Since we are still working on knocking out the last few of the items on the Foodie 100 list this week, we decided to go do the Theo Chocolates tour today. The name "Theo Chocolate" originates from the Greek name of the cacoa tree - Theobroma Cacao.
For $6 (credit cards accepted), they will give you about a 1 hour tour through their little factory. You will need to reserve your tour in advance, though there isn't a way to pay for the tour in advance online. You can reserve your tour on their website at: http://www.theochocolate.com/.
We arrived a bit early for our tour, so we decided to stop by the storefront. They had about a dozen different samples of some of their chocolates. That's right, you can cross this foodie item off your list for free! My favorite was the salted almond milk chocolate.
When we paid for the tour tickets, they handed us some hairnets for obvious sanitary reasons. They asked if we were wearing sandals (which we weren't), though they will give you little booties for your sandals if you are. They requested to tuck every bit of hair possible and any dangling earrings into the hairnet. For the gentlemen with beards (or for any ladies with hypertrichosis!), they will hand you a beard net.
You would think there are more chocolate factories out there, but in
fact there are only about 20 other chocolate factories in the US. Sure,
there are plenty of other chocolate "melters" in the US, but Theo is
one of the few chocolate makers in America.
The tour guide walked us through the process of harvesting the cacoa bean and getting it to their factory. Did you know that cacoa pods grow on the trunks and lower branches of the tree? They are also hand-picked since an automated machine would probably damage any new growth from the cacoa trees.
She passed around samples of the chocolates while she spoke. She explained that we were going to experience the chocolates in order of dark chocolates to milk chocolates so we wouldn't experience palate fatigue from the sweetness of the milk chocolates. I am a huge fan of milk chocolate, so I had to be patient!
I was quite surprised to find out exactly how many cacoa beans it takes to make just a 3 oz chocolate bar. It was a lot - enough beans for about 3 pods! They also use only organic products to make their chocolates, and they only participate in the fair trade program. Basically the fair trade program is for giving the cacoa farmers a liveable wage, access to healthcare and education for their children, and they don't allow child labor. That's pretty much awesome!
Our tour guide then walked us through the factory and explained what each machine does. She also showed us the shell coating of the cacoa bean that they sell as mulch. That was the best selling mulch I have ever smelled in my life! When I buy my own house and start doing some flower beds, I'm coming back here for some mulch!
She then took us to the kitchen where we sampled some chocolate covered caramels and ganaches. Most of the people working in the kitchen came from a culinary background, so they had some very interesting combinations stuff going on in there.
After the kitchen portion was over, the tour was pretty much done. They do offer the tour patrons 10% off of the fresh treats behind the glass pane.
All in all, it's an interesting tour. I would recommend it. It would be fun to do as a date thing, though fair warning: you and your date are not going to look very sexy with your hairnets. There just isn't a way to get around that!