Photos by Travis LoDolce.
The history of chocolate-making in the Bay Area runs deep. Ghiradelli, Scharffen Berger, and Guittard are some of the big names in chocolate that started here, and the community of smaller, more artisinal chocolatiers continues to grow. Clearly, San Francisco is a place for chocolate-lovers; and for the die-hards, a thriving city to start a chocolate company.
And so down on the ever-bustling Embarcadero in San Francisco, there has been a chocolate company quietly growing since 2008. The facade looks identical to any other pier on the strip--modest, barn-like, beige.
But don't be fooled, this ain't no barn. Behold:
TCHO is currently run by the founders of Wired magazine, and is the only chocolate factory in San Francisco, located right on the waterfront on Pier 17. My first introduction to TCHO was in New York City, back in the day when their chocolates were packaged in modest brown paper baggies. Fumiko, my friend who worked closely with Silicon Valley techie innovators, handed me a piece and told me that it was the next big thing in chocolate.
This "bean to bar" company keeps it simple: dark, with only four variations (Chocolatey, Fruity, Citrus, and Nutty). It’s a perfectly square bar, with a sleek, futuristic packaging design.
Yoko: "Their packaging was very clever, perhaps distracting."
When I first posted the notice for this Umamiventure, it sold out rather quickly. SFers love their chocolate, and we stuffed ourselves into the lobby last Sunday and eagerly awaited our tasting and tour.
All 25 of us piled into a curtained off area, where our guide Tyler began talking about TCHO--its history and mission. He then turned on the sleek flat-screen monitor and took us through the world-wide reaches of TCHO.
TCHO is chocolate with a conscious. Currently, they source their cocao beans from Madagascar, Ecuador, Peru and Ghana. TCHO's social mission is to go beyond the ordinary Fair Trade regulations by working directly with cocoa farmers, helping them develop better technologies to grow better beans, so they can become premium producers. [Not unlike Four Barrel Coffee's mission].
The company was founded by a former NASA engineer, who not only loved chocolate, but dreamed of developing optimal bean-picking/ chocolate-making practices in countries where slavery still exists in the industry.
Turns out that the "T" in TCHO stands for technology, and they have taken chocolate-making to a new level by employing the most up-to-date (or I would even say futuristic) technology practices. Their chocolate machines are even controlled by a handy iPhone app. They truly consider themselves a start-up in every sense of Silicon Valley jargon.
Now for some bad news, folks: we weren't allowed to take pictures of the actual factory!!! Let me just tell you we did indeed need to wear hairnets, and even those sporting a 5 o'clock shadow had to cover up their faces. The actual factory was in the back of the building, and it was a long and narrow space (like all buildings on the pier), with towering steel machinery. Since the factory was not in operation, I couldn't get a grasp on what machine performed which task--but I do recall the machine called the McIntyre, which mixes all the cocoa together with all the other ingredients.
Sadly, we didn't see any Oompa Loompas anywhere.
Now on to everyone's favorite part: the tasting!
They were very generous and let us taste all of the chocolates they have to offer. Bars, nibs, chocolate-covered fruit. While they have only released dark chocolate until now, they are currently working on a milk chocolate, to be sold at Starbucks. What kind of milk will they use? Tyler would not divulge. Ha.
Here are some comments by attendees:
- I liked the 60.5% chocolate the best. But there were none available at the store that day, but you can get them on the website.
- I also like the chocolate covered mango bits. But they didn't have the smaller size.
- I loved how we were able to taste all the different types of chocolate they have to offer. I would have liked some water though, perhaps in Dixie cups or something. If you go on the tour, I recommend that you bring a water bottle.
- I am excited for TCHO to come out with their milk chocolate even if they won't tell me where they'll get the milk to make it.
- I secretly wished it was a little more lively, à la Willy Wonka.
- We really enjoyed the opportunity to try all of the different chocolates next to each other--tasting is much more meaningful in context!
- While it would have been interesting to see the factory running, I think we got more out of it with him able to talk to us on the floor.
- We also found the presentations very informative and interesting; I liked our guide.
Thanks Tyler + TCHO for a choco-tastic afternoon! Let's do it again soon!
*Find all TCHO Factory Tour info here.
**All proceeds to this Umamiventure will go towards relief efforts for the 2011 Sendai Earthquake and Tsunami.
***Umamiventures are organized monthly, exploring the far reaches of the galaxy for good food/drinks + awesome people, for great times.
****Become a Facebook Fan or follow UM on Twitter to stay updated on all future trips!
Past Umamiventures include:
1.) Ocean Jewel Restaurant – Flushing, NYC; June 2007
2.) Red Hook Ball Fields - NYC; June 2007
3.) Taste of Jackson Heights – NYC; October, 2007
4.) Sripraphai Restaurant – Woodside, NYC; November 2007
5.) WINTERMARKET – South St. Seaport, NYC; December 2007
6.) Jackson Diner- Jackson Heights, NYC; January 2008
7.) Pacificana – Sunset Park, NYC; February 2008
8.) Puerto Alegre – The Mission, SF; March 2008
9.) Dinosaur BBQ – Harlem, NYC; April 2008
10.) Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden – Astoria, NYC; May 2008
11.) Brooklyn Banh Mi Crawl – Sunset Park, NYC; August 2008
12.) Sheapshead Bay Lobster Crawl – NYC; September 2008
13.) Flushing Food Circuit – NYC; October 2008
14.) Strong Beer Month – SF; March 2009
15.) Loisaida Throwback Crawl – NYC; April 2009
16.) Harley Farms Goat Dairy – Pescadero, CA; June 2009
17.) Tomales Bay Oyster Farm – Marshall, CA; August 2009
18.) Din Tai Fung – LA; September 2009
19.) Din Tai Fung – Tokyo; September 2009
20.) Schroeder’s Oktoberfest – SF; October 2009
21.) Fish Taco Crawl – San Diego; November 2009
22.) St. George Spirits & Hangar One Vodka - Alameda; January 2010
22.5) Everett & Jones – OAK; January 2010
23.) Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse – NYC; February 2010
24.) Guerilla Ramen Night – SF; April 2010
25.) Knife Sharpening Workshop at Hida Tool & Hardware – Berkeley, May 2010
26.) San Pedro Fish Market - LA, June 2010
26.5.) Candytown – LA, June 2010
27.) The Trappist – Oakland, July 2010
28.) San Tung Restaurant – SF, August 2010
29.) Bitters Tasting with A.B. Smeby - Brooklyn, NYC, September 2010
30.) Four Barrel Coffee Cupping – SF, November 2010
31.) Sutton Cellars Vermouth Lab - SF, January 2011