Tissa Aunilla – Chocolate entrepeneur
Tissa Aunilla – Chocolate entrepeneur
A full-time corporate lawyer turned chocolate entrepreneur, Tissa Aunilla took the Law and Economics Master’s Programme at the Utrecht University Faculty of Law in 2004.
Tissa: “Leaving a steady job as a corporate lawyer for 7 years and deciding to open a chocolate factory was one of the biggest decisions of my life. In fact, my chocolate story started when I was taking the Law and Economics master’s programme at UU. Over the holidays I travelled to Zürich and was quite surprised to find Bali and Jember (East Java) single origin chocolate produced by a Brooklyn-based chocolate manufacturer on prominent display in a chocolate boutique in Zürich. Both regions are part of Indonesia, my home country.
In fact, my chocolate story started when I was taking the Law and Economics master’s programme at Utrecht University
Coming home from Utrecht, I continued to work as a corporate lawyer, mostly handling M&As of public companies. I used to love working as a lawyer: meeting and negotiating with different people, having healthy arguments with counterparts, finding strategic and legally acceptable solutions for clients’ problems, everything was perfect and fulfilling. Until that one afternoon when I was baking a chocolate cake for my family using a Swiss brand chocolate. The chocolate was so good, I was compelled to find out more. On their website I learned that they source the cocoa beans for their “grand cru” chocolate couverture (crème de la crème collection) from Java, Indonesia. Not long after that, I learned that Indonesia is the third largest cocoa bean producer in the world after Ghana and Ivory Coast. That was the moment I realised the world must know something about my home country that I didn’t.
My brother and I spent years bringing our plan to fruition: from transforming my living room into a “chocolate lab” with a marble table for my experiments all the way to building a bean-to-bar chocolate factory in South Jakarta. I even took a Master Chocolatier Programme at École Chocolat in Felchlin, Schwyz, Switzerland. In 2013 we started Pipiltin Cocoa, a chocolate factory which produces chocolate from bean to bar. This is a unique business model in Indonesia, as we also source the cocoa beans directly or from a traceable source. We source our cocoa beans from 4 different regions in Indonesia: Bali, Aceh, East Java, and Flores.
Fruity, honey-like and complex—these are the flavours to describe chocolate from East Java. The one from Flores has a clove and coffee flavour with a touch of orange. Each region has its own distinctive taste, which depends on its terroir and the type of beans, among other factors. To produce high-quality, fine chocolate, we can only use fermented beans: these complex flavours will not emerge without the fermentation process.
Our cocoa beans from Bali, Aceh, and East Java are sourced directly from farmers. This has two main advantages. Firstly, it allows us to support the sustainability and continuity of cocoa bean production by providing farmers with the right tools and knowledge to run well-managed and self-sustainable plantations. This includes promoting sustainable practices such as using well-composed cow manure with cocoa pod skin instead of pesticides, allowing bird-friendly trees, and so on.
Secondly, direct sourcing allows us to promote fairness for chocolate farmers. We want to make sure that farmers receive a fair price and work in acceptable conditions, but we also want them to understand their part in the chain of chocolate production. Being at the bottom of the global food chain, farmers typically sell their beans to a middle man and then lose sight of them. As a result, some of our suppliers in Tabanan, Bali had never tasted chocolate in their life, even though they had been cocoa bean farmers for 30 years. We educate our suppliers so now they know that their beans are used to make a specific type of chocolate. On top of that, a better understanding of the complicated and delicate way in which chocolate is produced will help them further improve and maintain the quality of their cocoa beans.
Do I regret my decision to change my career path? Not for a minute. Working in the food industry has been a dream
Investing in the chocolate production process rather than simply exporting beans as a raw product is very beneficial for Indonesia. Processing chocolate requires a complicated and layered production process, so it offers a lot of job opportunities. Moreover, the value added by transforming the cocoa bean into a chocolate bar will add to our economic growth. And the higher the quality we can offer, the better the result will be. For example, Pipiltin Cocoa pays its suppliers of raw beans around 40-50% more than market price, since we also have certain requirements for the quality of the beans.
Do I regret my decision to change my career path? Not for a minute. Working in the food industry has been a dream. Surprisingly, my legal knowledge from the Law and Economics programme at UU now helps me make decisions in my everyday life. The programme’s focus on the interdependence of economics and law has changed my way of thinking. Just one example is the cost-benefit analysis (CBA), which has helped me take a quantitative approach to Pipiltin Cocoa’s business decisions.”