TCHO was founded by a Space Shuttle technologist and is headquartered in San Francisco, and the company ethos, website, and packaging all seem to reflect this science and technology-driven background. The chocolates are produced from cacao hand-sourced from around the world, and before the formulations were finalized, different chocolate varieties were released in “beta.” Packages were marked with lot numbers, so customers could log on to the company website and provide feedback on the chocolate, helping guide the company and shape the end flavors of the chocolate. The website is a little too austere and “techy” for me, but I imagine it appeals to the same geek-chic contingent who would eagerly provide beta feedback.
The packaging and design of the chocolates is also high-tech. The chocolates are packaged in bold colors, offset by gold geometric designs, and the same spiraling pattern is found on the shiny chocolate bars. The end result is clean, modern, and even futuristic, signaling a new approach to the traditional chocolate bar.
This differing vision is also apparent in the naming of the different chocolates. Bars are identified not by cacao percentage or country of origin, but by predominant flavor profile. TCHO has created a “flavor wheel” with six predominant chocolate characteristics: “Fruity,” “Nutty,” “Chocolatey”, “Citrus,” “Earthy,” and “Floral.” I tried the first four flavors, and all of the chocolates I sampled were dark chocolates with 70% cocoa contents. The chocolate does not have any flavoring additives, rather, the different flavors come from different beans and the way they are processed.
The “Chocolatey” bar was by far my favorite. Before tasting it, I thought that it was a little silly to have a chocolate bar’s flavor be described as “chocolatey”…I mean, by definition chocolate is chocolatey, right? However, once I opened the package I started to understand what they meant. I was immediately hit with a strong chocolate aroma. It was so strong, I had to double-check to make sure there was no artificial chocolate flavoring added. The chocolate started with a slight woodsy taste that become more complex and bitter as I let it dissolve in my mouth, however, it still tasted quite mellow, without much acidity. This bar actually tasted sweeter than some 64% chocolates I’ve tried. At times the flavor seemed milky, although it is not a milk chocolate bar, and reminded me of very lightly spiced, rich hot chocolate. This bar was great eaten plain, but I think it would make a fabulous addition to baked goods like chocolate chip cookies, where an intense chocolate flavor can really shine.
The "Citrus" bar was another piece I enjoyed, and it was where I first ran into a common problem: I expected to taste strong citrus notes, as the name implied, but I really didn’t catch any citrus flavors. It did have a sharp, kind of fruity aroma and more assertive flavors than the Chocolatey bar. The taste was a little drier and more acidic, with a nice tang. It left a very clean, light chocolate taste that didn’t linger too long in the mouth.
After enjoying the two previous bars, I was disappointed by the final two tastings. The ”Fruity” bar was very assertive, almost astringent, and I would describe it as more “earthy” than “fruity.” It had savory notes and brought to mind mushrooms and wet bark, with an acidic finish. I had a similar reaction to the “Nutty” bar. I was hoping for a warm, toasted flavor, but I got almost a sour, pungent taste. I liked the dark chocolate undertones but found that the overly smoky top notes distracted me. I tasted all the bars by letting the chocolate dissolve in my mouth, but I found that when I chewed the Fruity and Nutty bars, I liked them better, as the flavors didn’t seem as strong.
One of the downsides to TCHO bars is that they don’t come cheap. The “Discover Your Chocolate” tasting package features four assorted 60 gram (2.1 oz) bars of chocolate for $24, which comes to 8.4 ounces. This means that if you were to buy a pound of TCHO chocolate, it would cost around $48, which is fairly steep. Fortunately, smaller mini bar collections are available for as little as $6.50, so you can taste the chocolate without dropping too much money.
I love that TCHO is socially and ecologically responsible, and that they are passionate about sourcing their own chocolate, following fair trade rules, and working to better the lives of cacao farmers around the world. Because I loved two of the bars and disliked two others, I would recommend trying a smaller tasting package to gauge your personal preference before committing to a larger, more expensive package. TCHO also offers a number of tasty-sounding treats, like chocolate-dipped macadamias, cacao nibs, and honey-roasted cashews.