Saturday, July 12, 2008

Chocolate Lover Does Scharffen Berger

I'm always up for experiencing cheap entertainment, so I was happy to hear about the free tour at Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker in Berkeley, CA. I've done all kinds of other food related tours so what's one more on the pile? Now that I think about it, I've gone on a lot of tours over the years: Hersheys, Hangar One, Jelly Belly, Korbel Champagne Cellars, M&M’s World, Culinary Institute of America (CIA), Marini's Candies and Glenwood Oaks Winery.

Food tours usually don't pressure you to buy stuff after you finish the tour but you certainly feel in the mood to do so after watching the product being made. The fact that the product is fresh, as in minutes or hours old, makes you want to try stuff even more. Who knows how old the stuff is you buy in the store?

Before starting the tour, I visited the cafe called Café Cacao that shares the same building as the chocolate production and gift shop. It certainly upheld the reputation Berkeley has for being a foodie paradise. From what I could see by peeking on other people's plate and my own lunch, food is simple and nutritious but flavorful made with high quality ingredients. Food that makes me wish I could afford a personal chef so I could eat like that all the time.
Walking towards the Cafe and restroom from the parking lot. Very necessary after the long drive up 880. On Heinz, facing 7th Street.
Inside the gift shop, waiting for the tour to start.
Another view of the chocolate store. The smell of chocolate is so intense, it makes you light headed until you get used to it. Some people had to keep stepping outside until they got used to the smell. The longer you sit there, the more you recognize the subtle, earthy and fruity smells of chocolate.
The tour started with a lecture about chocolate and tastings of various products. We learned about the history of chocolate as well as chocolate bar production. Of course we learned the history of the Scharffen Berger Chocolate company. Did you know the same partners who created the chocolate company first created a wine, Scharffenberger Cellars?
We found out that the seeds originally come like pomegranate, squash or pumpkin seeds within the cacao tree fruits. Milky-white gelatinous pulp is the way to describe the seeds inside of the pod, in their natural state.

After fermentation, the seeds are dried then they look like the picture above. The whitish part is parts of the fruit dried on the seeds.
The seeds, without the outside hulls, are called nibs. We got the chance to taste the nibs. Pretty tasteless but feels very oily on the tongue. Makes sense since the seeds are over 50% cocoa butter. This part of the chocolate plant is similar to other seeds like almonds or walnuts which are also known for their oils. The chopped nibs are processed into the chocolate liquor to make the chocolate bars.
During the lecture portion, we got to sample 70% Bittersweet Cocoa Chocolate Bar, 62% Nibby Chocolate Bar and 41% Cacao Milk Chocolate Bar. Now I finally know what the %s mean. That's the amount of pure chocolate liquor or chocolate solids added. So the 70% is 7 parts chocolate liquor to 3 parts non-chocolate additives such as sugar, vanilla, soy lecithin and other stuff in the recipe.

The higher the percentage, the more chocolaty the bar is. So when you get chocolate that tastes like plastic, it's probably less than 15% chocolate solids. I got introduced to Nibby chocolate which has the texture of chocolate with bits of espresso beans. Except the bits are pieces of the chocolate seed. If you are ever in the
Scharffen Berger Chocolate store, they'll give you a sample of anything. Then you can decide if nibby chocolate is for you. I like it, myself.
Finally we are ready to go into the chocolate production area. But first, we have to put on hats to avoid bits of hair getting into the chocolate. We have to cover all the head hair, with no wisps sticking out. The hat has to go over the ears too. So if you eat Scharffen Berger Chocolate, you can rest assured that no ear wax from the tour takers is in your food. The mouth covering paper is for men with facial hair or hair not covered by the hat.

The chocolate making machines are very loud, so everyone has to wear headphones, too. The whole manufacturing area of the tour in the factory is conducted by hand signals. I just follow the group. Most of the time, the tour guy blends in and I don't know which white paper shower capped, red earphones person is him.

Kinda surreal.
Machine that does something important.
Worker doing his thing. Notice the street scene in the background. The factory is literally on a regular busy street in an industrial neighborhood.
Machine that takes the hulled seeds and spits out the nibs.
Chocolate dust covers everything. Including a broom, dustpan and someones jacket.
Nibs being crushed into yummy looking chocolate liquor. I think the main source of the intense chocolate smell pervading the building comes from this grinding and crushing machine.
If I remember correctly, these vats are full of all of the chocolate ingredients. The ingredients are being blended and smoothed until the final product is a silky, balanced, wonderful, edible chocolate. The amount of chocolate liquor and each of the other ingredients depends on the percentage on the chocolate label.
The chocolate comes out of the vats, into the molds. The size and shape of the mold used depends on whether the chocolate only needs the wrapper or whether other things will be added such as milk, nibs or almonds.
A small shipping and packaging room, next to the mold machine. For easy packaging of bulk orders, without a lot of fancy packaging.
Unfortunately, the mold machine wasn't running the day we visited. So we only got to see the machine standing there, idle. Just looking at it, does give me flash backs of Lavern and Shirley and I Love Lucy episodes.
Lucy and Ethel working at a candy factory in "I Love Lucy" Job Switching (1952)
After the tour, I checked out the Cafe Cacao, named from the chocolate fruit tree.

Café Cacao is an original dining destination located at the factory of Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker in Berkeley, California.

Even though it was noon, the place wasn't full. I guess it's considered a tourist place by the locals and people who work in the neighborhood.
My lunch really hit the spot: Chicken Club Sandwich, served with fresh avocado, onions, tomatoes & smoked bacon. The vinaigrette was tasty without being over powering or making the greens soggy.

Since I didn't have to spend money for the
chocolate factory tour and all the chocolate samples, I felt like I made out pretty good for a morning's worth of entertainment and lunch.

If you get the chance and you have time, I recommend checking out the
Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker. Regardless of what the people in the gift shop tell you, allow at least 2 hours for the tour since the lecture may run long.

1 comment:

hesslei said...

Scharffen Berger is known for deep, dark chocolates. Almost all of their bars contain over 60% cocoa solids (compared to 15-25% in typical American chocolate bars). Their milk chocolate is categorized as a "dark milk" bar and contains 41% cocoa solids. They were one of the first American companies to popularize the use of cocoa nibs, the unsweetened shards of roasted cocoa beans, in their confections. They also offer an 82% cocoa bar that will intrigue the most devoted dark chocolate lover.


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