Itâ€™s spelled Tsoko.Nut and pronounced â€œchoco-nut,â€ not â€œchoco-dot-nut.â€ The word, â€˜Batirol,â€™ â€“ also known as batidor or molinillo (photo here) â€“ attached to the name is there to remind people that this is Pinoy tsokolate, as opposed to hot chocolate.
Iâ€™ve written about the process of making tsokolate, true Filipino chocolate made from 100% cacao. Grown, roasted, and ground locally, itâ€™s unlike any other hot chocolate drink in the world: caressed by the sun, kissed by the earth, and tasting of smoke, chocolate, and nuts. Ironically, while this drink started out as a beverage of the elite during the Spanish times, it survives today as a proud marker of our heritage, a drink for every Filipino.
Itâ€™s this concept that owner Marian Romano built Tsoko.Nut on. Her nationalistic pride was bothered by the number of people in foreign coffee outlets swilling down foreign liquid that she says is, â€œâ€¦ a taste that isnâ€™t ours.â€ But the trigger was when she and her husband, Jimmy visited Max Brenner. â€œWe tried the chocolate, we tried the food, and when we saw the prices, we said â€˜how come there isnâ€™t any local outlet where the average Filipino can really taste what Filipino tsokolate is at the price that they can afford?â€
So they built Tsoko.Nut which Marian describes as a place â€œâ€¦with the ambience of a Starbucks (a place you can hang out in) but truly Filipino with native touches like the rattan, the lamps, the dÃ©cor.â€ She adds that Tsoko.Nut goes back to the taste and captures the heart of what is Filipino. â€œThe experience we try to evoke here is a homey one, like going home for lunch,â€ Marian tells me, her eyes bright with fervor.
While Tsoko.Nut is primarily a coffee shop, rice specials are served, and special they are. Iâ€™m told that the criteria for the meals on the menu is that they are the ones that would be difficult to cook at home, such as the callos (P140), rellenong bangus (P105) bangus belly and pangat (P105), and the dinuguan (P95). All the dishes are made from family recipes.
Nuts for Tsoko.Nut
But letâ€™s talk about the tsokolate. Everything about Tsoko.Nut echoes its theme of tsokolate. There are dried cacao beans and bottles off to one side of the wall and three large posters serve as odes to this sweetest of beans. Look closely, and youâ€™ll see that the poster in the middle is that of a sweet old lady merrily frothing a serving of tsokolate with her batirol. Itâ€™s a cute, cute photo, one that makes me smile. â€œIs that your mom?â€ I blurt out suddenly to Marian. She nods excitedly, and I see the resemblance.
Tsoko.Nut uses tsokolate from Leyte. A group there grows the cacao for the shop, including roasting and grinding it. Marian explains that she and her family conducted several cacao taste tests of tsokolate from beans of different origins. The beans from Leyte were unanimously chosen as the best. Why was it so good? â€œIt doesnâ€™t have that bitter, strong aftertaste, and it brought back memories as to how tsokolate should really taste,â€ Marian replies.
Two kinds of tsokolate are served here. The tsokolate eh (P77) is very syrupy, very thick, much more akin to dipping than straight up drinking. Served in a demitasse, the beverage comes with a panyolito, their type of churros. It looks and tastes very much like unsweetened twirls of pie crust.
The tsokolate ah or tsokolate Batirol (P62/P72), as itâ€™s written on the menu, is what all Tsoko.Nutâ€™s tsokolate drinks are based on. To say that itâ€™s â€œwatered downâ€ tsokolate eh connotes some kind of watery drink, but this ah is definitely more drinkable than eh, eh? The Pinoys of long ago watered down their tsokolate (eh) for many servings, and this is actually what present day Pinoys are more accustomed to. The tsokolate is cooked for a long time in their commissary, then re-heated in the restaurant and frothed with the batirol right before serving. Possessing the thin consistency of hot cocoa, itâ€™s smooth with pronouncements of cacao which Marian is right about being very mild. An excess of sugar is absent here allowing the cacao flavor to really shine. Thereâ€™s no bitterness in this beverage, a characteristic that Iâ€™ve come to expect in tsokolate. But instead of missing it, I consider this a beguiling alternative.
Truly, this is a drink for those who want a balance between cocoa and the swarthiness of true tsokolate. For those who are accustomed to a nuttier tsokolate, try the tsokolate with mani (peanut â€“ P74/P84) and my favorite, tsokolate with kasuy (cashew â€“ P74/P84). Nut butter is blended into the tsokolate, an embrace of chocolate and nut, with some of the nut paste licking the lip of the cup. The cups, by the way, are handmade by potter Pete Cortez. Each mug is stone-fired so no two are alike. Theyâ€™re an interesting color, what Marian describes as lahar or ash.
While you sip, you must have something to dip. Marian has me try the bibingka (P75), a groan-inducing buttery pillow lashed with kesong puti and red eggs. It comes to me steaming, its sides slick with butter, its top glimmering with sugar. The ensaymada is its equally evil sister. One bite gets me weak in the knees and I pray for the resolve not to eat it all so that I can finish off my three kinds of tsokolate (I have to have eating priorities, you know). Then a plate of suman sa mangga (P66) is brought out. Wedges of glutinous rice drizzled with chocolate syrup are the bed on which three strips of large mango slices repose. At this point I just want to sit in a corner and stuff my face and drown myself in tsokolate, one of my fanciful food dreams.
Tsoko.Nut serves coffee (P69-P89) made from local beans as well as hot tea and salabat, but I urge you to try the tsokolate and the other native treats. Ample and burdened in the most delicious way possible, theyâ€™re cooked with such time-tested perfection that they stand out as strikingly memorable. Tsokolate. One of the awesome reasons I’m proud to be Pinoy.
South Supermarket, Alabang
SM Makati, 2/F
Waltermart, Pasong Tamo
Dela Rosa Carpark 1, Makati
Soon to open: Fun Ranch Frontera Verde, Pasig
Special thanks to Marian Romano, Ruzzell dela Cruz, and to Joy Cruz, who made this article possible.