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Theo chocolate store and chocolate bar reviews

July 21, 2010

On Monday I was given the opportunity to go to the Theo Chocolate Store in Seattle, Washington, to check out the small-scale chocolate factory and retail store. I went on the chocolate production tour, which I would highly recommend anybody to do if they ever visit Seattle.

I saw the Theo brand of chocolate bars being sold on Amazon a while ago, but didn’t want to purchase a 12-pack of bars that I might not have wanted to consume, so I was really excited about being able to sample all the different types of bars that they offered in their retail store.

First off, the tour only cost $6. I considered this an extremely good deal since they do give you a lot of samples throughout the tour, as well as a chocolate confection at the end that they usually sell at the store front for about $3.

During the tour I learned a lot about the store itself. The Theo brand is named after the Theobroma tree in Africa, which is named after the chemical theobromine found in cacao that is responsible for the aphrodisiac-like effects that chocolate is so famous for. Theo chocolate is produced without separating the cocoa from the cocoa butter, which creates the wholesome taste and mouthfeel of the chocolate when it is produced in its bar form.

Since the company doesn’t separate the cacao parts, it doesn’t produce cocoa butter, which is a byproduct of the separation of the cacao bean, which is why Theo and many other similar brands of chocolate do not release white chocolate products as part of its regular product line. Theo prides itself on being organic and fair-trade certified, which means that it makes sure that the farmers who harvest the cacao beans are paid fairly for their day’s work, unlike on other farms where typically one farmer does enough work for the day to make $1.

The chocolate that Theo produces is extremely good. In the retail store itself, it has a wide selection of samples of different chocolates. Included among the chocolate it gets from the Dominican Republic to make flavored chocolates are: milk chocolate hazelnut brittle, milk chocolate coconut curry, milk chocolate vanilla, milk chocolate chai tea, dark chocolate with cacao nibs, dark chocolate with coffee beans, dark chocolate with almonds and figs, dark chocolate bread, dark chocolate mint, dark chocolate chili, and dark chocolate with almonds and cherries. All the dark chocolate was at 70%. They also had a table set up for their 74% Madagascar chocolate, 91% Costa Rica chocolate, and cacao nibs. Unfortunately, I was unable to sample their 84% Ghana chocolate due to the fact that they were out of stock.

Out of all the flavored chocolates, my favorites were the milk chocolate hazelnut brittle and the dark chocolate mint, while my favorite bittersweet chocolate was the 74% Madagascar bar.

The milk chocolate hazelnut brittle was an excellent bar, with sizeable, but small, crunchy hazelnut pieces and sugar crystals running throughout the smooth milk chocolate. It was sold in 2-ounce sizes for $3.25 each, or $3 when 6 or more 2-ounce flavored bars were purchased at the same time.

The milk chocolate coconut curry was definitely an interesting bar. However, it tasted more like coconut curry with a hint of chocolate rather than a milk chocolate bar, and that was the reason why I didn’t like that bar as much. The milk chocolate vanilla flavor was quite good, though, while the chai tea flavor was not favorable on my type of palate.

The dark chocolate bread had almost the same consistency and taste as a typical Nestle Crunch. While the flavor was good, it was too similar to the popularized American confectionary that I couldn’t really label as real chocolate (kind of similar to Ghirardelli peanut butter bars tasting like Reese’s Cups).

The dark chocolate with cacao nibs and coffee beans were both average. There was hardly any nib flavor from the cacao nib bar with the brittle constantly overflowing with taste in my mouth, while the coffee bean bar had too little espresso bean flavor to really taunt my taste buds. In my experience, Endangered Species bars are a lot better for those flavors.

The 2-ounce dark chocolate with almonds and figs and the 3-ounce dark chocolate with almonds and cherries bars were both too sour for my tastes. The dried fruit completely overwhelmed the taste of the chocolate, though the almond pieces were a nice crunchy ending to the melted chocolate in my mouth. The 3-ounce chili bar was a bit too spicy for my liking, though the 3-ounce mint had a nice genuine minty flavor that one can only derive from essential oils rather than the artificial flavoring found in most mint chocolate bars, giving the Theo bar a nice herby flavor.

My favorite table at which I kept going back to sample more chocolates was the one containing all the 3-ounce bittersweet bars. My favorite was the Madagascar bar, which had fruity tones as well as a slight wine flavor. The mouthfeel was smooth, melting slowly in the mouth, and I did not mind that the chocolate was not as bittersweet as my usual preference for more bitter flavors, due to the fruity taste. The 91% Coasta Rica bar had more of a woody flavor along with the smoother texture than the Madagascar bar, allowing it to melt faster in my mouth as I savored the earthy tones.

The cacao nibs were extremely good. I would highly recommend anybody to purchase cacao nibs if they like the fruity flavors of extremely bittersweet chocolate. The nibs go well as a snack or in sweet baked products that can counter the bitterness of the cacao nibs. I’ve read from other people’s reviews that people like to allow the nib to melt on their mouth, but in my experience, the flavor really comes from biting and chewing on the nibs rather than allowing the nib to just sit in your mouth without getting smaller at any point. Nibs are really expensive, though, at $8.95 for half a pound of nibs.

I noticed that along the walls, there were many awards for Theo’s drinking chocolate, which was not a sample available at the retail store. However, I would not doubt the good quality of the drinking chocolate, since the brand is really careful about providing a smooth, rich flavor to their chocolates.

The chocolate confections that the store sold, which were not labeled as truffles because they were not hand-rolled spherical shapes, ran for $17.99 for 6 pieces. While I was not given a chance to sample all the flavors, I really appreciated the flavors of the raspberry and Madagascar confections that they handed out at the end of the tour (I took a bite of my mom’s). They both had great flavor and mouthfeel, and I would have purchased them had they not been as expensive as some of the bars, which were more travel-friendly.

I took home some milk chocolate hazelnut bars and a 91% Costa Rica bar. I was a little disappointed that there were no 84% bars except in the 3-pack (for which I would have had to spend $15 on 9 ounces of chocolate, which would not have made my mother happy), but it is definitely a motivation for me to visit this little chocolate store again when I return to Seattle for another visit. By then, the store may be several times larger than it is now, but I sincerely hope that they stick to their values and continue to support the cacao farms, organic products, and delicious-tasting and carefully produced chocolates!

Dai Dai

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