The West's Best Chocolate

Six places to savor artisan chocolates where they're made.

Chocolate squares cooling in a plastic tray at Tcho, image

Squares of dark chocolate cool in a polycarbonate mold at Tcho, a San Francisco chocolate factory.

Heard of bean-to-bar chocolate? It’s the hottest new trend in sweets. The maker finds a cocoa bean farmer and then takes charge of the process from cacao pod to wrapped chocolate bar. At
San Francisco’s Tcho, a high-tech Wonkaland on Embarcadero Pier 17, a free factory tour leads you deep into this world of artisan chocolates.

To view the vats, conveyer belts, and cooling trays of the working factory, you’ll have to don a hairnet. But you’ll also get an education in the art and science of chocolate making, not to mention in the nuances of cocoa’s true flavor, which, like that of a fine wine, varies with the origin of the crop and the manner of handling.

Tcho names its four dark bars for their main flavors: Fruity (from Peru), Nutty (Ecuador), Citrus (Madagascar), and Chocolatey (Ghana). Packs of minibars—called Tcho-a-Day—include all four. (415) 981-0189, tcho.com.

Here are five more great bean-to-bar chocolate makers around the West.

  • Amano Chocolate Orem, Utah. The factory store feels part gallery, part jewelry store—with plenty of free samples. On the walls hang original paintings used on Amano boxes by artists such as Utah-based Wulf Barsch and Michael Coleman. Glass-topped marble cases house exquisite truffles. The new Morobe bar (origin: New Guinea) tastes of grapefruit, Key lime, and leather. (801) 655-1996, amanochocolate.com.
  • Fresco Chocolate Lynden, Wash. Find Fresco’s named-by-number bars at Portland’s Cacao, Seattle’s Chocolopolis, and other shops. Founded in 2006 by an obsessive engineer who tried more than 150 recipes, Fresco varies the technique in each batch to develop different flavors from the same beans. Try the two Dominican Republic bars: 212 is delicate and tangy, while 213 is bold, almost nutty. (360) 739-2510, frescochocolate.com.
  • Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory Big Island, Hawaii. Which U.S. state has the right climate for growing cocoa beans? You got it. At this factory in the Keauhou region of Kailua-Kona, the tour begins among the blossoms and pods of a cacao orchard and ends in the factory, just 20 feet away. Grab a sample of the plumeria-shaped Criollo bar, with its rich, hazelnutty flavor. (808) 332-2626, ohcf.us.
  • Snake & Butterfly San Jose. Scientists say dark chocolate is good for you, and the folks at Snake & Butterfly say their “raw” chocolate has more healthful antioxidants than the kind made from roasted beans. Offerings include raw, traditional, and flavored bars mixed with such decadent ingredients as maple syrup and bacon. Available at the Campbell, Calif.,farmers’ market and many other sites from Santa Cruz, Calif., to Seattle, Wash. (408) 466-4023, snakeandbutterfly.com.
  • Theo Chocolate Seattle. Serious about using organic and fair-trade ingredients, this outfit takes a carefree approach to most everything else. Tour its factory in a brick trolley barn in the Fremont district to see the brightly painted chocolate vats and to sample classic dark bars, ghost chili caramels, and coconut curry chocolate. The new salted almond dark chocolate bar is seriously addictive.(206) 632-5100, theochocolate.com.

Check out the rest of our food getaways package:
Vegetables Star at 10 Restaurants
Our Pizza Obsession
Peter Merriman: The Aloha Chef
Portland vs. San Francisco: Best Food City in the West?

Photography by Melissa Barnes

This article was first published in September 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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