Have you ever wondered what it would be like to tour a real chocolate factory? I did! Perhaps I envisioned something like the ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ movie minus the orange-faced Oompa-Loompas and musical reprieves. Well, touring Chuao Chocolatier isn’t quite like that, but it is still the stuff of chocolate dreams!
I only recently learned there was a chocolate factory in Carlsbad, California (not far from San Diego). After being spoiled by European chocolate, I was delighted to discover a real Paris-trained chocolatier so close to home. Taking a tour to see how Chuao chocolate is made sounded fun – perhaps a little like winning Wonka’s Golden Ticket!
What is taking a Chuao Chocolatier tour like?
Intro to the tour
I think nearly everyone loves chocolate, so there is no typical person who takes a Chuao tour. I was glad my husband could take a long lunch break and accompany me (it makes a great date, actually!) There were about twenty people in our 11:00 am tour — more women than men, probably because of the time of day. We had a few minutes to enjoy the gift store until our tour guide, Laura, called us into a private room. We took seats wherever we wanted at long white tables.
Each seat had several items arranged neatly: a plate with a napkin, a water glass, a confidentiality agreement & survey, a pen – and a hairnet. Carafes filled with ice water were set on the tables. We were asked to fill out our agreements (acknowledging we couldn’t share any trade secrets we might learn while on the tour). Laura stood at the front of the room, next to a large screen. She proceeded to tell us all about Chuao, while also referring to different slides on the screen.
Where did the inspiration for Chuao come from?
The name, Chuao, comes from the legendary cacao-producing region of Venezuela and is a nod to the Venezuelan family heritage of Master Chef Michael Antonorsi and his brother, Richard. Michael actually attended college in San Diego and started a successful tech company. But after a time, he wanted something different out of life and moved his family to Paris so he could train to become a chocolatier.
Chuao is pronounced like Chew – Wow. Chef Michael’s vision is that chocolate should be more than just one flavor (or ‘note’). His specialty is in combining several flavors to create one-of-a-kind chocolate experiences. In fact, this is the part that was very much like ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ because Chef Michael likes to create a ‘meal in a bar’, like Wonka’s Three-Course Dinner Chewing Gum (except that Chef Michael’s creations do not cause one to become a swollen blueberry!). The company motto of ‘Sharing Joy’ can be found throughout, on labels, on apparel sold in the store, and at the entrance of Chuao Chocolatier. Even their hashtag is #CraftedWithJoy.
Sampling Chuao chocolate
I apologize in advance now because this may make you hungry! Laura passed plates of chocolate to each table, let us each take one, and then she would give us the details while we tasted and savored each bite. She also pointed out that each square of chocolate has a word printed on it. A fun word, like “joy”, “smile, “savor”, “crave” or “tingle”!
Our first sample was of the Potato Chip bar. Made with milk chocolate, sea salt, and ground up potato chips, it was a wonderful combination of sweet and crunchy with just a hint of salty. I wouldn’t have expected to like potato chips mixed with chocolate, but I did.
Sample number two was one of my favorites: the Firecracker Bar! This dark chocolate bar included smoked sea salt, chipotle caramel, and popping candy (you know, like the “Pop Rocks” we used to eat as kids). The chipotle caramel was just enough to add a little heat, but it was the perfect compliment to the chocolate and sea salt. The popping candy just turned it all into a celebration!
The next chocolate we sampled was called “Sprinkle Dreams”. The inspiration for this bar is the tip of the old-fashioned “Drumstick” ice cream cone with chocolate in the tip of the cone. It includes pieces of waffle cone, hazelnuts, rainbow sprinkles, and milk chocolate. I would expect this to be a favorite of the kids!
Going Into the Chuao Factory
After sampling the chocolates, we left all of our personal items (purses, phones, cameras, and even jewelry) at our seats, donned our fashionable hairnets and lined up outside the factory door. I sure wish I could have taken my camera and videotaped everything because it was so interesting. I will describe it the best I can, but it won’t be the same as being there.
We all washed our hands, and if we didn’t want to take off wedding rings, we were asked to put on a glove. Many precautions like this — and wearing the hairnets — are in place to keep everything sanitary.
One of the best parts!
The first thing you notice as soon as you enter the factory is the aroma of chocolate. It is powerful and delicious, but not overpowering. You don’t want it to go away, and it will definitely make you want to eat chocolate.
A chef was measuring real butter for caramel, and you could smell the rich caramel he was mixing in a large bowl. Golden drips of caramel had crystalized on the outside of the bowl, and it looked like jeweled earrings.
A conveyor belt a few yards away was full of chocolate molds being filled with chocolate as they lined up with the nozzles. Employees picked up the molds, stacked them on large rolling shelves and took them to another room.
At about this time, Laura brought us a bowl of crushed honeycomb to taste — not a real honeycomb created by bees, but Chuao’s honeycomb concoction that is crushed and then combined with dark chocolate to create their Honeycomb Bar. It was incredibly sweet and crunchy. I could see how this would be a great pair-up with the dark chocolate.
As I stood there with my sweet honeycomb, I looked up and saw pipes pouring chocolate into a large vat. Another “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” moment!. I was reminded of the chocolate river and the giant suction tubes that sucked up Augustus Gloop, but these pipes weren’t that large at all.
We watched people create truffles, and we watched the automated machinery that wraps and seals the chocolate bars in colorful foil wrappers. Truly fascinating. And very fast! Another employee’s job was to watch all the candy bars after being wrapped, to be sure they were all just right.
More samples — this time it was the chocolate disks used as the base for Chuao’s chocolate bars and truffles. I noticed the brand-name, and it made me smile. That’s one of the things I promised not to reveal. But I can share how rich and dreamy it is! All of the chocolate used by Chuao comes from fair trade sources: South America, South Africa, and Hawaii.
More secrets included unique machinery designed specifically for Chuao’s chocolate-making processes. I think my husband especially enjoyed this because he is an engineer.
After the factory portion of the tour
Laura led us all back into the room where we started our tour. I was pleasantly surprised to learn my chocolate experience was not yet over. Two more trays of chocolates were passed around for us to sample. We also filled out our surveys.
First, the Firecracker Truffle, which was similar to the Firecracker Bar, but had chocolate ganoche infused with the chipotle caramel…
And then my absolute favorite: the Sweet Passion chocolate bonbon, a sweet and fruity mix of passion fruit, chocolate, and caramel. This made my mouth water, it was so good!
So much to learn on this tour
We were encouraged to ask questions, too. Someone asked if Chef Michael needs any chocolate testers, (that’s a good question!), but we learned he does not. Sometimes he uses staff to test his new creations, but he usually does his own testing and tasting.
Laura explained that the shelf life for a chocolate bar is much longer (10-13 months) than for bonbons and truffles (3-4 weeks). The difference is due to dairy products in the bonbons and truffles.
We also learned that Chuao Chocolatier is truly a family business. Even Michael’s wife, Isabella, helps design the gardens and the appearance of the factory.
Chef Michael likes to use whole ingredients in his chocolate. If you buy the S’More Chocolate bar, for example, there will be whole marshmallows in it. The Triple Nut Bar is the heaviest bar Chuao makes because the nuts are whole nuts, not chopped ones. It’s also the most expensive chocolate bar because it requires more chocolate to cover the nuts!
Crazy to think it all got started in a small chocolate boutique store in Carlsbad in 2002. Everything that Chuao makes and sells comes from this factory now. The volume of bars it produces is amazing, but that’s kind of another secret!
As we said our good-byes and thank yous to Laura, she gave each of us a full-size chocolate Honeycomb bar to take home! I have to admit, I didn’t make it through the day without devouring that bar.
My at-home chocolate-tasting experience
I took that Honeycomb Bar home with the best intentions. I really was going to wait to enjoy it on another day. But the chocolate was calling out to me, and I couldn’t resist. So I created my own chocolate savoring experience. I first enjoyed the sweet aroma, then I carefully broke it apart, one square at a time. I even tried to make it look pretty and took photos!
I thoroughly enjoyed the Honeycomb bar, and I definitely plan to buy more Chuao. (Hey, if you go to their website and sign up for their email newsletters, you get a 10% off coupon). I want to introduce my kids and grandchildren to the Firecracker bar (maybe for stocking stuffers?), and I still need to try the S’more bar for myself. There are so many wonderful flavors waiting to be savored, like Baconluxious Chocolate, Ravishing Rocky Road, Caramel Apple Crush, and Cinnamon Cereal Smooch!
More about Chuao Chocolatier events
Besides the tours, Chuao also holds some special events, including a Truffle Rolling experience where you get to learn how to hand-roll your own truffles. On Halloween day, you can join Chuao for a Spooktacular event, especially designed for children ages 4-10, with trick-or-treating in costume and making chocolate bark. You can even use Chuao Chocolatier to host your own private parties, like bridal showers or corporate events. How can you go wrong when chocolate is part of the experience?
I know it probably sounds like I’m a paid Chuao marketing agent, but I’m not! My husband and I paid for our own tour and enjoyed it so much, we just had to share it with you. The 1 1/2 hour tour is more than worth the price, especially when you consider the amount of samples, the free chocolate bar, and the experience itself. Taking a tour of Chuao Chocolatier is now high on my list of recommended things to do in San Diego County.
What you need to know to take a Chuao Chocolatier tour:
- There are currently four tours a week: Wednesdays at 3:30 pm & 5:00 pm and Fridays at 11:00 am & 12:30 pm. Tours are $15 per person and include samples and a full-size bar. You won’t go home hungry! Book a Joy Factory Tour here.
- Reservations are highly recommended, since the tours are very popular and usually sold out ahead of time.
- Arrive about 10 minutes early. While there is plenty of parking, it is a large parking lot, and you may find yourself walking from the back end of the building to the front entrance.
- You must wear flat, closed-toe shoes and will not be allowed on the tour if you are wearing inappropriate shoes.
- Adults and children at least 10 years of age are welcome. Chuao is creating a younger children’s interactive chocolate experience, so look for future announcements on their tour website.
- No cameras, cell phones, or jewelry are allowed inside the factory. You can have them with you during the introduction to the tour, and you can leave them at your seat where they will be secure in a locked room until you return from the factory.
Hope you get to enjoy a Chuao Chocolatier Joy Factory Tour!
(If you like chocolate as much as I do, you might also enjoy reading Paris Chocolate Walk, my guided walk to chocolatiers in the St. Germain neighborhood of Paris!)