Chocolate that isn’t Candy
Most of us think “candy” when someone mentions chocolate. That makes sense given that’s the only chocolate we’ve ever known: chocolate mixed with refined sugar, transfats, vegetable oils, fillers and other artificial ingredients. It’s the kind of chocolate that’s highly processed to make it look and taste a certain way: tempered to look shiny, conched to give it a creamier tasting sensation and alkalized (“dutched”) to reduce acidity and even out flavor. The additional ingredients and extensive processing create a sweeter, creamier and therefore more addictive product, but did anyone ever consider the health effects of so much processing?
Patricia Tsai traveled around the world for five years researching everything she could about chocolate. “Two thousand years ago, chocolate was so highly prized for its medicinal properties that it was enjoyed by royalty and even served as currency. Today, chocolate has devolved into a product akin to McDonald’s French Fries. With the advent of the industrial revolution, modern civilization has ignored its true medicinal purpose and relegated it to the category of candy or confectionary.”
Patricia’s curiosity about chocolate took her on a journey that led her to open her own unique chocolate shop in 2010. At ChocoVivo, chocolate-loving customers come to experience chocolate made in the tradition of the Aztecs and Mayans…as a nutritious food.
Pure Chocolate = Pure Nutrition
Intrigued that something so delicious could also provide powerful nutrition and energy, we met with Patricia to find out more about her discoveries, insights and vision for the future of chocolate.
You said you always had a love of food but what sparked your passion for chocolate?
I think the spark was realizing that even though chocolate is adored the world over, the masses don’t truly understand its purity. It was like discovering a secret message that someone had to decode. People have written thousands of books on chocolate, but no one has been able to effectively communicate that chocolate is truly a food, no one has focused on the fact that its beauty is that it nourishes.
This is how the Mayans and Aztecs understood chocolate. Today, preserving the purity of their tradition means starting with the grower and understanding that chocolate must be minimally processed into a finished bar. Then, it is up to the Chocolate Maker to effectively communicate what it really means to go from bean-to-bar or tree-to-table.
Chocolate is truly food, not a candy bar.
How is ChocoVivo different from other chocolate makers?
ChocoVivo is unique. We know where we get our beans, when they are harvested and how they are processed. They are not sitting in a large warehouse waiting to be purchased. When you are dealing with a commodity like cacao, there is always the problem of it sitting in storage and being heavily sprayed with pesticides. What makes us special is that we work directly with our grower. If we didn’t we would be like most other companies out there purchasing through distributors.
When we receive our cacao, we process it through lava stones as opposed to stainless steel stones. The stone grinders turn the fermented and lightly roasted cacao nibs into creamy chocolate. This cacao liquor is then spread on sheet pans to cool. The pieces are broken apart by hand to create the chocolate bars. Processing is extremely minimal: no tempering, conching, dutching or highly refining the chocolate. No soy lecithin, milk solids or additional cacao butter are added. The result is a pure food, not a candy, that honors chocolate’s naturally impressive nutritional profile and unique taste.
It took you 5 years to develop a relationship with your grower. Why did this relationship matter so much to you?
I really wanted to understand how cacao was grown and processed. No matter how many books you read, you don’t truly understand how something is done unless you are part of the process. So I was determined to meet a grower who could be my teacher. My grower has been so instrumental in growing ChocoVivo. I call him my Yoda and I am his Jedi. ChocoVivo is truly about educating every customer that walks into the store because communicating and authenticity is important for me. I believe it’s important to inform the consumer about the product, because it’s about sharing my experience and knowledge. It’s about paying it forward so that others can do the same.
We are fortunate to have partnered up with a family-owned plantation in Tabasco, Mexico. The grower isn’t producing quantity, but quality. The grower understands each tree, how and when to pick the pods, the weather conditions during the maturation cycle and then uses all the information for ideal fermentation. These pesticide-free beans come from cacao trees that cover 29 acres. The plantation is over 100 years old with robust cacao trees and is also a small hub for much research and development for different varieties of non-GMO cacao. This is a true terroir region for cacao as this was the original cacao-producing area during the Mayan and Aztec period. Our grower uses pesticide-free methods of fumigating their cacao trees. A mixture of garlic, vinegar and water serve as a natural pesticide that is sprayed on the trees. And…there is no child slavery, a much longer and important topic.
Taste-wise, how do the hot chocolate and chocolate bars differ from what most people are used to?
Our chocolate’s taste is a product of our simple process. Modern chocolate is a 16-step process. We take the first 6 steps. We do not refine the chocolate any further, e.g. we don’t conch or temper. We literally take cacao nibs and grind them with whole ingredients to add flavor. We never add any extracts or flavorings. We believe that Mother Nature’s whole ingredients are perfect and want to bring out the unadulterated flavor of that ingredient. Because our chocolate is minimally processed, there is a pleasurable texture. You will notice that one or two bites of the chocolate are all you need to be satisfied. It’s like eating stone-ground whole wheat bread verses refined white bread. I’m not selling candy. I’m selling food that is nourishment for the body.
Chocolate as a Powerfully Nutritious Food
Chocolate is made from the seeds of the cacao fruit, known as cacao or cocoa beans. Manuscripts in Europe from the 16th to early 20th century reveal over 100 medicinal uses for cocoa including stimulating breast milk production.
Cocoa beans are a nutritional powerhouse boasting one of the highest levels of flavanols.
Studies have shown that flavanols support cardiovascular health, provide the skin protection against UV damage and may support healthy brain function among many other benefits. Cacao has even been dubbed a “Super Fruit” because of its high antioxidant capacity. But these stellar benefits are only available under certain circumstances; researchers are quick to point out that certain processes, especially dutching, greatly decreases flavanol content and therefore cocoa’s inherent nutrition. Foods that are minimally processed retain more nutrients than foods that have been more refined.
You have exciting new products coming out that highlight chocolate’s natural health and energy properties. Tell us more!
ChocoVivo is currently working on what we call a “Cacao Apothecary Bar” where we will begin to sell bottled drinks. We recently launched a line of Cacao Mylks made with hazelnut milk sweetened with honey and coconut sugar. They are meant to be consumed as a power breakfast or meal to get you through the day. In fact, Mayans use to drink chocolate before fighting because they recognized its benefits as a food and energy source. In addition to our Cacao Mylks, I am working with a scientist that holds patents on cacao to create a line of tonics with adaptogenic herbs. This is truly an exciting time for ChocoVivo because we are going back to how chocolate was originally enjoyed – a drinking chocolate with healing properties.
I believe chocolate is headed back to the status it enjoyed thousands of years ago – revered medicine.
Why did you choose the name ChocoVivo?
ChocoVivo means “I live chocolate.” Originally the name was ChocoMio (My Chocolate). I remember sitting at the dinner table brainstorming with my Cacao Grower, and we had already discussed the name. I told him how I came up with ChocoMio and that t-shirts were in production to get printed. He asked me one more time, “Are you sure it’s not trademarked?” I told him I already checked and when I checked it one more time, I was shocked that it had been trademarked just a month before. So, we started scrambling thinking of another name and he came up with ChocoVivo, I LIVE chocolate.
What is your most popular product? What is your favorite product?
Our most popular product is the Almonds + Sea Salt bar. We have rotating flavors or limited edition blends and currently the Malted Nibby Crunch is my favorite at an 85% Cacao. It does not contain malt, just cacao, unrefined cane sugar and nibs ground in and candied nibs on top with a touch of Vanilla Bean.
Where to Find ChocoVivo
Delicious, clean, nutritious, minimally processed, socially responsible … if your kids (or you) like chocolate, and honestly who doesn’t, ChocoVivo is simply the best.
Chocolate makes a great gift anytime. Chocovivo ships throughout the U.S. In addition to a full line of products, gift sets are available. The ChocoVivo store is located in Los Angeles at 12469 W. Washington Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90066; (310) 845-6259.
Visit their website for details.
Chocolate Bars: ChocoVivo sells two kinds of chocolate bars, pure and blended. The Pure Chocolate Bars range from 65% cacao to 100% cacao. Blended Bars are chocolate bars with whole ingredients like nuts, fruit and spices. Flavors rotate depending on ingredient availability. Flavors include: Almonds and Sea Salt, Coffee and Vanilla and Mayan Tradition (Almonds, Cinnamon and a variety of Chilies).
Chocolate Powders: Drink your chocolate! Make hot chocolate, milkshakes; add to smoothie or to a recipe.
Chocolate Butters: Chocolate Almond Butter, Chocolate Caramel Butter and Chocolate Hazelnut Butter. Spread on bread, on fruit or anywhere you think it might taste yummy.
Cacao Nibs: Cracked and deshelled cacao beans. Can be added to smoothies, yogurt or eaten as its own snack.