Green (Cacao) Beans: Theo Chocolate

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This month, Theo Chocolate founder Joseph Whinney shares the limelight with Paul Newman's daughter Nell Newman of Newman's Own Organics, supermarket demagogue John Mackey of Whole Foods Market, and a dozen others on a list of 15 Green Business Founders.

That particular hue of green was bestowed upon the Seattle-based organic and fair-trade chocolate maker by Seattle-based eco-news outlet Grist, which links the Theo profile with enough commentary on sustainability in the chocolate industry that you could spend all day reading up on the subject (and I just might).

Whinney (also the winner of a Food & Wine Eco-Epicurean Award) describes Theo as a "triple bottom line" business, dedicated to conservation and responsible labor practices in addition to profit. But Theo also achieves a rare balance of politics and flavor—it's one of the best chocolates (not just one of the best organic chocolates) on the American market. The company is hardly more than a year old, but Whinney's been in the chocolate trade since 1994, when he established himself as an importer of cacao beans from Africa and Latin America.

Theo does things a little bit differently (and a little bit better) than everyone else. For purists, the factory turns out five "origin" dark chocolate bars that highlight beans from Venezuela, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, and Panama (above). More adulterated versions of the chocolate appear in the Theo Confections (think fennel and fig) and the flavored 3400 Phinney bars (right), whose wrappers look like swatches torn from the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. Two new additions to the 3400 Phinney line (which already includes vanilla, chai, coconut curry, coffee, "nib brittle," and "bread and chocolate" varieties) should appear in shops before the end of the year.

About the author: Emily Stone, proprietor of Chocolate in Context, is a chocolate enthusiast, itinerant traveler, and a lover of literature who lives in Pittsburgh. She's been a movie reviewer, a reproductive health researcher, and an independent bookstore owner. Her writing has appeared in the magazines Budget Travel, Travel + Leisure, and Time Out New York, as well as on the websites World Hum and Epicurious.

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