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Raphio Chocolate: Perfect for Christmas and Anytime

IN THE December 21 ISSUE

FROM THE 2019 Articles,
andFood Fun,
andMallory Moad
SECTIONS

by Mallory Moad

Chocolate. Ooohhh, yes. This delicacy has been around for over two-thousand years, and it’s as powerful as it ever was. Just the word alone conjures up all kinds of imagery, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s the miniature candy bars in your trick-or-treat bag on Halloween or a big bunny in your Easter basket. It has been featured in literature and film: a sensual pleasure in Chocolat, concealing a hidden treasure in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and administered as medication in the Hogwarts infirmary in the beloved Harry Potter series. Ancient civilizations used it for currency and as components in rituals. This delicious treat is also one of the most frequently given gifts for Christmas. I’m not surprised – are you?

Yep, chocolate is all over the place this time of year. So what? Foil-wrapped Santas are cute, but they’re so last year. Variety boxes of pretty candies are one-size-fits-all, but don’t even get me started on ingredients or production practices. We are becoming more conscious of what we eat, what’s in it, and how (and where) it is produced. It’s time to up our chocolate gift-giving game.

Cacao, lots of it

Don’t panic! Raphio Chocolate in Fresno,CA has all the bases covered. This small local company is dedicated to high social, ethical, environmental, and nutritional values while producing quality, single-origin, dark craft chocolate that is over-the-top delicious and free of unpronounceable additives. Move over, marshmallow Saint Nick!

Elisia Otavi on a work day

Established in 2016, Raphio Chocolate is owned and operated by Elisia Otavi and was inspired by her sons, Raphael and Rio, for whom the company is named. It was her desire to provide them with a healthy option to sugary, mass-produced candy that led her to become a chocolatier. “Sweets and chocolate are such a big part of childhood,” she says. “I believe that food is healthiest when it’s minimally processed. When I knew that chocolate can be made from as simple as three ingredients, and you can read them all, that’s when the idea of Raphio Chocolate was born.” Born and raised in Indonesia, Elisia came to Fresno as an international student in 1995. “Fresno is the only place I have lived in since leaving Indonesia,” she says. “I love it even more now that I am growing my family here in the Central Valley.”

Located in a strip mall in central Fresno, Raphio Chocolate isn’t a large-scale, Willy Wonka-ish place filled with outrageous machinery. It’s a combination of shiny micro factory and inviting storefront. Every step of the process is completed by hand on the premises, from sorting and roasting beans to grinding, aging, and finally, pouring the actual chocolate bars. Informing customers about what she makes and sells matters to Elisia, so in addition to Raphio products, the shop features displays explaining how and where cacao is grown and harvested. Elisia has also opened her factory to guests, so they may see firsthand how her chocolate is made.

Grant Hamilton, chocolate maker’s apprentice

I visited Raphio Chocolate on a rainy December afternoon. When I entered, I was met by a complex, roasty aroma that was reminiscent of coffee but kind of spicy at the same time. As if by magic, I forgot about the gloomy weather. Grant Hamilton, chocolate maker’s apprentice and good will ambassador, welcomed me with a beaming smile. I liked this place already.

Grant was hired at Raphio Chocolate nine months ago, originally as a barista. But with the knowledge in coffee making he acquired while working for local roaster and coffee house, Kuppa Joy, Elisia saw in him the potential for much more. Coffee and chocolate share many of the same steps in processing, so a promotion to assistant made perfect sense. Grant’s experience and skills, along with his enthusiasm for Raphio Chocolate’s products and mission, proves Elisia’s decision was right on.

Elisia firmly believes that food is the healthiest when minimally processed. Raphio Chocolate is made from limited ingredients including direct trade organic cacao beans. It consists of cacao, organic cane sugar, and, sometimes, a touch of organic cacao butter. That’s the entire list, but the flavor is bold and sumptuous. “That’s what I do, make real chocolate from scratch, from cacao beans to goodness, with lots of love.” If your first experience with dark chocolate was like mine and involved something that was waxy, bitter, pretty much tasteless and mass produced, you might be reluctant to risk repeating that experience. It’s this “dark chocolate is yucky” mentality that has been one of Elisia’s biggest challenges.

Valuable information included in every chocolate bar

Raphio Chocolate’s growing popularity extends beyond the Central Valley. It has gained widespread recognition and won numerous national and international awards. “I am so proud that Raphio Chocolate has placed Fresno firmly and justifiably on the craft chocolate map,” says Felix Muzquiz, executive director of Fresno’s Vineyard Farmers Market. “Every aspect of their creations is so well thought out and executed with a giant dollop of love!”

Raphio Chocolate offers a variety of five unique chocolate bars, each made with cacao beans from a different country of origin: Ecuador, Peru, Tanzania, Madagascar, and the Dominican Republic. “Every variety of bean is different,” Grant explained, which is why all Raphio Chocolate doesn’t taste the same. I had the good fortune of sampling these sophisticated goodies and each had a distinct, rich, sometimes multi-layered flavor with a smooth, creamy texture. This was definitely not the nasty dark chocolate of my unfortunate past; this was something awesome or as Felix Muzquiz described it, “luxurious and gratifying.” Raphio Chocolate also works in collaboration with other local companies such as Enzo Olive Oil, Kuppa Joy Coffee and Ficklin Vineyards to produce exquisite specialty chocolate bars and bonbons that incorporate their products.

Very special chocolates

After Elisia graduated from Fresno State, she began working as an interior designer for an architectural firm. After six years, she realized the corporate world just didn’t suit her: not her personality, her work ethics, or her values. She walked away from what she describes as “the normal grind” to a place that is much more rewarding, both physically and emotionally. The craft chocolate she was introduced to by her husband, Yohannes, called to her. Luckily for local chocoholics, she answered. “I love making chocolate, and it feels good to make people happy. The same chocolate I make and feed to my children is what I feel comfortable selling. But the most rewarding part of growing this company is the amount of blessings we receive on a daily basis from appreciative customers.” You can add my name to that list of fans.

Molds for chocolate bars

So, last minute shoppers, what will it be? Industrially produced chocolates in a box, purchased at the mall? Been there, done that. Another chain-store chocolate Santa? Bah, humbug. You can do better, and Raphio Chocolate has got your back. Ooohhh, yes.

My name is Mallory Moad, and I believe that if you make it with love, you’ve made the best.

Raphio Chocolate is available for your last-minute Christmas shopping convenience in Fresno at the Vineyard Farmers Market near Shaw and Blackstone on Wednesdays from 3 p.m.– 6 p.m. and Saturday mornings from 7 a.m. until noon. The Raphio Chocolate shop, 783 E. Barstow, suite G, is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and will be open on Christmas Eve. The complete line of Raphio chocolate items, including ground cacao, cacao tea, hot chocolate mix, and everything mentioned here, is available at this location.

For more information on Raphio Chocolate, including tours and other events, visit raphiochocolate.com.

Mallory Moad is a visual/performance artist, vocalist in the jazz band Scats on The Sly and a proud Central San Joaquin Valley native.

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