By Regina Connell.
In the heart of the Silicon Valley, a revolution is taking place. And it has nothing to do with technology.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
It’s about slow, not fast; about conscience not circuits; about quality not quantity. And the unlikely revolutionary is a woman named Sunita de Tourreil.
Sunita’s is the founder of The Chocolate Garage, a Palo Alto, CA-based… I’m not sure what to call it: store? experience? tasting room? None of these words quite capture what it is. Another word that comes to mind—movement—makes it all sound too serious and unpleasureable. Because at heart, Chocolate Garage is about pleasure, both sensual and intellectual.
I went looking for the Chocolate Garage down a side street, off of University Avenue in Palo Alto. And there, nestled into a tiny slot of land next was an older, decidedly not glamorous low-slung cinderblock building. More steps onward, and there was a tiny garage, a vestige of perhaps the fifties.
Inside, on a chintz sofa, we talked, and I tasted (my favorite tastes are at the bottom of this article).
Sunita, a former biologist (who once researched mad cow disease) had always loved chocolate and studied it intensively, but knew two things. 1) Most of us didn’t have a clue as to what really good chocolate was and 2) there’s a huge human and environmental toll to our favorite indulgence. What if you could have better quality while ensuring better outcomes for people and the environment? (This kind of thinking is in her blood and her upbringing: she is, after all the offspring of a Swiss father and Indian mother.) A cause—and a business—was born.
Rather than ranting on about exploitation in the fields, Sunita created The Chocolate Garage to let pleasure—not polemics—drive change. Chocolate Garage is a tasting room (twice weekly tastings) that stocks and shares the work of small batch, bean-to-bar makers whose products are light years away from chocolate as many of us know it. (Yes, even the dark chocolate that you’ve trained yourself to love.) Like wine, these bars have terroir, subtlety, layered flavors, surprising inclusions. Some offered their pleasures slowly. Some blow you away with them from the first bite.
These bars are produced by the legends beloved by the chocolate cognoscenti: Rogue, Patric, Madre, Pacari, Dick Taylor, Momotombo, Askinosie, Grenada, Bar Au Chocolat, Fresco, Bonnat, Potomac, Fruition, Pralus, Marou, and many others. The best thing: Sunita knows these people and they trust her. And we reap the benefits: These indie makers routinely create small batches of exceptional bars, exclusively for The Chocolate Garage.
All this is good, but it gets better. One of the brilliant things about The Chocolate Garage is a program called Future Chocolate. It’s a way for happy customers to fund the cause directly, literally paying it forward. “Crafting the most flavorful chocolate requires very small batch sizes crafted from the best cacao. We use Future Chocolate to provide guarantees to the best artisan makers that if they source cacao aligned with the principles of Happy Chocolate, and make a great bar, we’ll buy the whole batch.”
Future Chocolate is a pre-funded account at The Chocolate Garage (from $100-$500). Consumers get can’t-find-it-anywhere-else chocolate at a discount, get invited to Release Parties, get to know the makers and provide feedback to them.
The best part of all of this is Sunita herself, who is brilliant but approachable, passionate without brow beating. She manages to possess an unbelievably refined palate without being judgmental. I confessed my life-long love of Cadbury. She confessed to a having a nostalgic appreciation of Toblerone. Very nice of her.
It’s a little like venture capital for chocolate, and I am so so happy to be a funder.
This is the kind of smart, joined up thinking the Handful of Salt gang loves, and the world needs to make sure that quality—and the quality makers—survive and thrive. Here’s to you, Sunita. We love what you do.
What I tasted:
Patric: Habanero 67%
Dick Taylor: Ecuador Camino Verde
Patric: Blood Orange 66% with blood orange essence by the brilliant Mandy Aftel.
654 Gilman Street, Palo Alto CA