The Best Chocolate Is in Seattle

During my visit to Seattle last year, a group of us were enjoying the last of our wine at The Incredible Feast, an al fresco grazing fest that raises money and awareness for Washington state family farms. Kate, who had just played a round of darts, was very excited with her winnings, a few bars of a locally produced chocolate called 3400 Phinney. We peeled away the wrappers, and as we nibbled, we all agreed that yeah, this is good chocolate, very good. But little did I know just over a year ago that good was just the beginning for Joseph Whinney, whose young Theo Chocolate company is now on the cusp of greatness.

One afternoon last week, while my pal Leslie and I were strolling through Fremont, a neighborhood chockfull of funky boutiques and coffee shops, she points out the Theo headquarters, a combination cocoa bean roastery, chocolate factory and retail shop/tasting room that has been in operation for less than two years.

We walk in, and immediately I understand this is no ordinary chocolate shop. It's not just the heady aromas or the gorgeous display of artisan enrobed confections with flavors that include rose caramel, pearl jasmine or thyme; it's the way they do business.

Theo is the only fair trade and organic roaster of cocoa beans in the country (it was the first to do fair trade), which means direct relationships with growers in cocoa-rich countries such as Ghana and the Ivory Coast.

In addition to those truffles and the 3400 Phinney line that I tried last year (which includes the intriguing combination of bread crumbs, salt and dark chocolate), Theo is making three-ounce bars of single-origin chocolate from Ghana, Ivory Coast and Madagascar.

The last time I had such a pure chocolate experience I was in Grenada visiting the Grenada Chocolate Company, a small operation that uses organic, locally grown cocoa beans for its four-ounce 60 and 71 percent cocoa bars.

It is heartening to learn of a comparable stateside counterpart doing great chocolate and good business. I packed a bunch in my suitcase to prolong my new chocolate high, but discovered after returning home that my neighborhood Whole Foods is carrying one of the three-ounce Origin Bars. I'm telling you, Theo is the bomb diggety of choc; hopefully, it will avoid the fate of other smaller independent chocolate companies such as Dagoba Organic and Scharffen Berger that have been gobbled up by Hershey's.

In the meantime, when in Seattle, go visit Theo, which offers daily factory tours. Samples, from what I'm told, are numerous.

By Kim ODonnel |  September 5, 2007; 11:21 AM ET Chocolate , Travel
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You really need to go to the next Chocolate Show in NYC. It's for the trade and consumers. They've got an exhibition room where all these chocolate vendors have booths and hawk their wares. You get to taste lots of single origin chocolates of varying levels chocolate (50%, 70%, etc.) Some of the exhibitors are from overseas. We went a couple of years ago and are thinking of going back this year. It's in November.

Bring lots of cash to make purchases - most of them don't take plastic.

I can't say whether Theo's chocolate is the best but I know I've had some really chocolate over the years. (Leonides is a favorite - they use Callebaut chocolate.)

Posted by: Bethesda | September 5, 2007 12:43 PM

OH! I cannot wait to visit this place next week! I may have to bring an extra suitcase to lug back all that I plan to purchase. Thanks so much for the tip!

Posted by: Seattle Visitor from yesterday's chat | September 5, 2007 12:50 PM

There is a small chain of stores in this country called Ten Thousand Villages. All of the products that they care are fair trade including chocolate and coffee. They also have beautiful collections of linens, toys, baskets etc made by artisans in other countries. I encourage you to visit a store.

Posted by: rmh | September 5, 2007 9:34 PM

I used to work for Astor Chocolate. They supply mainly hotels and resorts with custom-packaged chocolates. They make wonderful chocolates in a huge range of flavors and fillings. They use Belgian chocolate and all their products are formulated by their in-house French chef.

Posted by: Yael | September 5, 2007 11:11 PM

Hi Kim,

Great piece! However, your article's link to the Grenada Chocolate Company is not active. Please redo. The correct link is:

I encourage everyone to visit Grenada and enjoy this pristine chocolate experience. There are wonderful people in the chocolate village of Hermitage, Grenada. I grew up within a half mile of this dark-chocolate, Caribbean experience. Thanks.

Posted by: Raymond Viechweg | September 6, 2007 6:54 PM

Raymond, thank you so much for your Grenadian greetings and for alerting me to the link bloop. It's all fixed now. And yes, I agree, Hermitage is a lovely village and the ride getting there is heavenly. Lots of banana trees and dreamy greenery. Cheers.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | September 6, 2007 6:58 PM

I have to share on the topic of chocolate. I recently discovered the most addictive chocolate- "Cacao Nibbles". It's dark chocolate with fruit and quinoa and cacao 'nibs'. It's available at Whole Foods, Roots, and MOM's, as well as at I realize I probably sound like their PR rep, but I'm not. It's just so amazingly good that I want to share the word and make sure it stays in stock!!

Posted by: Chocoholic | September 6, 2007 10:28 PM

Any ideas for where to stay during the Chocolate Show in New York? I'd want to keep it under $200 for sure, under $150 if possible. I don't mind taking the subway back and forth to the show, as long as the hotel isn't a long walk to/from the subway.

Posted by: chocolate lover | September 7, 2007 8:31 AM

As for the hotel question, the place we stayed is the Hotel QT. Very quirky but very nice and it was brand new 2 years ago. The price was 170-200 a night and that includes breakfast. The problem is getting a reservation. You generally need to book way in advance because it's in the middle of the theater district.

Good luck!

Posted by: Bethesda | September 7, 2007 12:00 PM

The best chocolate is in Seattle?
You must have a very small world view.

Posted by: JUSTTHEFACTS | September 20, 2007 10:54 AM

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