On a trip to Tofino, British Columbia, found on Vancouver Island’s beautiful west coast, I savored chocolates at Chocolate Tofino. Chocolatiers Kim and Cam Shaw were recently recognized by Lonely Planet’s Global Chocolate Tour. The pair guided me through different flavors of their artisan chocolates. They taught me roughly five percent of what they know about chocolate in their cozy chocolate shop on the Pacific Rim Highway. I know more now about this well-loved but misunderstood treat, and I hope you enjoy learning about it too!
So, where does chocolate come from? Indeed, I learned chocolate is more than 4,000 years old. The Olmecs in Mexico drank it, the Mayans called it the drink of the Gods, and the Aztecs used it as currency. Chocolate arrived more recently in Europe in the 1500s. Later, charmed by its exotic taste, Europeans began growing Cocoa trees in the tropics. In the 1800s, a Dutchman created the first chocolate press to remove the butter from the cocoa bean leaving just the cocoa powder behind. Finally, in 1876 a Swiss chocolatier added dry milk powder to chocolate, and milk chocolate as we know it was born!
Chocolate Fit for the Gods
The Mayans worshipped many gods, including a cacao god. Since they believed chocolate was a gift from the gods, they called it Theobroma, which became the basis of the scientific name Theobroma cocao. Furthermore, they so highly revered chocolate that they drank it during many religious ceremonies. The Mayans mixed unsweetened chocolate with chili, herbs, and spices, and many chocolatiers have created their version of Mayan Chocolate. So, a trip to fascinating Guatemala will take you to the home of the original Mayan Chocolate!
When you think about chocolate, you think of melting it, chopping it, or powdering it; in other words, everything BUT growing it! But, surprisingly, chocolate is a plant! The cocoa plant grows in the tropics, reaches up to 15 feet (4.6 meters), and produces pods extending off the trunk. Surprisingly, tiny flies, not bees, pollinate it.
Cocoa producers clean the beans, ferment them for up to nine days, and dry them outdoors or on roasters. Carefully roasting the beans brings out the much-loved chocolate aroma. Following the roasting, machines crack beans into cocoa nibs. Next, a grinder pulverizes beans into a chunky paste. Finally, after further heating and rolling, the chocolate is ready for chocolatiers to create their decadent masterpieces!
And just a word about the difference between cacao and cocoa. People use the terms interchangeably, but the plant and pods are usually called cocao. The nibs and cocao powder are still pure with no additives. Of course, this also means they are vegan. Instead, cocoa powder undergoes additional processing and usually contains sugar, milk, and other additives. While cocao is bitter, it is also highly regarded for its superior health benefits. But bakers prefer cocoa powder for baking.
Does Chocolate Really Make You Happy?
There are some compelling reasons why you SHOULD eat chocolate! All chocolate, regardless of quality, contains theobromine, which elevates your mood and improves alertness. (But do not feed chocolate to dogs! Theobromine is toxic to canines.) Also, it contains phenylethylamine, which triggers the brain’s pleasure center. In addition, Tryptophan in milk chocolate improves mood and reduces pain. So indulging in chocolate does lead to a feeling of satisfaction and happiness!
However, this does not address why Chocolate Tofino goodies make you even happier. Think of this: eating an apple pie from the grocery store tastes good. But eating your Mother’s apple pie is so much better. The quality of ingredients is likely higher. But there is a missing ingredient in the store-bought pie: LOVE. Your Mom—and Kim and Cam at Chocolate Tofino—don’t just use the finest quality ingredients; they love what they are doing. And that blend is pure magic!
How Is Chocolate Like Wine?
Of course, the obvious answer is they are both delicious and enhance special occasions, especially when served with flowers! But chocolate and wine come from a fruit, are fermented, and lend themselves well to tastings. Furthermore, the final chocolate flavor is determined by the attributes of the plantation where the cocoa trees grow, just as every winery produces wine distinct to that area.
Specifically, chocolate and wine vary according to the terroir, the humidity, the general weather, the amount of shade the plants receive, and other factors. So, while wine and chocolate have a lot of similarities, chocolate is accessible to more people. And not to mention, you can eat chocolate and drive, plus your children can enjoy it!
Chocolate Tofino’s History
Kim and Cam, originally from Saskatchewan, decided to head west in a VW Van to surf when the economy was in a recession. They landed in Tofino, and quickly fell in love with it. So 13 years ago, when they found out Chocolate Tofino was for sale, they couldn’t resist buying it! And fortunately for us all, as their chocolate would never have happened if they hadn’t relocated to this small community.
Today they play an integral role in the beautiful surf city, Tofino. They try to surf every morning before work—even in winter storms. So, before creating their dreamy chocolates, they connect with nature, live their passion, and find joy in the Pacific Ocean waves. Unlike Lucy and Ethel in the hilarious I Love Lucy chocolate scene, there is no chocolate production line to keep up with! When they arrive, they work together, handcrafting small batches of chocolates. And when challenges arise—like when the power goes out from gale force winds during storm season, they put the Gelato at half price!
What Are Chocolate Tofino’s Best-Loved Local Specialties?
There is an excellent selection of chocolates at Chocolate Tofino. The best-loved specialties include Wildflower Honey Ganache, a dark chocolate ganache delicately sweetened with Babe’s Wildflower Honey from Victoria, just a few hours away. This chocolate is Kim’s top choice. But the Organic Lavender Truffle was my favorite, with a gentle hint of lavender complemented by a delicate dark chocolate covering. However, my husband chose the favored Salted Caramel Chocolate, with a beautifully creamy caramel and a refreshing hint of salt. Does it get any better?
Tofino Memories in Chocolate
Kim and Cam create unique west coast chocolates perfect for gift giving. Their famous Bear Claws with Cashews is a great gift, with candied cashews toasted in their shop. When I first walked into the store, the aroma of chocolate filled the store and tantalized my senses. I might have swooned if they had also been toasting cashews!
And in the nearby Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve, Long Beach was the backdrop for Bella and Jacob in the Twilight Series “New Moon.” Does this explain why Kim and Cam named a caramel treat Love at First Bite? In any case, I am sure you will fall in love with this caramel chocolate, imbued with Mexican vanilla, at first bite too!
Their realistic-looking Hazelnut Rainforest Crispy Log and the Canadian Maple Syrup with Vanilla Bean Caramel make perfect gifts. And the “Elements of Tofino” chocolate includes surfboards, whales, and an indigenous Eagle Moon chocolate. However, the star of the show is The Original Chocolate Tofino Bear. This adorable hollow bear contains small dark and milk chocolate fish inside, making it particularly fun for kids!
How Do You Store Leftover Chocolate?
No, that isn’t a trick question. However, it is an essential question if you are buying high-quality fresh chocolates. So consider their Wild Blackberry Buttercream, made from wild blackberries from the Clayoquot Sound blended with dark chocolate inside a white chocolate shell. Or Vegan Raspberry, a dark chocolate ganache with fresh, juiced BC raspberries. These preservative-free chocolates have either fresh cream or fresh berries—or both! Eating fresh chocolates within 7-10 days is best, but they can last 20 days if properly stored.
Most importantly, store your chocolates in a cool, dry, scent-free area, since chocolates can absorb odors. Solid chocolates will last longer when properly stored. But Cam asks, “Why not eat them now?” Of course, chocolates with preservatives will last much longer, but the taste will never compare to fresh ones.
Gelato and Ice Cream
Tofino draws surfers, beach lovers, and celebrities from around the globe. The outstanding Tofino beaches bring prominent filmmakers in to capture the coast’s beauty. Where there is movie production, there are actors! And some of those actors discovered Chocolate Tofino in between filming.
Harrison Ford chose the creamy Salted Caramel Gelato in a waffle cone. Yet, Elijah Wood savored a Hammerhead Gelato, a sophisticated secret recipe. And while not a movie star, a Prime Minister enjoyed a Maple Pecan Praline Gelato with Canadian maple syrup and freshly toasted pecans.
Since they can’t be shipped, splurge on Chocolate Tofino’s creative—and impressive—list of handmade gelato flavors when you’re there. Their gelato is lower in fat than ice cream because it contains milk or coconut milk. Also, you will be served gelato at a slightly higher temperature than ice cream, meaning less brain freeze and a richer flavor due to the warmer serving temperature.
Where Can You Go For a Chocolate Taste?
How can you enjoy chocolate tasting if you can’t make the trip to Vancouver Island? First, check to see if guided tours are available in your area. For example, in beautiful Victoria, BC, you can indulge in local chocolate with Off the Eaten Track Tours. This self-guided tour directs you to five chocolate tastings, including Bon Macaron for chocolate-infused macarons and a chocolate pastry from the Dutch Bakery. And many other cities will have similar outings!
Second, if there are no organized tours, go directly to a chocolate shop and see if they offer tastings or samples. Choose a selection to take home, have an intimate night with champagne, and savor each treat. Or have a girl’s night pairing chocolates and red wine or a family tasting with hot chocolate. A perfect place to indulge in solo tastings of chocolate treats is at the beach (but you may need a cooler!) You can also do a chocolate gelato party with nuts, cocoa nibs, fruit, whipped cream, and shaved chocolate! There are plenty of ways to enjoy chocolate.
Equally as good, order a handpicked box of Chocolate Tofino chokkies (as my Australian husband would say). Of course, they always do their best to get orders out quickly—but include a note when checking out online if you have a particular date in mind.
Best Things to Do Near the Town of Tofino
The town of Tofino is a bucket-list destination, and Time Magazine calls Tofino “an extraordinary destination” along with Bali, Indonesia, and Istanbul, Türkiye in “The World’s Greatest Places of 2022.” Formerly a fishing village, it is now the surfing capital of Canada. So, when there, experienced surfers can shred the big waves like Australian actor and avid surfer Chris Hemsworth (aka Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) did while filming in nearby Vancouver. Or newbies can take surf lessons from Swell Tofino or Surf Sister and learn how to “ride the line.”
Go bike riding on the new multi-use path that connects Ucluelet and Tofino. Just rent a bike at Swell Tofino or Tofino Bike Co., peddle through the verdant forests of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and past a treasure trove of wide-open beaches with stunning vistas! Later, wander around downtown Tofino with its art galleries, cafes, and spectacular mountain views.
Visit the Whale Centre and book a bear, whale, or bird-watching tour. Or consider a boat ride to Hot Springs Cove—a natural hot spring in the forest! In winter, huge waves roll in from the wild Pacific Ocean, providing spectacular storm-watching opportunities, made even better with a roaring fire and a hot chocolate elixir from Chocolate Tofino. So, no matter the season, there is always much to do on the Pacific Coast!
Best Places to Stay
Face it, when you’re full of chocolate, you’ll need a place to stay nearby. Hotel Zed Tofino is the perfect place to stay, with a waterfront on a peaceful inlet for quiet reflection, bird-watching, or kayaking. But if you want to surf, you can rent a board at Swell Tofino, located at the hotel. You can walk or ride your bike from Swell to Chesterman Beach in a few minutes. This stunning beach is perfect for exploring the tide pools, picnicking, surfing, or skimboarding.
Hotel Zed is an experience of its own, with a fun Mid-Century Modern vibe. This swanky hotel is perfect for families, with a sunken living room where you can play games and enjoy snacks. A smile will spread across your face as you dance at the mini disco (yes—complete with mirrored balls), win a game at the secret retro arcade, ride your bike on the bike path running through the lobby, or try shuffleboard at the playground.
Adults will love indulging in a massage in the rainforest at Stillwater Nature Spa or relaxing in Hotel Zed’s hot tub or barrel sauna. Cocktails on the patio are divine. And the beds are oh-so-comfy. And, of course, dogs love Hotel Zed too!
You Cannot Live by Chocolate Alone
Fortunately, Tofino is the perfect place to be at mealtime. Suppose you want to grab a warm burrito to enjoy on the beach? In that case, Tacofino is almost next door to Chocolate Tofino. Tacofino has served Mexican food from their food truck since 2009. Their fresh fish tacos, using local ingredients, are a perfect choice. Too hungry to make it to the beach? Find a spot at Tacofino’s picnic tables and eat with the locals.
If you have never eaten at a live-fire restaurant, head to ROAR restaurant in Hotel Zed. With a sunken lounge, outdoor patio seating, and a main dining room that oozes Mid-Century Modern swank, there is plenty of room to find your favorite spot with friends and family. You will soon experience the wizardry that the talented Red Seal Chef and her team create in 800-degree wood coals! Memories of campfires and the subtle suggestion of smoke kissing the perfectly cooked local ingredients provide a stirring, wild flavor you will long to taste again.
With its old-growth forests, stunning beaches, and breathtaking views, Tofino brings you back to yourself. With your hair blowing in the wind, your toes wiggling in the sand, and the sight of a whale fluke rising out of the ocean, you can feel your place in the world. Chocolate Tofino celebrates the environment surrounding them and deftly brings Mother Nature into their kitchen. Life is good in Tofino. Chocolate Tofino makes it even better.
Plan Your Next Trip
Thank you to Chocolate Tofino, Hotel Zed, and ROAR for their sponsored visits. Their kind sponsorships in no way affected my article. My opinions are my own.