WE CAME knocking on a big red gate, but nobody came to answer. It was then that our tour host decided to take us the Chocolate Chamber, a retail store cum coffee shop of Cebu made chocolates.

Chocolate Chamber was supposed to be the last stop of the chocolate tour, like how all visits end a stop at the “souvenir” shop. But this time, we were doing it backwards. It was deconstructing the Ralfe Gourmet Chocolates.

At the showroom, we met a chic morena beauty in black, hair pulled back in a bun and introduced herself as Raquel Choa a.k.a the Queen City’s Chocolate Queen.

She then presented the store’s well-packaged products to us including truffles, pralines, and chocolate chip cookies with cacao nibs, sharing how each product is made and what big company orders, and gave us sample of a few chocolates.

As we made our way back to our first stop, Raquel put on her black round sunglasses. It was her signature look, the same image imprinted on her labels and chocolates.

The red-gated property is called Casa de Cacao. But before we entered the main establishment, Raquel invited us to sit at the garden while she prepared hot tsokolate cooked in the traditional vessel.

“You will never achieve the right consistency of the chocolate drink if the tablea is not cooked in a batirol,” she said.

The tsokolate was ready. But before she served it, Raquel poured the liquid from one batirol to another before pouring it in the teacups.

With steam rising from the drink, Raquel said, “You can drink that, it won’t burn your lips and tongue.”

She was right. Apparently, the final process of shifting the liquid to two batirols before serving also cools down the tsokolate making it ready to drink when served.

After the garden chitchat, we toured the second floor production area where she showed the process of drying the cacao beans, roasting it.

She also allowed us to take a peek at the enclosed chocolate molding area before we made our back to the ground floor to enter the casa.

The scent of chocolate greeted us when we entered Casa de Cacao. The house is where the Chocolate Queen receives her guests and personally demonstrates how to pound roasted cacao beans and shapes it to tablea with her bare hands. She makes her guests participate in the process.

Casa de Cacao is close to Raquel’s heart not only because of chocolates but because of family. It was home before it got burned down, and on the same ground, she built her chocolate empire.

On one of the long dining tables, our host reminisced about her past and shared her journey to becoming a chocolate maker that she has become today.

“It wasn’t an easy one,” she confessed.

She was seven when her parents separated and with her siblings, moved to the mountains of Balamban, Cebu to live with their grandparents. Her days were filled with household chores, crossing seven rivers on foot to reach school, and nights were about listening to her grandmother’s stories.

Her favorite was of Maria Cacao, the legendary queen of the cacao forest and her golden ship filled with cacao that sailed off to the sea.

Making tablea from cacao seeds was part of the chores and she learned the entire process from her grandmother.

At 14, her parents reconciled and the family moved to the city where life wasn’t any easier. For the family to get by, she did her share by cleaning homes, washing clothes and even scour through garbage to find reusable items to sell.

Raquel’s life turned around when she was 16. She met Alfred Choa, a businessman whom she met, fell in love with and married. The union bore eight children (but there’s no trace on her present figure that she bore any child at all).

As if fated, Raquel and the tablea crossed paths again. She met Norma, an Argentinian businesswoman, who asked her what Cebu has to offer. Raquel presented her with tablea she sourced out from the market.

The impurity of the product was pointed out to Raquel. Norma then suggested to Raquel to make it herself. After doing so, Raquel’s tablea got the approval.

Through this meeting, Raquel learned the tie between cacao and chocolate.

Today, Raquel has Ralfe Gourmet, her chocolate business she named after herself and her husband, Alfred. The Chocolate Chamber Boutique carries her products.

Ultimately, Raquel’s purpose is not just about creating artisanal chocolates and put the make a mark on the global chocolate map, she wants to alleviate the lives of the cacao farmers by supporting their produce.

This is the mark of a true queen— going beyond personal interest and enriching the lives of everyone involved in the chocolate kingdom.

Email me at jinggoysalvador@yahoo.com. For more lifestyle & travel stories, visit http://apples-and-lemons.blogspot.com and http://jeepneyjinggoy.blogspot.com.