Tag Archives: cocoa

TCHO: San Francisco

11 Apr

TCHO

Pier 17: The Embarcadero @ Green Street

San Francisco, CA 94111

Monday to Friday 9 am – 5 pm

Saturday and Sunday 10 am – 5 pm

(415) 981-0189

Tours: Every day at 10:30 am and 2 pm

If you walk down to Pier 17 on the Embarcadero you won’t be able to miss TCHO, right next to a tug boat rental company. You would never know that this building is the home of innovation on several fronts. Founded by Timothy Childs, a former NASA employee on the shuttle program, literally a rocket scientist who turned to chocolate making, and Karl Bittong, a chocolate industry veteran who has been constructing chocolate factories for the last 42 years, TCHO was set up to succeed from the beginning. They sweetened the deal by bringing in the c0-founders of Wired Magazine, Jane Metcalf, as President and Louis Rossetto, as CEO. For anyone who has written a business plan, this is a management dream team. TCHO is the beginning of a socially conscious chocolate revolution that synthesizes the art and science of chocolate making while still maintaining environmental and human ideals by qualifying as a fair trade organic product by third party certifiers such as California Certfied Organic Farmers (CCOF) and Fair Trade USA. We can only hope that their practices will cause a ripple effect throughout the industry.

TCHO is a self proclaimed flavor based chocolate company. While the popular trend right now is to focus on the origin of the cacao beans, TCHO has chosen to focus on the primary flavors cacao beans are known to produce. They locate beans that manifest the chosen characteristic, such as chocolatey, citrus, fruity, or nutty and then develop the chocolate making process to maximize their flavor potential. Flavor notes are connected to the regions from which they come, so they usually have a pretty good idea where to start when they begin development.

One of the characteristics that makes TCHO so different from other chocolate making companies, is their scientific approach to the entire chocolate making process from pod to bar. TCHO has worked with farmers to innovate the fermentation and drying process by working with farmers to create a three tiered fermentation system, allowing for thorough fermentation and a mellowing of the cacao bean, and drying beds where beans are exposed to the air on all sides, releasing gases that would otherwise create a harsh or bitter flavor. Also, they have built flavor labs on location at the farms so that farmers can taste what type of product their beans are going to create.

Right now “chocolatey” is from Ghana, “citrus” from Madagascar, “fruity” is from Peru, and “nutty” from Ecuador. The jury is still out on my favorite.

TCHO has also produced a flavor wheel and they are in the process of developing “floral” and “earthy” chocolates. There are also several milk chocolates that are in the beta phase due to demand. They have also developed a line of baking chocolates because chefs and bakers were coming to TCHO asking if they could create a high quality baking chocolate so they could buy  within the United States instead of having rely on Europe. I got some. I will report back on my findings.

The tour guide, Tyler, told us that two of the indicators of a well tempered chocolate, thus having a wonderful mouth-feel and well balanced flavor, is the shine and snap of the chocolate when you break it.

 

I took the factory tour on Saturday. The first part of the tour was a very engaging presentation by Tyler. With the aid of a slide show you learn about the history of chocolate from its origin in the Amazon Basin to the process of fertilization of the cacao flowers performed by a midge, a tiny winged insect. A dried cacao pod is passed around as well as some beans. You get to see them up close. I like the tactile aspect of it. The most interesting thing  I learned about the growing process, is that the cacao pods begin to glow when they are ready to be picked. I’m not joking. It really happens.

The factory itself was not in production so it was a bit of a different experience than it may have been. Tyler said that it is usually extremely loud with all of the machinery going. We had the added benefit of being able to hear a description of what the machines do, while seeing them. The factory was actually moved over to San Francisco piece by piece and reassembled at Pier 17.

You are not allowed to take pictures on the tour so I snagged a few of TCHO’s so I could give everyone an idea of what the factory looks like inside. You have to wear hairnets and beardnets, when applicable, even when the factory is not in production. They are extremely serious about maintaining cleanliness. My favorite part came at the end when we got to taste the chocolate! If you want to, you can talk about the different flavors you tasted. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy. It is always interesting to hear what other people are experiencing. I recommend you try the hot chocolate. It’s amazing. Get one.

P.S. Bonus innovation. They developed an Iphone app so you can run the factory remotely from your Iphone!

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TCHO: “chocolatey” 70%

7 Apr

As advertised, this is an intensely chocolatey chocolate. Apparently, chocolatey is actually an industry term so saying chocolatey chocolate is not redundant. The bouquet on this single origin chocolate from Ghana is amazing, a fragrant, earthy, clean scent.Rich and velvety all the way through, you can tell they put a lot of work into creating this bar. The experience starts out with a cranberry tartness easing you into a wash of chocolatey cacao that dominates your palate until its gentle finish.  One thing about this chocolate that differs most from the other bar chocolates that I have tried thus far, is that it doesn’t have that astringent, slightly bitter tail at the end. Instead, there is a full earthy flavor of cacao that slowly fades away. A much appreciated smooth finish.

If you ever want to be adventurous and try a chocolate and cheese combination, I would recommend using TCHO chocolatey and your favorite triple cream. Now all you need is the right wine and the world will be a perfect place.

The TCHO chocolate factory is located down on Pier 17 in San Francisco. I intend to go there this coming weekend for a factory tour, so stay tuned.

 

XOX Truffles: San Francisco

3 Apr

754 Columbus Ave.

San Francisco, CA 94133

Monday – Saturday: 9am to 6pm

Sunday : 10:30am to 6pm

(415) 421-4814

http://www.xoxtruffles.com

I had the wonderful opportunity to visit one of the best chocolatiers in the country. XOX Truffles is rated one of the  greatest chocolate’s in America by Chocolatier Magazine. Little did I know that it was right in my own backyard. Located on the edge of the North Beach neighborhood in San Francisco on Columbus Ave, between Filbert and Greenwich, it is a common destination for locals and tourists alike. Easy to get to by bus, on foot, or if you are up for the San Francisco experience, the cable car. XOX Truffles is one of the places that makes San Francisco what it is; a city with an international reputation as a center for art and culture. In this case XOX Truffles is literally, a taste of local flavor.

Jean-Marc and Casimira Gorce founded XOX Truffles in 1997. With Jean-Marc as the creative talent and Casimira, his wife, as the business sense, XOX soon took off as part of the chocolate community of San Francisco. Jean-Marc was inspired to make truffles in response to a heart attack which threatened his life, so these beautiful confections really are a celebration of life and how sweet it can be. A sweetness that he shares with his patrons every day, in flavors such as cognac, his favorite,


Casimira’s  favorite, white chocolate enrobed in white chocolate, spicy cayenne tequila, a l’Orange, one of my favorites, and many more. You can check out their website or take a trip to the shop to see a full list. He will also take suggestions and is very accessible. You may just be a part of the next truffle revolution. Each truffle will saturate  your senses with its title flavor, brought out by the smooth, chocolatey ganache that provides a base for all of them. The cozy shop has a counter at the window where  you can sit while waiting for a cappuccino, or if you decide to have a chat, or watch the truffle making process.

During our discussion, Jean-Marc informed me that chocolatiers are disappearing from San Francisco at an amazing rate. Some due to the recession, others have tried to expand to quickly, and several, such as the Scharffen Berger Chocolate have been bought by Hershey. There is something so wonderful about stepping into this shop and seeing the owner creating these delicious gems right before your eyes. You can’t mass market this feeling.  Jean-Marc told me that he has managed to keep the business alive by keeping it small. XOX Truffles has some wholesale accounts managed by Casimira and Jean-Marc maintains a single store front and kitchen with the assistance of  one employee, Kirby. She is a student at the San Francisco Institute of Art and assists him in the creation of these one of  a kind truffles. Her favorite truffle is the matcha green tea. I was able to see them in action.

The cocoa powder. Root of all chocolate truffles.

Once the filling is made it is piled into in a pastry bag.

The filling is then applied to the tray for cooling

Not a bit of chocolate or space wasted. So beautiful. I would eat them just like this.

Once cooled, they are enrobed in cocoa powder, a chocolate shell or chopped nuts, such as the noisette. Another one of my favorites.

Once complete they are each as individual as a snowflake.

Then, into the case they go, for your viewing pleasure. Soon to be consumed by ravenous chocolate lovers.

And, if you want someone to love  you forever XOX is here to help you seal the deal.

And, if you are very lucky, you may meet regulars, Wednesday and Morticia. They come to XOX Truffles everyday. They give hi-5’s for treats!

You will find the store adorned with some of the many endorsements XOX Truffles has received from numerous publications,

A salute to cocoa in all of its may forms,

and photos of France where Jean-Marc had his apprenticeship.

XOX Truffles is a great place to come, not just to treat yourself or buy a gift, but on a nice day you can get a coffee and a free truffle and just sit in front of the shop and watch the world go by. That is exactly what I did yesterday. Of course I also bought 20 truffles for my tasting enjoyment. As a chocolate lover an exercise regime is a must.  In addition to the truffles I have mentioned previously, the earl grey truffle is phenomenal.

Getting there can be quite an adventure in itself. If you go through China Town on a Saturday (Shopping day) and there is a festival going on. There is always a festival somewhere in San Francisco on any given weekend. If  you are on the tourist circuit this is perfect. Or if you are in North Beach for lunch, walk over to XOX Truffles for a decadent dessert. It is impossible not to be impressed.

Once you arrive XOX Truffles is close enough to the center of North Beach to be accessible, but far enough that it is a nice quiet place to sit and enjoy San Francisco in one of its many manifestations.

Keep the art of chocolate alive!

 


Dolfin Chocolat Noir 52% : Au The’ Earl Grey

2 Apr

I tried this chocolate because in addition to my love for chocolate, I also greatly enjoy tea. I love the purity of the basic chocolate and the subtle layers of flavor that can be coaxed from the bean itself. However, the added flourishes of additional ingredients and the creativity with which they are created deserve their due.  Earl Grey has that beautiful warm citrusy flavor that can only be produced by oil of bergamot, filling your mouth and saturating your taste buds in a fashion similar to that of an aroma reaching deeply into your sensory experience. The tea is apparent and contains a noticeable astringency, but does not overwhelm the classic cocoa flavor, reflective of its African origins. The chocolate itself is creamy and smooth, but there is something the consistency of salt that is present throughout. I am not sure if they are crystals that carry the Earl Grey flavor or if there is potentially little bits of tea leaf.

The consummation of love between your after dinner tea and chocolate.

Dolfin Chocolat Noir 88%

1 Apr

The Dolfin Week continues…

The first thing that reached my brain when I put this piece of chocolate in my mouth was its sweetness. Not what one would normally expect from such a dark chocolate.  It begins with a wash of warm caramel. There is the slightest note of citrus almost entirely overshadowed by the warmth of the caramel. Then, there is a soft bite, just a nip, from the cacao that smooths into a tart earthiness.

This is a chocolate for a cold winter night. Or, in my case, a warm San Franciscan night.

A little more on Belgian chocolate…

Belgium has King Leopold II and his aggressive foreign policies to thank for its historically rich tradition in chocolate. King Leopold II colonized the Congo, which happened to have cacao plantations, and began to import the beans to Belgium. An estimated 10 million Congolese people were killed by order of Leopold II. Thus began the journey of Belgian chocolate. There was a very bloody past, but the chocolate is really very good. They have been producing fine chocolates since the early 1800’s and introduced the world to pastilles and figurines. Therein lie the roots of the chocolate Easter bunny. They began by borrowing Swiss techniques and then went on to develop their own unique processes of chocolate creation. Also, Belgian Jean Neuhaus is credited with the first hard chocolate shell, giving birth to the great truffle revolution.

Chocolate tasting intro

27 Mar

Chocolate tasting ABCs. This is going to be a very basic of outline of how to have a chocolate tasting.

1. Have no more than 6 different chocolates or take 15 to 20 minute breaks in between. Your taste buds will lose the ability to detect subtle flavors and you won’t experience the full flavor of the chocolate which all include a beginning, middle, and end.

2. Make sure your chocolate is room temperature. 65-72 degrees F. Too warm = melty, too cold = the full flavor will not be realized.

3. Break chocolate into 1/4 inch by 1/4 inch pieces. A small amount should be sufficient to experience all of the flavors in a high quality bar of chocolate.

4. Cleanse your palate! Use room temperature water as cold water reduces the effectiveness of your taste buds. Unsalted crackers can also do the trick if you are doing a tasting with particularly strong flavors.

5. Taste from light to dark since the flavors will become more complex and you will be more prepared to appreciate them. Taste buds will be primed and ready for intensity!

6. Having separate little plates is an obvious one, but here it is in the list anyway. Presentation is key. Not really, but it can make it a lot more fun and set the tone of your event. You can have a regional theme: The Americas. And a flavor theme: Fruity. Be creative. Also an excellent excuse to buy dishware, for which I have an affection.

7. Keep a tasting journal. Or just some way of documenting your responses, so you can remember and go back to your favorites and avoid the ones you weren’t so keen on. In my humble opinion, don’t worry about being overly fancy in your descriptions if you don’t want to be. People get weird about this stuff. The whole point is to eat some delicious chocolate and find your favorites, not show off your poetic stylings. However, if you have the skills show them off all you like. I attempt to avoid the pretense of the gourmand. However, some people just know their stuff no matter how insufferable they are.

Response categories

Aroma: sweet, sour, floral…

Texture: smooth, velvety, waxy, grainy (generally working to avoid this one unless it have nibs mixed in), creamy…

Flavor: I like the flavor wheel below from http://www.allchocolate.com. The descriptive possibilities are endless. The flavors listed on the wheel are just the tip of the iceberg. Run with it.

Duration: How long does the flavor linger in your mouth from start to finish? Is there an initial burst of fruity flavor or does it then mellow into a caramel, fading into a nutty finish? Or is it a less complex, but no less tasty, full on, deep, consistent cocoa flavor that leaves as it came?

Have fun!

Chocolate Love

25 Mar

Welcome to Chocolate Explorer! I am going to use this space to share information about the many beautiful types of chocolate that are out there. There are many different growing regions, so there are distinctive differences between single origin and multi-origin chocolates. Mostly, I am going to discuss chocolate bars that have been developed for you instant enjoyment and not bakers chocolate. I will also be staying away from brands like Hershey and Nestles since, while they are classic, everyone has already tasted them and they are considered to be of fairly low quality. Also, this is not an advertising site, although I will tell you which chocolates I prefer, I will also be giving a flavor description and if you like berry undertones and I like caramel or peppery then you will be learning what you don’t want in addition to what you do want. If there is something that you thing I should investigate I would love a comment. What it comes down to is that I love chocolate and I want to share that love with everyone.

I will also be posting links relating to the entire chocolate making process, a bit of history, and some of the great projects involving sustainable chocolate production around the world, and maybe a little chocolate artwork.