Entering the brightly painted office and processing facility of Theo & Philo chocolates, we are greeted with the unmistakable, excitement-inducing scent of chocolate. The scent fills our heads and we imagine ourselves like Charlie as he first steps onto the grounds of Willy Wonka’s factory. The walls of the Theo & Philo office are brightly painted in designs reflective of the bean-to-bar packaging: colors of the Philippine flag popping towards us in geometrical shapes and edges. Theo & Philo has been around since 2010 and creates innovative chocolate flavors for their bars that are inspired by traditional Filipino ingredients; their most standout flavors include Pili & Pinipig, Green Mango & Salt, and Adobo, though they also offer your standard fare of dark chocolate and milk chocolate.
Their nationalistic chocolate bars (They source the cacao from a GK community in Davao and the sugar in Bacolod, with the chocolate being processed in their facility in Manila) have become a popular Christmas gift or pasalubong to their Filipinos and their friends abroad. Already exporting these bars to Japan and Germany, Theo & Philo felt it was time to develop new products within different consumer categories that make it more fun to consume chocolate, which also make use of other Filipino-grown ingredients, thus they now make a delightful breakfast spreadable simply called Cashew & Pili Chocolate Spread, and the fun and addictive kid-focused Coconut S’Mores.
Philo Chua, founder of Theo & Philo, was in the US when he first discovered single origin chocolate in a specialty store. Though he was in the tech industry at the time (He graduated from Computer Science in ADMU and has a master’s degree in Entertainment Technology), he was in the habit of baking and would often bring cookies to his co-workers, thus spending his weekends looking at new chocolates (“It’s my favorite ingredient in baking so I would buy a lot of chocolate back then,” he says) to add to his home-baked experiments was usual for Chua.
Already restless from his work, with a simmering desire to return home and start his own business, his discovery of single-origin chocolate inspired a single thought that would have his life course changed forever: that the Philippines could have its very own single origin product that the country could be proud of. Almost on a whim, he says, he decides to go home to Manila and pursue chocolate.
“Right now the cacao industry has blossomed in a short [time] since I’ve been back, but back then there wasn’t as much cacao. The government is actually promoting it and it’s a hot [commodity],” he says. “But when I first came back, a lot of [cacao] farms had gone out of business and switched to a different crop for a variety of reasons, so it had died down by a lot.” With the unexpected difficulties he faced in finding his raw materials, it took him three years from when he returned in 2007 until when he launched Theo & Philo in 2010 to set up. But the three rigorous years of building Theo & Philo were worth it as he lives a sweet life (almost literally) covered in chocolate.
“[Chocolate] is really my life right now,” he says, “[and] I think we’re doing something worthwhile here.” He tells us that though the dream of owning a chocolate factory is not all sugar and rainbows, he can’t deny that he is very blessed to do what he does and with the people he works with; many of employees have been with him from the beginning and he says that they are one big, supportive family. “It’s not just the products. It’s about the people.”
THEO & PHILO
Theo & Philo is a local chocolate company that produces chocolate bars, spreads and other products from Davao-sourced cacao beans.