A new chocolate lab in Hyderabad is bringing Indian origin cacao to the fore

Manam is paving the way to bring the bean to the fore while being rooted in its vision for accessibility, transparency, and Indian craft.

Harper's Bazaar India

At some point in our lives, we’ve all wished we won the golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory—I still do. We let the reigns of our imagination run loose as we delved deep into his world of a chocolate river, hand-picked flavourful ingredients, candied apples plucked from edible trees, and even a whole meal packaged into a single sweet. Pardon the whimsical and fairytale-esque comparison—but what if you were to find yourself in a home-grown chocolate factory in India? Located at Banjara Hills, in the heart of Hyderabad, on a bustling street of the city is the Manam Chocolate Karkhana that brings together the workings of a chocolate factory, the magic of creating your own chocolate and crafting unique products, and the story of its origin at the core of it all. 

How it began: the concept and vision 

Led by Hyderabad-based entrepreneur Chaitanya Muppala, the inklings of a craft chocolate brand began a few years ago with a keen curiosity in the making of chocolate. “I got into this space about four years ago; I did not know anything, but wanted to do something with chocolate. I realised that everyone within the space is buying from the same two or three sources, putting it in their packaging, and calling it their own—with most of the profit going to manufacturers. India doesn’t have a good reputation for good cacao beans, primarily because these plants have been brought in by industrial players for industrial purposes.” 

With this in mind, District Origins—a cacao fermentery and the parent company of Manam aimed at building the West Godavari Region of India for craft chocolate makers around the globe—was established in 2021. “So, we sell the bean. We sell equitably purchased, sustainably processed, traceable cacao fermented at this large fermentery that we built, which is touted be the largest in India,” he says. 

Further, “While we build that business to undo the bad reputation of Indian cacao and build up fine flavoured cacao in India, we’ve come around to start this brand to interpret what craft chocolate is in the Indian context,” says Muppala, “But this is not reductionist; i.e. the Indian-ness is in the context of representing the complex cultural space we are in and not including flavours like elaichi, kesar, and malai. As Indians our connect to chocolate is that black forest cake or Cornetto ice cream that our parents bought for us. So, the idea was to deconstruct these connections and reconstruct chocolate into unique and new products. We are trying to create a balance between familiarity and inventiveness. It’s not about saying that you need to elevate your appreciation for chocolate, it is about presenting you with something that a 16-year old and 60-year old can enjoy for what it is.” 

And thus Manam—a Telugu word meaning ‘We Are’—was born. It draws inspiration from its very roots to create something new, exciting, and decadent while still offering a sense of nostalgia, familiarity, and warmth of chocolates. 

The space 

A glitchy video call with Muppala was no bar to the 10,000 sq. ft. expansive space that is now home to the Manam Karkhana, the Chocolate Lab, the Manam classroom, and the Manam Café. “If you Google Manam Chocolate right now, it will show you a picture of what the building looked like then and what it looks like now. We were very clear we wanted to be on a busy main street—to make craft chocolate accessible to India. This was an old house and it’s taken us nearly two years to transform the space into the karkhana.” 

The space, which boasts of chic yet raw interiors, invites you to discover, explore, and interact with cacao and chocolate in all forms. Whether through the hand-casted floors that resemble leaves or the use of weathered steel that pays homage to the tools of chocolate making, its vision is proud and clear. 

Wander through the space and catch a glimpse of the live chocolate making process—from roasting, grinding and refining, to the tempering and moulding of the chocolate. An immersive digital experience will take you back to the farms and through all the stages that go into crafting the perfect cacao bean. Next, stop by the chocolaterie to ask for a taste of any of the many chocolate confection that catch your eye. At the Chocolate Lab, you can create your own chocolate tablet with toppings such as Kashmiri walnuts and freeze-dried strawberries, and take it home in your own custom label designed for you right there. Also, indulge in decadent craft desserts and beverages such as soft-serves, gelatos, muffins, twelve different kinds of hot chocolate and more. 

Complete the experience with a visit to the Manam Café whose ambience is a nod to the origin story with a Cacao tree at the heart of the space. You’re welcomed by the whiff of cacao mixed with coffee and a specially curated menu that incorporates cacao as an ingredient in its dishes. From millet tacos and chicken liver on toast, to a classic Manam breakfast which includes waffles paired with their single origin chocolate—there’s much to indulge in. 

The craft chocolate collection 

Amid the host of confections such as the Manam signature truffles, fudge, and brownies, that are all nostalgic and warm, the Manam Signature Tablet Collection, particularly the Chocolate Maker’s Single Farm Series stood out for us. Made with cacao from select partner farms in West Godavari, this series is a showcase of the farmer's dedication and exceptional craftsmanship that lends the cacao its unique identity and bold flavours. “There are QR codes on the back of these chocolate bars, which is the customer-facing interface that provides traceability of the bean. It comes with the report on the name of the farmer, the date we paid them, how much we paid them, and so on,” Muppala informed us. Other collections include the Chocolate Maker’s Single Origin India Series and the Chocolatier’s Snacking Collection which includes confections such as barks, thins, chikkis, and even chocolate-wrapped banana chips. 

“Chocolate doesn’t need to be sold,” says Muppala, “Everyone is predisposed to liking it and we are here to remind ourselves that its magical, we love it, and it is about the fun, joy and the experience of it all more than anything else.”