One of Taos’ best kept secrets is about to be a secret no more!
When I first featured Chokola here on taoStyle, they had been open for just a few months, but already curious locals and visitors alike, were making their way down Juan Largo Lane, drawn by the fragrance of chocolate. Real chocolate, not the stuff we’ve been led to believe is chocolate. That’s just common candy, this chocolate is truly the “Food of the Gods” as the Aztecs once claimed. And what food it is! High in antioxidants, complex with flavours drawn from the earth it’s cultivated in, and once properly fermented and prepared, is a sensual feast for both body and soul.
Once you have experienced the delight of real chocolate, you’ll never turn back.
Javier and Deborah (Vincent) Abad Etxaniz are bespoke chocolate makers and Chokola’s proprieters, who have just been notified that they are finalists in this year’s prestigious Good Food Awards in San Francisco. This is such an honor, not only for this wonderfully talented and hard working couple, but for Taos as well.
Out of 2,400 applicants, only 200 plus, make the finals. The vetting process is “extremely strict and thorough,” Debi told me. Chokola has two of their bars up for this award in the Chocolate category: Guatemala, Verapaz 70% & Maya Mountain, Belize 70%,
From San Sebastian – Basque country – in Spain, Javier and his wife Debi met in Venezuela where she grew up. The daughter of a mother with Italian roots, and a father from Taos (her grandmother was Jenny Vincent, the folk singer who came to Taos from Chicago.)
Vincent was very well-known in Taos as a teacher and political activist. Born in 1913 in Minnesota and raised in Chicago, Jenny Vincent became intrigued with folk music early on in her life, seeing it as the “music of the people,” a powerful tool for social advocacy. She performed with Folk legends Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger among other social activists who used their voices for social justice and civil rights. Jenny first visited northern New Mexico in 1936. She died here in May of 2016 at the age of 103.
It struck me while talking to Debi at the shop on Saturday, that she’d passed on peacefully, once her grand-daughter had returned, knowing her legacy would continue.
Because Debi and Javier’s approach to making chocolate is easily as political a statement as the one Jenny made all her life, in solidarity with the common folk, the oppressed and suppressed. I had spoken to Javier when I first featured them here, now it was Debi’s turn in the hotseat.
The mother of two (her son’s in college) while their daughter is going to school here, in Taos, Debi (who is an Art Historian), opened her first business (as a confectioner making bon bons) at the age of 19. Through her first husband she became involved in film before discovering the world of serious chocolate making. It’s clearly her passion and her eyes light up as she talks about the process.
From the small (biodynamic) growers they buy from, to the global movement of artisanal chocolatiers who are changing the way we relate to the food itself, Debi and Javier are part of a continuum that is as old as the Americas themselves.
Debi is committed to fair practices, not Fair Trade, which she points out, is not all it’s cracked up to be. This growing movement forces us to be conscious of where and how we spend our dollar.
She points out the long history of slavery attached to the chocolate trade, and how when the Spaniards first introduced it to Europe, it was so expensive only Royalty could afford it.
“Once the industrial Age arrived, “ she explained, “it became possible to mass produce a semblance of it – the stuff we know as “chocolate” until now, but not without the exploitation of growers and workers.”
With the awareness of the long process from the small batch growers, through fermenting, roasting and preparing real, unadulterated chocolate, a $10.00 dollar chocolate bar makes sense.
And anyhow, this chocolate, much like a fine wine, is to be savoured not inhaled.
“Oh and there’s nothing better than great chocolate, wine and cheese.” Debi exclaims. “It’s all you need really.”
I asked Debi how things would change for them if indeed they won the award.
“Not too much,” she answered. “Obviously it would give us real credibility and allow us to sell in other markets but only in a few select shops that adhere to our philosophy.”
“We’d like to be able to produce a bit more than we do, but not so much that we lose the personal connection to the process.” She told me.
As we spoke, Javier busied himself in the back of the space, turning beans to chocolate, and eventually into the incredible bars that Chokala has become known for.
The packaging itself is also worth noting, Three local artists have collaborated with Debi (who worked at the Harwood Museum when they first came to Taos), and Javier to create unique branding for Chokola.
Larry Bell, Erin Currier and Matt Thomas all contributed their work, making Chokola’s bars the perfect stocking stuffer for the Holidays for Art and Chocolate lovers alike!
The Good Food Award Winners will be announced in late January (I’ve attached a link below this post), but if you live here, or are visiting, do go in and order a cup of sipping chocolate while you peruse the inventory. There are bon bons to try, along with a fabulous Mousse Bar and much more. You can sit outside when the sun is shining, which is year round Aqui en Taos, or inside at one of the tables.
Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Javier, Debi and their lovely staff are happy to answer them and you’ll come away with a great understanding and appreciation of this extraordinary food, the Gods have gifted us with, by way of chocolatiers like Javier and Debi, who have helped to revive a tradition, working with farmers who grow according to the laws of nature, communicating ancient knowledge about these cacao pods; from their bitter origins, to the sweet and creamy nectar extracted along the journey from bean to bar.
Along with their own bars, Chokola also sell a select few, bespoke artisanal bars from other makers in their retail outlet. They do ship, so please visit their website linked below.
All photos thanks to Chokola