Malaysian Borneo is a breathtakingly beautiful location. I can’t comment for the rest of the island since I’ve never gone, but the natural beauty of the island and the historical wealth of cacao left me speechless. Malaysians have been cultivating cocoa for almost two centuries, with the earliest trees flowering on peninsular Malaysia. Malaysians nowadays take great pride in their chocolate. Yet, many Malaysians are unaware of how little of their chocolate is manufactured using cacao farmed in Malaysia.
As cocoa output continues to fall, the majority of Malaysian cacao is currently cultivated in Borneo, notably in Tawau, Kuching, and Sabah. Chocolate production isn’t particularly prevalent on the island right now, but a few local chocolate manufacturers are striving to revitalize the sector. Many of these companies are situated in Kota Kinabalu, and they all use Malaysian cacao to create genuine Malaysian chocolates. Check out my suggestions below.
Although being out of the way for most people, Bonaterra is worth a visit if you want to learn all there is to know about chocolate from bean to bar in one spot. This is now Sabah’s sole chocolate producer with a public chocolate factory and a showroom where you can purchase their chocolates.
At the present, Bonaterras’ chocolate line consists only of dark chocolates created with indigenous Sabah cocoa, with a few additions such as matcha powder or cacao nibs. Their goods have a focus on both health and enjoyment. This is also the place to get your cocoa nibs and baking chocolate, which are of the greatest quality in Malaysia. There is no palm oil in sight.
Sierra Bizhub, Off Mile 13, Jalan Tuaran, Menggatal, 88450 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia, No. 25, Lot 81, Semi-Detached Commercial Unit
Weekdays: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturdays: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Simply Chocolate is one of Kota Kinabalu’s oldest chocolate businesses, having opened in 1995. Although I did not have the opportunity to visit their outlet during my trip, their website indicates that they sell fruit and nut-flavored bonbons in their own store as well as merchants around Sabah.
Their flavors vary from Banana, Sabah Tea, and Durian Milk to more traditional tastes like Almond or Peanut. You may purchase online or pick up in person, but depending on the year they were founded, their bonbons are almost certainly manufactured with compound chocolate.
115, Lorong Muntahan, Taman Milik 1, 88300 Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturdays [closed on public holidays]
Cocoa Kingdom Kuala Lumpur
Despite the fact that this location welcomes tour bus after tour bus to see their basic chocolate museum and vast selection of mass-produced chocolates, I was pleasantly delighted by their café. Now ownership has passed to the next generation, I can see that attempts are being made to provide a more diversified range of items. To be honest, the majority of the things are still aimed at visitors seeking a semblance of health and some keepsakes to take home.
But for those of us who want to indulge, go directly to the café (door on the right) and get a piece of yam cake or a couple bonbons. I’m not a huge lover of durians, but their durian bonbon is a piece of art and should be appreciated as such. If you want to eat actual food after your dessert, the café also serves more traditional Malay alternatives for lunch. I definitely suggest bringing a box of handmade bonbons home to savor later.
1 Tanjung Aru, 88100 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
Daily hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Chocolate by JC
A quick check through the door revealed a selection of pre-packaged chocolates for sale. On their website, however, they exhibit a variety of flavors of bonbons and describe working with locally produced cocoa and other delicacies. They also seem to provide 30-minute chocolate-making courses in KK, suggesting that not all is as it appears at first appearance. Having said that, the show was closed when I arrived. So I haven’t tried their chocolates, but if you have, please leave a comment and let me know what you think!
88300 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia; Lot 15, Jalan Pasar Baru, Kampung Air
Daily hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
KK Camaca Chocolate
This Taiwanese business has found a home in Kota Kinabalu because to its high-end truffles and sugar-free gelatos (including musang king durian flavor). The price is steep, but the chocolate truffles are delicious, and the afternoon tea set is tastefully satisfying.
There are two Camaca locations in KK, and in the one in the downtown mall, you can people watch from the entryway while sipping a coffee or hot chocolate in the air conditioning. The chocolates themselves are fairly delicious, however they are the most costly in Kota Kinabalu, and I’m not convinced they deserve that distinction.
Address: 88000 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia, Jalan Dewan, Pusat Bandar Kota Kinabalu
Daily hours: 12 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Chocolates Alive is a tourist-oriented chocolate business in Sabah, located a little outside of downtown KK. The Korean-owned business sells a wide range of chocolates and chocolate-covered treats, but it doesn’t tell you anything about the chocolates themselves. The decorations are really charming, making it ideal for children and anyone seeking for a picture opportunity, but the chocolate alternatives are rather basic. But, samples are available so that you may test before you purchase.
Address: Jalan Istana 22, 88400 Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
Daily hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (closes at 6pm on weekends)
Claws and Jaws (no shop at the moment)
Jaws & Claws is a direct-trade bean to bar chocolate business that offers three single origin chocolates at the time of writing. Now, one or two additional sources are being developed, with a focus on cooperating with local female cocoa growers. Their brand is now only accessible by special order, but the all-dark bar range will soon be joined by a milk chocolate option, as well as customisable packaging.
The chocolate bars are made with local cocoa from cacao regions in Sabah such as Keningau and Apin-Apin, where co-owner Josephine works with local farmers to develop good post-harvest processing and convince them that there is a market for their cacao if they are willing to keep the trees on their land. If you’d like to make an order, please contact Josephine, the co-founder of Jaws & Claws, through email or Instagram DM. Click here for their email address and Instagram account.
BONUS: Meals in Kota Kinabalu
For ideas on restaurants and cafes in Kota Kinabalu, I heartily recommend Sabah Eats, a KK-based food blog. During my vacation, I had the pleasure of meeting Joanne, who is just as sweet and helpful in person as she is online. She also makes delicious cookies (check out Suka Cookies).
Additional gourmet recommendations for KK include eating at Woo Café and Madame Kwans, seeing at least one sunset from the beach, and visiting the local vanilla plantation for some fragrant Grade AA vanilla at reasonable costs.
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