Seattle: Theo’s Chocolate Factory Tour
Who knew that the history and chocolate making process could be so interesting?! Theo is NOT a person (in this case). Theo is short for the Latin name of the Cacao tree, Theobroma Cacao, Food of the Gods.
Kate, our tour guide, told us the story of chocolate, which began in ancient times in the Amazon, as well as the incredible process of turning those bitter seeds rich in anti-oxidants into this confection that heals broken hearts. The story is amazing. How anyone figured out how to make something good to eat out of those bitter cocoa beans is a miracle!
With our hairnets on, about 25 people went into the factory to learn about the multi-step, complex chemical process to turn the beans into bars. Looking much like a Rube Goldberg contraption of yellow, green and steel containers and piping, it makes it way through the different steps.
The first step in the process is to remove the shell, to leave only the nib. These nibs are high in anti-oxidants and can be eaten; but they are not the same as eating chocolate. Still, Theo provides some recipes for their use. Blended with the chocolate, seemed the righteous way to eat the healthy nibs while enjoying the sweetness of the chocolate. It is further winnowed down until it is airy as cotton candy. It is, however, not compressed, which means that the cocoa butter is retained.
Theo’s, just a few years old, is the first organic, Fair Trade bean-to-bar chocolate maker in the US. They only use organic beans from Fair Trade farmers and cooperatives. They have also partnered with Jane Goodall to create two bars that benefit her Good for All approach to benefit farmers in biodiverse rich regions of the earth, promotes conservation in the tropical rainforests as well as contributes to the Jane Goodall Institute’s efforts to save chimpanzees. They are a socially conscious, green, organic, and sustainable chocolate maker.
You enter the factory through a blue door into their retail store, which offers samples of most (if not all) of their products. And they had a poster of Oprah, who is a Theo Fan!
Former uses of the chocolate factory include serving as the “barn” for city trolleys and most recently the home of Red Hook brewery (which has since re-located to Woodinville). The red brick building adds to the ambience of the factory
Details: Tours are offered daily: Monday – Thursday at 2 and 4; Friday – Sunday at 10, 12, 2 and 4. Reservations are required. Cost is $6 per person. The tour is not recommended for very young children. The factory can be hot and noisy. Closed toe shoes are necessary (as well as the hairnet, which is provided by the factory).
Where: Freemont neighborhood: 3400 Phinney Avenue, Seattle
Contact: (206) 632-5100 www.theochocolate.com
How to get there:
From downtown Seattle, take Metro bus #26 from 3rd Avenue and Pike Street, north towards Green Lake/Fremont. The 15 minute ride takes you on the west side of Lake Union to the quirky and wonderful Fremont district. Get off the bus at N. 34th and Fremont Avenue (just after the Fremont Bridge). Cross Fremont Avenue at 34th. Theo’s is 4 blocks from the 34th/Fremont intersection, at Phinney Avenue North.
Bus (without ORCA card) $2.50 from Olympia to Lakewood/SR 512 Park and Ride (Intercity Transit 603); $3.00 Lakewood to downtown Seattle (Sound Transit); and $1.75 from downtown Seattle to Fremont (Metro).
Factory tour – $6.00
What else is in the neighborhood?:
The Fremont district is known as Seattle’s “Left Bank”, in recognition of the artistic and eclectic nature of the neighborhood. Note the “Waiting for the Interurban” statue, which is located on the corner of 34th and Fremont (where you get off the bus). The characters of this wonderful group statue are generally dressed to fit the weather, holiday, or ? The local Troll is tucked under the Aurora Bridge at 36th Avenue. What is he eating? Also, look for the neon-lit Rapunzel letting down her golden hair from the west tower of the Fremont Bridge.
As you walk the four blocks to and from the factory, you will pass the wonderful PCC Natural Foods market. The community-owned, certified-organic grocery store features local and organic produce and meats, as well as a full service deli with café seating. (600 N 34th Street. 206-632-6811)
The Ship Canal, that connects lake Union with Salmon Bay (and then on the Hiram Chittendan Locks and Puget Sound), is one block from 34thStreet. At the foot of Evanston Avenue (parallel to and between Phinney and Fremont Avenue) is a lovely seating and picnic area. The Burke-Gilman walking/bike path runs along the canal.
The Essential Baking Company is a premier artisan organic bakery located at 1604 N 34th Street (across Fremont Avenue, past the Interurban statue) The bakery offers a full lunch menu, fresh breads and pastries. 206-545-3804.
The Gas Works Parkincludes remnants of the early 1900’s plant which converted coal into gas. The 20 acre park has a large play area, including a hill which is popular with kite flyers. The park features a gigantic sundial and fabulous view of Seattle. Take the Burke-Gilman Trail (east from Fremont) to the park. The park is located at 23101 N. Northlake Way.