Last weekend was such a treat. Sunshine and a tour of Theo Chocolate Factory. When I think that visitors from around the globe have made the trek to visit this factory, I’m reminded how lucky I am to have this treasure right around the corner from my home.
What’s special about Theo? They aren’t kidding when they claim they’re a “Bean-to-Bar” chocolate factory. One thing that makes them particularly unique is that they don’t just cook up chocolate confections like specialty chocolatiers. Theo is a chocolate maker, meaning they cooperate with farmers to sustainably source, grow and grind the best cocoa beans for their bars and confections.
Their small-batch artisan chocolate is certified fair trade, 100% organic, made with green energy and wrapped in sustainable packaging. Though their product is the purest of chocolate, when other ingredients are added they are sourced locally whenever possible (i.e. mint, coffee, bread, to name a few). Not only is Theo a deliberately ethical company, their mission carries through to their guest. The factory, though small in size, offers tours 7 days a week! If you’re interested in booking a tour, you can do so here.
If you’re able to visit the factory for yourself, I highly recommend it. For those of you who can’t make the trip, I’ll briefly explain Theo’s process. (Sorry, this virtual tour doesn’t include free samples like the actual tour.)
First, you must know this: Theo is not a dude. The company name is actually derived from the Greek name for the Cacao tree – Theobroma cacao, meaning ‘food of the gods’. And it’s no wonder they call it ‘food of the gods’. Not only is cocoa delicious, but it is also an antioxidant superfood. Only the acai berry has a higher antioxidant level than dark chocolate.
If you haven’t seen the Cacao tree before, the fruit is quite large and grows all the way to the ground. Inside the fruit lives the infamous cocoa bean, which Theo roasts and grinds down to make the treat so many of us crave –chocolate.
Cocoa beans arrive to Theo’s Factory in burlap bags looking like so….
Straight from the rain forest, the beans are moved through a chute and a conveyor to shake any particles free. For a more thorough cleaning, beans are then dropped into a stronger vaccuum that removes anything heavier than the beans themselves (rocks, pebbles, etc).
Next comes the ever-so-crucial roasting. Beans are bounced around in a 1930s German ball roaster for 20-30 minutes at 200-300 degrees (time and temperature dependent on beans origin and season). The beans are then tastes to ensure they have reached the “sweet spot”.
After the roasted beans cool, they are made into cocoa nibs. The 100% roasted cocoa bean gets separated for further processing, while the husks are gathered to be resold as garden mulch (mmmm….garden smells of chocolate!). Nibs can be eaten on their own, though they are potent! With a strong smoky flavor, many find this nutritious food best mixed into cereal or baked into banana bread.
Just as you can’t take a nut and melt it to make peanut butter, you can’t take a nib and melt it to make chocolate. You must grind it up. This machine grinds the nibs to create what is called cocoa liquor.
Even the cocoa liquor is still a bit gritty though, so it must enter the Ball Fill, where the nib particles are refined into a smooth, creamy paste. This creamy paste is then ready for the mixer, where sugar and powdered milk can be added. However, to achieve the smoothest chocolate, it must once more be refined to smooth out any grittiness of the sugar. These large steel rollers make the silkiest possible chocolate mixture, called ‘chocolate flake’.
Fast forward to this evening. It’s snowing! To make the best of our winter relapse, how about some steamy hot chocolate? For this batch, I’m using some gems from my new chocolate stash: Theo’s Mint 70% cocao dark chocolate and 45% milk chocolate
This is the real deal. Not low calorie, but cozy. And yay for antioxidants, right? All you need are two ingredients: chocolate and milk. Place chopped chocolate in a double boiler and stir gently until thoroughly melted.
After chocolate has melted, add milk in a ratio of 1:1 (chocolate:milk). Stir or whisk until completely smooth and creamy. It should look like a creamy ganache and have no chocolate chunks or lumps remaining. You can also add liqueur, flavorings or spices at this point.
Now, you are ready to add remaining milk, to your taste.
When thoroughly heated through, pour into cups and garnish with whipped topping, spices, marshmallows, or anything else you desire. I chose whipped cream and a mint leaf.
P.S. No, I’m not in cahoots with Theo Chocolate. I just think they’re really awesome.