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It took me a whole week to find the time to get to this blog and I'm still waiting for Tom to email me the pictures (he's in Indonesia again) but our tour of Tcho last week was so special that I want to share it.John Kehoe is Tcho's sourcing director. He and Tom met about 5 years at a Fair Trade conference, and in the year and a half that he's been with Tcho, we've been meaning to go up and visit him. Last Saturday, after a long day of handing out samples at a trade show for green builders, we joined John for a late afternoon tour of the amazing facilities at Tcho.The name Tcho is a combination of "tech" and "chocolate" and that's what exactly what Tcho is. From the elegant computeresque design of the packaging to the marvelously creative lab to the slick factory, Tcho is about combining the best of technology with the best of chocolate. Their bars are even shaped like small CDs and come in a case.John's job is to travel around the world connecting with growers and working with them, setting up and using mini-labs that include all the equipment needed to assess growing conditions, test beans, and make chocolate, in order to have not only the best possible beans, but also to create balanced, respectful relationships with the growers. It's direct trade at its best.Tcho is on Pier 17 on the Embarcadero in San Francisco. There are plans for a much bigger retail area, but right now, there's a tiny shop at the front, off to the side of the main building. When we arrived at 4 PM, it was packed. John got me a great cup of mocha and Tom an espresso. We'd been by before to taste - they run taste tests based on their four basic tastes (and bars), nutty, fruity, citrus and chocolatey, all the time - so this time John took us back through the office to the lab, and how cool was that!Beans are processed, cut into microscopic slivers and sorted by different criteria. Elaborate databases store, and compare and contrast the data in different ways. Amazingly, the cacao farmers John visits in the remotest regions have access to the same database via satellite. Their labs are mini-versions of the one at Tcho.But it's too nice a day to finish this story now. I guess I'll have to tell it in parts - and maybe Tom's pictures will show up by the next time I have a minute to sit down.
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Last days before opening


By Eve, 2009-07-05
The sign painter was still working on the windows at 8 last night. I guess he didn't go to the fireworks either. Tom and I were making lists.

The soft opening date is now Wednesday. The city signed off Thursday afternoon, thank goodness. We started moving the packaging and shipping materials in Friday, the day the storage shelves were installed. More stock will be moved and organized today and tomorrow.We were lucky with the Cadillac - the horrible noise it was making when the fan ran was caused by some trapped leaves. It cools perfectly. The A/C man just finished up Saturday morning, so even if the Cadillac had needed more work, the chocolate would have been cool enough. It's a relief that the case is running quietly though!Our son-in-law took plenty of footage to make a good short film about the factory that we'll run in a loop on the TV. In the meantime, Tom set up a slide show of shots of his trips to Africa. We'll alternate that with the film when Martin finishes editing it. We're running the video off a MacMini tucked away in a cabinet. I spent too much time trying to choose a sound system - and finally decided to take my iPod dock in for the time being. I won't be home much anyway.Even our grandsons are helping.

Tom, meanwhile, is still perfecting the fudge, and Luis and Josefina are working full-speed on the regular stock. Hundreds of people are coming to the party on Saturday night, and we're offering a free chocolate to every Splash customer, so we'll need plenty.It's been a long haul - we are so fortunate that the whole family is pitching in. Here we are having pizza at the shop Friday night.

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We're still hoping for a soft opening on July 6 - that's very soon! And the invitations for the Grand Opening, July 11, are going out Friday. No turning back now.Here's what's been going on lately.
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Progress


By Eve, 2009-06-19
Here's Frank Zika installing the door today:

And here's some of the furniture stacked up in the shop - and out of our house at last!

And I am here endlessly typing up little signs.The press release seems to be working - and so does Twitter.So far so good.
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Trying tweets


By Eve, 2009-06-17
slochocolateI'm finding lots of interesting twitter to follow, but what's the trick to getting followers?
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Press release


By Eve, 2009-06-16
This press release took me all day to write, but in the late afternoon it went out to over 60 local media outlets. I got two responses right off: an automated response from a reporter who's in Morocco for a month (sounds nice!) and a call from another who wondered if we might hire her nephew. I think we'll get some buzz out of it though.Press release:

June 16, 2009FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEContacts: Tom Neuhaus tom@sweetearthchocolates.comJoanne Currie joanne@sweetearthchocolates.comEve Neuhaus eveneuhaus@gmail.comSweet Earth Chocolate Shop Grand Opening July 11Sweet Earth Organic Chocolates announces the Grand Opening of its first retail shop on July 11, 2009, 11 AM, at 1445 Monterey Street, San Luis Obispo, four doors down from its present home above Splash Caf-Artisan Bakery. The shop will carry an expanded assortment of their award-winning organic, fair trade chocolates as well as chocolate memorabilia, art, and cocoa-butter-based body-care products.Chocophiles of every taste will find something to love in Sweet Earths broad range of delicacies from the deepest of rich, aromatic dark chocolates paired with complex and exotic flavors (try the cinnamon ancho Aztec Truffle or the pineapple coconut Pia Colada), to the playful array of chocolates on sticks. New items also include creamy chocolate and peanut butter fudge, classic cherry cordials, and a line of vegan truffles.Visitors enter the shop through a magical glass door created by San Luis Obispo artist Frank Zika set into a fanciful jungle of painted cacao vines. Inside, beautifully displayed chocolate is offset by bright hand-painted furniture and an eclectic assortment of books, china, tins and tools, all related to chocolate, from a 1943 ad (U.S. Troops Fight on Chocolate Diet) to a two-faced Peruvian drinking vessel. On the walls, continent-shaped collages display photos of chocolate production around the world.As always, profits from sales directly benefit cacao farmers in Ghana and Cote DIvoire through Project Hope and Fairness; and, as always, Sweet Earth Chocolates are made from carefully selected beans grown in Fair Trade certified co-ops in Peru and Dominican Republic and are certified organic by CCOF. Sweet Earth is a local, artisan business and its chocolates will continue to be produced by hand on the second floor of Splash Caf. Tours are available.Tom Neuhaus, chocolatier and founder, learned his craft in Switzerland and from Jacques Torres at Cornells Hotel School. A professor in the Food Science and Nutrition Department at Cal Poly, Neuhaus also runs the student enterprise project, Cal Poly Chocolates. He travels to Africa regularly to work directly with the people of the cacoa-growing villages Project Hope and Fairness sponsors.Contact numbers: Sweet Earth Chocolates (805) 782-9868Joanne Currie (805) 544-7759Tom Neuhaus (805) 441-6727Eve Neuhaus (805) 441- 6739
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Last weeks at home


By Eve, 2009-06-15

Lately I've been spending a good portion of my time accumulating an eclectic assortment of chocolate things for the shop. Most of the stock is here now, and I've stopped looking for more for the time being.

Yesterday I ordered some postcards of old chocolate ads, framed three gorgeous chocolate trading cards

and an ad from a 1943 Life Magazine ("U.S. Troops Fight on Chocolate Diet"), and I cleaned the Godiva truffle trays that go in our big case. We call that case the Cadillac because that's what it is, an old one but a Cadillac nonetheless: sleek, curved glass and mirrors, gold trim. It's from St. Augustine, Florida. The other case is the Chrysler. In its previous incarnation it was a bakery case in a diner in North Hollywood. It has fins.The new floors in the shop look great and the carpenter is working on the cabinets.We're planning to open July 6!
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Trying out the new door


By Eve, 2009-06-04
Frank brought the new door over today so we could see it in place and choose between several inserts. He does amazing work!

We chose this pattern but in a light azure blue. This is California, after all.

While he packed up, I took a picture of the interior paint. One wall is a rich (what else?) chocolate brown.

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