touring TCHO chocolate factory


This post could just as easily be titled, “The Day All My Dreams Came True.”

And no, I’m not exaggerating. Here’s proof: Last week, I dreamt I was paddling a row boat in a sea of chocolate buttercream frosting. The milk chocolate waves lapped at the side of my boat and were stiff enough for me to take a handful off the tip of the wave and eat it.

So though there weren’t any waves of milky chocolate buttercream to dip into at TCHO, the tasting at the end came pretty close.

Brad surprised me with tickets to the (free!) tour for my birthday and we both couldn’t wait. Did his anticipation include imagining glossy liquid chocolate swirling in a giant vat like mine did? I don’t know, but we should ask him.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetTCHO’s factory is on The Embarcadero, which is a wide, pedestrian-friendly street running along the eastern shore of the city. Tall, fancy financial buildings on one side, the piers and the bay (and Bay Bridge) on the other. It’s pretty.

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Look! The orange portal to happiness. You can’t see it in this photo, but there was a man sweeping the sidewalk nearby and to his credit he didn’t even blink while I shouted to Brad, “I’m SO EXCITED! I’m SO EXCITED!” as he took the picture.

When I walked in, I felt like a pilgrim who finally made it to Mecca. Shelves of wrapped square chocolate bars lined one wall of the tiny shop in the front of the factory. On the other wall, a barista counter stood beneath a menu with things like TCHOshot and Drinking Chocolate written on it. Thrilling.

A woman with a clipboard stood near the back of the shop. On our way to her, I resisted reaching out and touching all the bars just to hear their foil crinkle. Brad behaved like a well-mannered adult and remained casual. We signed in (early, waaaay early, because there’s a wait list for each tour and no way were we giving up our spots), then the woman gave us hairnets. I could feel the eyes of the other people in the store on us. Not because we looked ridiculous (we looked awesome), but because they were jealous. We were in.

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While we waited for the tour to start, we sampled dark and milk chocolate discs. I read the detailed tasting instructions on a sign above the chocolate (listen, smell, let melt and taste), but I was still an amateur at this point so I speed-tasted and thought, hmmmm, yummy, ok when do I see the giant vat of swirling chocolate?? Spoiler: After learning on the tour how to properly, slowly taste chocolate, these discs tasted completely different to me. Education. It’s amazing.

The first stop on the tour was to a little curtained-off part of the building (seen directly behind me in the photo above. You know, just past the hairnet.) to listen to a presentation about cacao, cacao farming, and TCHO. During the presentation, our guide asked questions and gave chocolate to people who answered them correctly. I’m embarrassed to say not only did I not answer any questions, but I was outright giving jealous side-eye to people who did. We all have our flaws…

Here are some of the things I didn’t know about cacao and chocolate before the tour:

// Cacao beans grow in large oblong pods on trees (I guess I thought they grew by themselves on bushes, which is completely ridiculous now that I think about it).
// If you opened up the pod, you’ll see the cacao beans (and probably your fingers) are covered with a spit-like fluid. Which begs the question: Who was the brave soul who encountered this disgusting goop and decided to press on in case there was something great in those shriveled brown nibs?
// The cacao “bean” is the nib.
// The beans have to ferment slightly before anything else can happen. TCHO apparently spends a lot of time developing the terroir of their beans–just like a vintner would with grapes.
// To make the chocolate, they separate the cocoa butter from the chocolate liquor. They passed around chunks of each. The cocoa butter is white and waxy. The chocolate liquor is hard as a rock, but if you rub it, it smells amazing.
// Many cacao bean farmers never get to taste the chocolate made from their beans. Since people are now throwing around sentences like “high-speed internet is a RIGHT,” I think I can safely assert that tasting chocolate made from beans you grew and harvested should be a given. (And high-speed internet is not a right.)
// You know those white plastic buckets you get at the hardware store? To use for cleaning or stowing things or whatever? The same plastic in that bucket goes into most of the chocolate sold in the U.S. Let’s all say it together: YUCK.
// To avoid introducing anything unnatural or gross or non-chocolatey into their chocolate, TCHO cleans their pipes and vats with cocoa butter. In between making different varieties of chocolate, they pump cocoa butter through until it comes out clean, then reuse that cocoa butter in the next batch of chocolate they make of that same variety. Make sense? So cool.
// The soy lecithin TCHO uses is non-GMO.
// The professional chocolate tasters on staff (I KNOW!) have palates so sensitive, they can taste a latte and tell you the milk was steamed for exactly 34 seconds rather than 30.

Obviously the tasting at the end was my favorite part of the tour. They walked us slowly through the steps: Break the chocolate and listen for a crisp snap–it means the chocolate was tempered well and doesn’t have air bubbles. Rub the chocolate, then smell it–some huge percentage of taste is actually smell, so help yourself out and sniff that chocolate. Then place the chocolate on your tongue and be patient. How it tastes when you first put it in your mouth will be different from how it tastes when it has melted completely. Plus, you get much more enjoyment out of much less chocolate. (Never knew you’d be coming here for budget tips, did you? Bam.)

After the tasting, we were released back into the store armed with a discount code to whisper to the cashier. (Isn’t this place great?) We vowed we would only buy something small after the tour to remember it by, but instead we bought enough chocolate to give tastings to both our families. I’m not kidding. I thought I loved Brad before he dropped almost $100 on chocolate.

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And then, because we were high on chocolate endorphins, we bought a TCHOshot, too, which is two ounces of melted dark and milk chocolate.

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When I took my first sip, my knees literally weakened and I gripped the bar to steady myself. Then I made Brad taste it and his eyes got big. It was beyond.

If you come visit me, I will take you here.




  1. Tim

    I wanna go, I wanna go! Me, me, pick me!

  2. Shanna Mallon

    I have the same reaction every time I read one of your posts: I love you guys!

    I was listening to an episode of This American Life recently where they had this hilarious older lady (the hostess’s mom, I guess) with a British accent explaining what topics should never come up in conversation: dreams, menstrual cycles, how you’re feeling, etc. “Nobody really cares!” she was saying. But I am convinced, convinced!, that you could talk about ANYTHING and it would be riveting. I mean, not that chocolate is hard to be riveting, but you made it so fun to hear about!

  3. joannalinberg

    Shanna, you’re too kind! Every time I write I don’t think anybody could possibly care about what I say. I’d almost rather someone hate it than think it’s not worthwhile. But YOU make me braver.

  4. Erin

    This is amazing! I want to go!

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