Demystifying the Story of Chocolate

A conversation with Patricia Tsai of Chocovivo

by: Amanda Kay Mannshahia

Speaking with Patricia Tsai, chocolate maker and owner of Chocovivo, a Culver City, CA chocolate factory that makes chocolate from bean to bar, is truly an educational experience. Her journey with chocolate is not one of gluttony or indulgence, but one that began from a space of soul searching.

Chocovivo in Culver City

After deciding that working as a CPA was an unfulfilling path, Tsai ventured to Mexico on a culinary tour to find a way to combine her passion for food and people. Mesmerized by Southern Mexico and its rustic history as the birthplace of chocolate, Tsai became frustrated by the “basic lack of understanding of the simplicity of chocolate” by the general public.

Then by a stroke of fate, she was connected with Vicente, a traditional chocolate grower from Tabasco, Mexico. A man whom she refers to as a father figure and teacher, Vicente exposed her to the intimate understanding of how chocolate is truly grown—through instant messaging, he taught her how to stone-grind, and eventually built Tsai’s first stone-grinding machine. Their relationship continues today as Vicente supplies Patricia with the cocoa nibs used for her chocolate from his 100-year-old plantation, at the site of original cocoa production during the Mayan and Aztec periods.

Tsai begins the process of chocolate making by grinding down cocoa nibs: using the traditional stone-grinding method, two lava stones, one spinning and the other stationary, are pushed together, smashing the beans while creating a natural heat. This heat created by the spinning stone melts the natural fat, which makes up 40-50% of chocolate.

Patricia Tsai harvesting chocolate

Customers are then able to choose from 13 different flavors at a chocolate tasting table. From a tasting option of three or six pieces you can enjoy pure chocolate or chocolate blended with luxurious flavors such as almonds and sea salt or the surprising combination of cherries, almonds and black peppercorn. There are also four different styles of drinking chocolate to choose from: traditional European dipping chocolate, hot chocolate, iced hot chocolate and frozen hot chocolate.

All of Chocovivo’s creations stay true to the historical context of chocolate and traditional slightly gritty texture. “When you taste a smooth silky chocolate bar you are losing the story, essence and nutritional value—it was food, it was medicine.” She doesn’t want her chocolate to be dumbed down to a 99 cent chocolate bar and neglect the rich history of the plant that brought many empires to their knees. “Cocoa beans used to be currency,” says Tsai. “Europeans had chocolate houses before they had coffee and tea houses.”

The future of Chocovivo will remain authentic to how the Mayans and Aztecs would have enjoyed chocolate. A new section dubbed the Cocoa Apothecary Bar will soon be added to the café, highlighting the medicinal properties of chocolate. The Apothecary Bar will feature chocolate “mylks,” the y indicating that there is no diary used, and cocoa tonics. The mylks will be made using a hazelnut milk base or hemp milk base; the Cocoa tonic, on the other hand, will feature adaptogenic herbs, or stress relievers, honoring traditional Mayan use of herbs to alleviate stomachaches, headaches and suppress coughs.

What I am sure is only the beginning of a long and fruitful journey, Chocovivo and owner Patricia Tsai’s rich story sheds light on how the curiosity and passion of one woman can change the way we view chocolate. No longer will we see “chocolate as just a beautiful truffle, but as truly food.”

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