— March 2018 Issue Free Content —
Show Me the Wei
Imagine taking two full minutes to enjoy just one big bite of chocolate… with your eyes closed… I realize this may sound nearly impossible for any chocoholics out there (“Wait, you want me to wait how long before I take another bite?”), but I’m willing to bet your perception will change when you consider one important benefit – you actually enjoy the chocolate for a longer duration. Ask Lisa Reinhardt, however, and you’ll realize her push for two-minute chocolate breaks extends way beyond simple duration… into meditation. Much like we described in the February issue with CACOCO’s Liam Blackmon attending a drinking cacao ritual, chocolate offers much more to humanity than a quick snack. And Lisa, owner of Phoenix-based Wei of Chocolate, literally created her chocolate company on the idea that chocolate is meant to do so much more… when eaten with greater intent —
“When we let exquisite chocolate melt in our mouths rather than chew it, we do exactly what we’re supposed to do when learning meditation, except that we do it better! We rest fully, lovingly in the present moment. And nobody says, ‘I’m too busy, I’m not good at it, I don’t know how to do it!’”
One piece. Two minutes. Nirvana.
“This chocolate is so special to me because chocolate is always a Yes. It allows us to take meaningful breaks in our day that contribute to the wellness of our body, mind and spirit. We all would like to come from a place of love and clarity, of advancing a bigger vision for the world. Yet, I know for myself that it’s easy to get distracted, derailed or overwhelmed; everyone I know is either working too hard, or thinking too much. By using the chocolate as a trigger to put it all on pause for two minutes, we are able to re-balance body & mind and enjoy the deliciousness of the present moment! Taking meaningful breaks honors the natural rhythms of our bodies, allows us to access our insight more regularly, and assists us in coming from that place of wisdom and vision that is so needed in the world right now.”
Yes! So without further ado, let’s dive into Lisa’s own chocolate adventure to learn more about chocolate’s role in deepening our lives, and how her creations at Wei of Chocolate foster this very growth…
From Paris to Kathmandu
Lisa grew up in a small town with more cows than people, south of Buffalo, New York. As we’re encountering on a regular basis these days, she “always loved you-know-who’s Special Dark mini bars”, but her minimal childhood chocolate experiences offered little-to-no clue that she would one day start a chocolate company. For all the flak we tend to give Hershey, perhaps we should at least be thanking them for serving as a gateway chocolate into the eventual world of chocolate connoisseur. Whatever Lisa’s young life lacked in excitement growing up in such a small town, fear not, for her adult life quickly made up for any lost ground. First, she headed off to the University of Rochester, and after graduating with a double major in English & History, Lisa found herself en route to France on a fellowship.
“One day while living in Paris, I had the magnificent good fortune to meet a man who was unlike anyone I’d ever known. He became my spiritual guide, and at twenty-four, I went to Asia to study meditation.”
For the next 11 years, while Lisa lived, worked and studied all over Asia, from Singapore to Malaysia to Thailand, Taiwan, Tibet, and India. She spent the bulk of her time, however in Kathmandu, Nepal, and India, living at a monastery where she served as secretary to the head monk. When he returned from teaching tours in Europe, he would give Lisa the chocolate offered to him as gifts… several steps up from her childhood’s Special Dark.
“My favorite place is in a remote part of Northern India where there is a community of meditators living in caves. I was so lucky to be able to live there for a time, and met another one of my closest teachers there, who invited me to travel to his nunnery in Kham, Tibet. The experience of being with people whose entire reason for living is to benefit others had a profound impact on my world view, and in turn influenced my relationship with chocolate.”
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The Chocolate Meditation Connection
When she finally returned to the US, Lisa felt she could see people searching for the the same things she’d witnessed living among some of the greatest meditation masters of the 20th century – peace, happiness and wisdom. As she notes, however, “This was way before meditation was cool, so whenever I brought up the idea of meditation, the reaction was always a ‘No’, or more specifically, either ‘I’m too busy / I’m not good at it / I don’t know how to do it.’” Searching for an in, a way to join meditation with the hectic, modern world, she one day discovered the key – patiently eating exquisite chocolate by letting it melt in the mouth instead of chewing it. Indeed, Lisa’s own cacao epiphany opened the door to her creations at Wei of Chocolate —
“Chocolate is always a yes!”
With a new vision firmly in place, she set out to create her own chocolates.
One of my favorite varieties — “Wei Inspired,” featuring Himalayan Pink Salt
“I was assisted by a motley crew, including Jimmy, a friend who was visiting from Singapore, and Ani Pasang, a Nepali Buddhist nun. She put blessings into every piece of chocolate she wrapped by hand! We worked late into the nights at a rented commercial kitchen that we had to have clean every morning so they could do their usual job of making school lunches.”
“I watched every chocolate shop in Phoenix (except the one owned by Warren Buffett!) close its doors. Our wholesale sales took a nose-dive and I realized that we needed to focus on a low-overhead way to go direct-to-chocolate lover in order to survive. For the next few years, we went all-out in the farmers markets, doing up to ten markets a week. We built a strong grassroots base, and our loyal fans got us through the recession.”
You may think nothing of a chocolate maker starting at farmers markets in Phoenix, but understand, June through September can wreak absolute havoc on chocolate. When Lisa’s team initially started, cool weather prevailed. Before long, however, they learned the hard way that Phoenix’s temperatures don’t drop below the melting point of chocolate for nearly five months out of the year. “By necessity,” Lisa said, “we became experts at keeping chocolate cool, and even selling it outdoors when it was 115 degrees!” Persistence paid off, and now, with the economy once again booming, Wei of Chocolate is back in four and five-star spas and beautiful boutiques. Still, it’s most readily available online via the company’s own website, where sales are exploding.
Taste all Wei of Chocolate has to offer with the “All the Wei” option
Chocolate Health – Learning the Wei
Also, one particularly interesting market Lisa targets – in-the-know doctor’s offices and wellness centers, an area she hopes to focus on even further as people become more in tune with great chocolate’s potential positive health effects.
“From the beginning, ingredients were key for us. Right around the time I launched the company, studies started coming out about the health benefits of chocolate. I was curious, as it was important to me to do something that wouldn’t be detrimental to people’s health. I dove into the studies, and realized that researchers tend to look at only one aspect at a time. These were the early days of artisan chocolate, and I felt it was my job to connect the dots. What I discovered was that in order to achieve the most health benefits, these conditions must be met:
- Dairy-free chocolate. “Dark chocolate” is not good enough. Most grocery store dark chocolate has several kinds of milk in it, and dairy blocks the absorption of the antioxidants.
- Organic. Conventional cocoa is a heavily sprayed crop – with both permitted and banned pesticides & herbicides. Even those permitted for use on cocoa are linked to ADHD and headaches, as well as being carcinogenic, endocrine disruptors and neurotoxins.
- Non-GMO. Unless the chocolate is made with cane sugar or organic sugar, we have to assume it’s made with genetically modified beet sugar. Since no meaningful 3rd party testing has been done on the safety of GMO sugar, it’s best avoided.
- No soy lecithin, as it would be made from GMO soy unless otherwise stated, and our customers were requesting soy-free.”
The health benefits of chocolate are real and substantial when these conditions are met. We have many fans who tell us that their high blood pressure dropped, their bad cholesterol was reduced and their good cholesterol increased by eating the chocolate daily.
Don’t consider Lisa’s insight as only lip service. She encouraged her own parents (age ninety-two and eighty-nine) to start a two-piece per day regimen, and it not only helped their brain functions, but also helped cut their junk food cravings as well – all while “upping their happiness factor,” as she ecstatically notes.
It’s great to see a chocolate company trying to consciously harness the health benefits, going beyond the hype and more into specifics, all part of Wei of Chocolate’s outstanding mission in the chocolate world.
With Great Chocolate Comes Great Responsibility
Like most chocolate makers we cover here at Chocolate Connoisseur, Lisa knows that such impressive end results only come from hard work and strong ethics on the front end, which of course includes sourcing cacao.
For launching Wei of Chocolate, she put an intense focus on crafting her chocolate the right way, from square one.
“We realized early on that the cocoa had to be slave-free and farmed in a sustainable way for us to be in alignment with our ideals, so all our beans are organic, Rainforest Alliance-certified from Ecuador.”
Lisa chose the Rainforest Alliance certification (which is separate from Fairtrade), because she felt it offered the best overall certification quality. And, as she pointed out when I asked her about it directly, Rainforest Alliance stands strong behind their work, as noted here in this FAQ on rainforest-alliance.org:
“In 2014, the State of Sustainability Initiatives Review completed a study which reviewed independent organizations on social, environmental, and economic indices. The Rainforest Alliance/Sustainable Agriculture Network scored the highest overall average (84 percent) in terms of social impact, above Fairtrade (73 percent), UTZ (58 percent), and Organic (51 percent).”
Click here to read the full FAQ. Debates will likely rage forever on certifications, but from what we can discern, if you can only attain one certification, Rainforest Alliance places first. Ideally, a Rainforest Alliance certification, coupled with Fairtrade certification, delivers the most responsible bang for the buck. It’s a discussion, however, that will surely warrant another look from Chocolate Connoisseur at some point, particularly after the Rainforest Alliance releases its new certification and standards in 2019 (reflecting its merger into one organization with Utz). As for Lisa’s fabulous chocolates, obviously she sought the highest quality ingredients when striving for the greatest health impact —
“That’s how we ended up with the attributes that at the time were highly unusual, but now, thank goodness, are increasingly common: organic, fair trade, dairy-free (vegan), gluten-free, soy-free, non-GMO, low glycemic and Paleo-friendly.”
There’s more to Wei’s chocolates than meets the eye, or… maybe the petal. One of the key ingredients in Lisa’s chocolate line is a variety of flower remedies –
“We also choose to infuse a super special ingredient into all our chocolate – one of the things that makes us unique – called flower remedies. Luckily, at the time I started Wei of Chocolate, my best friend, Katie Hess, started a company called LotusWei, making vibrational essences of flowers, or flower elixirs. She goes out into the wild and collects the energy of flowers – kind of like a homeopathic – and infuses them into beautiful mists, skin serums and oral elixirs.
Flower remedies are the next level in the quest for health and balance, as they assist in bringing us back to our best selves. Like essential oils, each is associated with a healing property like peace, relaxation or joy; but unlike oils, they work on the acupuncture meridians without scent or flavor. Infusing them into chocolate is revolutionary – they don’t change the flavor, but give the chocolate a special quality that body and mind instantly appreciate.”
“One of the ways we have people choose a chocolate is by looking at pictures of flowers. Without fail, people are drawn to what they need the most. When told the qualities of the flower they pick, not only are they amazed at how it describes what’s going on with them, they love the taste of the chocolate that’s infused with that flower!”
If that rings a little too woo-woo for you, you might want to give it a try yourself first to see what happens. It brings to mind one of my all-time favorite quotes, from Shakespeare’s Hamlet — “There are more things in heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
You Can Go Your Own Wei
If you’re not hungry yet, you will be, because it’s finally time to delve into the Wei of Chocolate core… its health-centric chocolates! Lisa currently serves up nine different flavors, all pictured here. With such a clear focus on health, it’s no surprise that three of Wei’s top five best sellers are the pure darks – 68% Wei Relaxed, 70% Wei Pure & 80% Wei Radiant, while the Himalayan Pink Salt Wei Inspired is the top seller in the single flavors.
According to Lisa, most people start their Wei of Chocolate journey with the aptly-named nine flavor assortment called All the Wei. Or, as she affectionately calls it “a party in a box where you can slowly try everything from chai spice Wei Gratitude to peppermint Wei Beautiful to lavender bergamot Wei Peace!” Each different flavor offers an invitation to that two-minute break Lisa frequently touts, so you can let the confection melt in your mouth as you “relax into the chocolate…”
She crafts each Wei of Chocolate to accomplish more than simple relaxation, however –
“Can you imagine the joy people have when they realize we have a chocolate that helps them sleep better? Wei Relaxed 68% creamy pure dark does the trick. Or that there’s a chocolate for people who are too hard on themselves, and need more self-appreciation? Wei Love Rose Cardamom is made for them.”
How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the…
In addition to placing an individual order online, you can also join Wei of Chocolate’s new Chocolate Subscription, an option that delivers chocolate to your door every single month. Lisa knew that a recurring option presented a win-win for both Wei and its customers.
“Once you know the facts about the health benefits, and find that you love the flavor and quality, we wanted to remove any obstacles to having what you want, need and love available to you on a daily basis.”
She’s also interested in getting Wei of Chocolate into more Corporate Wellness programs, considering it a natural fit for the workplace. As anyone who’s ever worked in the corporate world will tell you, introducing a moment of peace to help reduce stress (and potentially mitigate certain health issues) sounds like a great idea, or, as Lisa proudly proclaims, “Wei of Chocolate should be in every office desk drawer!”
Lisa sent us samples of everything, and after overcoming the “melt in your mouth” challenge (it is not easy to let a chocolate melt in your mouth without taking a bite, especially if you’re hungry at the time), I took the time to slowly enjoy each chocolate as Lisa encourages. For my tastes, the Wei Love chocolate, a magnificent combination of organic cardamom, essential rose oil, and Lotus Wei flower essences, scored as the clear winner.
The Wei Joyful (citrus), the Wei Beautiful (peppermint), and the Wei Inspired (Himalayan pink salt) also tasted divine, with the citrus chocolate truly surprising, as I expected it to be my least favorite based on the flavor profile, yet it completely flipped that expectation.
In closing, as we always do, I asked Lisa for her “chocolate philosophy,” and in light of her meditation, health-centric background, I expected one helluva an answer. Much like her chocolates, Lisa did not disappoint –
“I believe that chocolate is the perfect medium. Each chocolate maker brings their own gifts to it, and is never in competition with any other. Everyone focuses on the aspect that is meaningful to them.
For some, it’s how it’s made: bean-to-bar, raw, indigenous recipes, Belgian, and so forth. For others, it’s about exotic flavors, single source, varieties of beans, etc.
You could do a deep dive into sustainability, or go for maximizing the health benefits. For Wei of Chocolate, we delight in making chocolate that is transformative to both body and mind, and bringing a little peace to your day.”
Namaste, Lisa. Namaste.