Not your childhood chocolate

Dear Reader,

I must confess I’ve been keeping a secret. I intentionally misled you to assume that the Best of the West series was an exhaustive account of bests when, in fact, it contained one glaring omission. But fret not, all shall be revealed...right after I finish this square of delicious dark chocolate.

Early into our road trip (Seattle in fact), our fearless friend/tour guide, T., revealed some exciting news. A colleague of hers had recently visited a chocolate factory where they gave out samples as part of the tour. Lots of them. Forget the Space Needle, forget Pike Place Market. Clearly this was Priority #1.

The Theo Chocolate factory is housed in what was formerly the Red Hook Brewery at 3400 Phinney Avenue North in Fremont. We arrived a little in advance of our 3pm tour start time to find quite a few others already there. Eating chocolate. We wasted no time in paying our US$5, donning our hair nets (ugh) and making up for lost time, casually sampling (and re-sampling) from the approximately six chocolate bars available while we waited for the tour to begin.

According to its website, Theo is the first roaster of Fair Trade Certified cocoa beans and the only roaster of organic cocoa beans in the United States. The company has two product lines. The so-called Origin Bars are dark chocolate (70%+) from Ghana and the Ivory Coast, with more selections to come. The 3400 Phinney line features a series of milk and dark chocolate bars in flavours like vanilla, coconut curry, coffee and nib brittle. Theo also offers a selection of confections that range from the simple Dark Chocolate Cream or Vanilla to the downright innovative Chipotle Spice or Peanut Butter & Jelly. Others include Rocher Noir (hazelnut praline), Coffee, Ginger, Lemon, Peanut Butter, Mint (with fresh mint leaves), Earl Grey, Single Malt Scotch and Burnt Sugar.

While I was initially a bit disappointed by the absence of any Oompa Loompas at the factory, both the lime green machinery and our enthusiastic group of tour guides – the owner’s son (age: 10ish?), the resident chocolatier who dreams up the intriguing menu of confections, and their ring leader – more than made up for it. Unfortunately there was no chocolate in production when we visited, but we nevertheless learned about the various phases of the chocolate-making process as we toured the factory.

Along the way, we sampled a Dark Chocolate Cream confection, 100% cocoa nibs, some of the bars in the 3400 Phinney line, as well as (virtually) unlimited quantities of the Ghana and Ivory Coast Origin Bars. At the end of the tour, we were also able to taste confections of our choice upon request. I can’t even begin to describe how much chocolate we consumed in that hour (or the subsequent feeling of elation, or the tummy-ache that followed). My personal favourites: the Ivory Coast Origin Bar, the Coconut Curry milk chocolate 3400 Phinney bar, the Nib Brittle dark chocolate 3400 Phinney Bar and the Burnt Sugar confection.

Naturally, now I’m envisioning a career in chocolate tasting. A chocolate sommelier, if you will. (Yes, definitely a hint of cherry in the finish...)

Another square? Don’t mind if I do.

Blissfully yours,

The Casual Baker

P.S. As of July 2006, Theo is only distributing in Washington, Oregon and northern California, but keep your eye out for them in the future. You can’t miss the fabulous label design, pictured above.

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