Photos by L.G. Patterson
Tsokolatè Confiserie is about more than just a sweet treat.
The local chocolate shop, which takes its name from the Filipino term for chocolate and is pronounced cho-ko-lat-eh, serves superfood-based bonbons. Jan Sanchez, who owns the shop with her sister, Elle, and serves as one of the chocolatiers, says their goal has always been to educate the majority of people who don’t understand where chocolate comes from and the process it involves, especially the importance of the cacao farmers. It also focuses on serving those who have dietary restrictions. “We do specialized desserts, so a lot of our desserts are gluten free, dairy free and vegan,” she says.
The sisters carry their focus of supporting farmers right into mid-Missouri by striving to use local ingredients in each bonbon. “Each flavor of bonbon has its own health benefits to them as well,” Sanchez says. For example, the black sesame flavor can improve blood pressure, elderberry can boost the immune system and their most popular flavor, horny goat weed, can increase blood flow and improve sexual function.
Along with the health benefits, Tsokolatè’s bonbons are encased in 72% dark chocolate and are carefully hand-painted and hand-tempered to ensure the beautiful, vibrant colors on the outside match those used on the inside.
Tsokolatè hit the ground running in 2020, showcasing its superfood treats around Columbia. But its inspiration comes from the Philippines, where Jan and Elle Sanchez grew up surrounded by chocolate. The sisters made all kinds of chocolate creations before realizing the more unsavory aspects of some cacao farms and deciding it was time to make a difference.
While it hasn’t been heavily documented in the Philippines, the use of child labor and slavery has been found on many cacao farms in Brazil and West Africa, namely the Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 43% of the 1.56 million children being used for labor are engaged in hazardous work on cacao farms in West Africa, with more than half of those children being injured by their work.
So the Sanchez sisters started Justé Deserts, a nonprofit that helps human trafficking victims repair their lives. “We teach them different job skills, so they don’t have to go back to the work that they used to do,” Sanchez says. The sisters started classes in January 2021 with nine students. “We taught them cake decorating and basic culinary skills,” she says. The bulk of students are women, but the classes are open to men as well.
Their goal through the nonprofit is to bring awareness to the fact that human trafficking victims are here, vulnerable and need help. It’s the driving force behind the universal “C” campaign, started by Justé Deserts. The campaign tries to teach and spread awareness of a hand signal that forms the letter C that victims can use to alert passersby that they need help.
The sisters have successfully maintained both their business and nonprofit by combining some of their finances. “At Tsokolatè, 10% of what we make goes to fund Justé Deserts,” Sanchez says. They also make it a point to source the chocolate used at Tsokolatè only from farms with fair and direct trade practices.
While the sisters continue to dedicate their lives to the community and making healthy chocolate, the work has strengthened their bond as a family. “It’s a lot of fun because we both created it; we bounce ideas off each other,” Sanchez says. “It’s a great experience if people have the chance to do it.”
This fall, the sisters have been working to finish touches on a new school just outside of New Orleans to continue their fight against human trafficking. They chose New Orleans because it centrally located to Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas, making it more convenient for the victims they serve, Sanchez says. “There is more of a need for us (in New Orleans),” she says. As of early November, the school was on track to open by December.