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We've long rolled our eyes as our foodie friends bang on about terroir. First, the idea--that a crop's taste reflects its location--was extolled in appreciating wine. Then olive oil. And now--it's supposed to be the key to great chocolate?

We were skeptical--until we tasted the rustic bars from Venice's new ChocoVivo chocolate boutique. Now we're convinced that the Mexican plantation from which owner Patricia Tsai sources her beans must be very special indeed.

ChocoVivo beans are imported whole, then roasted within blocks of the shop. Beans are stone-ground in the ancient Aztec tradition, so there's a pleasant grit to the bars. All are dark chocolate, which contains less sugar and more antioxidants than milk formulations.

In-store tastings ($3 for three samples or $5 for six) should include our favorites: The almonds-and-sea-salt bar has sweetness imparted by its nuts, and the cherries-almonds-and-black-peppercorns bar reminds us of trail mix.

Powdered chocolate ($16 to $19) and hazelnut-chocolate butters ($12) make great gifts, as does something for the outlier food snob on your list--bags of raw cacao nibs (from $4.50), so trendy on savory fare like salads. (Us? We'll stick to sprinkling them on vanilla ice cream.)

ChocoVivo, 1504 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice; 310-463-7878 or

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