KAICAO: excellent bean-to-bar chocolates made in Lavapies

A few weeks ago, while we were strolling around Lavapies, we discovered a new hotspot that caught our attention. It’s called KAICAO and it’s next to Yolanda de Andrés’ workshop and Café Pavón, at C/ Encomienda 15.

The founder of this marvelous project is Ido Talmor, a born entrepreneur, creative and a lover of things well done and with soul. He, accompanied by his wife and together with the multidisciplinary designer Rebeka Arce have created a great brand dedicated to specialty chocolate that is unparalleled. It is enough to contemplate its image and take a bite of any of its products to feel that this place is different. Because what they say is what they are. KAICAO is maximum quality and flavor, authenticity, health and inspiration. For this reason, after trying his wide variety of chocolates sweetened only with dates, we decided to speak with him to learn more about his business, his history, the roots of fine cocoa, his motivations and everything related to this brand.

When, why, and how did Kaicao come about? And where did this name come from?

KAICAO was first born in the Dominican Republic. I was living there with my wife and working with communities of cacao farms and got in love with the cacao fruit.

I still remember when I went to see the first time a cacao plantation and the process of making chocolate I got hooked.

I was telling my wife that we are eating chocolate all our life and its the first time in my life I see a cacao fruit or a cacao bean and I was so fascinated from seeing the process of chocolate making. This was the time when the first seed of KAICAO was planted.

After a few years when our son was born and we moved to Miami and I started to make chocolate as a hobby and exploring more the world of cacao and chocolate, visiting chocolate makers and farms I started to take different courses to learn more. Then we moved to Madrid and I started a new high-tech startup, building SEO tools.

While working on my startup I continued making chocolate at home and playing with the idea all the time of starting a chocolate factory.

At that time I created different sketches of how the bean-to-bar factory should look, and consulted with other chocolate makers.

When Covid started we got locked at home, as everyone else, and my wife and I both worked from home, online, with a very active 2 years old son, in a small apartment in Madrid without a balcony. At that moment I decided that I am not going to sit anymore from morning to night in front of the computer and that I want to go out and meet people I have a dream that I want to make true.

Also for a long time, I felt like I couldn’t express all my creativity in my startups and I knew that making chocolate will fulfill my creativity and my entrepreneur hunger.

So, I decided I am opening a chocolate factory in the heart of Madrid, where everyone can come and see the process of chocolate making and we will teach people what is cacao and chocolate.

I was looking for places to rent in Lavapies neighborhood for a very long time I believe I saw more than 100 locals over a 6 month period, and as I was ready to maybe give up on my dream, I saw the place where KAICAO is today, back then it was a workshop place where they used to create construction works for the Hostel across from KAICAO. I decided on the spot that I am going to take it. Since then passed almost a year of building the place, ordering machines & assembling, installing, working on designs, marketing and brand strategy, packaging, sanitary licenses, and suppliers.

People would think ok opening a bean-to-bar chocolate Lab is easy but let me tell you its a very long process with a lot of mistakes that I made along the way because I didn’t come from the food and hotel industry, I was used to work in a high-tech very fast paste and agile environment, so I learned that in low-tech everything take time and more time, so now 18 months later I have established KAICAO, and we are producing and running production lines.

I am more fulfilled than ever in my life, so I say if you have a dream go and fulfill it.

The name came very easily, our son’s name is Kai and I know its a bit of cliche but it just worked so well to add the word CAO to it, and together its creating cacao with a spelling mistake so if you read Ka(i)Cao it’s almost like saying cacao.

Who is part of this project? What is your background?

I am the founder of the project. My background is in high-tech industry, I had a few online startups before that were focused on online marketing so I come from a very different industry that is more data-driven and marketing oriented.

When starting KAICAO I decided to take the same approach I did in startups, that is why we are a very different chocolate company that is also very data-driven, creative & innovative, by bringing the values of high-tech startup to the food industry and I see that it gives us as a company a very big advantage because we look at things very differently than any traditional chocolate/food company does. Also, in our team, we have Rebeka Arce, whom I contacted when I decided to start KAICAO.

Rebeka Arce is part of the project from day one when KAICAO was just an idea, we set together for many hours to create the brand.

Coming from the online, technology, and marketing world I knew that the design of the brand will be as important as the flavors so I knew that I need someone like Rebeka next to me.

Looking back after more than 2 years of working on the design and branding it’s amazing to see where we are now. I remember sitting in Rebeka’s apartment and writing the values of the company that we want to build maybe a year before we even started to make our first chocolates, I think this gave a lot of focus to the project along the way. Today Rebeka is an integral part of KAICAO, she is almost part of any decision in the company and she has a final say for all our visual identity, designs, etc.

Also, I am coming from a cultural background and mentality where teamwork is the most important part of the community, business, and any aspect of life, so in order to build something extraordinary you need a good team foundation. While building KAICAO we are also building a strong team that will be part of the family of KAICAO each one will be empowered in its field and like that we can grow and the sky is the limit.

For our website Tessa Doniga create all the creative photos. She managed to express with her team the vision of how KAICAO products should look in photos. She did an amazing job, I think a small look at our website can explain what I’m talking about :)

Cindy Kesters is also an important person in the team. She joined us a few months ago to manage our social media and to execute our vision and brand visual identity through Instagram. We are very happy with her.

Recently we have received a new team member and one of the most talented chocolatiers in Spain Elizabeth Vazquez from Mexico. With Eli we have developed a new chocolate with Mexican origin of Morita Chili spicy peppers.

To build something exceptional you need a good team.

What is your added value?

I think we bring some different values to the world of chocolate.

We built a company that works only with fine ethically traded cacao beans that represent only 5% of the world’s cacao. We believe in honesty, innovation, creativity, quality health, education, and sustainability.

Maybe all of this sounds like keywords but really everything we do in KAICAO is being thought through that lens.

If we talk about our ingredients in KAICAO we don’t have regular suppliers, we try to work directly with the farms and not only for cacao beans. For example, we buy our hazelnuts directly from a family farm in the north of Spain once a week, or dates we buy from a small village in the desert of Israel. So we don’t make a product if we don’t know that we can get the best quality unique ingredients for it.

I think if we talk about unique values, the combination of us trying to do something very creative that comes from deep inside us as artists, to reach out to other people through our products, combined with innovative thinking and a startup mentality that we bring creates a very different company with unique values. Another important value I would like to talk about is health.

We decided that KAICAO will do well for the world in which we work only with ethically organic traded ingredients.

And it continues thinking about processes and packaging, in order to make them more and more sustainable, but also about our human body and what we consume.

We try to make all our products healthy to consume for the customers and that is why we swapped sugar with dates.

We make tastier products than other chocolate makers, without using sugar and we think, as people, we should consume things that are more natural and that give benefits to our bodies. You don’t need to choose between eating chocolate bars that have more or less sugar, you can choose to eat KAICAO chocolate bars that have all the benefits you need.

Where do the cacao beans that you use in your products sourced come from?

Today we are working with 5 different origins and soon we will add 2 new ones. We try to use a variety of beans in order to have different flavors for different chocolates.

These are some examples:

Oko Caribe, Dominican Republic: these organic single-origin cacao beans come from small farmers from the Duarte region who get a fair price for their beans, they have incredible flavors of honey, nut mag, and raisins.

Kokoa Kamili, Tanzania: ethically sourced single-origin beans from Kilombero Vally in the heart of Tanzania grown by 2400 smallholder farmers, they have exotic fruity taste notes of sweet fruits, apricots, and peach.

And Finca Lucero, Ecuador: those beans are as well Arriba Nacional and they come from the Quevedo area, those trees are 100 years old which gives them a unique taste of citrus, fruity, orange, and banana flavors, it’s a family small farm run by a married couple and their daughter.

Is it true that you are one of the only companies in the world to use dates as a sweetener? Does sugar exist in Kaicao?

To understand the story behind the dates in KAICAO we need to go back to my history and childhood.

I’m coming from Israel where dates are an integral part of our life and life in the Middle East.

Its the snack you get next to the coffee, its the pack of gift that you bring to a family dinner, its something you eat before a morning run, its what you take with you to get energy in hiking, etc. So, first of all, for me dates are more than just a sweetener, they’re my memories and longing for childhood times and family.

When started KAICAO I was looking from the beginning to make this brand as something that connects me with my origin and my childhood, but also as a person that tries to keep a healthy lifestyle and an almost sugar-free one I wanted to find a way to add to the chocolate a sweetener that is not regular sugar or cane sugar, what most of the chocolate makers use. I started doing tests of making chocolate with dates, it took me a long time because dates have a lot of fibers, some time humidity, but I was determined that this is something we must have in KAICAO because of how well it represents me in our products.

After a year of testing, I got to master the perfect method of how to make chocolate sweetened with dates.

So, yes it’s true that we are one of the only companies that make chocolates sweetened with dates but not the only one, one of the reasons behind it is that making chocolates sweetened with dates is not an easy task, it’s changing a bit the technique you need to use, compare to making chocolate with sugar, its a longer and more difficult process and to get a good result it’s not easy.

What benefits do dates have in relation to sugar?

First of all, there is a taste benefit before we even talk about the health benefits. We are eating chocolates from childhood with sugar, a lot of sugar, in our brain we have the connection between chocolate and sugar, so many of the tastes that we think are in chocolate are actually sugar, so by disconnecting this connection we also start to discover new flavors in the chocolates and after customers starting to eat our chocolates, they can’t go back to eat chocolates that are sweetened with sugar because of the sweet sensation you get from sugar. You don’t have this experience when you each KAICAO bars.

Also when we talk about dates they have a lot of health benefits they are not just empty sugars they have a lot of dietary fiber, selenium, calcium, copper, potassium, and magnesium. They are also a good source of antioxidants.

With what kind of dates do you work with and where do they come from?

Just like cacao beans have many varieties, dates have too.

We use organic Medjool dates from a small Kibbutz in the south of Israel that is considered to be one of the best Medjool dates in the world.

Medjool dates are a sweet, chewy, creamy variant of the date, which is why we use them to make our natural bonbons, filled dates with nuts covered with 100% chocolates. When people try it they can’t believe the texture of our dates.

For our chocolate bars, we use organic Deglet Noor dates that are much drier than the Medjool variant so they are dried and then crushed into a powder which we then use to make our chocolates.

Dates are the world’s oldest cultivated fruit, they are grown for more than 6000 years, and they are native to Middle East countries and are a symbol of hospitality there.

So if you want to bring something for your next dinner invitation, a natural wine and a pack of our chocolate cover Medjool dates will probably be a very good choice.

And where do the fruit you use to prepare some of your products come from?

We are lately experimenting a lot with the cacao fruit because we want to upcycle the whole cacao fruit using the shell, the fruit, and the beans.

We have a collaboration with a company in Ecuador that does innovation with the whole cacao. We are testing now cacao flour that is made from the shell of the cacao, and we are working on bringing juice of the cacao fruit, the idea, in the end, is to have products from all parts of the cacao fruit and by that also we help to the farmers. If in the past they got money only for their beans now they will be able to earn money also from the fruit and the shell, it will make the farming of cacao to be more profitable for the farmers and by that we creating a more healthy and sustainable cacao industry.

You are part of a bean-to-bar movement that is changing the chocolate industry. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, what does “bean to bar” mean? And what is specialty cacao and how does it differ from the cacao we all know?

Bean-to-bar it’s a chocolate-making movement that started around 15 years ago. It’s when a small-scale chocolate company takes responsibility and control of the chocolate-making process from sourcing the cacao beans to the chocolate bars. It starts with the origin.

In KAICAO we work only with fine-aroma cacao beans that represent only 5% of the world’s cacao and usually are criollo and trinitario varieties, those cacao beans have a special flavor and aroma depending on the variety and the region, for example, our beans from Tanzania are acidy with peach notes and our beans from Ecuador are floral and earthy.

We have a close connection with the farms where the cacao beans are being grown and processed.

When the cacao pods are ready, it happens twice a year, they cut the pods manually and take the inside of the cacao fruit, the pulp together with cacao beans and put them in wooden boxes to make the fermentation process for 3 – 7 days which is very important for the final flavor of the chocolate after the beans are being sun-dried for 7-10 days and then packed and shipped.

Then in KAICAO, we receive the raw and dry beans and we start with our process. We first do a manual sorting of the beans making sure we separate the bad beans or the very small ones so it will not affect the final taste of the chocolate and we prepare them for roasting. We then roast the beans, we have a roasting profile for each of our origins, because each one has a different size and different flavors that we want to show. In general, we roast between 20-30 min and we roast at low temp we actually don’t pass 125 degrees, in those temperatures we can capture the real flavors of the cacao and not have only bitter flavors.

After the roasting process, we do cracking and winnowing. It’s a process of removing the shell of the cacao beans and breaking the beans into cacao nibs. When we have our cacao nibs we are ready for stone grinding, so in KAICAO we use a method of stone grinding the chocolate, it’s actually using an ancient method but with a new technology. In the stone grinder, we decide the recipe for the chocolate, for example, if we want to make 85% chocolate we will add 85% cacao nibs and 15% of our date powder and we will stone grind the chocolate for 3-4 days without stopping, depend on the bean or the recipe.

The reason we stone grind the chocolate for so long is that we do 2 different processes, the first is that we want to get a smooth texture and usually we need around 48 hours for it, we have an instrument to check the sizes of microns, we want to get to about 15-20 microns, in this size everything will be creamy in our mouth so will get the amazing texture we want in our chocolate.

When working with date powder makes this process longer because the dates have a lot of fibers so it’s difficult to get to the right size of the microns we want. The other process we do is conching, during the 3-4 days of stone grinding we develop the flavors in the final chocolate so we make the final flavor of the chocolate less aggressive and much more balance. When the chocolate is ready we mold it into big molds of 10 kg and let it solidify for 24 hours, then we age the chocolate for at least 30 days.

The flavors of fine chocolate get better over time – like cheese and wine.

Then we re-melt the chocolate and do a process of tempering, which is actually reordering the crystals of the cacao butter in the chocolate in a special form by doing heating-cooling, and heating again. When the chocolate is tempered we mold it into our chocolate bars molds, which we insert in the fridge for 20 min to get solid fast, then we unfold them we wait 24 hours before we pack our iconic date sweeten chocolate bars. As you can see the process of bean-to-bar chocolate is very long and very artisanal.

When we talk about bean-to-bar compared to the big chocolate industry we need to understand a few things, the first thing they don’t use fine cacao to make chocolate instead they use bulk cacao which is a commodity that is traded in the stock market.

Fine cacao has a completely different and not tradable commodity price so also the farmers get a much higher price for their beans something that gives them a reason to continue growing cacao.

Bulk cacao bean flavors are mostly bitter and the big dark chocolate industry chocolate bars are usually just bitter while bean-to-bar chocolate has a complex flavor with each origin of its bar.

The process of big chocolate companies is very fast with big machinery and automated, in order to make the products as quick as possible and adding different ingredients as well.

The ingredients list of bean-to-bar chocolate usually consists of mainly 3 ingredients: cacao beans, sugar – in our case date powder, and a bit of cocoa butter -. In commercial chocolate, you have many other ingredients like soy lecithin, cacao powder, vegetable oils, and more.

By buying bean-to-bar chocolate actually, you are helping the environment, and the farmers and you are helping to make the chocolate and cacao industry much more healthy.

I recommend everyone in Madrid or visiting this city to book one of our free tours where we show and explain all the process of the bean to bar chocolate making, I’m sure after that you will only buy bean-to-bar chocolate.

What are the main benefits of frequently eating specialty chocolate?

Cacao is a superfood! Specialty or fine aroma cacao by nature is more nutritious than bulk cacao cause most of it is organic and very carefully handled, bean to bar chocolates are found to be almost 2 or 3 times higher antioxidants than commercial dark chocolate.

Cacao is one of the most amazing superfoods in nature, especially the fine cacao that we use.

Some people think chocolate is not healthy and this is a very bad perspective on chocolate, chocolate is good for you actually it’s just that you need the right chocolate.

When we talk about the health benefits of cacao I want to list some of them so people will understand why they should start adding cacao beans or bean-to-bar chocolate into their daily diet.

Cacao is used as a medicine in many cultures for thousands of years. Cacao is packed with antioxidants from the flavonoid type and has 40 times more antioxidants than blueberries some of the known benefits of cacao include improved heart health, reduced blood pressure and cholesterol, reduced inflammation, and improved cognitive function.

Cacao beans are also a great source of magnesium, an essential mineral for our bodies cacao beans are also a great source of fiber. It is also used as a stress reliever and that is why our ceremonial cacao drink is a great alternative for fighting stress.

In KAICAO we also researched a lot about theobromine in cacao. Theobromine is technically an alkaloid compound (meaning a nitrogen-atom-containing chemical) that resembles caffeine but with much higher health benefits.

Theobromine increases physical and mental energy boosts and unlike caffeine, it’s long-lasting energy. Also, researches show that theobromine increases mood.

Do you have any connection at all with specialty coffee?

We are probably kind of cousins that fulfill each other, we both work with ethically traded beans and try to bring new flavors from the specialty beans we have.

We started collaborating with some specialty coffee places and we are also in contact with others to create some experiments together.

What products make up your current product range? And which is currently the most popular?

For a company our size I think we have quite a lot of products, I think it’s coming from our creative and innovative nature that it’s hard for us not to try and make new products all the time.

When we talk about our products we need to remember that all of them are sweetened with dates so we have a common ground always of dates and cacao in our products. Also, we can definitely say that our intention was to create products with health benefits.

We have 11 chocolate bars of different origins and flavors; 3 cocoa and chocolate drinks and 6 types of snacks, ranging from Medjool dates stuffed with pistachios and cardamom and covered with our 100% chocolate to trail mix of different nuts, dehydrated cocoa fruit and 100% chocolate.

The most popular ones are the 65% Arabic coffee and cardamon, the 85% Piura Peru, the 60% tahini and sesame, and of course, our famous hazelnuts and dates spread that is made from 70% hazelnuts and 30% dates. Usually, we can’t keep up with the production of the spread due to high demand. I’m also surprised that our ceremonial cacao drinks its a hit.

Our new hits are the camel milk chocolates and the bananas-covered chocolates that a lot of fitness people are buying them.

You are always experimenting to bring new flavors and products to life. What process do you follow to include a new flavor in your range of products?

When we talk about new flavors each one of us needs to be true to itself and its origin and history. If I try to make a churros chocolate bar I will not do it so well because I was not born in Spain and I don’t understand churros in my DNA, I believe that in life all of us should be very authentic to what we are doing and only then we can create something not less than amazing.

Flavors are actually memories that take us on a journey to different times or travels that we made, they help us explore new cultures and new places but one cannot master a flavor without being part of it.

When I come to create new flavors its a very emotional part of the process for me because in the end we all want to remember the good times from different moments of our life.

When I’m creating a new flavor I think about the memories I want to remember and that I want to preserve and I try to pass my memories on the chocolates and to the people, and by doing that I give a very exposed and sensitive part of myself to customers who are trying our chocolate and I passing to them my memories and that what make KAICAO very unique in our flavors.

If we take the example of our Arabic coffee and cardamon chocolate, it’s coming from a very emotional place for me, it reminds me of my grandparent’s house, and my memories with this flavor connect me to my grandfather and grandmother sitting in their back yard under their grape tree drinking Arabic coffee with a lot of cardamon and eating a Medjool date next to it. This smell is something that will be with me forever and its a very nostalgic memory, but then when you see how it touches other people as well, its all worth it.

Not long ago, I had a group of people from Jerusalem, when one of them started eating the Arabic coffee and cardamon chocolate bar he got very emotional, he told me that it brings him back to his childhood in the old city of Jerusalem walking the streets with his father and that it’s a flavor and smell he will never forget. So for me, this is the biggest achievement because what we want to do is to touch people’s hearts.

Your shop and Cacao Lab are in the Lavapiés district. And in fact, it is in your own laboratory where you carefully elaborate all of your delicious products. What is special about this space? Do you plan to carry out any workshops there?

I want to talk about Lavapies, from the beginning I was looking to open KAICAO in this neighborhood, but almost everyone I knew told me this is a big mistake, friends were telling me: “this should be in barrio Salamanca”, “Malasaña is the place for KAICAO”, “nobody will pay 7 or 8 euro for the chocolate bar there”, “you will not have customers” or “its dangerous”, etc. I don’t know if you could notice already now but everything we do we want to do differently.

One of the first things I told Rebeka when we met about the brand is that we don’t want to be a brand that looks down on people, we want to bring the bean to bar chocolates to everyone.

We want to be on the ground level and we are not going to make a posh chocolate company that tries to make luxury products for only 1% of the society. We have a mission to show everyone what is cacao, its benefits, how we make it, etc. so for me Lavapies is part of us, also i’m an immigrant in Spain and this is the neighborhood where many immigrants come from.

Actually many of the world cacao beans comes from the countries of the people who live in this neighborhood.

And I must say that we feel very welcome here and I couldn’t choose a better place for KAICAO that will represent us and who we are.

Apart from at your physical premises and on the website, where else can we purchase your products?

We now sell online and in our store but also we started collaborations with many specialty coffee places in Madrid and outside Madrid, and all the time we look for new places where we share the same philosophy we want people to try our products and know the difference of bean-to-bar sweeten by dates than other chocolates so our aim is to start to get to many more places in the near future around Spain, from next month also we will be available in a store in Dubai.

What does the Time Tasters community consist of?

We build the time tasters community from the reason I talked about before, what we do in KAICAO is that we want to let people taste time. It means that we want them to taste the history, the origins of the cacao beans and the flavors we have, we want to take them on a journey in time and to capture a moment that they will remember, we connect in our mind flavors with memories so for us the taste time community is a community that can share the memories with us.

Soon we are going to make the time tasters official community so people that will be part of it will enjoy special benefits and will get to try small batches of chocolates that will be saved just for them.

What are you working on right now?

I am working now on 3 different products: a chocolate tablet with an infusion of tea from the desert. I lived in the desert for a few years and there are many herbs there that we use to make tea with them, I am trying to duplicate this experience into a chocolate bar.

I work also on a special cacao shot for health benefits that extract the theobromine from the cacao and we work on a new hazelnuts cacao and dates truffle, we are creating now the packaging for this product.

(*) Photos: Cover photo, slider 1, 2, 4, 5 and 7 and still photo 1 by Tessa Doniga. Fixed photo 2 and slider 3 and 6 by Gema Graciano.