TCHO: San Francisco's sustainable chocolate
San Francisco's only chocolate factory delivers local treats with a sustainable philosophy.
Friday, July 22, 2011 - 12:35
TCHOcolate: The cacao pod is the size of a Nerf football. The beans inside are fermented and roasted before being made into a bar. (Photo: Em-j Staples)
There's a chocolate factory in Northern California where technology is responsible for creating chocolate from scratch. The cacao beans are outsourced from around the world. The San Francisco-based company intermingles within the Bay area's food culture and the Silicon Valley technology scene. The co-founders of Wired Magazine created a chocolate manufacturing company that mixes high tech with sweet tastes. It's called TCHO, and in my opinion, it knocks Hershey's right outta the water.
I recently visited the local factory on Pier 17 in downtown San Francisco. I signed up for a free tour to learn the story behind the company's "obsessively good dark chocolate." I appreciated the philosophy from the moment I walked in the door. TCHO is really serious about chocolate.
The simple yet modern design of the factory showcases the art behind making a good chocolate bar. The front of the factory is dedicated to retail — selling TCHO gifts and trinkets. There are chocolate bars wrapped in brown, yellow and orange shades of artsy-designed paper. Hot and cold drink mixes sit on the shelves, next to gift boxes overflowing with different shapes and sizes of chocolate. Behind the cash register is a photo describing the company's social mission — going beyond Fair Trade, creating lasting business relationships with farmers across the world.
The photo is of three South American men throwing cacao beans in the air, celebrating first place in a cacao tasting competition. A few years earlier they weren't expected to stay in business, but TCHO stepped in, taught them new ways to ferment and roast the beans and within a few years they produced top tasting beans.
TCHOSource is the company's idea to combine modern technology with farming across the world. It encourages innovation while trying to help raise cacao farmer income. The business relationship is beyond certifications and exporting beans. It's a partnership encouraging growers to produce a premium product to earn a better living for themselves. It's a social change movement inspired by chocolate.
TCHO chocolate is more than a tasty treat. Its philosophy has inspired folks in the San Francisco community like me. It's proof that one idea, like producing chocolate, can create a positive movement in the food industry. Today, the bars are found in places from small bookstores to Whole Foods supermarkets. Starbucks invested in six million bars for West Coast stores.
Its popularity is growing, but its motto is simple. Produce good tasting chocolate, use modern technology and act as an agent for positive social change. I think Mr. Wonka would be impressed.