Review: In a Beach Off Manila, Follow the Chocolate

Review: In a Beach Off Manila, Follow the Chocolate

Words by Miguel Ortega, Photos by Tarish Zamora

“We have a couple of surfer regulars who get their chocolate chip cookie fix right after a good surf,” mentions Cara Lim, Tigre y Oliva’s shop manager, who is, herself, a surfer. Started by Italian chocolatier, Simon Mastrota, the store specializes in single source handcrafted chocolates and is located in a sandy beach just four hours from the capital city. 

Named after his two daughters, Tiger and Olive, Mastrota began by simply experimenting on chocolates in the sandy beach town of La Union where he lived. Eventually, that led to the production of Tigre y Oliva chocolate bars. He partnered with his cacao supplier, Rob Crisostomo, and at first, operations were conducted in Manila, only supplying their chocolate bars to other stores and restaurants. “He created the formulation of Tigre y Oliva’s chocolate and set the bar for how our chocolate is now. It made sense to open the flagship retail store where it all started,” explains Crisostomo.

In the last decade or so, the La Union surf town has slowly been gentrified and has grown a community of craftsmen. Tigre y Oliva sits in The Great Northwest, a collective in San Juan, La Union, which has grown to accommodate businesses that specialize in their craft, from coffee and beer, to food—even barbering. In a location such as this, innovation and creativity often bleed from one shop to the other, creating an environment that is genuine and accommodating. 

Crisostomo works closely with the cacao farmers and sources from various places in the country, from Davao and South Cotabato, both in Mindanao, and Bohol in Visayas. “Tigre y Oliva focuses more on the natural notes of the cacao bean,” Crisostomo explains. 

The single origin process begins with the farmers, who would pick, ferment, and dry the cacao in their respective locations, which are then sent to their laboratory in Manila. The cacao beans are then roasted, much like coffee, and separated through a vacuum. The separated nibs are then ground and mixed with sugar, cocoa butter, and other items depending on the desired product. The result is a range of chocolates that represent—and are named after—their origins, like the Talandang from Talandang, Davao which is naturally sweet with hints of tartness, or the Tupi from Tupi, South Cotabato, which carries floral notes and a rich creamy hit. 

With the aid of the Gallery by Chele team, Lim was able to develop a menu that highlights their chocolate using ingredients inspired by their surroundings. There’s the crowd favorite coconut macaroon, which is half-dipped in melted single origin chocolate. They also have a take on the classic champorado, a sweet chocolate rice porridge which, in this case, is made with 75% deep roast chocolate and sweetened with coconut nectar. And then there’s also the unique, in the form of a single origin milkshake made with stout from a nearby brewer.

“The quality of cacao from the Philippines can stand alongside some of the best in the world,” states Crisostomo. With hundred-year-old lineages from Central America and hybrid cacaos in the country, there are a lot of flavor profiles to explore. “A decade ago, very few to none were making craft chocolate,” he continues. Together, both Lim and Crisostomo hope that in the future, more Filipinos can appreciate local craft chocolate, with possibilities of supplying local cacao globally. 

For now, they’re sitting comfortably with sand between their toes, dishing out chocolate-laden creations to hungry surfers, piqued tourists, and familiar locals, while taking in the sun and sea. Tigre y Oliva just might be the best thing that’s ever happened by the beach.

Facebook: @tigreyolivachocolate 

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