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Cacao culture . . . CoKo Lounge owners (from left) Oisin Altena-Russell, Kody Owens and Jack Mackenzie are bringing their business to Oamaru. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Chocolatier Kody Owens and the team from CoKo Lounge are on a mission to get their love for cacao “to the people”.

CoKo Lounge was a cafe selling hot chocolate-like drinks, and had been running in Dunedin for almost two years in St Andrew St.

The doors closed on the cafe last week, and the company was making the move to Oamaru within the month to start up production, and eventually join the Oamaru Farmers’ Market, Mr Owens said.

“So people can try our product and get excited about it.”

The 23-year-old grew up in the Wairarapa and studied geology and geography at Otago University.

“Then I thought I should dive headfirst into business, as a way of learning how to operate and be a business person … and here we are. I’ve figured it out.”

Oamaru appealed because of the sense of community and the “semi-rural, semi-townish” feel, he said.

“We visited Oamaru and started talking to people there and we were like, ooh, these guys seem very nice, and the sense of community there is much greater than what you feel in the kind of half-city that Dunedin is.”

Although Mr Owens is the “main CoKo Lounge person”, his business partners are Oisin Altena-Russell, Jack Mackenzie and Dai Leon.

He planned to travel between Oamaru and Dunedin to begin with and would be setting up production at Jane Thompson’s Moa Bakery, Cakery premises in Arun St.

“We use our royal ceremonial grade cacao to create our hot chocolate-like drinks that are not focused on the sugar content, but instead are focused on the cacao content.”

Cacao was a superfood that had been used for more than 3000 years by the ancient Mayans as a central point of their culture. They also used cacao beans as a form of currency, Mr Owens said.

“There’s a lot more to chocolate than people realise . . . it actually influences your whole neurology, and changes your neural patterns to make you feel better, which is probably why people reach for chocolate when they’re sad.

“Cacao contains serotonin and dopamine, which are large neurochemicals that we need to feel good, but it’s also the highest plant-based source of magnesium sulfates, and a bunch of other things.”

Mr Owens said their cacao drink was not as sweet as a traditional hot chocolate, but it was still enjoyed by all ages.

“I discovered all about cacao and all the health benefits and qualities and how it changes the way you feel, then I started drinking it for a little bit, and I thought ‘oh, this is insane, I need to get this to the people’.”

He and his business partners then worked on a recipe that made it taste as good as it possibly could “without making it bad for you and adding lots of sugar, and whatnot”.

“So it was a bit of an ethical mission, I suppose.”

The CoKo Lounge team planned to start production of other health-based food and already had a hemp bar that was “extremely healthy, but somehow it tastes good”, he said.

“I think it’s all the peanut butter we put in it.”

CoKo Lounge was taking part in this month’s Meet the Maker event and will be based at The Business Hive.