“Hmm, where is the door to this place?” I asked myself as I circled the building where I was supposed to visit Tcho‘s facilities, in a quiet corner of Berkeley, California. The air was completely filled with the smell of chocolate, so I knew I was close! Luckily, someone let me in through the shipping entrance. Tcho’s new-ish facilities are not yet open to the public, so of course it makes sense that there is no public entrance!
Once inside, I met Tcho’s chocolate maker Brad Kintzer and brand manager Ari Morimoto. I have loved Tcho chocolate for a few years now, but only first met Brad at this year’s Fancy Food Show. There, I discovered their new line of chocolates and loved them enough to include them in my show “favorite” list. In addition to the single origin chocolates from the likes of Peru and Madagascar, in addition to Tcho’s hyper-addictive Mokaccino bar, a collaboration with Blue Bottle Coffee, Tcho has just released a whole family of flavored bars: dark chocolate coconut crisp; dark chocolate with almond and sea salt; milk chocolate with toffee and sea salt; dark chocolate with freeze-dried, locally produced mint gelato from Gelateria Naia; milk chocolate and hazelnut chunk; and an extra dark bar at 81% cacao.
Happily, I got to try all of them, and found them all beautifully crafted. The flavors were well balanced. Nothing was too sweet, and their textures combined just the right amount of crunch and smoothness, when appropriate. I even really loved the coconut rice crisp bar made with dark chocolate, which is unusual since I don’t love coconut sweets. The bar contained plenty of crunch, a bit of sweetness, and a whisper of coconut. I gave the hazelnut bar with milk chocolate a second taste as well, appreciating the hazelnut pieces cut neither too big nor too small, and the smooth milk chocolate (again, I was surprised I liked it so much, since I usually prefer darker chocolate).
Brad, Ari, and I talked about Tcho’s brand a bit (a remnant from my days as a trademark lawyer), and from the outset, it is clear that Tcho is a very San Francisco chocolate company. They embrace technology wholeheartedly, incorporating that modern feel into its geometric logo, their sharp product and graphic design, and especially, in tracking their cocoa bean quality before they reach Tcho. They accomplish this last task with the help of Cropster, a program used by the coffee and chocolate industries to manage quality levels, inventory, communication across the supply chain, and manage tasting sessions—including calibrating your tasting panel. It’s incredible to see what technology can help us accomplish, isn’t it? Brad is intent on honing the quality of his entire cocoa supply to make sure he gets consistent, great cocoa in Berkeley, so he makes sure farmers are up to date on aroma training, quality assessment, and process monitoring. I guess that desire to improve the chocolate making process with the use of data and technology is not surprising when you learn that Tcho was founded by the founders of techy publication Wired Magazine.
I brought along a cheese to show the guys and taste test with chocolate—I’ll admit it was kind of intimidating for me, knowing that these guys have incredible palates. “What if I can’t describe what this cheese tastes like to them?” The thought crossed my mind. What cheese? It’s coming up in a future blog post!
We ended our visit with a little tour around the chocolate-making room. Brad stopped for a moment to taste test the current batch; he tastes every single batch of Tcho chocolate. The make room was rather vast, but probably a little smaller than I imagined. Because of the limited space, Brad pointed out that one machine can sometimes perform two tasks, for instance refining (breaking down chocolate and sugar particle sizes) and conching (further mixing and agitating chocolate particles to give it its fine texture and bring out flavors). That day, they were making small chocolate discs for sale to kitchens, although their Madagascar squares were sitting on shelves to be wrapped nearby.
There are a fair number of good chocolate companies out there, but Tcho sets itself apart with its thorough and obvious commitment to technology and modern sensibilities. While they give nods to chocolate’s past—for instance, they evoke historical chocolate’s use as currency by suggesting the fine lines of currency in the design of some single-origin square packaging—much of their work focuses on innovation. That said, their chocolate is consistently high quality and from taste alone, you can notice its fine textures and intense, yet balanced, flavors. I’m so glad I got to visit a company whose products I love. Thanks, Brad and Ari, for having me over.
I received free products when writing this review. All opinions are my own.
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