Chocolate by the Bay - A Visit to TCHO
San Francisco has a long and storied history of chocolate makers, dating back to the mid-1800s with the founding of both Ghirardelli and Guittard. And while there's no dearth of artisanal chocolatiers in town - all of whom purchase couverture for their creations - both pioneers have since moved their fabrication plants elsewhere, leaving just one chocolate maker in the city. And it's probably not who you think.
TCHO Chocolate, which launched in 2005, merges the Bay's love of Sweets with its love of Tech. We trekked out to Pier 17 in late January to check out their "Pod to Palate" process.
All chocolate comes from Theobroma cacao, an evergreen that grows only in equatorial countries, with the largest amounts coming from West Africa and Indonesia. Briefly, chocolate is produced from the nib, which must be culled from a seed within a pod growing from the trunk of the tree. Pods are split, the seeds left to ferment naturally, then dried, before being roasted and the nibs taken out to be ground and processed. TCHO monitors and generally completes the preliminary processing in country, sending the cocoa mass to SF for further refining and to be made into bars. Roasting in the country of origin allows for a more efficient shipping of product and creates further financial opportunities for these farm communities.
TCHO's commitment to farmers goes beyond merely purchasing beans, and they have several programs in place to create a better livelihood for growers, as well as produce higher quality cacao. Some of the beans purchased are Fair Trade certified, but TCHO also works in areas where no certifying body exists or the farms are of a scale outside those co-ops. In these instances, TCHO not only works in direct trade with the farmers, but creates infrastructure - such as upgrading the fermenting areas for greater efficiency - as well as installing technology that allows the growers to better understand their processes and how these affect flavor. Part of this technology also enables small scale production of finished chocolate - a treat most of these cacao farmers have never experienced!
Unlike other chocolate makers, TCHO chocolates are labeled by flavor profiles, rather than by percentage of cocoa or country of origin. The idea is to showcase the various inherent flavors in chocolate. Below are my tasting notes for the four available bars, as well as the couvertures for commercial use. You can visit their retail store on Pier 17 (no public tours just yet) or at www.tcho.com.
Perfumed and Roasty nose. Sweet fruit entry, round with a nutty finish. Organic and Fair Trade Peruvian beans.
Sweet, Peanutty nose. Round on the palate, with sweet fruits and a long finish. A nice surprise. Organic and Fair Trade Ecuadorian beans.
Bright, floral and orange nose. Fudgy and sweet in the mouth, slightly gritty texture. Organic beans from Madagascar.
Fruity and Floral on the nose, rich and fudgy on the palate, with a citrus finish. My favorite, perhaps not as complex as others. Beans are from Ghana.
Fruity and nutty on the nose. Good snap. Citrussy attack on the palate with salt and coconut notes, and a light vanilla undertone. Finishes creamy. A blend of beans from Ghana and Ecuador. This is the couverture we are currently using at nopa, appearing both in our chocolate sorbet and in a ganache for macaroons.
Malty and Salty nose with Sour Cherry notes. Firm snap. Bright but low and winey fruit notes in the mouth with some salt. Short finish. A Fair Trade and Organic blend of beans from Peru and Ecuador.
Roasty and Malty nose with some Creaminess. Nutty and Malty on the palate with a sweet cherry finish.
Posted by Caleb Taft on February 11, 2010 • Filed under Food
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Caleb Taft is a former manager of nopa.
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