Friday, March 16, 2007

theo chocolate factory

Theo Chocolate makes chocolate. I mean they really make it. From beans. Most chocolatiers buy pre-made chocolate and melt it back down, but Theo goes the whole nine. They're the 11th largest chocolate maker in the country, so they say. They do it in the old Red Hook building in Freemont.

Call in advance, tours fill up quick

And they have factory tours! Twice a day, everyday. With simply gobs of free samples! For five dollars!

hair nets are not optional

The owner travels around the world, tasting beans and making relationships with growers. They do use some fair trade growers and some organic ones, which is awesome, but their primary concern is quality. The relationships with the growers are pretty tight too. They test all the bean shipments when they come in, and let the growers know immediately so they can correct the problem and protect future shipments. I don't know why, but I didn't expect that level of intimacy between the grower and the buyer. It's cool though. And it certainly seems to be paying off for them. Their choc is good.


If you're into this kind of thing, the factory tour is really fun. It's one thing to watch a tv show about a food factory, it's quite another thing to be there. Theo is a rather small scale plant, but still the machines tower over everybody. Their weight is measured in tons.

an extrusion press thingy

And yet, when it comes time to make the bars, they just pour chocolate in to the little plastic trays at the workstation in the foreground (below). The guide said that that station is a bottleneck, actually, and they're getting a bigger one.

We didn't talk about it, but I think the liquid chocolate gets to that workstation via that shiny metal tube coming down at a diagonal. There's a nozzle at the end that pours the stuff out on to tempering station (in the far foreground). Huge meets human scale again; they're pumping chocolate, which is food, around through the ceiling or whatever but it comes out on to a 2'x3' slab of metal that some guy stands in front of with a hand scraper.

the factory floor

In addition to making chocolate bars, Theo's also makes a variety of confections. They gave us a few to try. The mint one blew me away. It was like eating a roll of fresh mint leaves lightly dusted with coco powder. So good. They had peanut butter and jelly ones for sale, but by the time we got back to the store section I was actually so stuffed with free samples I couldn't even make it to the counter.

the confection kitchen, that's the enrober

that's a lot of sugar
(it's cane sugar used for the confections,
the pure chocolate bars get beet sugar)

They make bunches of kinds of chocolate bars, which they sell in lots of stores around town (PCC, Metropolitan Market, others). They let us compare and contrast a few of their pure chocolate bars. Their biggest seller is the Ivory Coast, but I loved the Madagascar. It has the really sweet, tart cherry flavor. Incredible.

In addition to the pure chocolate they have several flavor infused bars too. The vanilla amused me. But there's chai, coconut curry, bread and chocolate, nib brittle and coffee too. The coconut curry got our attention by being honestly spicy. Spice and chocolate go together really well. They where all good though.

Oh, the nibs! The nib brittle has chocolate nibs in. They're little little bits of pure chocolate from early on in the refinement process. We got to try them. They're weird. They have a really rich flavor, not sweet at all; more, sort of, olivey.


As we were milling about in the store after the tour, A said he'd be buying Theo exclusively from now on. We all agreed. I think that about says it all.


Aaron said...

"[Theo chocolatiers] do it in the old Red Hook building in Freemont." There's a t-shirt waiting to be made =P

I need to go back there before I see some of my family again and buy a bunch of bars for them. So delicious.

leff said...

You don't have to go all the way there. I'm sure the nearest yuppie grocery store has some.