Chocolate is becoming as big a green thing as coffee. I’m seeing more organic brands of chocolate everywhere. Today you can even pick up organically and ethically grown DAGOBA and Green & Black's chocolate bars on the checkout shelves at Binny’s and from the oh-how-we-city-dwellers-love-you Peapod grocery delivery service.
Now I just happened to hear the story behind another chocolate company whose raison d’etre is the process they've developed that leads to long-term growth for cacao farmers in Ghana and Ecuador where they produce sustainably grown chocolate for the restaurant and grocery industries.
Tcho Chocolate makes its own chocolate beans – that is, partners grow the beans for them on small farms using organic fertilizers. Most of these farmers have never before been able to connect the flavor of a finished product to all their hard work with the beans. But now Tcho provides training, technology, and data tracking to help the farmers ferment these beans – chocolate gets fermented? – after harvest and eventually taste the results of their own work in Tcho-operated Flavor Labs.
After harvest chocolate beans get dried. Tcho provides assistance to improve infrastructure and suggests new ways to get drying facilities to produce better flavor. Next the beans are roasted to develop natural flavors in the bean. Then they’re refined with sugar and sometimes a bit of vanilla. This last step is called conching, the finishing process for all chocolate.
The conching machine, according to About.com, is “so-called because the original designs resembled seashells. This machine kneads and massages the chocolate mixture for 24-60 hours at 110 degrees." The conching process smooths the chocolate and mellows any remaining acidic tones and thus determines the final texture and flavor of the chocolate.
So where can you find this Tcho chocolate in Chicago? Below is a starter list of restaurants and grocers/purveyors. Learn more about this farm-to-bar partnership at www.tcho.com/tchosource/.