Introducing Pure Imagination — chocolatier Janice Wong’s full-scale in-mall chocolate production facility where you can learn about her bean-to-bar process and indulge in some fine cacao products
Janice Wong, Singapore’s dessert and chocolate doyenne, has been rather busy this year. Shortly after launching ice cream bar Softhaus a few months back, chef Wong and her team decided to expand the space behind Softhaus in Great World to include Pure Imagination, a chocolate café and a full-scale chocolate production facility.
Pure Imagination is not just a café — it is also where guests can learn first-hand about the entire chocolate-making process. Chef Wong and her team will demystify the bean-to-bar process through short, small group tours of the facility as part of a degustation menu.
Participants will be able to touch and smell raw cacao, taste the pulp, witness the roasting process, and more. Along the way, guests will try cascara tea (made from steeping dried cacao skin), sorbet, nibs, and finishing with a single-origin chocolate mousse. The experience will be priced from $40 per person and must be booked in advance.
For now, dried cacao will be flown in from the Philippines, Thailand, Colombia and Trinidad; during harvest season in Thailand and Malaysia, fresh pods will be brought in as well. Eventually, Singapore-grown pods will become part of the offering.
From November, Pure Imagination is offering a complete DIY chocolate kit, where you can take home fresh cacao beans, containers for fermentation, and even a mini electric grinder — with instructions to make your own chocolate. These will be available in limited quantities, which will be announced on Pure Imagination’s social media platform.
Options had the chance to go through the degustation menu, which started with chef Wong introducing us to the cacao fruit and cutting it open. Inside is a mushy fruit resembling mangosteens. Both the fruit and seed are edible, which we sampled. The bulk of the fruit and the seed will usually be saved for making chocolate.
It is quite a long process from a fresh cacao fruit to a processed chocolate bar. In between, chef Wong explains, the seeds need to be first fermented, then dried under the sun. This process takes some two weeks, and constant care and observation is needed to ensure that the seeds do not become mouldy.
After this two-week process, the seeds are ready to be roasted at Pure Imagination’s chocolate production facility. The fermented and dried cacao beans are added into a large industrial roaster. Depending on the intensity of roast, this process could take up to an hour. After that, the roasted beans are ready to be ground into small nibs to be made into chocolate.
The final step at the chocolate production facility is the conching process, where the cacao nibs are added into a heated mixer along with cocoa butter, milk powder and sugar, and mixed for 48 hours.
This is where the chocolate journey ends for customers at the chocolate production facility, as the team at Pure Imagination will take over from the conching process, make the chocolate into bars and deliver them to the customers.
After the educational chocolate journey, it was time to sit down and enjoy a chocolate tasting flight that included chocolate cakes, nibs, hot chocolate and even a special tea made of cacao skin.
Chef Wong is adamant about educating Singaporeans about the origins and process of making chocolate. She hopes for Singapore to be amongst the region’s leaders in artisanal chocolate production by 2023.
To achieve that vision, chef Wong and her team have already begun their ambitious quest to plant 1,000 trees across the island — a ground-breaking effort made possible through community collaboration.
I’ve always been fascinated by the adaptability and creativity of chocolate as a medium and a craft,” says chef Wong.
“Over the years, I’ve cultivated friendships with cacao farmers and suppliers from all over the world, but when people think about chocolate in Asia, they immediately mention Vietnam, the Philippines or Indonesia — all countries that make amazing tree-to-bar chocolate. It got me thinking if it was possible for us to do the same in land-scarce Singapore. Thankfully, with the help of some amazing partners, we have embarked on a years-long community effort to eventually fulfil our dream of a true made-in-Singapore, bean-to-bar chocolate.”
These partners include the likes of Great World, Gardens By The Bay, and Spectra Secondary School. The latter will go through a customised and practice-oriented curriculum prepared by chef Wong, while the school grounds will be home to about 40 cacao trees planted by staff and students.
Gardens By The Bay, which already has several cacao trees, will be planting more to increase the production of chocolate in Singapore.
1 Kim Seng Promenade
Opening hours: Daily, 10am to 10pm