Go Ahead, Plan Your Entire Trip Around Chocolate
The chocolate factory smells like everything good in the world: brownies, hot cocoa, roasted nuts, the wide-eyed nescience of youth, etc. And despite what some Roald Dahl books would make you believe, most craft chocolate makers will open up their factories for tours (read: free samples).
Here are nine of country’s best chocolate-related places to visit.
Taza Chocolate, Somerville, Massachusetts
Taza is here to remind you that chocolate is older than you think. It dates back to the Aztecs and Incans, who used a metate to break beans and then shape them into gritty tablets. That coarse texture has become a signature of Mexican chocolate, and Taza continues the stone-ground tradition at its tour-able factory in Somerville, Massachusetts. Fun fact: the place gives part of the tour proceeds to the Possible Project, a nonprofit in Cambridge that teaches high school students how to start and run their own businesses.
Dandelion Chocolate in San Francisco
Founders Todd Masonis and Cameron Ring want you to be a chocolate maker. That’s why they teach small, personalized classes at their Mission District shop in San Francisco. Heck, they even employ some of the people they’ve taught. Of course, if you’re more into eating chocolate than making it, they have delectable bars, drinks, and baked goods as well. Go for the brownie flight, which lets you taste the differences between cacao from Papua New Guinea (smoky), Madagascar (fruity), and Ecuador (deep).
Mast Brothers in Brooklyn, New York
If Williamsburg could be molded into a chocolate bar and wrapped in a brightly patterned piece of paper, it would look exactly like this. Mast Brothers, arguably the most famous craft chocolate place in the borough, boasts a clean, hip storefront and open factory, where Brooklynites give daily tours. You’ll learn about the bean-to-bar process from start to finish and, more importantly, try samples of flavors like Stumptown Coffee and goat’s milk. And if you’re lucky enough to visit London, swing by their first U.K. store, in the East End.
Fruition Chocolate in Shokan, New York
Corn nuts are not the sort of thing you’d expect to find at a craft chocolate store, but, then again, Fruition is not most craft chocolate stores. Owner Bryan Graham trained as a pastry chef at the Culinary Institute of America in New York before working at Jacques Torres Chocolate. At his store in the Catskill Mountains, you’ll find life-changing bars like the Marañon dark milk as well as confections like dark-chocolate-coated, jalapeño-dusted corn nuts and brown-butter bourbon caramels. It’s worth noting: the post is very remote; getting there is something of an adventure in itself.
Theo: Chocolate in Seattle
At its massive storefront and factory in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Theo offers multiple hour-long tours per day, where you’ll learn about the history of cocoa and its social and environmental implications. On the tour, there’s also plenty of opportunity to ooh and aah at the big, whirring machines. There’s a beautiful retail store on premises too, where you’ll find goodies like their dark chocolate and ginger bar as well as ganaches, barks, toffees, caramels and more.
Raaka Chocolate in Brooklyn, New York
If the bigger-box atmosphere of Theo doesn’t appeal to you, head to the opposite coast to Raaka’s homegrown, modest warehouse in Red Hook, Brooklyn. They offer tours of the space three times a week as well as chocolate-making classes on Saturdays (beware: reservations are hard to come by). Be sure to ask about founder Ryan Cheney’s story: On an extended yoga retreat in Thailand, he learned how to make chocolate with unroasted cocoa beans. Raaka’s beans are unroasted to keep the antioxidants, and the company uses natural sugars like maple syrup and yakon powder. The resulting “virgin” chocolate (not “raw”) is tasty and unusual, as are Raaka’s brand-new vegan truffles in flavors like coconut milk and butternut squash.
Lake Champlain and Blue Bandana in Burlington, Vermont
Though Lake Champlain has been around since 1983, its new bean-to-bar imprint called Blue Bandana released its first bars in January. Visit the factory store in Vermont to learn how Lake Champlain makes chocolate as well as truffles, caramels, and other confections. Also be sure to hit up the free (free!) chocolate-tasting seminar every Saturday to try different varieties. Or head to the South End Kitchen to watch the bean-to-bar process in action at Blue Bandana, take a cooking class, or try a dessert or ice cream at the café.
Askinosie Chocolate, Springfield, Missouri
On Tuesdays visitors can tour the big warehouse in Springfield, Missouri, and sample dozens of types of chocolate bars. While you’re there, don’t miss fun inclusion bars with partners like Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, as well as the new line of bean-to-bar baking chocolate. But what makes Askinosie Chocolate company truly special? Owner Shawn Askinosie’s mission to improve the lives of his direct-trade farmer partners, with programs to educate and empower those communities, which you’ll learn about in detail on the tour.
Madre Chocolate, Oahu, Hawaii
This Hawaiian maker takes the bean-to-bar concept one step further: tree to bar. What does that mean? They actually grow cacao trees in their orchards, then harvest and roast the beans before grinding, winnowing, and tempering them into bars. At their weekly classes in Kailua, you’ll learn all about the process and try a flight of five bars. You can also make your own inclusion bar with anything from dried fruit to Hawaiian sea salt. You’ll also get to try cacao fruit juice (think lychee or mangosteen), which is made from the white pulp that encases the beans. Enjoy it; it’s almost impossible to find outside of a cacao plantation.