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Sharffen Berger
Berkeley, California

In case you are wondering about the animal in that picture to the right, it is an Ibex, the company logo. Native to Eurasia, it lives in the rocky areas of the mountains, and is quite agile in navigating the rough terrain. It was supposedly chosen because its abilities were analogous to those needed to navigate the entreprenurial world of a start-up chocolate maker. Now it just looks cool on a bar. I chose that picture because I liked the way the flash glinted off his eye and brought it to life. (And, if you have not noticed the link borders, you can click on any of these pictures to go to a larger picture. Click on the back button, or hold down the Alt key and press the back arrow button, to return to this page.)

One of the great things about touring small factories is that you can still get up close to the equipment and the intensity of the experience. When you tour the Hershey Factory, the new parent of Scharffen Berger, you actually tour a mock up of the process. The actual factory is far away. (As a kid I got to tour a Hershey plant. I still remember staring through the window at conche machines filled with hundreds of gallons of liquid chocolate.) At Scharffen Berger you actually get to walk through the factory floor and peek at the insides of some of the machines. This makes for a great chocolate experience and some great photo opportunies as well.

If you are traveling with someone you can get your picture taken next to a 10 foot tall bean roaster. If you are really lucky it will be working and the whole place will smell of fresh roasted cocoa beans. Other great images were the 55 gallon bucket of cocoa beans. There is a small picture in the upper left corner of those. I also really liked seeing the mold injector up close. It is the picture at the top. Streams of molten tempered chocolate are injected into the bar molds, vibrated, and cooled. Some of their bars (Dark Chocolate Gianduja) are made elsewhere. It is easier for them to mold the bars and ship them that way, than it is to transport the molten chocolate. The chocolate is simply remelted at its destination.

Cafe Cacao

Another great thing about visiting Scharrfen Berger is the attached Cafe Cacao. A danger of any chocolate trip is eating too much chocolate. (Yeah, you can eat too much. The first twenty bites are fun, but the next fifty cause you to spend the rest of the day staggering around in a dizzy haze. Trust me!) You can visit Cafe Cacao before or after your tour (see below for factory and tour details) for a tasty lunch, and an even tastier dessert. Crucial to any chocolate adventure is being willing to sacrifice the chocolate mission in case anything more interesting comes along. In my case I found the oversized croissant with whipped cream and strawberries to be well worth a little detour. There are plenty of chocolate dessert options at the cafe, but I did not wind up with any good pictures of them. (My main course was a hearty, and very tasty bowl of Lentil soup and glass of milk.)

Factory Information

Tours: Visit the website to book your reservation in advance, or to take a virtual tour of the factory.
Tips: You can take pictures on the factory floor so bring your camera.
Favorites: Their regular bars (I like the 62%) can easily be found for less elsewhere (Whole Foods, for example), but their limited edition bars can only be found on the website and in the company stores. Pick up whichever tickles your fancy while you are there. (Current line: Jamaica L'Ancienne (nibs, very interesting flavor, great aroma), Kumasi Samburano (have not tasted enough), El Carmen (very good, but it took a while to grow on me)). They also had a line of individual chocolates, but none of them stand out in my memory. If you are truly exploring, like me, you have to try them, but try one on site before deciding to buy several to take home. Lastly be sure to visit the cafe and at least try something from the bakery.