My run in with the mafia.

by Patricia on August 29, 2009 · 6 comments

Christine from Neo Cocoa invited me to tag along with the Sweet Mafia on a private tour of the TCHO chocolate factory. And you know, when the mafia is involved, you can’t say no. So I took the train to San Francisco on Wednesday and met up with Christine and part of the sweet mafia at La Cocina where a few of them make their magic.  We carpooled from there to Pier 17, the location of TCHO.

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Normally, I would be worried if a mafia member drove me to a pier… I mean, that seems like a good way to end up swimming with the fishes. But luckily, the Sweet Mafia is just that: sweet. It is comprised of women who are confectioners and own small businesses in or around San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley. The original name for this group was “Sweet Chicks”, but they changed it when they found out that the name was already taken… by a porn site. And so the Sweet Mafia was born.

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At TCHO, we were greeted by their senior product developer (aka chocolate maker), Brad Kintzer. Brad is relatively new at TCHO, but previously spent six years in research and development at Scharfen Berger.  The one question I wanted to ask but did not: how does one get to be a chocolate maker? I mean, seriously, who wouldn’t want to be Willy Wonka?

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TCHO is a small chocolate company, a start up. They are working directly with the cocoa producers, investing in the entire process so that not only do they get a better product in the end, but also the producers see a positive impact in their own lives. They’ve set up tasting labs right next to where the cocoa beans are roasted so that the farmers and roasters can taste the resulting chocolate immediately so they can learn how differences in beans and in roasting affect the end-product’s flavor (coffee companies did this a while ago and that is what the improvement in coffee choices and flavor can be attributed to). For some of these farmers, this was their first taste of chocolate.

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(This is tasting lab like those out in the field. It has roasters, grinders, tempering, etc., all in a small space… this is where the magic happens before the rest of us can get our hands on it).

After the tour, we sat in the conference room with John Kehoe, the Sourcing Director in charge of farmer relations. John told us a little bit about TCHOSource and also walked us through the tasting, starting with three samples of TCHOPro (68%, 60.5%, and organic)

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and then through their flavor wheel.

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Earthy and Floral are not yet developed, but they intend to complete the wheel at some point. First though, they are working on a milk chocolate. My favorites were the TCHOPro 60.5% and the “Chocolatey” on the flavor wheel (what can I say, I’m a purist). That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the other chocolates as well, but if they said I could only eat one chocolate from now on, it would be one of those two. Well, if it had to be TCHO chocolate (not that this would be a bad thing).

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Anyway, it was a fun outing. I learned a lot about how chocolate is made. And I met several sweet ladies:

Between this tour and the Taste of the Nation in Napa last week, I feel very spoiled but also like I need to get back into the kitchen and bring you some tasty recipes…

{ 5 comments }

1 Claire September 2, 2009 at 3:36 pm

Nicely crafted story!

2 Kika September 1, 2009 at 5:22 pm

What a great report on our first mafia outing! We’re definitely the sweet good gals!

3 Tom August 31, 2009 at 6:07 pm

Great post. This is one mafia I don’t want to mess with.

4 Christine August 30, 2009 at 7:19 pm

I’m so glad you could join us for the tour. You look to be a natural mafiosi member!

5 Love2learn Mom August 29, 2009 at 9:35 pm

Fun!!!

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