Wired founder starts chocolate company

My friend, Louis Rossetto, the founder of Wired, has started an organic chocolate manufacturing company in San Francisco with another friend of mine, Timothy Childs.

It's called Tcho.

Picture 12-12 Beginning today, Tcho’s dark chocolate will be available in 50-gram beta bars, representing Version .10. The $4 bars, made of Ghanaian beans and wrapped in brown paper, will be sold only locally at first, only to those who have signed up on the Tcho Web site, and only to those willing to go pick up the chocolate at Tcho headquarters.

Mr. Childs, 43, a technologist who is a longtime friend of Mr. Rossetto’s, has been working with chocolate for the last five years. The two decided to go into business together two years ago when Mr. Childs called Mr. Rossetto to tell him he had found a chocolate factory for sale in an old castle in Wernigerode, in the former East Germany. Mr. Rossetto agreed on the spot to buy the equipment and to have it shipped to San Francisco, where it arrived still coated in chocolate. The machinery has been refurbished and is being updated with modern control systems and video cameras for monitoring.



  1. Major brain fart / sign of vision problem:

    When I saw the post’s subject, I read it as:

    Wired founder starts chocolate economy

    And I figured that the little brown packet was going to be the unit of currency.

    I think I need a vacation. Or maybe the prescription on these new trifocals is for shit.

  2. Hopefully he’ll set an example for other chocolate producers by taking care to abide by the so-called “Cocoa Protocol”, which asks chocolate producers to ensure that cocoa they get from West Africa is not supporting forced child labor.

    I’d sure be glad to recommend his chocolate if so!

  3. I’ll be interested to see what the tech name and packaging does to sales. Chocolate is generally marketed a little more “romantically”.

  4. I wasn’t referring to “romance” as in love but to “romancing” the buyer with pretty, pretty packages that cost more than the product and emotions that can be triggered and manipulated for profit. It’s a bottom line kind of relationship, lol!
    Ah, Starbucks, who would have thought? If I had I would have bought stock and been able to afford their bloody awful coffee!
    I think chocolate should be free, then we wouldn’t have to steal it from anyone!

  5. “Tcho?” “Gesundheit!” And at about $40 a pound, I’ll have a caviar and filet mignon sandwich instead.

  6. As someone who has an increasingly esoteric relationship with chocolate (which is also to say, probably, a snobbish one), this story raised my hackles a bit. I don’t want “beta” chocolate. I want simple, flavorful chocolate bars made in small batches by people who care about making chocolate more than having fancy chocolate-making technology (Toronto’s Soma Chocolate is a brilliant example).

    I can’t be the only person who was reminded of Dallas Food’s epic takedown of Noka Chocolate while reading this story. They too have fancy, techno-toyish packaging and a premium price. Reading Dallas Food’s methodical evaluation taught me a lot about chocolate-making in general, and anyone who’s curious about Tcho could learn a lot from reading the profile. The main — and critical — differences between Noka and Tcho are that Tcho actually seems to make their own chocolate (Noka covertly and dishonestly makes their bars out of couverture from a much less pricey chocolate-maker while claiming to be making their chocolate themselves) and the price. $40/lb is nothing next to the insane $2,080/lb markup on Noka.

    So I guess I’m turned off by Tcho’s silly marketing and am wary overall, but I’m willing to be won over if the chocolate is good. I mostly just wanted to plug the Noka story again (it was mentioned here and here on Boing Boing about this time last year), because I think it’s the best piece of food journalism I’ve ever read.

  7. Zikzak – Slavery is an issue we take very seriously at TCHO. Not all of West Africa, but the largest producer of cacao in the world, namely Cote d’Ivoire, employs slave labor in cacao production. Not surprisingly, some of its clients, notably Nestle, Cargill, and Archer Daniels Midland, have been sued by the International Labor Rights Fund. We are not buying ANY cacao from Cote d’Ivoire, nor will we until the situation there changes, which is likely to be a long time.

    Popartdiva – Chocolate is a modern food. We are against the faux-traditionalism surrounding chocolate marketing. Design junkies that we are, we’re hoping our final packaging will not be an embarassment. But we really want to please your mouth, not your eyes.

    Forrest L Norvell – We’re doing Beta chocolate because, honestly, we are currently at the end of our development program and putting the final tweaks on our formulations — and would love feedback on how we’re doing. Right now we are working on our “chocolatey” flavor profile, based on Ghanaian beans. We will be doing permutations of it with various sugars and vanillas to see what we and our customers like. This process is entirely by hand, in ridiculously small lots, and with lots of attention, intention, and what might be described by some as love, but which I prefer to characterize as obsession. I totally agree with you, the proof is in the tasting, and I’m certainly as allergic to hype as you appear to be. By the way, there’s nothing “techno-toyish” about our Beta packaging — it’s an off-the-shelf craft paper envelope with a food-grade lining, hit with a rubber stamp, filled with our chocolate, then heat-sealed on the edge. No Noka here.

    And Mark F – thanks for the call out. Come visit the factory!

  8. To chime in with an after-dinner tcho review, the beta was far more complex than the alpha. While a glass of port or Grand Mariner would have complemented the dark chocolate nicely, the beta version left my cells feeling energized much like a great sashimi roll. I look forward to more user-feedback inspired chocolate from the folks at tcho.

  9. Why East German equipment? East German chocolate was quite awful, nearly as bad as Chinese chocolate. I really love chocolate and will eat anything with choccolate, so my taste isn’t that discerning (don’t like Hershey’s, though), but East German chocolate was something even I skipped and threw away after the visit of the nice old aunt from the East was over.
    So it’d be interesting to know how you’d get something nice from the machines of chocolate dread.

  10. Here in the Netherlands we have http://www.chocolonely.com/ for fair trade. The owner and founder of this company tried to have a lawsuit against himself for breaking the law of knowingly support slavery by eating chocolate.

    In his television program he showed it is impossible to know for sure that chocolate is 100% slave-free.

  11. Teapunk: I don’t know much about the history of the old factory in Wernigerode (just a few miles away from where I live right now), but maybe it’s post-GDR equipment?

    I agree that East German chocolate might have tasted awful (there is some retro-chocolate today that I tested once), but maybe it was because of lack of resources, not because of equipment? (I’m just speculating, I was born only four years before the Wall went down, so my GDR-experiences are limited to things I could put into my mouth, chocolate not being one of them (I wonder why).

  12. I’ve been born twenty years before the wall came down, so I remember it well.
    Certainly lack of resources paid a big part in the overall badness of GDR chocolate, but I keep wondering if it’s only that or if the method and the making had something wrong, too. Every chocolatier will tell you the secret is in the stirring of the conche and cocoa butter tends to curdle? clod? congest? if this isn’t done right. GDR chocolate tasted of old dust and straw and nothing nice.
    I wouldn’t wonder why you’ve never eaten this stuff, small kids are plenty smart when it comes to eating.

  13. I stopped by Pier 17 last night and picked up my bar of Tcho, and rushed it home for a tasting.

    I can say that if this is the beta version of the bar, and it’s going to be tweaked based on user feedback, Tcho’s off to a respectable start.

    And it’s a rare startup that actually pulls in revenue during their beta phase, so good for them!

  14. Mr. Rossetto,

    Is Tcho (i.e., are you) concerned about child labor in cacao production, or just child slavery?

    If you are concerned about child labor, then how do you address consumers’ reasonable concerns about the practice in cacao production in Ghana (whose cacao-producing regions in the western part of the country border cacao-producing regions in southeast Ivory Coast)? See this peer-reviewed journal article, for the latest information. And see the muted, but still troubling, report by the official Ghana Statistical Service. And then the 2002 IITA study.

    There may be more child trafficking and slavery (i.e., forced labor without pay) in Ivory Coast than in Ghana. But, according to every study out there, child labor is common enough (and hazardous enough) in cacao production in Ghana to be of concern to the government of Ghana, the US Agency for International Development, the US Department of Labor, the International Labour Organization, the International Cocoa Organization, ethical chocolate manufacturers, and educated consumers.

    So, Mr. Rossetto, are you aware of the problem of child labor in cacao production in Ghana? If so, are you at all troubled by it? And, if so, what assurances can you give your customers that their chocolate wasn’t obtained from plantations where children clear land, spread pesticides, crack open pods with machetes, and so on?


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