The four-year-old factory plies visitors with so many samples before, during and after its hour-long tour that if you’re not careful, you’ll leave with a serious stomach ache.
When you finally recover, it’s likely you’ll never buy another kind of chocolate. Next to Theo’s environmentally and socially conscious (and delicious) chocolate, everything else seems mediocre.
Theo, which gets its name from the botanical name for cacao, Theobroma cacao, is the nation’s only bean-to-bar, fair trade, organic chocolate. In bean-to-bar chocolate production, factories make chocolate from fermented cacao beans.
“There’s a distinction in the chocolate industry between chocolate melters and chocolate makers,” said Debra Music, vice president of sales and marketing. “We actually start from the raw material. Chocolate melters don’t actually make the chocolate themselves.” Instead, they melt down already processed chocolate and add flavors, nuts, or fruit.
The bean-to-bar process is just one part of Theo’s philosophy to “commit to sustainability all the way through,” Music said. “We invest in relationships with the farmers to ensure they are paid fairly and continue to grow their cacao organically.” Theo is USDA organic and Fair Trade certified.
Theo’s chocolate making process “harkens back to artisan chocolate making in Europe,” Music said. While other, larger chocolate makers take short cuts that make their chocolate cheaper, they also compromise on taste, quality and nutritional value.
Big factories add artificial fats or chemicals and use a short cut called dutching that ends up reducing the natural antioxidant properties in cacao.
Processes like these are “bad for the planet and bad for the body,” Music said. “Our regular, dark chocolate has only three ingredients: cocoa beans, sugar, and cocoa butter.”
It’s Theo’s other ingredients that make their chocolate even more unique—and delicious.
Theo’s line of 3400 Phinney bars (named after their address), include a Coffee Dark Chocolate, using locally roasted, organic and Fair Trade-certified coffee; Fig, Fennel and Almond Dark Chocolate, which is vegan; and a Hazelnut Crunch Milk Chocolate, with a buttery hazelnut brittle, to name a few.
Theo also makes an impressive array of confections, tiny truffle squares with fascinating flavors like Burnt Sugar, Caramel Sage, Chinese Five Spice and Pear Balsamic, each of which are artfully hand decorated in the factory. For the less adventurous, Theo has plain dark and milk chocolate and standards like orange, mint, and cherry almond bars.
Theo also sources their ingredients locally when they can. Music said the company decided to open the factory in Washington because “it’s an agricultural state. It’s so much easier to source locally here than in, say, New York or Boston.”
While cacao is grown only in tropical rainforest ecosystems, Theo uses local, organic eggs, butter and dairy products. Theo also acquires some local spices.
The factory does its best to be environmentally sustainable. “We offset our manufacturing by purchasing green power through our power company,” Music said.
She admits the young factory can, and will, do more to reduce their chocolate’s environmental footprint. “We’re extremely mindful of that, but haven’t come up with a good system yet.” She mentioned they’re looking into opening an East Coast factory in the future.
All of their beans are imported and then shipped from the East Coast, so having a factory there would eliminate having to ship the all the beans across the country.
Theo does its best to use minimal packaging, especially around the packaging-heavy holiday season. They use sustainable ribbon, soy-based ink, and the wrappers are made from 30 percent or more post-consumer waste, are recyclable and/or compostable.
“One of our goals is to re-train consumers’ expectations for packaging,” Music said. “As a planet we need to stop buying into packaging.”
Theo Chocolate is re-training consumers on more than just packaging. In a world where environmental destruction and rural poverty are closely tied to the food we eat, Theo provides a guilt-free way to satisfy your sweet tooth.
You can learn more about Theo’s products, including where to buy them online.