When you go to the Theo Chocolate website, you can see a section called “Learn.” Click on that, and you’re met with a colorful spread detailing what the company is all about: supporting the people involved in the chocolate-making process from beginning to end. Founded in 2006, Theo is the first organic fair-trade-certified chocolate factory in the US. What’s their story?
A sweet dream
Joe Whinney wanted to do something that mattered. He dropped out of high school and sailed around the Gulf of Mexico for a while, then volunteered for a conservation group. The group worked with Mayan communities in Southern Belize. There, Joe met local cocoa farmers and was first introduced to the Theobroma cacao plant. In 1994, Joe contacted bean processors and was able to connect with one. He began sending cocoa beans from Central Americans farms to this Brooklyn company, whose customers included Newman’s Own. For ten years, Joe networked, learned, and saved so he could start his own chocolate business.
In 2004, Joe was ready. He contacted his ex-wife Debra Music and asked her to move to Seattle with him. To the surprise of many, Debra said yes. She describes the decision as a mixture of “fear and excitement.” Her background in social marketing and brand-building were very important and together as friends and business partners, they created Theo Chocolate, named after the Theobroma plant. Jeff Fairhall, founder of the Essential Baking Company and advocate for organic food, invested and in 2006, Theo Chocolate launched.
Where Theo gets its ingredients from is very important to them. They have sourced beans from places like Costa Rica, Ecuador, Madagascar, Peru, and the DRC. Because Theo is a bean-to-bar factory, they can pay high prices to farmers so they can invest in education and other opportunities. Currently, 70% of Theo’s bean supply comes from the DRC and they support over over 4,500 farmers. For the past seven years, they’ve worked with the Norandino Cooperative in Peru and Esco-Kivu, which is in the DRC. Theo is also transparent about where their other ingredients come from, like ginger from California, hazelnuts from Turkey, and vanilla from Indonesia.
Theo’s commitment to quality chocolate that’s ethical has paid off. From 2012-2013, their sales rose 40%, and they’re worth over $12 million. You can find their products in more than 4,000 stores across the country. In 2017, Joe stepped down as CEO, but plans to stay involved. Etienne Patout took over.
What kind of deliciousness does Theo make? They’ve got their take on a peanut butter cup that’s 85% dark cocoa, a turmeric spice bar, and favorites like salted toffee, cherry almond, and a 45% milk chocolate bar. I’m personally most interested in the Big Daddy, which is a Theo-made graham cracker, vanilla caramel, marshmallow, and dark chocolate.
If you’re in Seattle, Theo Chocolate offers an hour-long tour that’s very popular. You’ll learn about the harvesting process, see how chocolate-making works, and get samples. They also recently starting offering a tour and story time just for kids on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. The regular tour costs $10 and the kids’ one is $8. Theo also offers cool classes like ones coming up in September and October. The September 6th class is about hand-rolling ganache truffles while the October 11th one teaches you the art of molded ganache. Each class is $35 per person.
If you’re a chocolate lover, you might have heard about ruby chocolate, which creators say is a totally new form of chocolate. What is this pink treat exactly?