Interview with ChocoSol

Sarah Velasco: Can you tell readers about ChocoSol? How did it start?
ChocoSol: At ChocoSol, we take the ‘food of the gods’ - cacao - and turn it into fresh, stone ground artisanal chocolate. Our chocolate is made from organically grown, horizontally traded cacao that we source directly from Southern Mexico. All of our chocolate is free from dairy, gluten, soy, nuts, and is vegan to boot. You won’t find any GMOS, additives, or preservatives, either!

At the end of 2014, we’ll be celebrating our 10th anniversary. It all started when ChocoSol’s Founder, Michael Sacco, brought back organically grown, forest garden cacao from Mexico to grind chocolate on his front porch and sell at farmers’ markets in Toronto.

In 2002, Michael drove down to Mexico with a solar concentrator as part of his Master’s in environmental studies program. He was energized by the community and conviviality in Mexico and was first introduced to chocolate making informally by an elder who asked him to make traditional drinking chocolate with her.

He had an ‘aha’ realization that chocolate could be channeled as a vehicle to fund future environmental projects and research, instead of depending on government grants. And the seed was planted!

Sarah Velasco: What is ChocoSol?
ChocoSol: ChocoSol is a social enterprise/learning community. We’re more than just a business. Each ChocoSolista (what we call ChocoSol staff) comes to ChocoSol with that passion and expertise that fuels them and their work, and that also strengthens and re-invigorates the work that we do. For us cacao and chocolate are symbolic products that represent the values we carry with us. We don’t draw a line between our “work lives” and “our personal lives” in the sense that what we do at ChocoSol is an extension of the community and values that we engage in outside of “work”.

ChocoSol’s name also has layers to it. In Spanish, ‘sol’ means ‘sun’ and is a direct reference to the first 1,000 kilograms of cacao that were roasted with solar power. In French, ‘sol’ means ‘soil’, which draws us back to the earth and the importance of the soil ecology that grows our food. And in English, ‘sol’ sounds like ‘soul’ and is a reminder to do things with good spirit and integrity.

Sarah Velasco: What is ChocoSoil? What is that process?
ChocoSol: The ChocoSoil Project is an urban agriculture project that takes a cradle-to-cradle approach to waste management. Basically, it integrates soil making into the day-to-day operations at ChocoSol and reflects our work towards producing healthy urban soil ecosystems and rooftop grown spices for chocolate making on site at our location in Toronto.

We recently added a page on our website about ChocoSoil. Check it out: www.ChocoSolTraders.com/ChocoSoil

Sarah Velasco: How is it ChocoSol different from regular chocolate?
ChocoSol: At ChocoSol we make Mexican-style stone ground chocolate at an artisan scale. Our chocolate is literally made from cacao beans and is commonly known as bean-to-bar chocolate. We use low heat and low shear to preserve the healthful and nutritional components of the cacao.

We work directly with the farmers who grow the cacao beans and pay them above fair trade prices. Child slavery is a very serious, real, and prominent component of the chocolate industry and we don’t source cacao from regions where this occurs (i.e. Africa). Check out the Food Empowerment’s Chocolate List as a resource and starting point.

We also avoid preservatives (most chocolate contains soy lecithin) and use fair trade and organic sugars. And ChocoSol chocolate is free of major allergens, including gluten, soy, dairy, and nuts.

Sarah Velasco: Why vegan chocolate?
ChocoSol: ChocoSol chocolate is an open invitation to all. Unless you are allergic to cacao, we’ve got you covered. This includes making chocolate that is free from dairy and other animal products.

Even our drinking chocolate is a water-based Mexican-style drink and can be enjoyed hot or cold. We have a great video on our website for how to prepare the drinking chocolate at home: www.ChocoSolTraders.com/OurProducts.

Sarah Velasco: What is your best seller?
ChocoSol: Our eating chocolate is definitely our best seller and the most popular flavour is Sinfully Raw Vanilla. It’s an 82% chocolate made with roasted cacao and it’s name is inspired by the whole bean vanilla we use and the raw cacao nibs that are sprinkled on the back.

Our coffee is also becoming more and more popular. We bring in green coffee (horizontally traded and organically grown) from Southern Mexico and have it roasted fresh weekly by a local eco-roaster.

Sarah Velasco: Are there any common misconceptions when it comes to whole food, stone ground chocolate?
ChocoSol: From time to time, we have people express surprise that our chocolate doesn’t have the exact mouth feel of Swiss-style chocolate but once we explain that our chocolate is made in the Mexican style and is stone ground things are good.

When is comes to cacao itself, many people are surprised to learn that you can eat cacao beans as is - including the shell.

Sarah Velasco: Where can readers find ChocoSol?
ChocoSol: Our kitchen location is now open 7 days a week and we’re at farmers’ markets throughout Toronto (we even have some year-round markets). Health food and retail stores/co-ops also carry our products. And we’re always doing special events (like our Artisanal Chocolate Workshops) and festivals (like the Mariposa Folk Festival and the Hillside Community Festival).

For a full list of where to find us, visit: www.ChocoSolTraders.com/Where-To-Find-Us.

Sarah Velasco: Anything else we should know?
ChocoSol: We recently moved to a new location (1131 St. Clair West, east of Dufferin) and May to October farmers’ markets will be starting soon (on top of the year-round ones) so come by, say ‘hi’, and enjoy a chocolate sample.

We also relaunched ChocoSol’s Tortilla Project this month and fresh corn tortillas are now available at select farmers’ markets: www.ChocoSolTraders.com/Tortillas.

Our website is a great tool to learn more about us: www.ChocoSolTraders.com. We’re on Facebook and Twitter (both @ChocoSolTraders) and we’re always happy to answer questions via info@chocosoltraders.com.