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.
"We went to the heart of chocolate," said Rossetto, "which is cacao." Tcho hand-picks cacao beans from Peru, Ghana, and Madagascar and works in their flavor lab to home in on the inherent flavors of each kind of bean.
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.
At Tcho's chocolate factory, the iPhone is the company's modern-day Oompa Loompa. Childs worked with FX Palo Alto Laboratory, a high-tech research lab in Silicon Valley, to develop an iPhone application to control the factory's and lab's machines.
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.
When making chocolate, temperature is extremely important. At the Tcho factory, temperature control boxes are hooked up to the Internet so the temperature can be monitored and set remotely and with an iPhone.
"We're scrappy but not crappy," said Childs, who likes to mix off-the-shelf components, like sticky note labeling systems, with elite technology, such as his MacBook Pro loaded with a custom database to keep track of recipe formulations.
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.
These may not be Willy Wonka's golden tickets, but they're sure to make many epicureans happy. Much of the machinery at Tcho is vintage chocolate-making equipment from a castle in Germany that has been stripped and refurbished.
"The chocolate we make is the chocolate we want to eat," says Rossetto. Besides chocolate bars, Tcho also makes chocolate pieces that can be eaten plain or used for cooking in chocolate-based desserts.