For years, I have been described as a chocolate snob—I don’t eat Hershey’s (PGPR—gross), don’t like Godiva (vanillin?), and don’t think milk chocolate counts as real chocolate. Thus, when a friend visiting from out of town asked me to join her on a tour of the Tcho factory, I was thrilled.
TCHO, located on the Embarcadero at Pier 17, is the only chocolate manufacturer in San Francisco. It was co-founded in 2005 by NASA space shuttle contractor, Timothy Childs, and chocolate industry veteran, Karl Bittong. The co-founders of Wired magazine, now operate the company. Tcho partners directly with cacao farmers to ensure that the beans are of the highest quality. They have redesigned fermenting processes, installed weather stations, created a cloud-based software to trace data from the farms, and more. The chocolate is certified organic by CCOF, certified by Earth Kosher, and most products are also Fair Trade Certified and USDA Organic.
Our tour guide, Jose, was amazing. He was funny, extremely passionate about chocolate, and full of information. We learned about the history of the company, the farms, and the fermenting process, and then were taken around the factory. Hairnets (and beard-nets for those with facial hair) were required on the tour, and jewelry had to be removed. We saw the machines, learned at what point different ingredients are added, and got to see the chocolates being wrapped. To prevent melting, the wrapping area was kept much colder than the rest of the factory. We were also informed that women wrapped most of the chocolate since men have higher body temperatures and could cause the chocolate to start melting in the 30 or so seconds they handle each piece. True? I’m not sure. The best part of the tour came at the end… chocolate tasting!
Tcho makes 4 kinds of dark chocolate and 2 milk chocolates. Rather than labeling the chocolates with cacao percentages, they are labeled with their dominant flavor. The different origins of the beans give each bar a distinct and complex flavor without the addition of other ingredients. We started with “Chocolatey” from Ghana. It was rich and fudgy, with subtle hints of coffee and caramel. “Nutty” from Ecuador, had biscuit flavors along with nut. Next was “Fruity” from Peru. I noticed strong berry and cherry taste in this chocolate. I don’t usually like citrus with chocolate, so “Citrus” from Madagascar pleasantly surprised me. It had a soft punch of lemon and raisin flavors with a clean finish. The milk chocolates were without a doubt the best I’ve had, but did not steal the show for me.
Where to Buy:
- TCHO website
- Whole Foods in select regions
- Starbucks—look for green and black wrappers!
- Blue Bottle Coffee. Tcho is used in the Mocha and Hot Chocolate
If you’re in San Francisco, go by the factory at Pier 17!