By Mary Ellen Gorges
A small company in Berkeley, Calif. is proving that delivering chocolate is a year-round business and taking it way beyond just bunnies and eggs. TCHO (pronounced “choh!” — their play on the phonetic spelling of the first syllable in chocolate) opened six years ago, and has been making chocolate ever since.
Audrey Chrisler, store manager of TCHO, describes some of their chocolate creations. “We have four single-origin dark chocolates: Chocolatey, Fruity, Nutty and Bright (a citrus flavor), as well as two milk chocolates — Cacao and Classic — and four kinds of chocolate paired with a unique ingredient. These include ‘Mokaccino’ with Blue Bottle coffee and ‘Galactic Gelato’ with freeze dried Naia Gelateria mint gelato.
“Flavor is everything,” says Chrisler. TCHO’s dark chocolates are single-origin, meaning all the beans used to make a chocolate bar come from one country. Each country produces different flavored beans, determined by the soil they’re grown in, climate and even culture. For example, TCHO’s Fruity dark chocolate comes from Peru and Peruvian beans naturally have a berry-like taste.
Chrisler reminds us that they are a chocolate maker and not a ‘chocolatier’ which she says is someone who takes already-made chocolate and creates things like truffles from it. Instead, TCHO begins their chocolate making process long before importing the beans from around the world.
“Most farmers have never tasted chocolate made from their own beans.” – Audrey Chrisler
At the core of their unique business model is TCHOSource, the company’s philosophy to work with farmers at every step of chocolate production, and to share ideas and tools that are both low tech and high tech.
Part of TCHOSource is providing farmers with FlavorLabs — mini chocolate factories where farmers use everyday equipment like hair driers and spice grinders to examine, roast and conch small batches of chocolate. Farmers are also given digital thermometers to know exactly when beans are fermenting so they know the optimal time to harvest.
So how does a chocolate bean end up as a chocolate bar?
1. Harvesting the cacao bean.
Your science teacher was right. Chocolate is made from a fruit! Cacao (pronounced cuh-cow) beans are a tropical fruit that grow inside neon-colored pods that grow on trees. These cacao trees are grown far from California, and only in very tropical parts of the world near the equator (like Peru and Ecuador).
2. Processing the beans.
In the countries of origin, the beans are fermented, dried and then roasted. All of these processes help further develop the flavor profiles that are already inherent in the cacao beans.
3. The manufacturing process.
Once the beans make it to California, the cocoa butter and cocoa liquor are combined with sugar, soy lecithin and vanilla to create a base. The chocolate makers then do interesting things like conch, temper and mold their chocolate.
To see actual chocolate making in person, take advantage of a free public tour of TCHO’s chocolate factory — a sort of ‘Chocolate University’. Each tour ends with a tasting. “It’d be cruel to talk about chocolate for 45 minutes and not give you any,” says Chrisler. (Tours will resume in June once TCHO is settled in its new Berkeley location.)
And to get your chocolate fix anytime, go to TCHO’s kiosk at the Westfield Mall in San Francisco and online at tcho.com (Easter Bunny needs to figure this out!). You can also find TCHO chocolate at Whole Foods, and many specialty grocery stores nationwide.
Chrisler’s advice for year round is to always make sure everyone who helps in making a product is treated with an equal amount of opportunity and respect.
And adds, “Never TCHEW your TCHO chocolates. Always let them melt in your mouth! They’ll taste better and last longer.”
Happy Easter everyone!