The Chocolate Life

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Saturday in San Francisco: a visit to Tcho

It took me a whole week to find the time to get to this blog — and I'm still waiting for Tom to email me the pictures (he's in Indonesia again) — but our tour of Tcho last week was so special that I want to share it.

John Kehoe is Tcho's sourcing director. He and Tom met about 5 years at a Fair Trade conference, and in the year and a half that he's been with Tcho, we've been meaning to go up and visit him. Last Saturday, after a long day of handing out samples at a trade show for green builders, we joined John for a late afternoon tour of the amazing facilities at Tcho.

The name Tcho is a combination of "tech" and "chocolate" and that's what exactly what Tcho is. From the elegant computeresque design of the packaging to the marvelously creative lab to the slick factory, Tcho is about combining the best of technology with the best of chocolate. Their bars are even shaped like small CDs and come in a case.

John's job is to travel around the world connecting with growers and working with them, setting up and using mini-labs that include all the equipment needed to assess growing conditions, test beans, and make chocolate, in order to have not only the best possible beans, but also to create balanced, respectful relationships with the growers. It's direct trade at its best.

Tcho is on Pier 17 on the Embarcadero in San Francisco. There are plans for a much bigger retail area, but right now, there's a tiny shop at the front, off to the side of the main building. When we arrived at 4 PM, it was packed. John got me a great cup of mocha and Tom an espresso. We'd been by before to taste - they run taste tests based on their four basic tastes (and bars), nutty, fruity, citrus and chocolatey, all the time - so this time John took us back through the office to the lab, and how cool was that!

Beans are processed, cut into microscopic slivers and sorted by different criteria. Elaborate databases store, and compare and contrast the data in different ways. Amazingly, the cacao farmers John visits in the remotest regions have access to the same database via satellite. Their labs are mini-versions of the one at Tcho.

But it's too nice a day to finish this story now. I guess I'll have to tell it in parts - and maybe Tom's pictures will show up by the next time I have a minute to sit down.

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Tags: John, Kehoe, Tcho, chocolate


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