Thursday, March 24, 2011

Theo Chocolate Factory

Earlier this week, the 3-5 class hopped the number 5 bus down to the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle for a tour of the Theo Chocolate factory, the only organic, fair-trade, bean-to-bar chocolate factory in the U.S.

We had an unusually high turnout of parents take this trip with us, even higher than when the firefighters came to visit.

We arrived a little early at the red brick building that had a former life as the Red Hook Brewery, so we peered through the windows, into a room we later learned was called the confectionary, the place where the special chocolates were being finished up.

Appetites sufficiently whetted, we decided it was a good chance to have a snack of apple slices and water, but that wasn't the food that was on everyone's minds, and I call chocolate food (not candy) purposefully here. Our tour guide Sam informed us that any chocolate with over 70 percent cacao is considered a health food, high in both iron and anti-oxidants.

Oh, this wasn't any easy field trip. We started in their living room style lobby stacked with chocolate bars, and piles of samples, right at eye level. And we weren't supposed to touch them because we were going to be getting plenty of samples along the way. It was really a challenge for the adults to sneak bites without the kids noticing.

One of the first things we learned was that the reason you won't be finding any hairs in your Theo Chocolate is that everyone who enters the factory must tuck their hair into these blue hair nets. Teacher Tom even wore a beard net! (Photo may or may not be forthcoming.)

Another important thing we learned right from the start was that we had to stay behind these yellow and black striped lines to avoid getting too close to the machinery which might be hot or otherwise dangerous to touching fingers. I was incredibly impressed with how well the kids abided by these tough restrictions in exciting circumstances. As far as I know, only one of us, an adult, one wearing a beard net, crossed that line and had to be shooed back by Sam.

And what amazing factory machinery we saw.

Machines that roast, and shake, and crush, and funnel, and melt, and mix, and convey.

We learned that chocolate is made from a "bean" that is really a seed that comes from a crazy fruit that has "meat" that tastes like a peach, but looks like saliva, and grows not from the branches, but from the trunk of their trees, which only grow in a range right around the equator. 

We got an up close look at the "nibs" which are the part from which the chocolate is actually made.

The "waste," Sam told us, is sold as compost, like this bowl that looked so delicious to us, but was, unfortunately rejected material to be sent back into the earth.

The factory floor itself was quite warm, we noticed, but once we stepped into the confectionary we'd earlier spied through the windows, the temperature was quite a bit lower. We saw chocolate spread on a marble slab waiting to achieve just the right temperature to be turned into confections.

And over Sam's shoulder we spied samples of the bunnies being readied for Easter baskets.

She showed us two pieces of chocolate, a bunny and a dull hunk of the stuff, and told us that they make chocolate shiny by cooling it very fast.

We also got to see where they make their famous chocolate bars.

This guy was mixing in cherries and almonds.

Our group finished up with a tasting session, where we sampled some of Theo's classic flavors like toasted coconut, spicy chile, cherry-almond, orange, and mint. 

It was also a chance to ask questions, the main one being, "Are we going to try any more chocolate?"

When we later talked about what we remembered from our field trip, there was lots of talk about tasting chocolate, but also about the machinery and the processes. And for the first time in the history of Woodland Park field trips, no one mentioned the bus ride. 

Yesterday, back at school, our own sandbox factory was producing jewels and salt via an elaborate process known only to children.

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Saya said...

I wanted to go to that field trip, too! Lucky!

would love to see the kids' factory at the sand box, too! :)

Laura said...

very cool. Later this year we are taking our kids to the Hershey factory in Hershey, PA. I can't wait!

My Ugly Garden said...

What a fun field trip!

Anonymous said...

"We had an unusually high turnout of parents take this trip with us, even higher than when the firefighters came to visit." LOL, I'm hearing you... are the children going to try making some machines with junk too? We've tried this before and it was great. :)

Unknown said...

Suddenly my dessert of an orange isn't tasting quite as satisfying as that chocolate! What a great field trip idea. :)

Anonymous said...

This is an amazing field trip. I'm impressed!

My then 5 year old and I did some research on chocolate to prepare for a family fun night of chocolate tasting. There is so much to think about when choosing chocolate that we didn't know. Here is our past link if you're interested.

Thanks for sharing your experience. I'll be sure to share this with my son.

Unknown said...

yummo, what a great trip. Love the hair nets but notice your photo is missing! Thanks for sharing...

Anonymous said...

lol Great story Tom, made me wish I had bought Tim Tams today instead of salt and vinegar chips... I can't believe how well they all managed to be following instructions.It would have been hard for me . I love chocolate