I was told about a tour of the Theo Chocolate Factory, where there are samples of their wonderful chocolate, when at dinner with friends during a visit to Seattle. I really took note when our friend said that this is the only chocolate factory in the United States that offers bean to bar, organic and Fair Trade Certified chocolate. Having attended chocolate fests at the Garfield Conservatory in Chicago over many years, I noted more and more organic and Fair Trade brands from many parts of the world. I wanted to take the tour to learn more about this U.S. Company.
I took a city bus to a stop close to the factory and walked three blocks to the historic building that dates to 1905 when it was a trolley car station and later the Red Hook Brewery, prior to Theo’s acquisition, opening on Valentine’s Day 2006. Entering the shop, Rachel and Abbey were welcoming and arranged for me to join the next tour. Looking around, I was amazed at the range and variety of chocolates and the amount of really delicious chocolate samples, and I had to try each one.
I thought my tour was great and learned more about chocolate then I ever imagined. It is a very complex subject that made me think of wine or cheese. There was a group of school children kindergarten to second grade on winter break that joined the tour and asked and answered surprisingly difficult questions. Another attendee was part of the chocolate business and shared knowledge and insights.
Dustin, our tour guide, began the tour asking who the company was named after. There were many incorrect guesses before we learned that it comes from the Greek name of the Cacao tree - Theobroma Cacao, Food of the Gods. After that we learned about cacao trees and their pods, how seeds become beans and after many steps the wonderful chocolate all of us enjoyed. There was huge machinery working hard in each area. I felt like I was in a magic world of Willie Wonka and/or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Speaking with Audrey Lawrence, Sales and Marketing Manager, I learned the story of Joseph Whinney, Theo Chocolate founder. He pioneered the supply of organic cocoa beans into the United States in 1994 and always dreamed of building the first organic chocolate factory in the US. Before 2006, all organic chocolate was manufactured in Europe and imported into the US market. Recently, Theo’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing Debra Music has established a connection with Jane Goodall and her institute in Tanzania. Some of Theo’s bars are sold with a percentage of the profits going to her institute.
On the tour we learned a lot about how careful Theo Chocolate is in selecting and screening ingredients to ensure they meet our standards for social and environmental responsibility from pod to seed to nibs to chocolate to confection, Theo’s uses only pure ingredients that are grown sustainably. Whenever possible, ingredients are locally sourced. At one point a question was raised about white chocolate. We learned that cocoa butter is left in the chocolate, making it unnecessary to add fats like paraffins or soy lecithin. Because the factory does not make its own cocoa butter, it imports high quality organic and fair trade cocoa butter to create white chocolate for decorations, and limited edition products. One of Dustin’s messages at the end of the tour was to carefully check ingredients in any chocolate you purchase and to think of the planet.
Theo believes in partnering with growers and ensuring they earn a living wage and have access to education for their families, honoring and respecting employees and suppliers, using green energy sources to power the factory and using sustainable packaging and printing methods. A very important part of the entire process is the education related to social and environmental accountability 7 days a week in the kind of tour I enjoyed so much.
Especially noteworthy is Theo’s belief in sustainable growing practices with a belief that it benefits both our fragile environmental ecosystem and all of the people inhabiting our planet. Integrated pest management protects farmers and the environment from damaging pesticides. Shade grown cacao allows for biodiversity and much needed forest habitat for many species such as migratory birds. Reforestation helps offset worldwide air pollution and has a positive impact on global warming.
Theo’s small batch chocolate production is truly an art form. Time and care go into stewarding cocoa beans through the entire manufacturing process, add only the finest, sustainably produced ingredients, go into the chocolate guaranteed to be equal parts ethical and delicious!
Many of those who work at Theo see themselves as self-proclaimed Theonistas as they put a little piece of their heart into the work they do in the factory. Concluding a website message, founder Joe says, “All in all, Theo is most certainly a labor of love, from its inception in front of the TV, through to the present day.”
This tour is a terrific addition to any visit to Seattle. And the website is filled with fascinating information in addition to telling how Theo Chocolates can be ordered from anywhere in the world.
Organic and Fair Trade Certified True Chocolate Makers
3400 Phinney Ave. N Seattle, WA 98103 | 206.632.5100 | [email protected]
PUBLIC TOURS ARE HELD DAILY
Monday - Friday at 2pm & 4pm.
Saturday & Sunday at 10am, noon, 2pm and 4pm.
Tours are $6 per person, ages 1 and older.
Photos: Barbara Keer and website