Fine chocolate making is defined by control: of movement, of humidity, of temperature and time. A command of these factors produces chocolate with a glossy sheen, crisp bite and smooth texture.
At CocoVaa, owner Syovata (Vata) Edari has proven she’s a certified master. The small-batch chocolatier and trial lawyer has earned accolades and a local following for her approach to confectionary. In early 2018, the International Chocolate Salon put Edari and CocoVaa in its “Grand Master” category. The same year, the Academy of Chocolate Awards named her an international rising star.
CocoVaa makes cookies, cakes and bonbons, but Edari distinguishes herself with popular fruit caramels. She starts with real fruit purees and cooks them down until the natural sugars caramelize. The result is light and luscious, draped in a thin layer of chocolate.
“The filling is the star,” she said.
The finished product reveals a glossy sheen, embellished with abstract airbrushed designs or intricate transfer sheet patterns that impart the confections with the look of a precious object.
Edari’s deliberate care and creativity is everywhere in her work. Yet when it came time to build out her new CocoVaa storefront and production space in The Marling building at 1815 E. Washington Ave., Edari found she had to surrender control, and her original aesthetic vision, in favor of budget.
Construction costs and expensive machinery like a high-powered air-conditioning unit to regulate climate — a must for chocolate work — won out over wants like stamped tin ceilings. Gone were the plans for wood floors, and in their stead was poured concrete. Edari served as the general contractor on the buildout and made design decisions on the fly.
“I had to just totally use my imagination,” Edari said. “It actually made for a better design. I never imagined it would look like this. I couldn’t see it.”
Edari’s idea of an “Old World chocolate shop” transformed into a space that is sleek and sophisticated, with edgy design flourishes and international influences. Customers are greeted with quaint cafe seating inspired by the chocolatier’s travels in Paris. Recessed shelving, finished to look like marble, frames a selection of fruity Madagascan chocolate bars.
Many of the aesthetic touches in her new shop were repurposed from Edari’s 600-square-foot “nanofactory” at 1 Sherman Terrace. That original retail counter now serves as part of a display for gift boxes and bean-to-bar chocolates. With the help of a customer, Edari reworked a wooden table into the coffee bar that now lines her front window.
The cavernous 1,400-square-foot space is anchored by a collection of dramatic chandeliers constructed from bicycle rims and machine chains by architect and artist Anthony Acosta. Behind the stylized storefront is Edari’s production space, separated by a wall of windows through which customers can see the chocolatier in action.
“As unintentional and as much improvisation was involved in the design because of budget, it became sections that were very intentional,” Edari said. “Everything kind of has its own feel. No part really feels the same, but it all kind of comes together in a cool way.”
The pastiche of aesthetic influences is a complement to the inventive flavors — think pear lemongrass or yuzu, coriander and cucumber — that define Edari’s confectionary style. Early experiments with ingredients like white chocolate and saffron, inspired by her Iranian stepfather, still make their way into the chocolatier’s climate-controlled cases.
Edari studied at chocolate programs in Italy and France. She said many of her creations are born out of her travels and gustatory discoveries, and a desire to translate those encounters into a single, satisfying bite.
“That’s kind of my thing, I guess,” she said. “They each have a story to tell.”
The store is open for retail sales Friday through Sunday. CocoVaa’s chocolate assortment varies from day to day, but there are mainstays and fan favorites, like her signature passion fruit/ mango caramel. People get upset when she doesn’t have it, she said.
High-quality confections also require high-quality and responsibly sourced ingredients, Edari said. She prioritizes ethical manufacturers when selecting her chocolates, working with a variety of producers from Switzerland to Colombia. It’s a principle she hopes to impress on her customers.
“I try my best to source (from) companies that are engaged in more ethical practices, so I’m not financing child slavery, which is a huge issue in the cocoa industry,” Edari said. “It’s more expensive to operate like this. My chocolate is expensive. My margins not real high because the chocolate I’m using is not only good in quality, but the manufacturers pay attention to the labor practices involved and the growers’ methods.
“My vision is to have (CocoVaa) be kind of an emporium of fine, ethically sourced chocolate,” she added.
Her work is an impressive showcase of skill, study and control, but Edari’s tone is casual as she talks about it.
“It’s all just science,” she said. “There’s nothing magic. Anybody can do it.”