Chocolate. It’s one of the most universally loved treats. Given as a gift, you can almost never go wrong. We know it as a finished good: melt-in-your-mouth goodness in the form of a bar, velvety and luscious in the form of fondue, or comforting and luxurious in the form of hot cocoa. But what is chocolate in its most raw form?
It’s a cacao bean, pronounced CAH-COW. We also commonly refer to it as cocoa beans. Most chocolate companies, from small to large, start their production process from vats of chocolate already in its liquid form. They then mix it with varying amounts of milk and sugar and other tasty things (or not so natural things like preservatives) before solidifying the chocolate into molds with their logo. This separates the company from the lives of farmers who planted and nurtured the initial raw material that goes into chocolate.
Theo Chocolate, however, is what they call a “bean-to-bar" company. Not only do they source their own cacao beans – ensuring they come from fair trade and organic sources – Theo crafts their chocolate in their own Seattle-based chocolate factory. (That’s right, Willy Wonka is no longer just a fictional story.) Theo invites visitors to take tours of their factory, which I have enjoyed 3 times now! Though there aren’t any oompa loompas present, I can share with you 3 things I was surprised to learn:
1. Chocolate in its purest form is bitter. This is why dark chocolate tends to have a higher chocolate content. Cacao nibs are broken pieces of cacao beans.
2. Depending on the climate that the cacao bean is grown in, the taste varies – just like coffee beans, tea, and any other agricultural products. Theo sources from five different continents, ensuring the highest quality and ethics. With their commitment to transparency and premium pricing, they raise the bar for the entire chocolate industry.
3. Theo can make chocolate bars of all flavors as well as caramels all under the same roof. In order to make their confectionary chocolates, Theo has chocolate artists that spread liquid chocolate over a cold marble surface, crafting the design while it cools into a solid form. I’ve never been able to keep my eyes away from this process on the tour.