Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Touring while Local: Tour de Chocolate with the Chocolate Box

The Northwest has gone through a boom in all things sugar related: Cupcakes, ice cream, macarons, and, yes, chocolate. In one of my previous posts, I called out Indi Chocolate as a great new addition to the Pike Place Market, but just outside of the market itself is another haven for chocolate: The Chocolate Box.

In addition to being a shop featuring Northwest chocolates (and wine), the Chocolate Box also offers tours featuring the favorite confection. In my case, I went on the Tour de Chocolate, one of their most popular options. It features a hands on (literally) chocolate making course, drinking chocolate, a "Cocoa 101" short course on the origins of chocolate, and a chauffeured trip and tour of the Theo Chocolate factory in Fremont (complete with lots of samples). It was two and a half hours of guided chocolate tasting, viewing, and making all starting from a convenient location next to the Market. For visitors tight on time and with love of chocolate, this is a good way to taste some of the local chocolates and visit Theo chocolate without the hassle of a bus or renting a car.

The tour starts out at the shop where the owner, the knowledgeable and passionate Michel Brotman (seen above with his wife and fellow chocolate lover, Valerie), provides everyone with a taste of drinking chocolate and leads a 15-20 minute discussion on chocolate and the origins of chocolate, the cocoa plant. You'll get a feel of the process of making chocolate from fruit to bean before heading off to see one of Seattle's best known chocolate factories.

If you have never heard of Theo Chocolate... they're good. Really good. This part of the tour is similar to the regular factory tour offered by Theo, but does give a behind the scenes look at a gourmet, fair trade, bean-to-bar production line. Led by the experts from Theo, you work your way through all of the different stages of making their chocolate bars until you get to... the gift shop, which features samples of everything. My personal favorites are fig, fennel, and almond and vanilla nib (which may be limited time). For the more adventurous, there is also coconut curry and spicy chili chocolate! I haven't seen a curry chocolate bar anywhere else, so this is a must try (although maybe not a must buy).

Once the tour is over, we head back to the Chocolate Box for the hands-on part of the tour. Every tour ends with you going home with a bar of chocolate, but the twist is that you make your own. There are tons of toppings to choose from to come up with your own style of chocolate bar. You also get to temper your own chocolate by hand, resulting in a tour full of messy hands. Then again, everyone secretly wants to do this, right? How often are you encouraged to get your hands covered in chocolate and then not to waste any of the chocolate?

Overall, the tour is great fun for a chocolate lover and a very convenient way to see Theo Chocolate. For visitors who don't want to deal with the hassle of a car or the bus, getting to Fremont can be a bit of a detour but the transfer included with the tour can make that an easy and enjoyable side trip. In particular, the hands on activities are great for couples and kids (On our tour we had an aspiring chef who looked to be about 10 who was very interested in the whole process).

If you keep an eye out for deals and have a little luck, you can also score a deal on a tour with the Chocolate Box. Deals have been known to pop up online and most recently, the chocolate and wine tour was featured as a killer deal on (which is a website offering deals on dates for couples). Alternatively, you can book a private tour for $299 for up to 10 people, giving you half off per person if you fill it up.

That's it for now! You can find out more about the Chocolate Box and the tours they offer on their website here.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Touring while Local: Savor Seattle's Pike Place Market Tour

The Pike Place Market is one of my favorite places in Seattle. It has that particular quality of place that brings it to life and offers a place where different worlds meet. As a visitor, you might be there to see it as a sight, while as a local you might be there for ingredients for dinner or the well known $10 bouquets. The ability of the market to be at once an authentic local destination and a feast for the senses for the visitor to get lost in is what makes the Market so wonderful.

Of course, if you don't live here the Market is a lot to take in: Three levels, lots of hidden nooks, hundreds of things to try, and plenty to explore. That can be overwhelming. On top of that, it would take multiple trips to the market to try the best of the best and weed out the places you don't like as much. It is work. Fun work, but work nonetheless. That's where Savor Seattle steps in: Their two hour tour of the market is well researched, includes a blend of history, sometimes cheesy jokes, and a selection of some of the places that I would pick out myself to show visitors. 

Oh, and one lucky person gets to catch a fish that is thrown at them by professional fish throwers (That guy with the fish flying towards him in the picture below was on the tour, not one of the fish guys).

The tour incorporates some of the best spots and gives you a bite of each: A donut or two at the Daily Dozen; A mini-cup of clam chowder and seafood bisque at Pike Place Chowder; A crabcakelette from Tom Douglas' Etta's; Piroshky from Piroshky Piroshky (and more). These are all great places to try and what is on their list is likely on yours (or will be once you start looking into it). You won't walk away hungry.

On top of the selection and the great personalities of the guides, there is one other big reason to consider the tour: Being part of Savor Seattle means that you skip the lines. Instead of waiting for a half hour in line to get a cup of chowder, it comes out to you. Piroshky Piroshky is also well known for having huge lines which are completely negated by the tour. The tour moves at a good clip and is a very efficient use of time. Less time in lines means more time exploring. One thing to note is that the morning and afternoon tours have one minor change in the schedule: Instead of Chukar Cherries and Piroshky Piroshky (which is on the morning tour), the afternoon tour visits BB Ranch for a little charcuterie and then to Pear for a taste of one of their sandwiches. 

If you look on TripAdvisor and Yelp, you'll see that these guys have a near perfect rating. Those types of scores just don't happen (especially when there are thousands of reviews). In this case, they deserve it for making some of the best of the Market accessible for visitors and the touring local alike. More information on Savor Seattle can be found on their website:

After the break, more photos from the tour and from the Pike Place Market!

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Touring while Local: The Seattle Tour Series

The Seattle that I see is usually quite different from what a visitor sees while staying in Seattle. As a local, I have a deep rooted knowledge of the area and it is usually only when a friend from out of town is visiting that I get the opportunity to experience a local tour. It's the paradox of being a local: When there is always the possibility of seeing one of the local attractions, then you tend to put it off until another day. As a result, sometimes visitors see things in your own city that you haven't seen or that you haven't done in awhile.

Of course, there are things that I do regularly here. I love the Pike Place Market. I visit at least once or twice a month and this year nearly all of my Christmas presents came from there. Riding the ferry to Bainbridge Island has an importance to me that goes beyond just the ride. Viewing the cherry trees in bloom on the quad is an annual tradition. These are all some of the things that make me love Seattle and living here. However, recently I have decided to take a look at some of our local tours and to see Seattle as others see it. So, for the next month or so, I will be touring while local.

We will take a look at Savor Seattle's Pike Place Market Tour, The Chocolate Box's Tour de Chocolate, and Argosy Cruise's Locks Tour (to start). Join me as we take a look around town through tours!