When I was a kid I was pretty stoked on watching how they made chocolate in the back of the Ghiradelli Soda Fountain. My sister and I would run to check it out while we counted down the seconds until the larger-than-our-heads-(and stomachs)-sugar coma-inducing treats were ready. It took me a few years to realize it was really just a staged chocolate show, a representation of what it would look like if they were making chocolate there, and the chocolate was not, in fact, the chocolate on my “Cable Car” sundae. But when I did, I was covered in sticky ice cream, the table covered in ice cream soup, and frankly I was feeling too cracked out to care. And hey, look through the magic of the internet, you can watch someone’s Youtube video of it that made me slightly carsick to watch.
Of course, Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory must come up in any post about chocolate or childhood memory involving factories. I did sometimes hope to find a Golden Ticket in a trick-or-treated candy bar. Yes, Willy Wonka was slightly terrifying and from what I gathered, the Oompa Lompas were there just to help him murder terrible children. But I was willing to get past that for an endless supply of chocolate and flower plates you can eat; I just wouldn’t be terrible.
Enter TCHO Chocolate, the only chocolate factory in San Francisco. They actually have FREE tours where you can learn about the chocolate manufacturing process through an informative DVD, a short walk through the factory with hairnet and rules about what you can’t wear which means its the real deal and you will see chocolate being made that somewhere someone in the world will eat, and then you get FREE samples. Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m willing to bet it isn’t a trap to see if you are gluttonous child who will fall into a chocolate river and get sucked up a tube. So that’s a bonus too. No secret character tests!
TCHO Chocolate also has the added bonus of being not your everyday chocolate factory. The company is described on their website as “where technology meets chocolate; where Silicon Valley start-up meets San Francisco food culture… and social mission is the next step beyond Fair Trade.” And a founder had something to do with space shuttles! Learn more here.
The limited-time FREE tours are being offered twice a day–10:30am and 2pm–at their Pier 17 location. Sign up for tickets here; they do fill up fast. (As of posting, there are currently available times the 22nd-25th and 28th-1st). Please actually read (and follow) their guidelines for footwear and procedures or you will be turned away.
To get an idea of what the tour may or may not entail, you could check out the various experiences posted on Yelp, but remember to take them with a Yelp-grain-of-salt and keep in mind that they focus on creating dark chocolate. If you don’t like dark chocolate, this is probably not a chocolate tasting experience you will like and you shouldn’t fault TCHO for having dark chocolate that tastes like dark chocolate. That’s kind of the point. Also, as for a lot of people in “these economic times,” it seems TCHO is out of my price range. My budget for food only involves oatmeal and eating off of unattended plates. Much like how french toast tastes better when someone else makes it for you, I imagine this expensive chocolate is even more delicious when it is FREE. We all deserve a taste of the finer things in life sometimes, eh? Even if it does mean you have to wear a hairnet to get it.
TCHO Chocolate Factory Tour
Pier 17 [Embarcadero @ Green St.]
Twice a day, 10:30am and 2pm, space limited, reserve tickets ahead
FREE chocolate tasting and tour
Image courtesy of Trip Advisor