I’ve been curious about Seattle-based Theo Chocolate. I’ll admit that attractive packaging can pique my curiosity, and Theo’s enthusiastic commitment to green initiatives, organic farming and fair trade make a product purchase an act of moral justice. (One can never be too dramatic when justifying a chocolate obsession.) The company is the first North American roaster of organic fair-trade cacao. Founder Joseph Whinney pioneered the manufacture and supply of organic chocolate products, importing organic cocoa beans into the US in 1994. Notably, every product is made with “Fair Trade certified cocoa beans,” according to the company’s website.
The packaging is indeed alluring. In April 2008, Theo’s array of gorgeous packaging made Time magazine’s Design 100.
I selected the Ghana-Panama-Ecuador 75% Cacao bar (3oz), a combination of Ghanese cacao, Panamanian cacao from the remote rainforest of Bocas del Toro, and Ecuadorian Arriba cacao. Theo’s Ivory Coast bar sat next to it on the shelf, and when I compared the two, the Ivory smelled infinitely more intriguing; I chose the blend because there were very few left and I felt it was time to break my single-origin habit.
I shouldn’t have. The blended bar seemed fresh, it had no signs of bloom and had a good snap, but the scent and flavor fell flat. Subtle to the point of uninspiring, the bar lacked personality and the finish was uneventful. A beautiful chocolate keeps me ooh-ing and ah-ing long after I’ve finished a single bite. There was nothing to savor with this bar, although searching and hoping I tasted and tested longer than necessary.
I ought to have known better. One of my benchmarks for chocolate tasting is how long it lasts in the pantry. If it goes fast, I note its “Mediocrity Paradox”. Seem contradictory? Therein lies the paradox: more bites than necessary are taken while chasing an expectation of flavor, of satisfaction, a gustatory reward, but the product’s poor quality fails to deliver. Anyone who has eaten a large portion of “fat-free” anything, only to be left stuffed and unsatisfied, understands. I’m willing to argue that all foodies agree that a few bites of something sublime always surpasses a larger portion of any mediocre dish.
That said, the very scent of the Ivory Coast bar, (even through the packaging!) was memorable enough for me to give Theo another shot. And, the next time I’m in Seattle, I will certainly stop by for a factory visit.