the unique characteristic and taste profile of (cocoa beans) of that location or origin,” added the Physics and Computer Science graduate.
The finest beans
“The Malaysian cocoa beans that I have tasted are capable of showcasing taste profiles ranging from fruity, floral, dry fruit, berries, nutty, dry spices, woody and earthy.
“It also depends on the seasons as well. The beans grown during wet seasons tend to be more acidic while during the dry season, cocoa beans have more nutty flavours.
“In general, the beans from Pahang can activate flavours that are very balanced and has a bit of everything. The beauty of the cocoa beans relies on the intensity of the flavours. If fermented wisely, it will become intense, which means the chocolate will be very delicious.”
“Chocolates are really wonderful. If anyone takes a look at how chocolates are made, the taste of the chocolates and the flavours, I think it is quite amazing,” said Ning, adding that the name of the cocoa tree species, Theobroma Cacao, literally means “food of the gods”.
Craving for a unique taste
Ning, who describes himself as a chocolate maker (rather than a chocolatier), has created a variety of signature chocolates but his various Malaysian Single Origin Dark Chocolate Bars, are a favourite for many.
In 2019, he came up with a new product, Laksa Bon-Bons.
“It is our highly sought-after chocolate. We wanted to create a flavour, which is very unique to Malaysians, hence, Laksa Bon Bons was invented,” he said.
Laksa Bon Bon has a total of 10 ingredients comprising vegetables and herbs, similar to Assam Laksa, such as pineapple, mint, onion, chili, galangal, torch ginger, lemongrass and lime, except for the fish cake, as it is a vegetarian-based chocolate.
A new beginning with a new plan
“My plan for 2021 is to open the farm to the public for visits and allow volunteers to plant trees for a sustainable environment, (with partners such as Four Seasons KL),” said Ning.
“We are also renovating a new retail outlet and cafe in Bangsar Shopping Centre, which is expected to be completed this month,” added Ning, who plans to explore making more chocolates for the health-conscious, such as sugar-free or less-sugar varieties, incorporating fresh ingredients.