With its brown and white walls, and sparse décor, CoCopelli Chocolatier is tidy, but it feels a little one-dimensional, common. Only when I talk to the owner, Lauren Roybal, does it open up, revealing hidden chambers like a set of matryoshka dolls.
I tend to be skeptical of chocolate stores; either they sell cheap-tasting products for the masses, or they try too hard with lavender-orange, oil-infused truffles, packaged just as pretentiously. Moreover, my mom is from Switzerland, so I know the taste of good chocolate, but I'm also concerned with how cacao beans are harvested—most pickers are paid less per day than a chocolate bar costs, and they never even see one.
So when I ask Roybal what sets her shop, which has been open for just a month, apart from others and she replies, "our chocolate," I'm hoping she'll deliver.
Dressed casually in jeans and a red scoop-necked sweater under a black apron, Roybal says that she uses Swiss and Belgian confections with names like Peter's Chocolate and Gerken Cacao Powder. The 100 percent fair trade beans, she says, don't stack up in quality. Her supplier, she says, professes an ethic that gives her the quality she wants without sacrificing her principles.
One thing she does is use the whole cacao bean, much like a native hunter uses every part of an animal carcass, thus connecting the ancient practice of chocolate making to her modern ethics, a sensibility represented in the name CoCopelli.
"Chocolate is a tradition, so I chose the popular Santa Fe figure of the Kokopelli and played with the spelling to make it cute, to symbolize how society has been influenced by chocolate since the Aztecs and Mayans. Kokopelli was the bringer of gifts and the center of ceremony, always making people happy."
She hopes the chocolate also makes people happy. Her favorite is the white pistachio chile, made of organic coconut oil, white chocolate and red chile pistachios from an Alamagordo farm.
She gives me one of her signature truffles to try, after I tell her that I prefer dark chocolate. Named the CoCopelli truffle, it's perfectly smooth and melty, bitter at first and then just sweet enough.
I'm looking around the store, as Roybal lists off her wares and the ideas behind them, when I start to feel dizzy with information, wondering how she manages. Not only does she have eight varieties of truffles that she makes every day—hand-painting some of them with colorful designs—she also makes six kinds of cupcakes, glacé fruits and custom cakes, and she invents unusual confections (she currently has three cases full of shapes, such as a chocolate high heel and a painter's set that she gifted to a local artist for his birthday). She also hand-dips strawberries upon request, and she makes vegan and gluten-free cupcakes on special days, in addition to teaching classes on how to dip and how to make chocolate and custom cakes in any shape one could desire.
In the process of training three employees, she says that, in the chocolate community, chocolatiers help each other out.
The confidence that comes with this support and her location—families come in for dessert after movies at Regal Stadium 14—in addition to the certainty of her chocolates, encourages Roybal to set her prices somewhat low. Charging $1.25-$2 per truffle and $2.25 per cupcake, Roybal says people shouldn't have to pull out their credit cards.
Her chocolate case does seem to be missing fudge, I note, and she explains that each chocolate shop knows its strengths, so she doesn't see the point in competing with those that do fudge well. And when I point out that ice cream might be a wise addition, "I'll be serving Taos Cow as soon as we get a freezer in here."