With just a moment’s notice, we showed up at The Sweetness of Being headquarters on the quiet Flower Ave in Venice to interview founder and master chocolatier, Sarah Engelhart. Her huge smile and bright eyes welcomed us in as she walked us through her plentiful garden of kale, squash, and tomatoes amid wafts of freshly ground pure chocolate. We caught Sarah right in her home kitchen, where she was dutifully manning the chocolate helm for her Sweetness of Being line of naturally decadent chocolate.
Years ago, Sarah was living in San Francisco and decided to try a raw cleanse. She didn’t go into that cleanse like most of us would — with fear, dread, and utter anxiety about not being able to drink coffee. She took full advantage and realized how much she loved to experiment in the kitchen. Soon enough, she was creating raw vegan delights and learning the way of the cacao. It was there in San Francisco that Sarah met her husband, Ryland Engelhart, love enthusiast and all-around positive presence here in Venice. Cafe Gratitude is Ryland’s family business, so when it came time to expand, the pair headed from SF to open a new location in Larchmont where Sarah would manage the bakery department. Eventually, they opened yet another location in Venice (you know the one — that crowded spot on Rose Ave with that crack-like tahini) only a few blocks from home in a community they love, and Sarah decided to take her Sweetness of Being to the next level and focus on it with even more of her time and effort.
With Cafe Gratitude as her home base and its manager as her husband, you know Sarah is all about natural — from ingredients, to clothing, to her authentic way of being. She looks for the purest, highest-quality ingredients and creates her chocolate recipes with only about five ingredients per bar. With a passion for food in the family and in her garden, she probably throws one of the best dinner parties this side of Lincoln.
Sarah sweetens her pieces with raw wildflower honey, which contains naturally occurring minerals and is a reasonably low glycemic natural sweetener, one of the most ancient and also considered sacred in ancient Egypt. It takes a bee his entire life span (about a month) to produce ONE teaspoon of honey. Sarah keeps that in mind during the process, using her cooking time as a meditation of mindfulness, love, and gratitude for the bees and everyone else who helped in the process. Her fresh cacao is single-origin from a farm in Tabasco, Mexico and imported by the sommeliers of chocolate at ChocoVivo in Culver City. (Did you know they have a chocolate tasting bar?!) One unusual and genius ingredient that Sarah uses in every Sweetness of Being bar is mucuna pruriens. What’s that, you ask? It’s also known as the velvet bean or dopamine bean, common in Ayurveda and many tropical climates throughout Africa and Asia. It’s said to cure snake bites and depression.
Her creative ingredients don’t stop there. She experiments with flavors all the time. On her mind now is the rose goji bar. Just two drops of organic rose oil go into each batch, which is enough to give the cacao a feminine flavor that evokes summertime. Guess how many rose petals go into each drop? SIXTY! It’s like Valentine’s Day but so much better than Valentine’s Day. You can find a rainbow of Sarah’s creative flavors on display at Cafe Gratitude now, and try everything from mint to spicy coconut.
The Sweetness Of Being chocolate is simply divine nature. It’s light, soft and pillowy as you bite down, and then it almost melts in your mouth immediately. It’s not just the taste we love, however. The shape and design is totally interesting and unique, much like its creator. Sarah was planning on making the chocolate molds herself but did a quick search and found the exact molds she would have designed in a small shop in Belgium. It’s almost as if the molds found her. They depict three scenes: 1) The Aztec Calendar, which Sarah reminded us is actually a map to liberation. (Fitting for Sarah, who is quite spiritual and practices devotional music.) 2) Theo Broma, the tree that produces cacao and is often called “The Food of the Gods.” 3) A Cacao Shaman, the ancient ceremonial leader who once used cacao to lead tribal spiritual awakenings.
Sarah calls her chocolate “alchemical,” which reflects her intention in creating her chocolates. In the Middle Ages, “alchemy” referred to turning regular metals into gold. And that’s what Sarah tries to do daily by blending a few extraordinary ingredients into a “gold” bar that looks and tastes like magic.
Laurenne Sala is a local vegetarian who hates salad and one of those annoying girls in yoga pants always toting around her mat. She writes TV commercials to pay the bills but would prefer to be traveling or people watching and gathering material for her blog Humans Are Funny. Follow her tweets @laurenne.