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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.

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