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with Rhea Abayan and Ryan Lee

Filipino-inspired baked goods meet specialty chocolate at this Toronto coffee shop

Toronto may boast many coffee shops across the city, but have you ever heard of a cafe that was also a bakery and a chocolate factory? Well, look no further, as The Upper Beaches is now home to the much-anticipated brick and mortar of Bakerrae x Chachalate! 
For those unfamiliar with the two brands, Bakerrae, founded by Rhea Abayan, specializes in creating delicious made-to-order Filipino-inspired baked goods, while Chachalate, led by Ryan Lee, is renowned for producing organic, ethically-sourced, single-origin chocolates with a fruity profile and no additives.

Despite their relatively recent grand opening in the summer of 2023, Rhea of Bakerrae and Ry of Chachalate are not newcomers to Toronto's culinary scene. On their opening day, they were warmly welcomed by a long line of loyal customers from each of their respective brands. 

Both of their journeys to get to this very moment were different and multi-faceted, but the catalyst was the same— the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As the world shut down, Rhea continued to work full-time as a COVID test nurse. To counteract burn-out, she turned to baking for loved ones. Due to positive reviews and encouragement, she decided to test the waters and sell her baked goods on Instagram. 
“The idea was to continue baking part-time while still nursing full-time until we found a space… And, here we are today: an ex-nurse pursuing my passions full-time in our very own retail space!”
Ry, on the other hand, was in the video space. Out of university, he started his very own video agency working on commercial content largely covering tourism. But, his first love had always been chocolate.
“I've always loved chocolate. That's where the name Chachalate comes from because, as a kid, I couldn't pronounce it. So I would just yell ‘I want Chachalate!’”
He started experimenting with making chocolate in his condo as a fun hobby to pursue alongside his video work. But once COVID hit, the pandemic directly affected his line of work, as he couldn't be out on sets. So with the extra free time that bought him, he continued to delve into chocolate and very quickly learned about the problems with it… 
“You know, with the big companies, the child labor, slave labor, deforestation, and all of that craziness, I wanted to take the opportunity to see what kind of difference we could make in the chocolate world. So, in August of 2020 I took a leap of faith and rented a small commercial kitchen space and brought in 1000 pounds of cacao beans and just went for it. The worst case scenario was I would personally have a lifetime supply of chocolate. Which is fine.” 

Ryan (Left), Rhea (Right)

Quality baked goods and chocolates aren’t the only things this spot is serious about!

In addition to their delectable treats, the café is equipped with a state-of-the-art Slayer espresso machine, a true testament to their commitment to delivering top-notch coffee. Bakerrae x Chachalate have also joined forces with Canadian roasters, Dispatch Coffee and Ethica Coffee Roasters, to fill up their hopper and serve delicious coffee to the community.
So, whether you're seeking a good cup of coffee, Bakerrae's famous Rae buns, a delightful Chachalate chocolate bar bursting with fruity flavors, or all of the above, this place is your ultimate destination. However, with such a wide array of options, the challenge lies in deciding what to order! 
Here are some recommendations from the two owners for your visit:
Rhea suggests trying their upcoming Matcha Calamansi Cold Brew Tonic, a refreshing drink that pays homage to the Philippines with its inclusion of calamansi. For baked goods, their menu is always rotating, but Bakerrae’s Calamansi Meringue Croisettes and Ube Mochi Puff Tarts are among the fan favourites as of late! Lastly, for Chachalate, she recommends the Tanzania Pure bar as an excellent introduction to authentic chocolate flavors.
Ry recommends the Cinnamon Rae Roll for baked goods, made with croissant dough for a unique twist. For drinks, he highly recommends the Soba Hot Chocolate, perfect for cozying up in colder weather. As for Chachalate, he suggests their new Sobacha Cha Cha bar, made with roasted Soba from Nagano, Japan and crunchy sprinkles of Sobacha and caramelized sugar.

While coffee shops are abundant in the GTA, chocolate factories are a rarity. Nonetheless, coffee and chocolate share many similarities. Coffee is often described as being in its third-wave, characterized by a growing appreciation for higher-quality, traceable, and sustainable coffees with increased complexity. Ry envisions a similar transformation for the chocolate industry, aiming to bring higher quality and sustainability to chocolate production.

Ube Mochi Puff Tart

We asked Ry:

"Where do you think the chocolate industry is today? Where do you want to see chocolate in the future, and how would Chachalate compare?"

“Chocolate certainly shares lots of similarities to coffee! But, chocolate is definitely way behind coffee, and coffee is way behind wine!
Consumer knowledge about chocolate, its production process, and its origins remains limited. Our brand's core concept revolves around educating our audience about the diverse flavor profiles naturally found in cacao beans, much like coffee beans. Various factors such as cacao's natural properties, cultivation methods, and meticulous tree care significantly impact chocolate's taste, akin to the way coffee flavour is impacted. Many people are unaware of this complexity because the mass market chocolate we consume is very uniform— It tastes pretty much the same no matter where you go, and no matter which brand.
What we're trying to do at Chachalate is show people the nuance that exists in chocolate, and the vast amount of delicious and all-natural flavors we can achieve if we prioritize quality over consistency, and allow chocolate to speak for itself.  
At Chachalate we only use the two ingredients for the base of our chocolate. Cocoa beans and sugar, and then to enable all the details I discussed previously, it all starts at the farmer level. The sourcing that we do is similar to the third wave of coffee, where we source as directly with farmers as possible. Given that we are not tied to the commodity market, we do not pay commodity prices. Instead, we pay 3-5x fair trade commodity prices so that by the time it gets to the farmer, it becomes a livable rate. This is also what encourages farmers to start focusing on the quality of their chocolate rather than just the quantity."

The chocolate industry, like coffee, definitely has a long way to go to become more transparent and sustainable, but it’s businesses like Chachalate that pave the way to a better supply chain.
Rhea, on the other hand, is paving the way for Asian-flavours, particularly Filipino flavours, to become more prominent in the Toronto baking scene!
We asked Rhea:
What were your key motivators to bring Filipino flavours to Toronto?
“As soon as most people think of Filipino desserts, the first thing that comes to mind is Ube. And yes, Ube makes a really amazing dessert since it is an incredibly versatile ingredient. But, with Bakerrae, I hope to show people that there is more than Ube. There are so many amazing flavors, like Calamansi, which I incorporate in both the baked goods and the coffee here. Calamansi is comparable to a traditional lime/lemon flavour, but what makes it unique is that it also expresses orange notes; it’s sweet, sour and very versatile.
When I first decided to open up this space, my primary motivation was to reconnect with my Filipino roots. I came to Canada when I was about three years old, and never really lived in the Philippines or experienced what it would be like to grow up there. Despite the physical distance, the foods prepared in my family's kitchen have always served as a tether to my cultural roots. For this reason, food has remained my primary means of staying in touch with my Filipino identity.
One way I express this at Bakerrae is with our Balikbayan boxes. Balikbayan boxes are packages that we would ship back home to the Philippines filled with all the goods that we love here in Canada to share with family back home. In the same way, with my Balikbayan boxes, I hope to share my beloved Filipino flavours to my customers."
We are so glad Rhea and Ry took the leap into pursuing baking and chocolate respectively, and cannot wait to see what the two have in-store with their new retail space. Open from Wednesday through Sunday, we encourage you to make a venture out to the Upper Beaches to pay them a visit!

November 2023 Halo-Halo Box