Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Chocolate Shops: Theo Chocolate Factory Tour

Today I took the factory tour at Theo Chocolate, one of the few American chocolate companies that makes its own chocolate from scratch. Years ago the founder worked on an organic cacao plantation; today he maintains relationships with the cacao growers who supply the company and makes sure the farms are up to organic and fair trade standards.

Here in Seattle, Theo's warm factory floor is home to a variety of large machines and tanks where the beans are roasted and ground and the chocolate is conched, tempered, and molded into bars. The cooler kitchen next door was busier while I was there, as employees were washing marble slabs in preparation for making some of Theo's confections: ganaches, caramels, and pralines.

The best part, of course, was eating the chocolate. I cheated a bit on my low-sugar diet, trying the excellent milk chocolate bar (at 45% cacao, darker than most milk bars) along with a number of other bars I'd had before. My favorite items were both limited-time-only ganaches, one flavored with lime and coriander and the other with citrusy Earl Grey tea. Both were tart, not too sweet, and worth straying from my dietary path.

If you're visiting Seattle, Theo's factory tour is a light activity you can squeeze into a longer day of sightseeing or a few hours walking around and dining in the charming neighborhood of Fremont. The tour costs only $6 (reserve ahead), and even if you don't want to take the time, you can still stop in the shop and try most of the bars before you buy.

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