A good description of Theo Chocolate's factory tour comes courtesy of James, a schoolchild whose thank-you note is framed in the Fremont chocolatier's lobby: "It

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Best Real-World Approximation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

A good description of Theo Chocolate's factory tour comes courtesy of James, a schoolchild whose thank-you note is framed in the Fremont chocolatier's lobby: "It was as fun as a bar is to drunk people!" James is not speaking metaphorically, for it's difficult not to abuse Theo's company policy about employees having to carry stimulant-rich chocolate on them at all times to hand out to strangers. The tour begins with a crash course in cacao harvesting, establishing Theo's place as the nation's only roaster of organic, fair-trade beans, and winds up in a vast kitchen populated by Jurassic-size machinery, where a guide explains the torturous process the beans go through to give you a buzz. They're sucked by vacuums, cracked between smashing metal plates, cooked in a 1930s German roaster as arcane as a chambered nautilus, and ground to particles slightly larger than red blood cells in a whirring "ball mill." Stainless-steel pipes pump chocolate along the ceiling; a drip from a lower pipe is caught by a bowl. The factory operates in what used to be the Redhook Brewery, and a view of the mysterious, spider-filled brewery pipe that snakes below Fremont is unfortunately not offered to the public. But fresh-made chocolate is, in flavors as curious as fig-fennel, thyme, scotch, and PB&J. (Tours are $5 and start at 1 and 3 p.m. weekdays, with an extra 11 a.m. tour on weekends.)—John Metcalfe 3400 Phinney Ave. N., 632-5100, www.theochocolate.com.

 
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