If there’s one thing pretty much everyone in the family can agree on, it’s that chocolate is The. Best. This Valentine’s Day, find out how everyone’s favorite confection gets made, from bean-to-bar. These LA spots, which include everything from world renowned chocolatiers to places where kids can concoct their own dubiously flavored treats, all offer an insight into the chocolate making process.
photo: Jolie Loeb
We first met Patricia Tsai, founder of Chocovivo, at Farmers Markets years ago. In 2013 she made the leap to her own storefront in Culver City where she’s happy to talk to your kiddos about how a bean becomes a bar, complete with illustrative cocoa pods and stone grinders for kids to touch as they taste. They can see the Oompa Loompas at work in the open kitchen as they take part in a chocolate tasting, or just taste the chocolate infused goodies (cookies, sipping hot chocolate, frozen hot chocolate and more).
The shop also sells cocao beans, nibs, powders, butters, mylks and oils, so you can learn about the ancient uses for chocolate that go beyond just devouring as dessert. This year they’ll be expanding their offerings of medicinal aspects of chocolate—and that’s a medicine kids will gladly take! Keep an eye on their website for periodic classes for both kids (cookie making) and adults (whiskey and chocolate tastings!).
12469 Washington Blvd.
photo: Jennifer O’Brien
Last summer, the brothers opened the company’s largest flagship shop in LA’s vibrant Downtown Arts District. While you can just make a chocolate buying pilgrimage to this complete bean-to-bar operation, the real draw is the tour, which is offered daily from 11 a.m.–5 p.m., every hour on the hour. Tours can be booked online or in person and are $10 for adults and free for kids. The objective of the 30-minute tour is to be completely transparent and educate cocoa bean lovers about the chocolate making process.
Kids learn everything from how the cacao fruit is harvested to where the beans are sourced, roasted, shelled, winnowed, ground, mixed, poured into molds and ultimately transformed into the fantastic confections we all adore, with tastings each step of the way. If you time your tour for a Saturday, they have chocolate story time for kids at 10 a.m.
816 S. Santa Fe Ave.
photo: Meghan Rose
Sweet! Hollywood at Hollywood & Highland
This is the complete opposite of the bean-to-bar experience, but your kids will adore it and beg to return. In the Chocolate Lab at the back of Sweet! Hollywood, kids can build their own chocolate bar for just $7.99. You pick your chocolate (milk, dark or white), chocolate bar additions (with 45 choices like nutella, nuts, candies, cereal, bacon, potato chips, pop rocks and even fiery Cheetos, this part can take all day) and a gooey filling (peanut butter, mint, coffee, caramel, jellies and more). Then you watch as they make your bar to order. Once it’s cooled, they wrap it up for you to take home. Not only is this a super fun activity, it can make a great gift for family, as kids customize bars to others tastes, or unique party favors for a birthday party, where everyone goes home with the celebrants rather unique creation.
6801 Hollywood Blvd.
Littlejohn’s English Toffee House
This toffee has a real LA history; the Littlejohns began making it in their kitchen in the 1920s and opened their stall in the Original Farmers Market in 1946. And that’s where they still churn out their housemade fudge and chocolate dipped toffee (and caramels and chocolate dipped marshmallows and dried fruits, too!). Any day of the week you can swing by to not only get a sample of the wares, but watch in delight as in the back of the shop you can see the chocolate get mixed, churned, poured and turned into all kinds of delicious delights. In fact, you can pull up one of the markets green chairs and watch the show for as long as you like!
6333 W. 3rd St., Stall 432
John Kelly Chocolates
Parents have probably seen the gold foil bricks of truffle fudge bars at high end food shops around town. Those world class chocolates are actually made right in the heart of Hollywood, and if you visit their chocolate factory and shop on a weekday you can get a peek at the artisans hard at work, making their chocolate magic, just steps away from the cases showing off the finished product. You can also often chat with either John or Kelly about their process and love of chocolate, and sample the several flavors they have out each day. The rich fudge is a great introduction to the good stuff for kids who prefer Hershey bars to fine dark chocolates—it’s made with the best chocolate, but the fudge like texture and sweetness hits kids “sweet spot.” If this is out of your way, consider making a day of the outing, as it’s also right near Guitar Center, where kids can see the walk of Rock God fame, and then you can grab dinner at Toi, a Hollywood Thai staple that is kid friendly and fun.
1508 N Sierra Bonita Ave.
photo: Winnie L. via Yelp
Talk about high end! Compartes makes the gorgeously wrapped bars you’ll find at your favorite coffee shop and that partners with everyone from J. Crew to Kelly Wearstler to Shake Shack. They also make gorgeous chocolates, chocolate dipped Peeps and have the motto of “Chocolate is Art” so there’s literally something here for everyone you know. At their shop in Brentwood, which has been making the stunning delicacies since 1950, you can see each piece being meticulously hand crafted and decorated. You can also sample the goods and see a wall of chocolate bars that will amaze your young coco-ficianados with flavors that include Pink Elephant, Brownie Bars, Coffee & Donuts, Campfire S’Mores and Cereal Bar. You might want to nibble on the Vegan Kale Dark, Chili Mango Dark or The Nightcap (which has dark chocolate and whisky).
912 S Barrington Ave.
Bar Au Chocolat Atelier – Coming Soon!
This is one to keep your eyes on: the bean to bar shop is currently online only and is opening in Manhattan Beach in spring 2017. In their words: “It will be a working studio and retail space…we will make our chocolate on premises and give private tours providing an intimate glimpse into our method of chocolatemaking…showcasing a variety of chocolate from around the world.” We can’t wait! Check back in at Red Tricycle and we’ll give you a first look as soon as the shop opens.
What’s your favorite place to get a glimpse of how the magic of chocolate is made? Let us know in the comment section!