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TCHO New American Chocolate

Robert Steinberg—Friend, Mentor, Pioneer

Robert Steinberg at TCHO in July, two months before his passing.

Everyone making fine chocolate in the United States today, and a great many consumers that enjoy the great artisanal chocolates being made owe a debt of gratitude to Robert Steinberg, co-founder of Scharffen Berger Chocolate.  Robert passed away last month and yesterday was a memorial service in his honor.  I missed this service, busy as Robert often was, celebrating life.

Robert was unrelenting in his search for great cacao beans and while doing so never minced words and was passionate about getting it right.  I first came into contact with Robert and his co-founder, John Scharffenberger, in 1998 soon after Scharffen Berger Chocolate released their groundbreaking 70% bar which has been a standard bearer in our industry.  That bar rocked the chocolate and chocoholics world!  I treasure having met Robert back then when they were working out of a small industrial space in South San Francisco and to have worked together as their company grew.

As a broker of specialty cacao, Robert pushed me to understand that great chocolate can only be made from great cacao, seems obvious, but the lesson behind the lesson is that it is possible….  It is possible to find really great cacao by working directly and closely with your suppliers.  And it is possible to make really great chocolate, not just o.k. chocolate because that is what you could make out of the raw materials available or what lesser chocolates could afford.

Whenever you lose someone close, someone you respect, we always wish we had spent more time together.  TCHO had the privilege of having Robert over to our factory a few months ago. It was great to see Robert and hear of his continued commitment and adventures, working with an NGO and cacao farmers in Honduras starting from genetic selection to help regenerate the cacao industry in that country.

Having moved to San Francisco to join TCHO, I know I am following in Robert’s footsteps, helping to start a chocolate company and make great chocolate based on great cacao by supporting the farmers, cooperatives and exporters that make it possible.