Don’t tell SUE!, but I had chocolate for dinner tonight. Not for dessert, for dinner. I know, I’m not proud. SM’s out of town and all hell breaks loose. Sure, there were chocolate dinners of Halloweens past, but they were never intentional, and usually ended with a belly ache and a half. So when the Seattle professional chapter of Net Impact (a global corporate social responsibility non-profit that I work with) reserved the factory for a private tour, I think I was the first one to sign up.
Luckily, I’ve stepped up my game since the days of trick-or-treating, and it’s going to take more than a Butterfinger to feed my chocolate craving. (I have a few former coworkers to thank – when PMS struck the office, good, dark chocolate was more a necessity than air.) I say luckily because I’ve found that a small bite of really good dark chocolate is infinitely more satiating than a huge piece of mediocre milk chocolate. And since I really enjoy it when my jeans fit, less is better.
The inconspicuous Theo factory is tucked away in the quirky Fremont neighborhood, right on the canal. They are one of only a dozen companies in the US that actually makes chocolate, and they are the only one to source their cacao beans from a fair trade certified, organic farms.
I think the folks at Theo found the most enthusiastic chocolate-lover in all of Seattle and hired her to be their tour guide. She thoughtfully explained how cacao is grown and harvested, and gave a convincing pitch attesting to the antioxidants found in the fruit seeds. (Not that eating more chocolate is a particularly difficult sell.) Given the socially-conscious crowd, her explanation of the true price of chocolate didn’t fall on deaf ears, and I think everyone left with a understanding of why Theo chocolate bars cost $3+ compared to a 99 cent king-size chocolate bar at 7-11.
But onto the good stuff! It’s practically impossible to explain the intricacies of chocolate – you have to smell it and taste it! And Theo gives you plenty of samples to compare and contrast. They have solid chocolate bars; infused bars in familiar flavors (think Mint Dark Chocolate and Orange Milk Chocolate); the 3400 Phinney collection of funky flavors like Coconut Curry Milk Chocolate and Fig Fennel and Almond Dark; and finally a line of fine confections.
The big difference between Theo Chocolate and say, a Hershey bar, is the intense chocolate flavor. They’re much less sickeningly sweet – commercial milk chocolate typically has 10% cacao and Theo’s lightest bar is 40% cacao. Then they pair the rich chocolate with bold, unexpected flavors.
My favorite bite of the tour hands down was the Dark Chocolate with Spicy Chile bar. It definitely had some heat! 70% dark chocolate is mixed with tangy cinnamon, citrus, and warm guajillo chile. The combination made for an almost shocking first bite that delicately dissolved into a smooth, rich, citrus-y dark chocolate.
I’m not typically a fan of fancy chocolates, but the Ghost Chile Carmel was a bite to die for. The caramel center was absurdly smooth and light, and the salt sprinkled on top provided a wonderful compliment to the heat and sweet of the chocolate.
All in all, I’d give the tour an enthusiastic two thumbs up. Especially at the bargain price of $6, it’s a great way to spend an hour or two if you’re in the neighborhood. Tours are held daily at 10:00 am, 12:00 pm, 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm. And like any good amusement park, there’s an ample selection of “souvenirs” for purchase in the attached retail store.
3400 Phinney Ave N.