If you read yesterday’s entry, you know that I wanted to take a tour of the Scharffen Berger chocolate factory, but never made it there since I couldn’t find the bus stop. Today I walked to a different bus stop and managed to get on the bus and to the factory. I also found out why I missed the bus stop the first time. The directions told me the stop was on Haste and Shattuck, and I looked for it on Shattuck, not Haste. In fact it’s on Haste right off of Shattuck. Dumb mistake, but it’s okay; I still get my chocolate.
The factory tour starts with a long talk about the cacao plant and the “bean-to-bar” process, complete with tastings of their different varieties of chocolate. They make dark chocolate only, and it’s very different from the typical chocolate you find in stores. It’s a lot less sweet, but the flavors are much closer to the natural flavor of the cacao bean (I know, because we tasted pieces of the roasted bean). Apparently Scharffen Berger is one of only ten chocolate makers in the US who make their chocolate from the bean, as opposed to from a premade cacao mixture, which makes them chocolate makers and not candy makers. In learning about the bean-to-bar process, I also found out why high quality chocolate often tastes fruity. Cacao beans are actually seeds from the insides of fruit, and in the process of making chocolate (or at least Scharffen Berger chocolate), the fruit is allowed to ferment for a few days. This fermentation dissolves the fruit and also affects the seed inside, killing it and making it into what we call the cacao bean. Naturally, the end result should taste like fruit!
The story of Scharffen Berger’s origin is also an interesting one. The company was partially founded by a physician who was diagnosed with lymphoma and given a set amount of time to live. Evaluating his goals for his remaining time, he decided to start a chocolate factory. Nice use of time, and not only because of the chocolate–despite his doctors’ prediction, he is still living.
After the talk, we went through the factory itself, which is very small, and watched the various stages of chocolate making. The last factory tour I went on was of the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield, and there we watched everything from high up and behind glass windows. Here, we walked right next to the machines, so that we could feel the heat coming from them and smell the incredible chocolate aroma; only lines painted on the ground kept us from getting too close.
In the gift shop, I bought some of their mocha chocolates and some mint ones. The mint ones taste like glorified Andes mints, but let me assure you the mocha ones are the best thing ever if you like both coffee and chocolate. I also bought a truffle fork (a two-pronged implement for dipping truffles). I thought to myself that if anyone tried to mug me on the way back (highly unlikely), the fork would be a very effective weapon. It’s sharp and easy to wield, and also who would guess that a weapon lurks inside a bag from a high-end chocolate factory? But instead of meeting some hapless would-be criminal, I met a nice old lady while waiting for the bus, and we kept each other company.
If you live in Berkeley, or stop by there at any point, I encourage a visit to Scharffen Berger. Reserving a spot online couldn’t be simpler. Their chocolate is expensive but the tour is free, and you do get samples!
[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at satsumabug.livejournal.com.]