By Michelle A. Sieling
One of the fun things about wine tasting is seeing if you can detect the terroir of the soil, or at least determine the region of origin. Did you know that is possible with chocolate? At least, that is, with high-quality chocolates like TCHO (pronounced “choh”) and you can do so with a tour at its headquarters and factory in San Francisco.
Though there are a few different chocolatiers with locations in the city where you can try samples, including Recchiuti Confections, Scharffen Berger, and Ghirardelli, TCHO is the only chocolate manufacturer located in San Francisco where you can actually tour the factory.
The tour begins with an interactive presentation where you learn about the history of the company, followed by a lot of basics about where the cocoa is grown, how it is harvested, processed, etc. Then you put on your hairnet and enter the factory where the chocolate magic happens. The factory is reminiscent of the 1964 movie about Willy Wonka, but without the Oompa-Loompas, as the equipment – with big plastic buttons, dials and knobs – dates from the same era and was carted all the way from a now defunct facility previously located in a castle in Germany.
The tour is capped off by a tasting where visitors are walked through a variety of dark and milk chocolates, and experience the flavors and textures of the chocolate. This includes TCHO’s PureNotes selections, with choices like “Nutty,” “Fruity” and “Bright.” Though, the names do not refer to different ingredients or your personal intelligence. Instead these are references to the distinct character of each type of chocolate, which is determined by the country where the cocoa is sourced, including Ghana, Malaysia and Peru.
The subtleties in flavor can only be experienced when you let it melt in your mouth, as opposed to chomping through the piece. This is also a good lesson for those who don’t usually like dark chocolate as you’ll learn that it tastes better when you take the time to savor it. Should you want to pair your chocolate with a beverage, like wine or tequila, the tour guide has some suggestions for you.
Though TCHO’s chocolates are sophisticated, children will like the tour, too, if not just for all of the free chocolate. They might even enjoy a hot cocoa at the end of the visit.
Tours take about an hour, and reservations are recommended because they can fill up a couple weeks in advance, especially for Saturdays and Sundays. If you take a tour, save your purchases for the end of the visit and you’ll get a 10 percent discount at the register on any of the TCHO merchandise in the store.
TCHO is located at Pier 17 in San Francisco, Calif. 94111. Public tours are held daily at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. and can be reserved through Eventbrite: http://tchotour.eventbrite.com/. For more information visit their website at www.tcho.com/.