I love living in California, but now I'm thinking Seattle might be nice. Seattle is the home of Theo Chocolate, and they offer tours of their chocolate-making plant.
Theo Chocolate can be purchased at this plant; it can also, thankfully, be purchased online and in certain shops. The bars and confections are works of art from the inside out: the chocolate itself is genuinely distinctive, and even the packaging is beautiful, with lively colors and patterns and, in the case of the 3400 Phinney line of flavored bars, whimsical drawings.
These two-ounce bars -- named for the address of the plant at which they're created -- were my first introduction to Theo Chocolate. I saw a few at my local health food store and was charmed by both the art and the tastes described on the labels.
Bread & Chocolate is exactly that: a 65% cacao dark chocolate blended with crisp, salty sprinkles of French bread. Nib Brittle, another 65%, is for the serious chocolate lover -- the crunchy bits of cacao nib make for an uncompromising, but never bitter, bar. And Theo's Coffee Dark Chocolate tastes like a cup of strong coffee with a dash of dark chocolate mixed in. I was hooked.
The 3400 Phinney line also has some good 40% cacao milk chocolate bars. I was skeptical about the Coconut Curry bar, but the spices are flavorful without being hot, and do very nicely against the sweet milk chocolate background. The Chai Tea bar is very pleasant -- rescued from the possibility of being too sweet by the hints of clove and cardamom. Vanilla and chocolate have never sung together so sweetly as they do in Theo's Vanilla Milk Chocolate bar. Only the most heartless dark chocolate fiend could fail to be charmed by it.
Theo Chocolate also has a line of three-ounce just plain dark chocolate bars. Every one of them has a signature Theo cocoa kick, though even the bars with identical cacao percentages differ dramatically in flavor.
The 91% bar is not for those who associate chocolate with candy. It isn't bitter, which is amazing considering its cacao count; but it's strong and resonant and not at all sweet. It's a wild reminder of what the cacao bean really is before we tame it with milk and sugar.
Theo Chocolate's 84% bar is, again, strong without being harsh. Even to this dark chocolate lover, it seemed like a new idea of what chocolate can be. You really taste the cacao -- the sugar is there to support rather than to hide the flavor of the bean.
Theo Chocolate has two 75% bars. One has beans from Ghana, Panama, and Ecuador. My son took a bite of this and said "Raspberry." It isn't flavored, but has a berry kind of undertaste. The other has cacao from the Ivory Coast. This one is mellower and more straightforwardly sweet, but still very strong and solid.
The Madagascar 65% is, of course, the sweetest -- though it should be mentioned here that none of these bars are at all sweet. The cocoa flavor is much less pronounced in this one, and there is, again, a rich hint of berries.
For those who do enjoy chocolate as a candy treat, Theo confections -- little squares of chocolate-covered ganache -- are absolutely first rate. I could have devoted a whole column to them, though there are only six flavors.
The burnt sugar may look like a chocolate-covered caramel, but the resemblance ends there. There's nothing gooey or sticky-sweet about it. This is a grownup treat. The lemon is so light and soft that it's almost a custard in a chocolate cover. All these confections are bite-sized, and I was howling for more when this one was gone.
I looked askance at the fig fennel square when I heard the name of it, but was surprised to enjoy the strong, chewy sweet -- though I admit that it didn't vanish as effortlessly as the lemon. Then again, nothing could.
The Ivory Coast was a sweet, simple ganache. The mint will change your idea of what chocolate mint candy can be. My son took a small bite and staggered. This is real mint -- grassy and fresh. I nibbled on it and felt seized with an urge to plant an herb garden.
Theo Chocolate is a wonderful gift for the chocolate lover with high standards. Or you could just buy some for yourself and have a really good time.