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TCHO New American Chocolate
NEW AMERICAN CHOCOLATE

A visit to the Mast Brothers in Brooklyn

After the Fancy Food Show, Jane and I went to Williamsburg to visit the Mast Brothers in Brooklyn. To get there, you take the L train that runs across lower Manhattan. Bedford Avenue is the first stop on the other side of the East River. A quick trip; great for all the artists and crafts people who live there, and the geeks agawking, like us, who want to visit them.

As one observer put it, with Manhattan officially dedicated to the super rich, Brooklyn has become the designated Art Borough.

Even the street markings for road work are artistic.

The nice thing about the art I saw in Brooklyn, as far as I’m concerned, is that you don’t need an essay by some art critic to understand what’s going on. This piece by Jonathan Schipper at The Boiler, for example, is composed of two Detroit muscle cars on a hydraulic sled that slow-motion crashed them together over the period of the installation—like the slow-mo wreck of the US auto industry.

Not that all the art in Williamsburg is so conceptual; this was on a roll up garage door of an industrial building:

And, for sure, not all of Williamsburg is art. Here’s the national pastime on an asphalt playground on a summer afternoon.

And I didn’t know it before, but Superman lives in Williamsburg too.

But you can’t escape the art. The Painted Word this ain’t—which is why I like it.

After that delightful stroll, we arrive at the Mast Brothers. Here’s the outside.

And here’s the inside. That’s Rick Mast on the left. And you’re looking at where the Mast Brothers make their chocolate, from bean to bar. About 1500 of those bars a week, plus some blocks for restaurants.

Rick is smart and has a bushy red beard he enjoys stroking, as well as a joyful laugh, which he deployed readily as we discussed our mutual, visceral fear of huge trade shows like the Fancy Food Show, which we attended and he didn’t.

Rick’s also laughing because he’s clearly reveling in this moment. Which is making pretty great chocolate as if he were doing a jazz improvisation. We did Beta releases, varying elements of the process and getting your feedback to come up with our final formulations. Rick seemingly doesn’t believe in final formulations. Every time he makes a batch of chocolate, he’s changing stuff. Changing the roast, the grind, the sugars. He obsesses on what he can change. Cure the liquor in old bourbon casks, even.

You gotta love what the Mast Brothers are doing. This is quick and nimble chocolate-making with an emphasis on playfulness. They make a batch of chocolate during the day, then invite friends over in the evening to sit around a big table and wrap the bars by hand, sharing a bottle of wine. They winnow beans right out on the sidewalk in front of their store.

They are keeping a lid on output, even though they have a waiting list, according to Rick, of 500 stores that want to carry them. Heck, they don’t even open their own store in the front part of the factory during the week, only on weekends. They are working hard, experimenting like crazy, own it all without bankers or investors breathing down their necks, and are having fun—and building a savvy myth based on passion, quality, non-marketing marketing, and the kind of scarcity that itself creates insatiable demand. Although Rick shyly admits to a dream: a bigger factory someday over in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Thanks, Rick, nice visiting with you. Come see us next time you’re out in SF.

After bidding Rick adieu, we repair to the beer hall a couple of doors down—where our waitress is a dancer from San Francisco who just returned from Slovenia—for a cold mug of Czech draft.

Nice place this Williamsburg.

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Momentum

Lots of things have been getting going lately.
Thanks to our esteemed factory team—who I cannot fathom how they are able to get the things done they have—we have a functioning factory now complete with our molding line. I tell you to go from shipping these little kraft packages filled with our beta chocolate, molded on our mini-molding line, to seeing molds cranking out of our full-sized molding line is amazing. Going from a production team comprised of Rick, Laurel, myself, and one or two others—Emi/Zohara/Rob/an intern or two depending on the day—to a team of ten or eleven dedicated production members…. crazy how a year can change things.

Lots of things going on.

February here in the Bay Area is “Strong Beer Month” —8% or higher I believe— this past Strong Beer Month, TCHO paired up with the local brewery 21st Amendment on one of their strong beers—21a’s “Ripple” aged with our “Citrus” nibs. Myself coming from a background working in the home winemaking/ home beer-making industry got extremely excited about the pairing. I essentially saw this an opportunity to connect two things I feel extremely passionate about: my new found love for amazing chocolate, and amazing beers. I’ve written about my recent experience at the NHC—National Homebrew Conference—but didn’t really delve into the entire experience. Wednesday I attended the Brewing Network’s “BNA4”, anniversary party at Linden St. Brewing—Linden St. was officially launching their flagship “The Urban People’s Common Lager.” The four or five hundred people –both local and from around the country— signaled the beginning of the conference. Thursday was Pro-Brewer’s Night, having somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,100 attendees. We paired up with Triple Rock Brewery (Berkeley, CA), who had aged their “Stonehenge Stout” with our Ecuadorian nibs. Needless to say the whole night went swimmingly; there was a steady stream of eager tasters—for both the beers and chocolates. Myself, I didn’t mind too much not getting the chance to fully experience all the beers—from the 52 different breweries—solely because of the amazing responses I got from people. I met people from all over the country, Alabama to Hawaii, many experiencing TCHO for the first time. I spoke with quite a few brewers about usage of nibs in beer, and informed a few of our Saturday session. Late-night hanging out with my friends from the Cellar crew—headed by “Tasty” McDole of Longshot fame, and Randy G. from MoreBeer!—dragged myself back home to get a couple hours to recoup.

Saturday, our Chocolate-Maker/ Mad Chocolate Scientist Timothy Childs, myself, and Roger Davis (head brewer from Triple Rock) spoke during one of the afternoon seminar sessions. Ours, aptly named “Chocolate and Beer”, was an amazing experience for me. Granted I’m not much of a public speaker, but I still really enjoyed connecting with interested homebrewers. I gave out some nib samples for people interested in making their own chocolate-infused beers—we even had so many people interested I ran out before everyone got a sample. The whole night was capped off by Sean Paxton’s amazing dinner where each course was paired with chocolate, and included a Rogue’s beer as an ingredient.

Perfect ending to a long four days, but a beginning to something else.

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Welcome to the modern world of high tech chocolate…at 32,000 feet.

So, we (Shelley and I) are in the air right now, flying from San Francisco to New York, to further TCHO’s “going big” at the Fancy Food Show.

At the same time, John and Ann, two of TCHO’s “Bean Team”, are down in the jungles of Peru setting up a TCHO FLavorLab, as well as participating in a ground-breaking ceremony of the new cutting-edge fermentaria that the BeanTeam co-designed and are helping to build. (John and Ann are furthering our TCHOSource efforts in Peru right now, which is a major step forward for TCHO and the farmers and suppliers with which we do business. This story alone warrants a number of blog entries from them when they get back).

While down there, John shipped a sample of beans from the latest batch for us to test through roasting and grinding into cocoa liquor (aka cocoa mass). We started the grind late last night and I molded it up early this morning for tasting and approval on the plane. (I seem to taste a lot of beans, liquor and chocolate during air travel.)

And as an important aside, we are flying Virgin America, a corporate role model for TCHO. It is their attitude, business philosophy and success which we aspire to emulate. Which is, if you’re going to do something, do it with style, passion and a touch of whimsy.

Mike Milliorn, our completely “with it” inflight host, (who happened to remember us from the inflight tasting we did with the Virgin crew on their inaugural SFO–>Boston flight a few months back), just offered me another absinthe, but custom stylized it his way, the “Mikey” way. (He, like everyone else I’ve had the pleasure to meet with this airline, is one of the many reasons I readily support Virgin’s world domination plan. (Here are some of Shelley’s photographs from the inaugural flight.)

So here’s where it all starts to fuse together.

Sipping absinthe, listening to super current mashup beats from the UK on Virgin’s Red inflight system, while looking out the window and appreciating the great clouds from 32K feet, I pull out my trusty MacBookPro to connect to a different type of cloud–the internet.

The ceremony in Peru is about to start. John and Ann really want to announce our findings of the current bean samples and hence, our commitment to move forward, during the big ceremony. The clock is ticking to get them our answer in time.

So at breakfast at the airport, I tried the new liquor and loved it. I noticed a few changes, though, that will need to be tweaked, but nevertheless, it’s great. I called John before boarding but he was, as I found out later, doing an hour long presentation to all the Peruvian big shots and couldn’t be interrupted.

Ok. So what now? Text isn’t sufficient to discuss the subtleties and variances in bean cut tests and sensory analysis. I remembered back to the inflight tasting we did on Virgin where we did an inflight video Skype call (now forbidden) between the plane and our team back at TCHO during the tasting.

So it was worth a shot to try to connect to John in the jungle from 32,000 feet over Utah via Skype Out. After a couple of attempts, bingo! Not only were we able to discuss the beans and approve moving forward, just in time, but we were able to get a quick update of the pioneering work John and Ann are doing in Peru. Go BeanTeam! Now here comes the very subtle but exciting realization that can only be happening in this modern time. From deep in the jungle, reading the day to day company email, John was able to feel the momentum building as the rest of the BeanTeam and TCHO gets ready for the Fancy Food Show. So I’m high in the sky on my way to help the TCHO team rock NYC, while John and Ann are rocking Peru, and we are CONNECTING about this from plane to jungle, in real time, wishing and encouraging each other’s luck and success. What an amazing time we live in.

What a great moment to participate in.

For TCHO, the internet, (and knowing how to harness it), is one of the main reasons we are able to move as fast as we are to make really great chocolate and build a really great company. Hopefully Louis can expound on our feelings of why the internet and this modern time is why TCHO can actually do what we do; which is being a San Francisco-based, disruptive newcomer, rocking the chocolate world, with our partners, in real-time across the globe.

It’s feeling really good to be part of TCHO in this stage of our history.

Next stop, New York.

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Keeping myself occupied…

So it’s been a bit since I’ve written much of anything outside of emails and texts, I figured it’s about time to get back into action.

So I’ve gone to some football games….

…Gone to an old friend’s wedding (congrats Lisa & Theo)

…Seen a milestone or two pass…

…But most recently…

Thanks to Joe Ruvel for his photo (www.beeratjoes.com).

This was the dessert from the NHC (National Homebrew Conference), made by Sean Paxton also known as “the Homebrew Chef”—homebrewchef.com—with a 50-50 blend of our “Nutty” and our 60.5% TCHOPro Blend also using Rouge Ales Hazelnut Porter I believe. He did an amazing job with all of the food; this was an incredible finale—I’ll make certain to get the recipe added to our repertoire. As a side note I highly recommend matching our “Citrus” with Rouge’s Imperial Chocolate Stout—Think liquid fudge brownie!

The entire conference was an amazing experience, with around 1,100 homebrewers, beer enthusiasts, and about 50 breweries. The whole thing started with the Brewing Network’s 4th anniversary party at Linden St. Brewing, and ended with the Awards Banquet—That’s where the dessert was— Needless to say after 4 days of beer-tastings, amazing food, and some great times I’m reinvigorated—and slightly delirious from lack of sleep—in my brewing efforts. I’m thinking an American Brown Ale in the works….More coming soon…

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No Boundaries

In the spirit of a world where boundaries have dramatically changed as a result of the internet:
“Stand by Me” performed by musicians around the world from SKATon Vimeo.
We may still have political boundaries artificially imposed by heads of state but the opportunities to understand and participate as a citizen of the world are exploding.

Recognizing that we all need and can help each other is the backbone of our TCHOSource program.

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TCHO: Mocha Powered

We here at TCHO have become quite the consumers of our TCHO Mocha. They are dee-lish and pack a little punch. For those who don’t know, the TCHO Mocha is a shot of espresso in TCHO drinking chocolate. MMMM drinking chocolate and espresso! :^)

In the afternoon you may see one or two of us milling around the TCHO Beta Store waiting for our little burst…

WARNING:  May be habit forming.

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From The Field

The past four weeks have been a thrill. TCHO has made it to the shelves of a retailer near you! Or, um, soon to be near(er) you. I’ve stood at cash register stands and sampled TCHO with a buyer who ooh-ed and ahh-ed amidst ringing up customers, I’ve stood in a busy buyer’s crammed office and pitched TCHO at an auctioneer’s speed, I’ve balanced 60g “Chocolatey” bars on a farmer’s box of heirloom tomatoes in the warehouse of a grocery store. The settings have been fabulously raw and the feedback equally honest with “Yes, we love the chocolate. Let’s write an order.” Certainly not all the time, for sure not all the time, not 100% of the time. Those times suck. But they are the minority, and I hope it continues that way.

Saturday, I was strolling down Chestnut Street and popped in to say hello to my friends at Sweet Dish. The TCHO looked fabulous displayed on it’s own little darling table. I enthusiastically complimented them on the display and was making my way toward the door when the wall behind the cash register caught my eye. This blackboard is huge and it’s in the center of the store! And it’s us!

Want TCHO in your world and live in SF, EBay, or SBay? Send your haunts my way – samantha (at) tcho (dot) com.

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Black and White

I recently got the bug to shoot some black and white film again. Back in the late 70’s I shot a lot of b&w film in SF and in fact right around North Beach and Telegraph Hill.

I like shooting with film. I spend more time thinking about light and composing shots. And of course you don’t see what you got until the film is processed so there is a delayed gratification but more than that there is a greater understanding you must have of the process and develop a sort of trust with it.

The best aspect of it for me though is how it responds to really low light. Long exposures don’t lead to horrible noise as it does with digital- well at least with my less expensive CCD camera. I have yet to try digital with a good CMOS sensor which I read can give better results.

People are giving film cameras away now a days and good cameras and lens’ too. I picked up a Canon A1 (list $625 in 1981 which is $1400 today) with 2 lenses and a strobe, all in good shape, for $25.

$25 more got me a 28mm Canon lens. Yippee.

Here are some of the first shots using TriX pulled 1 stop to 200 ASA.

I scanned them on an Epson V500 in 24bit color @800 dpi

My Studio:

At TCHO:

Pier 15 at night:

My daughter Ella:

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Be your own development bank!

We used to talk a lot about disintermediation back at the start of the digital revolution – getting rid of the layers of middlemen and make markets (and life, in general) less hierarchical and more efficient. It’s the reality of disintermediation that excites me about the possibility of each of us, as individuals, to directly change the world for the better instead of subcontracting that out to middlemen who always have their own agendas and rarely accomplish what they claim they’re going to.

My friend and co-conspirator Kevin Kelly (and a TCHO investor) points us in his Cool Tools site to Kiva, a way each of us can directly make a microloan to an individual entrepreneur in the developing world. Here’s how Kevin describes Kiva:

Microfinancing is among the better ways for the haves to help the have-nots. Small loans are made to poor but ambitious workers, who expand their livelihoods with the small loan and then pay it back. Which is then lent out again. . . . [So] why not use the peer-to-peer model to allow individuals with money to loan to specific individuals in need of a small loan? That’s what Kiva does and it works wonderfully.

Kiva enables you to make small $25 or above loans to an individual or small group of individuals in a developing country. They use these small loans (aggregated to about $200-$400) to finance a food stall, repair shop, hair salon, sewing machine, new cash crop, etc. When they pay it back to you in about 11 months, you can then re-lend it to another person of your choice.

The advantages of Kiva over the other worthy agencies are three fold. One, you can direct your loans to the kind of projects or livelihood you deem the most important or the most sympathetic. Maybe you are into food so you gravitate to funding small cafes or local fruit growers. Or maybe you think women’s sewing centers are a key. Secondly you have more direct contact with the borrowers. They have names, faces, stories. Not a few Kiva lenders have met up with folks they have lent to. Thirdly, while most microfiance agencies are thrifty, Kiva is particularly thin in administration thanks to the well-designed software platform that runs this service.

The payback rate for Kiva is about 97%. That’s a better “investment” than stocks this past year! The variety of folks you can lend to is exhilarating. The karma is good. These loans make a difference. Kiva lends $1 million dollars every 10 days. It is easy to do. A few folks are already on their third cycle of re-loaning the same money they first put up three years ago.

It’s a new millennium. Change the world, you can do it – without the middlemen.

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Give one get one

I met Nicholas Negroponte in 1988 when he was the head of the MIT Media Lab he founded and I was editing an obscure technology magazine called Electric Word. We met in Amsterdam, where the ever-peripatetic Professor agreed to an interview at the Hotel de l’Europe. We followed that up with another interview in Cambridge, and the result was an Electric Word cover story on his optimistic vision and unrelenting drive, and an enduring friendship.

That friendship was cemented by Nicholas agreeing to be the first investor in Jane Metcalfe and my Wired start up in 1992. This is how it happened: Jane and I had spent a year trying to raise money after we repatriated after Amsterdam, with a notable lack of success. We got rejected by publishers, investment bankers, VCs; the no’s were probably north of 300. We had been trying to talk to Nicholas, not because we thought he would invest—he was a university employee, after all—but because he might have some insights where we might find investors. He had, of course, almost singlehandedly raised the funding for the Media Lab and its $50M I.M. Pei building from corporations in the media and consumer electronics industries around the world.

But it was devilishly hard to actually talk to him, he was continually in motion, caroming around the planet giving lectures, meeting patrons, attending confabs, hanging out at the World Economic Forum. His travel schedule was the stuff of legend, one being that he traveled with nothing more than a brief case filled with a laptop, a modem, and extra batteries, with clean white shirts and underwear being Fedexed to him along his route.

But finally, Jane and I were able to connect with him at Ricky Wurman’s TED 3 in Monterey. By this time, a year out of Amsterdam and our savings accounts running on empty, Jane and I were pretty desperate. During a coffee break, the three of us sat in the empty, darkened auditorium while he methodically and silently flipped each and every page of the 120-page live text and art prototype we had laboriously constructed. At the end, he closed the book, paused a second, and then said simply, “I’m in; how much do you need?”

From that point on, Nicholas was our patron, muse, and indefatigable collaborator. He helped us raise investment money. He agreed to write the back page column giving us instant credibility, and accepted more stock in exchange for payment because we didn’t have cash. I thought he would do that at best for a year; he persisted beyond the five years I was editor-in-chief of Wired, until he had passed fifty columns. The first few years were collected in Being Digital, his worldwide bestseller on the Digital Revolution.

I’m reminded of the genesis of Jane and my friendship with Nicholas because we just met up with him at Michael Hawley’s Entertainment Gathering in Monterey in December. In many ways, EG is the successor to the original TEDs (Wurman was in attendance, telling the audience that the pupil Hawley and now become the master)—but that’s another story. This story is about Nicholas’s current incarnation.

Nicholas was there to report on the latest news about his One Laptop Per Child project. Since leaving the Media Lab, Nicholas has been pursuing his largest vision ever—to create laptops cheap and rugged enough to give one to every child on the planet, to connect them to education and each other, help lift the world out of poverty, and bring about universal peace. Nicholas was never the one to have small dreams or ambitions.

You may have heard about or even been following Nicholas recently, primarily through news stories about the attempt by Microsoft and Intel to kill his project. Since the OLPC is Open Source and cheap, it threatens Microsoft’s operating system and software monopolies, as well as Intel’s hardware hegemony (the processor is from AMD). Their reaction to OLPC has been vicious. Nicholas and his team would go to a country, talk to the president, prime minister, education ministers et al, conclude a deal to supply hundreds of thousands of XO laptops—only to have Microsoft and Intel execs sweep in behind him on their private jets to raise questions about the “lack of standards” (read it’s not Windows) of the OLPC. Deals vanished. The press smelled a juicy controversy. The story became not bringing education to the neediest around the world, but Nicholas’s struggles to overcome his Wintel antagonists.

What Nicholas reported this year at EG was that the OLPC concept was alive and well, even if the prospects for the ultimate commercial success of his project were less clear. What was clear was that his OLPC spec—a low powered, small laptop—was precisely what the market needed. The new Netbooks, introduced in the last year and spec’ed close to the OLPC—are going to form the majority of laptop sales in 2009, for example.

But that doesn’t mean that they are OLPCs. Conspicuously, they are not rugged, they are not mesh-network enabled, they have no programs to integrate them into a child’s education in a village without electricity. Meanwhile, Nicholas has delivered over 1 million OLPCs to dozens of countries around the world. That’s a million kids who had access to education and the Web who didn’t before.

Nicholas showed three videos. They’re pretty cool.

 

 

Then Nicholas showed us where he’d been recently: in Colombia, traveling on Colombia Army helicopter to deliver OLPCs to a village recently liberated from FARC narco-terrorists. And he related that in the next few weeks he was on his way to the West Bank and Afghanistan to also distribute OLPC laptops.

One theme I keep coming back to in my blog entries is taking direct responsibility for making positive change in the world. Electing politicians is not taking direct responsibility. Even signing a petition or marching in a protest is not direct action. Direct action is working directly with the people who need the help, working in concrete ways to make their lives better. We try to walk that walk with our TCHOSource program, to create win-win outcomes with the farmers in Peru we directly work with. But we are pikers compared to what Nicholas is doing.

President-elect Obama has made much of the need to replace military power with soft power—working to improve conditions so that the seeds of terrorism don’t take root. Nicholas points out that giving a laptop to every child in Afghanistan, along with the infrastructure to deliver internet access as well as teacher training would cost $1B, a fraction of the billions spent on military action in the country. Regardless of whether we approve of that military action, I think we can agree that helping to provide education to children in a country where 70 percent of girls don’t attend school is a good thing.

Meanwhile, we all have an opportunity to make a difference.

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