Photos: Tcho, where Willy Wonka meets technology
At this chocolate factory, Oompa Loompas have been replaced by iPhones and some tasks are done virtually.
Founded by former space shuttle technologist-cum-chocolate guru Timothy Childs and led by CEO Louis Rossetto, co-founder of Wired magazine, Tcho mixes state-of-the-art technology with artisan chocolate making to produce pure dark chocolate.
The 20,000 square-foot factory went into operation earlier this month and can produce up to 4,000 metric tons of chocolate per year (enough to fill 200 20-foot shipping containers). It is one of only a few chocolate factories in the U.S. that controls every step in the manufacturing process, from cacao pod to consumer's mouth.
Tcho has mapped out six different flavors on a flavor wheel: chocolatey, citrus, nutty, earthy, fruity, and floral. None of their chocolate has added flavors; it all comes from the bean. "We're making that one flavor the hero of the chocolate we're making," says Rossetto.
iPhone in use
The mixers and grinders can be switched on and off and temperatures can be adjusted with a simple flick of the finger on the iPhone. This way, the factory can run any time of day and remotely.
"Given where the two of us came from," said Rossetto, "I think it was second nature to apply technology to whatever we were doing."
FX Palo Alto Laboratory also developed a virtual platform where Tcho can use real-time data in a virtual world.
The factory was modeled in 3D in this cyberworld, so machine operators can virtually walk up to any piece of equipment and get information about it. Some of the machines will have interior cameras, which will be able to zoom in so close that operators will see down to the molecular level what is happening with the chocolate as it's mixed and heated.