Tcho is located at Pier 17 in San Francisco. If you get lost, look for the "chocolate" sign.
Right when we enter the building, we were greeted by hints of chocolate in the air as well as photos of the chocolate-making process, from cacao tree to production in the SF facility. We had some time to mingle over coffee in the cafe and browse their products.
First fact of the day: "Tcho" is the phonetic spelling for the first syllable of the word, chocolate. The "T" also represents technology and their innovative methods to produce delicious chocolate (for example, they use an iPhone app to monitor their production process). A large part of our time was spent here listening to our presenter speak about where they get their cacao beans from, the varieties of chocolate in the world, how they define taste and flavors in their chocolates, their relationships to the cacao tree farmers, how the seeds are extracted and turned into chocolate, the meaning behind their brand, etc. This may be all we stared at the entire time, a pretty slideshow and the items sitting next to it, but it was a very informative presentation. Chocolate lovers do beware, you will also learn about the not-so-happy side of chocolate - issues ranging from ethics, social responsibility, potentially harmful chemicals found in many inexpensive popular brands, the process by how large corporations obtain their chocolate, etc...
Where does chocolate come from? Well, from a whole lot of these cacao pods (left). The pods are about the size of kid-sized Nerf footballs. It takes about 100(?) pods to make a high quality 16-oz chocolate bar. In the middle photo are the cacao nibs. These nibs have a nutty texture, but have a definite chocolate flavor to it. According to our presenter, 1-lb of cacao nibs can make you high. :) We also passed around this chocolate...rock? (I forgot what this is called!), but it feels exactly like a rock and smells just like chocolate. Lastly, we passed around a block of cocoa butter, an ingredient often found in cosmetics and lotions.
I, not-so-discreetly, took photos of the photos from the slideshow. These cacao fruits are so pretty! When the fruits are fully grown, it looks like Christmas as these colorful fruits decorate areas in Peru, Madagascar, Ecuador, and Ghana. There are a wide range of flavors found in chocolate, ranging from jasmine flower to....ash tray. And obviously, ash tray flavor-ed cacao would not be picked for producing chocolate.
After this presentation, we walked through the facility to see the rest of the process. I did not take any photos here, but you see most of the facility in the links above. Another interesting fact: women are chosen to handle or sort chocolate over men because they naturally have a colder temperature; men can potentially melt chocolate in their hands when they touch it. So, not surprisingly, women also make one of the best chocolatiers in the world.
Yay, tasting time! We tasted six types, from darkest to sweetest, and a chocolate-biscotti-cookie type item. The way to taste: 1) hold the chip in your hands for 2 sec, 2) listen to the snap of the chocolate as you break it in half, 3) sniff it, and 4) let the chocolate melt in your mouth without chewing. Similar to wine tasting, it helps to taste the different chocolates next to each other, so you can taste all the nutty/fruity/chocolatey "notes" and the varying percentages of cacao.
Tcho was one of those brands I would stare at in a grocery store, thinking this is too fancy and expensive. After this tour, I felt that the money paid for such chocolates is well-justified and is going to the right people and right places. Of course, that doesn't mean I can purchase Tcho all the time, but I also don't need to eat chocolate every single day. This is definitely great quality chocolate, and I appreciate their effort to do fair trade work and more. At least for this day, I allowed myself to purchase a sampler (~$5 after a 10% discount)...
...and have a mini tasting of our own at home with family and friends!
Tour info: The entire tour ran over the designated hour and a half. Because we had a private group tour, the tour was $100, or $5 per person. Otherwise, it's completely free!
Whether you love chocolate or not, this tour is great to go on if you're in the downtown SF/Embarcadero/Ferry Building area. It's not Charlie's Chocolate Factory, but it is filled with good information and tasty samples. You really do get a new sense of appreciation for such a delicate item.