When I visited Seattle in December, I was lucky to be able to take a tour of Theo Chocolate, an artisanal chocolate maker in the Fremont neighborhood. The previous time I visited Seattle, I had tried to go with my godson and his family, but we were unable to get tickets.
There is a waiting room and retail area in the front of the chocolate factory. In this image, Samuel, my godson, and Jen, my godson’s mother hang out in the front of the store.
The front room offers samples of all of their chocolate bars. Samuel enjoyed having chocolate as we waited for the tour to start. Everyone must wear a hairnet on the factory floor.
There are frequently people who reserve a space on the tour and don’t show up; Dan, Roan, and Audryn were able to join us at the last second.
Theo uses fair-trade and organic chocolate beans to make their chocolate. They produce confections from the bean to the bar. It’s fairly uncommon for a confectioner to make chocolate from the beginning to the end–most vendors focus either on making chocolate or on making confections. My understanding is that even Jacques Torres, perhaps the best confectioner in New York City, uses couverture for his bon-bons despite producing his own chocolate bars from beans.
Theo regularly visits their cacao manufacturers to make sure that they are adhering to fair-trade and organic standards.
The staff at Theo take quality control seriously. While it’s always important to have strong quality control, it’s especially important at Theo since they produce such small batches of chocolate. In the photo, you can see the device that is used to split the cacao beans in half and inspect the contents. Beans that do not make the cut for Theo but are still good enough to be used for larger production lines may be sold to other chocolate manufacturers.
What was striking to me about the factory floor at Theo was that it was actually a factory with heavy manufacturing equipment. While roasting the cacao bean may seem similar to roasting a coffee bean, the process is very different. As distinct from coffee beans, the cacao bean will be processed much more than just a simple roast and grind. Impressively, the factory floor and equipment were spotless. I almost thought there would be a secret door where the “real” grimy, noisy factory was kept. But the one I saw was clearly not for show.
While bars are produced using another machine, the individual bon-bons (or truffles) may be produced by hand. There is another room beyond the factory store where people work to temper the chocolate and create bon-bons.
Everyone had a great time at Theo Chocolates. This photo of Andrew, Samuel’s father; Jen; and Samuel was taken just outside of the factory.
I left Seattle the day after the chocolate factory tour; I had a great time there. It gets damp in Seattle, and the dew clings to the leaves of a sage plant in front of Samuel’s house in the morning.