The first thing one is likely to notice passing through the vicinity of the Chokola storefront in the morning on Juan Largo Lane in downtown Taos is the smell of roasting …
The first thing one is likely to notice passing through the vicinity of the Chokola storefront in the morning on Juan Largo Lane in downtown Taos is the smell of roasting cacao beans. It is a process that occurs every morning as the store's artisans and chocolatiers endeavor to create the freshest, most flavorful chocolate products possible.
Their efforts were recently acknowledged with a strong showing at the International Chocolate Awards 2019 Americas Bean-to-Bar and Chocolatier Competition held May 27-June 3 in New York City. Chokala took home four bronze medals in the "Micro-batch - Plain/origin dark chocolate bars" category. According to owner and chocolatier Deborah Vincent, these awards are the result of a process which began decades before she opened Chokola, and entailed working in several different parts of the chocolate industry.
"When I was 19 I decided to make chocolate and wanted to make it starting with the cacao bean itself, but at the time there wasn't the technology to make small-batch production work commercially," Vincent said. Growing up in Venezuela, she began her career as a chocolatier producing chocolate on an industrial scale, but made the switch to small-batch, artisanal production after training with chocolatiers utilizing this model in Caracas.
"My husband and I learned of a whole new chocolate world," Vincent said.
They became adherents of the "bean-to-bar" trade model, which prioritizes the use of high-quality, sustainably and ethically produced ingredients.
"It's like with specialty coffee," said Vincent, who worked on her grandparents' coffee farm. "We believe in transparency, ethical sourcing and a fair trade framework."
This hyperfocus on every aspect of production even extends to the packaging of their chocolate; Vincent has trained as an art historian and spent five years working at the Hardwood Museum, experiences which inspired her to collaborate with local artists for the artwork on the bars.
Vincent's husband, Javier Abad, gave a recent tour of the shop. Past the display case and the patissiers' worktable, whirling rotors emulsified an enormous vat of raw chocolate and cane sugar, a process which Abad said can take more than three days. Bags of unprocessed chocolate being aged for flavor were labeled with the locations of their origins, which included places as far-flung as Tanzania and Madagascar.
Abad handed out a piece of their award-winning "Wild Bolivia" chocolate to sample, which contained dark chocolate, cane sugar, slivers of almond and flecks of caramel and sea salt. It was an intense sensory experience; the chocolate itself was bittersweet and somewhat acidic, almost more like a piece of fruit than confection - flavors which contrasted sharply with the other ingredients. It was easy to tell that for Vincent and Abad, making chocolate is first and foremost a labor of love.
"We love all parts of the bean-to-bar process." Vincent said. " We love finding the ingredients and processing them, and especially the reaction of the customer. We are lucky to have work that brings such happiness to people."
Chokola has been open since 2016; their storefront and café at 100-198 Juan Largo Lane are open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Sunday.
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