Chocolate is a health food we should eat every day, according to Julie Pech, a nutritionist, the author of four books on chocolate, and the founder of The Chocolate Therapist on Main Street in Littleton.
“Dark chocolate has vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, healthy fats, protein and fiber,” Pech says. “Chocolate is a vessel dilator, so it allows more blood and oxygen to flow to the brain. People always think chocolate has caffeine, but caffeine actually limits blood flow. Chocolate has theobromine, which is milder and lasts longer.”
The Chocolate Therapist, simply put, is chocolate heaven. With bing-cherry-colored walls, the shop offers almost every imaginable chocolate: milk or dark; chocolates studded with chiles, nuts, dried fruits, savory herbs; a total of 22 assorted chocolates made on-site, and 12 different chocolate bars. The coffee bar serves moan-inducing hot chocolate. And—here’s the sweet par—The Chocolate Therapist offers free samples.
The shop employs 14 people during the holidays, including Valentine’s Day, a red-letter day long associated with chocolate.
“You give people chocolate when you love them. And just plain old chocolate doesn’t impart true love, so you want to step up your game when it comes to chocolate,” Pech says.
“Our chocolate is not just good for you, it tastes good, and the feel in the mouth is smooth and velvety. The fat coats the tongue, and that’s a beautiful thing,” she says.
“Chocolate is associated with all kinds of love: your child or spouse, your friend or your lover. You give chocolate because it’s a gift with emotional and physiological factors at work—a perfect storm taken into a level of perfection.”
Pech’s perfection includes rich and unusual chocolate tasting adventures staged in-store or on-site at parties or events. The Chocolate Therapist curates assorted chocolates paired with white or red wine, beer, or tea.
“We’re encouraging people to give a Valentine experience rather than a gift,” says Pech. “It’s a unique experience.”
Furthermore, The Chocolate Therapist can contribute to your loved one’s well-being.
“Nobody else cares about the nutritional profile of chocolate the way we do,” says Pech, who eats her own chocolate every day. She’s the picture of health. She’s slender. Her hair is long, thick and lustrous.
“People always ask me if chocolate helps hair,” she says.
Chocolate benefits many conditions. And to prove as much, she authored a book titled “The Chocolate Therapist.” It includes chocolate remedies for illnesses, along with chocolate-based recipes. The health benefits lie in eating dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 70 percent or higher.
“The flavonoids are in the dark, but people mismanage the message,” Pech says. “It’s not dark Kit Kats or dark M&Ms or a dark chocolate Snickers bar. That’s like drinking a glass of vodka with a drop of pomegranate juice. It’s all relative to what you’re adding.”
In the case of milk chocolate, adding dairy and sugar mitigates health benefits.
The Chocolate Therapist uses no dyes, no preservatives, no soy. The chocolate is all natural. Even the toffee and caramels are made with from tapioca syrup rather than corn syrup.
“It’s not just tasting amazing, but it has a better nutritional profile,” Pech says. “We’re going for customers typing in ‘soy-free chocolate,’ or ‘gluten-free, all-natural chocolate.’ This is a treat that is also good for them.”
The Chocolate Therapist creates interesting flavors such as plum, chai and sangria. But unlike many chocolatiers, The Chocolate Therapist uses only coconut oil and organic flavoring oils.
“You’ll never see that orange, sugary filling here, and it’s way more expensive to fill with chocolate instead of that other crap,” says Pech. “Our tagline is ‘like no other chocolate.’ I always say to take your favorite chocolate and compare it, and tell me which one you like better. I’m 100 percent certain you’ll choose this chocolate. It’s just that good.”
The Chocolate Therapist opened on October 1, 2008. And the going wasn’t always sweet.
“It was really hard at the beginning,” Pech says. “We did fairly well during holidays, but struggled. I literally lived here from the beginning of the day to the end of the night every day. I was crying myself to sleep at night in the beginning.”
The Chocolate Therapist now maintains a busy website. In addition to the small shop, Pech’s chocolate is sold by 60 different retailers including hospitals, health clubs, massage therapists, even psychiatrists.
Pech credits her upturn to a couple of factors. Adding coffee brought people into the store. “They sample something and have to have it,” Pech says.
Also, Pech leveled up as an authority on chocolate.
“My book is published by Wiley Publishing, so it’s heavily researched. I was eating chocolate every day as part of the experiment,” she says. “Then I started to speak about chocolate. From there I started traveling on cruise ships, giving a series of lectures on chocolate and wine, chocolate and tea. Then I added corporate events and teaching. Then I started my own brand of chocolate, made right here.”
Pech takes her chocolate seriously, but maintains a sense of humor.
“We like to keep it fun and light with names and concepts,” Pech says. “We have Berried in Chocolate with blueberries and cranberries; and Super Hero with dark chocolate, almonds and cherries; and The Private Stash, which is a bit of chocolate for the purse.”
Maybe it’s all the chocolate that gives Pech an overall sweet disposition. She holds a degree in psychology and has a heart for humanity, so she regularly donates chocolates and also founded Chocolate for Charity to assist fund-raising.
“My church sold thousands of chocolates, and we’re building wells in Nicaragua. We’re helping disabled people who’ve suffered a tragedy, and we’re helping lots of causes. It’s win-win,” Pech says.
“This is a combination of passions: my love of chocolate and my interest in nutrition. It’s something from the heart, driven by passion to connect with people, to have purpose. My mission statement is to touch as many lives as possible in a positive way.”
The Chocolate Therapist
2560 W. Main St., Littleton
The Chocolate Therapist hosts tasting parties in-store and off-site for birthdays, bachelorettes and other chocolate-lovers. They also create wedding favors or corporate gifts with custom wrapping and labels.
Colleen Smith, the author of Glass Halo and Laid-Back Skier, is a longtime contributor to the magazine, The Denver Post and many publications. She consumes more dark chocolate than the average American and always suspected chocolate had medicinal properties.
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