Chocolate – the mere word stirs all five senses. The word brings to mind the color-scape of hues, from milky brown to almost black; the particular snap of a bar of chocolate when it yields to the teeth; the meltingly creamy texture; the rich, fruity, earthy smell and taste. Few of us think about chocolate beyond the immediate senses, but Debi Vincent does.
Ever since her childhood on her grandparents’ coffee farm in Venezuela, this has been Vincent’s dream: to craft chocolate from the cacao bean to the finished bar; to highlight rather than hide the natural characteristics and terroir – the combination of soil, climate, sunlight and other factors that affect a crop’s look and taste – of cacao beans from across the globe; and in the process to elevate her community through a locally produced, organic and sustainably sourced product. Today, Vincent and her husband, Javier Abad, a native of Spain, have made that dream a reality here in Taos.
Vincent and Abad met in Venezuela, where they started their life as partners and chocolatiers. They moved to Taos in 2008, intending only to stay a short while. But as so often happens in Taos – where Vincent’s father grew up and where she visited often as a child – the couple found themselves settling permanently.
Chokolá Bean to Bar opened on Juan Largo Lane, the artery that connects the John Dunn Shops with Taos Plaza, in August of 2016. Since then, the business has grown to employ a pastry chef and five enthusiastic employees. And Vincent and Abad have become “cacao hunters,” searching the globe for sustainably farmed cacao beans that express their origin in distinct flavor and aroma profiles.
Many guests are surprised to find that Chokolá employees add nothing but organic, unrefined sugar to the cacao in their single-origin chocolate bars – no flavorings, no cocoa butter, nothing. The vibrant raspberry and red wine character of the Madagascar, Ambanjan bar, for example, is due to the natural character of the beans, as well as the climate, soil and other growing conditions where the beans were sourced – not to any intervention in the chocolate-crafting process. The character of the Madagascar beans is completely different from the natural earthiness of beans from, say, Ecuador or the apple and citrus notes of beans from Tanzania.
In addition to delicious single-origin chocolate bars, Chokolá also offers house-made truffles and bonbons, a chocolate mousse bar, thick drinking chocolate and a hand-picked assortment of single-origin chocolate bars from other bean-to-bar operations around the country. (If you can’t make it to the brick-and-mortar shop, a selection of Chokolá’s single-origin bars is also available in its online shop.)
If this variety seems overwhelming, not to fear – every visitor to Chokolá is entitled to an explanation of the way the chocolatiers take the product from bean to bar. Even better, every visitor is also given a free sample. In the future, Vincent and Abad hope to offer a happy hour to guests, complete with shots of drinking chocolate. Yes, please.
The chocolate bean-to-bar movement in the United States is still quite young – only a bit older than a decade – but Chokolá seems poised to join the upper echelon of this growing effort. Vincent and Abad recently received news that not one, but two of their single-origin chocolate bars – Maya Mountain, Belize and Guatemala, Verapaz – have been named finalists for the prestigious Good Food Awards. Chokolá is the only New Mexico company to make it to the finals and one of only three chocolatiers in the country to be nominated for more than one product. Results will be announced in January, and famed chef and restaurateur Alice Waters will present the awards.
Regardless of the outcome, however, the fact remains that a blind tasting panel of nine judges believe that Chokolá is doing something right with the chocolate the business serves. Anyone who has tasted its creations will agree. More than that, Chokolá is doing right by its community – and by its world – by supporting living wages for farmers, sustainable farming practices and local, small business. Chokolá makes Taos proud.