Fantastically good chocolate, chocolate that resonates all the way back to our primal roots, chocolate that feeds body, mind and soul: Patricia Tsai's stone-ground, minimally processed chocolate embodies a journey from Mexican cocoa farm to urban America, and from a corporate cubicle to her ChocoVivo storefront atelier in Los Angeles.
The road to hardcore chocolate maker began with tears. Life as a corporate accountant wasn't sitting well. "I would wake up every morning, lying in bed before work, crying. I realized, I cannot be like this at the age of 25, waking up and being so sad. I was a CPA, sorting spreadsheets, sending emails, thinking about numbers, stuck in a cubbyhole. Ate lunch at 12 or 1, got home around 7, worked out, tried to squeeze a few things into the day. I felt like a drone, acted like a drone, with a terrible nagging feeling inside that felt I could do more in this world then being a busy bee."
Looking for change, she took a trip to foodie central in Oaxaca, Mexico, a horizon-expanding gastronomical tour, with no thoughts of actually making chocolate. "I'm a foodie. I decided that I should look for something that I wanted to do. People and food. I didn't want to become a chef. I love business and creating things. I was looking forward to eating at all those great restaurants. Oh, and by the way, I could take a traditional chocolate making class."
One thing leading to another, ChocoVivo came about in natural stages. "There were no real mental obstacles. Just physical obstacles. Figuring out how to stone-grind chocolate and translate that into a business, not a hobby. I took a basic chocolate making course at UC Davis that taught me a bit about the science of chocolate. Most of it was reading and doing my own investigative work. It all came together when I met my cacao grower. But even then, my grower would tell me, 'You'll figure it out.' He is my Yoda and I'm the Jedi."
ChocoVivo's chocolate is made in the ancient way of the Mayans and Aztecs over 2000 years ago, ground with mano y metate, tools similar to a mortar and pestle. Cocoa beans are sourced from her grower and mentor in Tabasco, Mexico. Everything is minimal, essential, back to basics. She began building a following for her unique purist product at LA farmers' markets, to the point where she could quit her job, then opened a retail store in 2011.
A struggle? Yes. "I didn't start with money except from my savings working in corporate. I don't have a wealthy uncle ready to say, here's the money and make it grow. Everything has been reinvested into the business." Her parents were against it, but key people appeared to help work out various wrinkles. "It's still a daily grind. People say you've got to reach the five-year mark to feel like you have a breather. I have yet to take that long overdue vacation. The stresses of a small business are extremely tough."
Moving into a new storefront workshop this summer, searching for angel funding to take things to the next level, still facing a hard road, Patricia's passion for her personal vision of the chocolate trade runs strong and unabated. "Chocolate has been dumbed down to the point where there's no nutritional value and people think of it as candy. The exciting part is trying to unleash people's minds and educate them to understand that the history of chocolate goes further back than some common fruits and vegetables. That chocolate is healthy for you. Chocolate is FOOD. Try our 100% cacao bar and you will understand..."
Patricia Tsai's ChocoVivo...we love your way.