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Friday, July 19, 2013

Review: TCHO Factory Tour in San Francsico

I've been wanting to tour TCHO, and finally had the chance. I didn't realize it was so close to Fisherman's Wharf and right next to the Exploratorium. We managed to get on a tour last minute (thanks to those who didn't show up - we owe you one!). (Please note, TCHO moved to Berekeley in March, 2014)

TCHO is the phonetic spelling of the first syllable of chocolate. They call TCHO the new American chocolate. It was founded in 2005 by a NASA space shuttle engineer and founders of Wired magazine, who wanted to make chocolate used by professional companies (i.e. not just eaten by consumers). They partner with companies like Sam Adams, and many chefs/restaurants as well, including Per Se in New York City, Smitten ice cream (interesting New York Times article about that).

At TCHO you'll see
what looks like a color wheel, but it's a taste wheel, showing the flavors of natural chocolate: nutty (beans from Ecuador), chocolately (beans from Ghana), bright (citrus flavors from Madagascar beans), fruity (beans from Peru), earthy and floral. TCHO makes them all, except earthy and floral (earthy tastes too ashy, and floral is hard to get right).

The bars are single origin, which is trendy now, but it really came through in the tasting. The chocolates actually tasted really different and had no additive flavors.

The first part of the tour was a lecture with slides.

We saw the "baba" - the milky white stuff inside the pod that covers the beans. The beans are bitter and need to ferment, which gets ride of the acid. They're fermenting below.

The next step is to dry, and then to roast.

This is all done on site in the country of origin, at the farm of origin. TCHO works with the farmers on the quality control, since these farmers have likely never tasted chocolate made from their own beans. The roasting is where the flavor is made.

These are the chocolate beans, in a pod, before they're ground up. They smell really good.

The chocolate beans are ground into a paste and come to the factory in that form. Above, you'll see cocoa liquor, which you'll know as where cocoa butter comes from. Though it looks like a rock, it's actually fatty and soft, and when they passed it around, it left a (good smelling) film on our hands. This is the extruded fat from the beans.

White chocolate has no actual chocolate in it, but it uses the cocoa butter.

Our guide explained that many chocolate companies buy the beans from the producers, but are not involved in the fermentation process, where the flavor starts. If not properly fermented, the chocolate will be bitter. TCHO works with the farmers to set up infrastructure and additional education on the chocolate making process so the farmers could better control quality. They installed technology (see the video link above) where they can track information with temperature sensors, test kitchens and other information remotely. The farms have test kitchens, using simple technology like spice grinders and hair dryers in the process.

It's also fair trade and organic (when able to be certified as such).

At this point, we put our things in a locker (including all jewelry). No, the hair net does not need to cover the entire face.

They didn't allow us to bring cameras into the factory portion, so here's my one factory shot. They let the kids play with the green machine below (it no longer works), but is a German machine originally used in making chocolate.

The smell inside was incredible. You can see a video here which shows the inside, and how they use technology in the process. We saw the Macintire machine, where they blend the chocolate ingredients for 12 hours. They use soy lecithin so the ingredients don't separate, plus the chocolate, sugar and vanilla. I couldn't take notes in there, so forgive me if I missed something!

The chocolate then goes to the concher, where its ground finely (5 microns, the width of 1/5 a hair) for 48 hours. Then it's tempered for two days, to cool it down. The chocolate is then ready for molding. The entire process takes 5 days. They use cocoa butter to clean the machines between batches.

The chocolate is pushed by hand into the machine that wraps it (see the video above). Lots of trays with unwrapped chocolate squares in close reach - so tempting to grab one.

They produce 6,000 pounds of chocolate a week in this little factory.

We moved on to the tasting area. When developing their chocolate, they sent it to beta testers (man, I wish that had been me!), to refine the recipe. We tasted the nibs (bitter), four single source chocolates, two milk chocolates and a biscotti made with their chocolate. They also told us about their one foray into flavored chocolate (latte, made with Blue Bottle coffee).

I didn't realize there was a right way to taste, but apparently there is. Break the chocolate by your ear - it should snap crisply, showing it's tempered properly. Of course if you've been holding it in your hand for a bit, that won't happen. Then smell it and put it on your tongue, but don't chew. Let it melt.

We all had our favorites. Mine were the fruity and bright ones, which were both tasted like citrus. They gave us 10% off coupons for store (put to good use). Note that some items in the store are more expensive than you'll find elsewhere. The bar of TCHO I bought at Rocket Fizz a day earlier (review coming) was $4.95 and the same bar at TCHO was $6.95 without the discount.

They did not talk about their Artist Series boxes and other graphic designs (which have won awards). They're impossible to miss. Look at these fabulous designs.

They also have a cafe, where you can get some coffees and hot chocolates and other items made with TCHO chocolate.

If you go:
Tours: public TCHO tours daily at 10:30 and 2. Make sure to arrive at least 5 minutes before the tour starts, or they may release your spot. The tour lasts an hour. Here's complete TCHO tour information.
Private Tours: Private tours are $100, for groups up to 29. They run daily at noon and 3:30.
ReservationsMake a free reservation here to guarantee a spot on the public tour (there are 29 spots per tour), or just show up and take your chances. We called an hour before and managed to get in off the wait list.
Age: Kids must be 8+ to tour.
Additional info: Wear closed-toe shoes. You'll need to leave your bags, cell phones, jewelry, watches etc. in a locker outside the factory. You'll have to wear a hair net and beard guard (if needed).
Where: Pier 17 at Embarcadero and Green Street moved to Berkeley in March, 2014
Hours: factory store hours are 9-5:30 Monday-Friday, 10-5:30 on Saturday-Sunday.
Cost: Free

1 comment:

  1. Great post on TCHO! My wife and I love the tour, but haven't had the umm, thrill of taking our toddler on the tour as of yet. The pic of the hair net over your little guy's face makes me think we might just be ok on the tour!