Back in 2011, Joann Hofer, owner of Xchocol’Art, read an article about the origin of chocolate and was fascinated by what she learned.
“I realized that chocolate only grows 20 degrees north and south of the equator, in tropical areas,” says Hofer, who lived in South America as a child in the area where chocolate is grown.
She later moved to Europe, where she learned how to cook and truly appreciate good food.
“I connected all the dots of my life and realized I had to work with chocolate,” Hofer says.
Though she was eager to dive into the business, she knew that she first needed to get some professional training. She got in touch with a chocolate manufacturer in Austria who invited her to work in his factory for several summers to learn the process. She also took professional chocolate courses in Italy and Austria from award-winning chocolatiers.
“Chocolate is the hardest of the dessert ingredients to work with, since it needs to be tempered in order for it to look and taste delicious,” Hofer says. “It needs to be melted and brought down to a specific temperature for it to snap, and look shiny and delicious. That’s the hardest thing to do.”
In 2011 her company, Xchocol’Art, was born, and grew organically by gaining traction at the Carmel and Broad Ripple farmers markets.
Hofer chose the name Xchocol’Art as a nod to chocolate’s roots. The word “cacao” derives from the Mayan language, and “xocolatl” (the original name for chocolate) comes from the Aztec language.
“I kept the ‘X’ because I wanted to go to the source of the chocolate,” Hofer says. “Before I got into this business, I used to paint. I think of working with chocolate as a new medium of art-making, and a constant exercise in creativity.”
Hofer sources all of her chocolate from Columbia, Peru and Ecuador. She also adds what she calls local helpers into her seasonal recipes, such as local honey and berries. She uses berries and tart passion fruit in the summer, and hazelnuts, almonds, whiskey and rum in the winter.
“I’m constantly developing seasonal recipes by asking my customers what they like,” says Hofer, now an award-winning chocolatier. She won an award at the Academy of Chocolate for her Whiskey Honey Truffle in February of 2019, right around the time she opened her brick-and-mortar shop.
Being located in the Carmel Arts and Design district is a dream come true for Hofer.
“Arts and Xchocol’Art – the universe could not have screamed louder in my ear that this is the perfect place for my shop,” Hofer says.
She loved the size, and the fact that the sun doesn’t hit the window, which means it constantly stays cool inside. The shade in the alley enables her to set up chairs outside in the summertime to create a quiet, cozy atmosphere.
“In Paris, the best little chocolate shops are tucked away in alleyways and up little hills,” Hofer says.
She also won at the International Chocolate Salon for her Chili Truffle, a warm, spicy truffle that is included in the Valentine’s Day Collection. Other Valentine’s Day flavors include Whiskey Truffle, Chili, Passion Fruit Ganache, Passion Fruit Caramel, Salted Caramel, Creamy Pistachio and Very Blueberry.
Hofer has fun experimenting with different flavors, shapes and styles. When she thinks about a collection, she considers the upcoming season as well as the clientele.
“Women love fruity tea flavors,” Hofer says. “Guys love whiskey honey. I’ll also bring some things that are rum and coconut-based.”
She’s also selling spicy Hot Chocolate Bombs, which is a sphere of chocolate with marshmallows inside. Customers put it in a cup and pour hot milk on top to turn it into hot chocolate.
Sometimes Hofer will make multiple collections per season – for instance, one with caramel, another with tea and a third with alcohol. She sells four-piece, nine-piece, 12-piece and 18-piece boxes of chocolate that include a mixture of four flavors.
“I like for the boxes to be shared, so I try to put two pieces of each flavor in each box,” she says.
She finds the entire process incredibly satisfying, from developing a recipe to packaging the box and putting a bow on it.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about that moment when people are opening the package and tasting this chocolate that was made special, locally, with lots of care,” Hofer says. “That’s what I find so rewarding.”
Throughout the past decade, Hofer has accumulated a number of customer stories. For instance, one woman told Hofer that when she was going through chemotherapy, her taste was severely diminished.
“She said, ‘For some reason, I can’t taste anything else, but I can taste the Whiskey Honey Truffle,’” Hofer says. “It was her pure indulgence for the day.”
Xchocol’Art is located at 228 West Main Street in Carmel. For more information, call 317-443-3029 or visit xchocolart.com.
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Joann is a truly chocolate artist
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The chocolate from Xchocol’Art is the best I’ve had from any chocolate artesian. Her creativity clearly shines through in her products as there is something new to try almost every week. I’ve taken 2 of her classes and enjoyed not only learning about making truffles but also learning about Joann and her beautiful spirit. You’ll truly enjoy every chocolate from Xchocol’Art!