Anyone who’s seen “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” has wished that they too could one day find that Golden Ticket and be whisked away into a magical world of ooey gooey chocolate goodness. Unfortunately such a decadently sweet paradise only exists in books, movies and dreams, right? WRONG!
If you’re lucky enough to live near San Francisco and have a few free hours on a Saturday morning you can make your own Golden Ticket. This past weekend The Husband and I did just that with my niece and sister. Every once in a while we have a “Mandatory Fun Day” with the kids and this time we decided to drive to TCHO in San Francisco to take a tour of their amazing boutique chocolate factory. Apparently, TCHO doesn’t supply Oompa Loompas so we dragged along two of our own.
We drove up early to arrive by 10am in order to check in at Will Call and hang out in their little store/cafe, which unfortunately meant before the tour started we HAD to kill time by enjoying the bottomless supply of chocolate wafer samples that came in Chocolatey, Fruity, Citrus and Nutty varieties. Note to reader: my apologies for the lack of photographic evidence. Cameras were not allowed in the factory portion of the tour and during the sampling phase, I had to make a decision between using my hands for chocolate or for the camera. Chocolate for the win.
There were three parts to our tour. The first was more of an educational experience where we sat down and learned about chocolate making in general and about TCHO’s vision and history. As an added treat, my friend Jose Vibal, who is a docent at TCHO, just happened to be the person giving the tour that day. It’s good to have friends in high places.
The second part of the tour was through their actual functioning factory, which meant that all of us had to endure the minor humiliation of putting on hair nets (The Husband had a beard cozy, too), but I’ll pretty much do anything for chocolate. When Husband and I saw each other’s hair-netted faces we simultaneously broke into the theme song from “Laverne and Shirley.” No lie.
For the last, and possibly best, part of the tour we got to do a little chocolate taste testing. Jose showed us how to use all five of our senses for a more intimate experience with the chocolate. We first warmed our chocolate in our hand, then broke it in half near our ear to hear it snap. This wasn’t just fun, but it served a useful purpose – you can tell how much cacao is in your chocolate by how much snap it has. We then took a long whiff of the chocolate to get a sense of the bouquet. I thought Jose would keep prolonging my agony, but finally we were encouraged to eat the our sample, letting it melt onto the roof of our mouths instead of just chomping away animal style. If you’ve never tried this, it really does take your tasting experience to choco-gasmic levels.
I have to say their chocolate is some of the best I’ve ever had. The smooth and velvety dark version is rich in flavor and slightly sweet, but not bitter. Although they don’t add any additional flavoring ingredients such as nut or fruit extracts, you really do taste the flavors that the chocolates are named after. The “Fruity” had cherry notes, the “Nutty” was dark and tasted slightly of toasted nuts and the “Citrus” had hints of a hard to identify tropical citrus.
I would tell you all about the intensely rich and dark liquified chocolate shot that Jose treated me to after the tour was over, but considering how much chocolate I had already consumed prior, I don’t want an overzealous reader to report me to Child Protective Services for chaperoning two minors while high on cacao.
Before I close, a serious note about how really awesome TCHO is as a company. It costs a lot of money to make small batch chocolate the way they do, but I don’t mind spending a little extra for it when you learn about their philosophy and values. One very sad thing we learned that day was that many larger manufacturers of chocolate (think of the few largest in the US) choose not to voluntarily disclose the country of origin of their cacao beans. This probably doesn’t seem like a big deal until you learn that there are some areas, namely the Ivory Coast, who almost exclusively use child slave labor to harvest beans. When a manufacturer refuses to state the country of origin even after they’ve been urged to do so, it’s a good indication that some or all of their beans come at the hands of slave labor. TCHO explicitly shows country of origin on all packaging and obviously does not use beans from the Ivory Coast. For a little more info on their No Slavery policy, go to their FAQ and click “Why do you add “No slavery” on your package labels?”
Not only that, TCHO goes out of their way to pay farmers fair wages for their beans. Many of the farmers have an education level of not higher than the 6th grade and often are taken advantage of, since they don’t know the value of different types of cacao beans. TCHO does educational work with the farmers to help them understand what their beans are really worth so they can sell them at the right price, even if it means TCHO has to pay more for these beans. How can you not get behind a company like that?