If you are a real Chocoler and you are visiting San Francisco Bay Area, you must visit TCHO!  It’s a fascinating company where the technology culture of the Silicon Valley merges with San Francisco’s foodie culture.  Last weekend I went up to visit the TCHO factory store at Pier 17 in San Francisco, just north of the Port of San Francisco and was it worth the trip. (NOTE: TCHO has now moved their factory to Berkeley; this was before they moved.)

After Scharffenberger got purchased by Hershey’s, Hershey’s shut down the Berkeley factory.  Since Guittard and See’s don’t offer public tours, TCHO is the only real production chocolate factory you can visit in the San Francisco Bay Area. From the outside, the store looks very functional with its clear branding message, “New American Chocolate.”  Nice brand statement that makes you want to go in and try out their offerings!

As soon as you walk in the factory store you realize that this a very different and modern chocolate company.

The brand “TCHO” is clearly visible against the orange background.  One would expect to see a brown wall for a chocolate company but instead they have chosen brighter and bolder color which keeps the atmosphere fresh and invigorating.  There was always a buzz of people coming and going and on one of the walls where was an ensemble of tablet computers showing colorful images of the chocolate plantations and harvest.  Below them were some touch tablets you could interact with to learn more about TCHO.

TCHO doesn’t simply sell their chocolate but they offer kitchen tools, cookbooks, T-shirts, ice cream, and freshly brewed coffee.  In addition to products you could sample each of their four flavors: Chocolatey, Nutty, Fruity, and Citrus.

This company clearly understands strong branding.  A simple black and white sign declares,

“TCHO is:

Made in San Francisco

Organic

Fair Trade

TCHOSource Program”

Elegant and highly differentiated for what could otherwise be considered a commodity to a non-Chocoler.

They take care to choose the right color combinations, fonts, print placements, and arrangements of their products to remind you of Andy Warhol instead of the more traditional chocolate makers from the past.

Pictured below are plain steel cans with a labels “Roasted Cacao Nibs Drenched in Dark Chocolate”  and  ”Roasted Cacao Nibs Citrus” makes you drool and want get into the contents right away.

TCHO’s simple, yet varied product labeling and in-store displays elevates their product to an art-form for use in the home, reminiscent of Apple.  It’s a manifestation of the passion its employees have for their products which its customers transfer into the food they infuse the TCHO chocolate into.

I purchased a can of their hot and cold drinking chocolate and it was absolutely divine, unlike any other hot chocolate I have ever had!  I am going to return in a week or two to pick up a much bigger stash.