Chocolate Revolution in Saigon: A Delectable Experience with The Cocoa Project

Discover The Cocoa Project’s Journey of Chocolate Innovation and Sustainability with their Wonderful Co-Founder – Ms. Khanh Linh.

Who doesn’t love chocolate? But most of us rarely think about the magnificent cacao fruit that it comes from and the whole tasty industry from tree to bar. In the early morning of enchanting Da Lat, Vietnam’s city of eternal spring, a chance encounter on a 4 AM bus brought together Khanh Linh, the visionary co-founder of The Cocoa Project, and the renowned ‘chocolate king of Vietnam’ – Gricha Safarian. Their connection? A shared love for chocolate.

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Left to Right: Tran Le Hoang (Communications Executive), Olga Petukhova (Chocolatier), and Khanh Linh (Co-Founder & GM)

Khanh Linh’s Journey: From Paris to Saigon, a Chance Meeting with Chocolate Royalty

Khanh Linh’s background is a unique blend of cultures; her parents are from Vietnam, but she was born and raised in France. Her return to Vietnam a few years ago was a turning point. Her dream of working in the chocolate industry found wings when she met Mr. Gricha Safarian, the man behind Grand Place (now Puratos Grand Place), who had been shaping the chocolate industry in Vietnam since the early 1990s.

In Khanh Linh’s words, “If I were to sum up what I am currently doing in one sentence, I would say, ‘I – along with The Cocoa Project – want to create a chocolate culture for Vietnamese people.‘” But what does that mean? It’s about making chocolate a part of daily life, much like the coffee culture deeply rooted in Vietnam.

Khanh Linh’s French heritage shines through, where “pain au chocolat” graces daily tables, and chocolate isn’t just an indulgence; it’s a celebration of everyday life. In a nation where processed sugary “delights” like choco pies and imported chocolates reign supreme, it’s truly admirable to witness chocolate’s transformation into an art form, a healthier choice, and a source of local pride, and a driving force of sustainability, all crafted right here in Vietnam.

Gricha Safarian, CEO of Puratos Grand-Place Indochina
Co-Founder of The Cacao Project & CEO of Puratos Grand-Place Indochina: Gricha Safarian – Photo Source – The Saigon Times

Gricha Safarian, famous as the ‘chocolate king of Vietnam,’ has revolutionized the country’s cocoa industry by introducing international standards, promoting sustainable farming practices, and elevating Vietnamese chocolate to a global stage, opening doors for local farmers and entrepreneurs while significantly impacting the country’s economic and agricultural landscape.

This serendipitous meeting began a long journey, changing the course of chocolate in Vietnam. With Gricha’s extensive knowledge and Khanh Linh’s passion, they set off on an adventure – to bring a ‘chocolate culture’ to Vietnam, redefining the Vietnamese chocolate narrative, one cacao bean at a time.

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The Cacao Project – Chocolate Bars

The Evolution of The Cocoa Project

Inspired by the allure of chocolate museums she encountered during her travels, Khanh Linh’s original vision for The Cocoa Project was that of a chocolate museum, a homage to Vietnamese farmers and sustainable cacao beans. As the concept evolved, the core vision remained unwavering: cultivating a culture of chocolate appreciation in Vietnam.

But it became so much more than that. The Cocoa Project transformed into a creative space, not only for savoring delectable chocolate but also for exploring the art and science behind it, witnessing chocolate-making magic through the mini factory and open kitchen bar.

Sustainability isn’t just a catchphrase; it’s a core value etched into the soul of The Cocoa Project. It’s a chocolate journey that celebrates creativity, sustainability, and the rich flavors of Vietnam.

Reflecting on this, Khanh Linh shares, “The Cocoa Project is not merely a museum or a conventional chocolate café; we aspire for it to be a place that inspires our patrons.

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Creative Modern Art in The Cocoa Project, Headquarters
cocoa supply chain at Puratos Grand-Place Indochina
Sustainable cocoa supply chain at Puratos Grand-Place Indochina – Source – The Saigon Times
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Friendly faces from the Cacao Project team.

Unwrapping Cacao: The Fascinating World of Vietnamese Chocolate

What makes Vietnamese chocolate so unique? It’s all in the terroir: soil, climate, and geography lend their magic to the cacao beans, resulting in a distinct and delicious flavor profile. Vietnamese-grown cacao often carries subtle notes reminiscent of local fruits and spices, adding complexity to its exceptional taste.

Khanh-Linh likens the chocolate-making process to crafting fine wine, emphasizing the importance of respecting ingredients, the environment, and the people involved in its production. It’s a meticulous journey The Cocoa Project undertakes with dedication and care.

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Vietnam is producing a top-quality Cacao. Photo: Elodie Lenhardt.
Khanh Linh 3 - Chocolate Revolution in Saigon: A Delectable Experience with The Cocoa Project
Proudly Made in Vietnam – “Chocolate for the People!

Sustaining Sweetness: The Cocoa Project’s Ethical Mission

At The Cocoa Project, crafting delicious chocolate goes hand in hand with responsibility and sustainability. In their eco-conscious journey, they’ve recycled over 460 kg of plastic waste from PLASTICPeople into stunning interior design elements. The Cocoa Project also prioritizes fair trade practices, implementing the Cacao-Trace Chocolate program, purchasing cocoa beans directly from local farmers, offering fair prices and long-term commitments, and providing training on sustainable agricultural practices. Cacao-Trace chocolate’s full traceability ensures ethical and sustainable production, which is rare in the chocolate industry.

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Lauren Capturing The Cocoa Project’s Trendy Mirror Frames – Made by Recycled Waste from PLASTICPeople
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Significantly reduces its environmental footprint – condensing the chocolate-making process into 60 days compared to over a year, setting a potential new sustainability standard for the chocolate industry!

Chocolate Haven: The Cocoa Project HQ in District 3

Ready to indulge in delicious local chocolate? The Cocoa Project’s headquarters in District 3, Saigon, is a treat for the senses. This repurposed 1950s Modernist Villa is more than just a shop; it’s an experience. From white chocolate matcha tea to coffee and yummy cafe style bites. Have lovely chocolate dates, admire the chocolate making-process, shop for local chocolate gifts, or set up your laptop upstairs and work in a beautifully designed space. Create unique chocolate bars and packaging in a Cocoa Discovery Class, or catch their next monthly Free Tasting Event to sample the latest local chocolate flavors. The Cocoa Project’s HQ has a modern and creative feel, with a space to explore the fascinating world of cacao in Vietnam! It’s a great opportunity for expats and tourists to experience Vietnamese-inspired flavors and connect with innovative creators and entrepreneurs in Vietnam today!

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Sample Unique Flavours – Free Tastings at The Cocoa Project
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The Cocoa Project – District 3 – 1950s Modernist Villa

Sweet Dreams and Chocolate Chronicles

The Cocoa Project blends French and Belgian expertise with world-class quality and sustainable and fair trade practices. It’s not just a chocolate store but a sustainability movement, and a beautiful experience. Visit The Cocoa Project in Ho Chi Minh City for a chocolate-infused adventure with local Vietnamese flair and finesse!

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Vietnam is Awesome team meet Co-Owner – Khanh Linh at The Cocoa Project’s Delectable Mooncake Tasting Event
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Written by Lauren Tracy
Content Ambassador - Vietnam Is Awesome
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Originally from Cape Town, South Africa, Lauren has been living in Vietnam for the past 8 years. Her passion for the travel industry and wealth of experience has led her to become the Content Ambassador at Vietnam Is Awesome.