Tuesday, August 23, 2011

TCHO Factory Tour: Revenge of the (Nuclear) Nerds

As I mentioned yesterday, while in San Francisco to run a meeting with a bunch of my fellow nuclear folks, we found some time to take TCHO’s factory tour. A utilitarian building along the Embarcadero awaited us.

Once inside, we found a retail shop, complete with chocolate-themed decorations.

We poked around in the shop for a while, waiting for the tour to begin. Once we were all taken back for the tour, we enjoyed a video about TCHO’s founding and mission. First of all…what on earth does TCHO stand for? Well, nothing really, except that it’s a play on words – T(echnology) meets Cho(colate).


They do, in fact, take a very scientific approach to chocolate making, which is unsurprising given that co-founder Timothy Childs worked for NASA before beginning his work with TCHO, and that the current President (Jane Metcalfe) and CEO (Louis Rossetto) previously co-founded Wired magazine. This, of course, appealed to the crowd from our meeting that had assembled for the tour. Our inner (or not so inner) nerds thoroughly enjoyed hearing about the cocoa lab that they use to identify the best cacao and develop the best fermentation, roasting, and production processes.

As part of this scientifically-focused pre-tour video, we got a lesson in the anatomy of the cacao tree, pod, and fruit.

With illustration and hands-on demonstrations, of course.

Then, it was time to enter the factory. With hairnets.

What a group we are.

While in the factory area for about 5-10 minutes, we learned a few additional tidbits about TCHO’s work:

  • TCHO maintains close ties to their cacao farmers, both to ensure that they are fairly paid for their efforts and to maximize the quality of their product. They helped one farm innovate their fermentation process to result in a better and more consistent cacao flavor.
  • Their beans are not roasted or ground at the factory, but instead are generally roasted near the point of origin for the beans.
  • Their equipment is from an abandoned factory in old East Germany, and they had to hire a consultant to read the instructions for them.

After looking at their melangers and tempering machines, we moved onto the best portion: the chocolate tasting. Before the that started, we learned a good deal about their flavor wheel, which identifies six natural flavors of chocolate: chocolatey (?), citrus, fruity, floral, nutty, earthy. TCHO currently has bars tailored to emphasize nutty, fruity, citrus, and chocolatey flavors, and we very much enjoyed each of them.

I picked up a few of their bars in the retail shop afterwards, including this piece of 99% cacao chocolate.

My colleagues were skeptical. I gave them bits of it. We all enjoyed it. Which is a lot to say for something that strong.

Have you ever toured a chocolate factory? Where?


  1. Looks like fun--but I love winery/brewery tours so I bet I would love this as well! You can't go wrong with chocolate. :)

  2. i've done the cape cod potato chip factory, and a pickle factory in los angeles. I LOVE FOOD FACTORY TOURS!!! chocolate? i would DIE!

  3. Very cool. Ugh, I've missed so much on your site while I've been away. I have a lot to catch up on here. At least there wasn't too much to miss with bad chocolate week, I guess?

    I picked up a couple TCHO bars while home in Minnesota last week. None of that 99% in sight though - nice find!

  4. Oh I would keel over at 99%. Intense.

    The closest I've gotten to a chocolate tour is the Jelly Belly factory. Speaking of which, have you tried their Dipped beans, with the chocolate coating? I think they are fantastic! One of the better candy innovations of the past few years.