Hot Latte and the Chocolate Factory

Dark Chocolates!

One quarter-pound of Double Dark Truffles garnished by two dark-chocolate-covered Oreos. Yep, I’ve reached that advanced age when dark chocolate begins tasting better than milk chocolate.

My wife and I have a twice-yearly tradition of spending our respective birthdays together traveling to some new place or attraction as a one-day road trip — partly as an excuse to spend time together on those most wondrous days, partly to explore areas of Indiana we’ve never experienced before. My 2016 birthday destination of choice: the northern Indiana city of Elkhart, with a bonus stopover in South Bend, both some 100+ miles north of here. Elkhart was regrettably cut a little short because the weather was miserable and tried to freeze us in our tracks, but we had enough fun to fill out another four-part miniseries starring a candy factory tour, a super-hero roadside attraction, and a selection of the “art” in Elkhart. Also, food.

Part One of Four: a tour through a chocolate factory, conducted without a single child casualty. It can be done, Mr. Wonka, you demented jerk.

Longtime MCC readers who’ve followed us through our annual visits to the Indianapolis Flower & Patio Show or the Christmas Gift & Hobby Show have heard the name of the South Bend Chocolate Company, one of the best vendors to attend all the really good expositions at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. We’re fans of their wares and rarely pass by their booths without buying at least a quarter-pound of chocolatey goodness.

This is their house.

South Bend Chocolate Company!

Where the sweet, luxurious magic happens.

They have a few locations around town, but this one houses their corporate offices and the modest factory that cranks out millions of treats for all locations. Every location has the important basics, by which I mean display cases filled with chocolate in various forms and combinations.

Chocolates!

They offer the best assortment of sugar-free chocolates I’ve ever seen. I think they have a few other dietetic options that now escape me.

In addition to the mass-produced snacks, they also take special orders from other companies for themed limited editions, also available here for visitors at a price.

Chocolate Shapes!

How many shapes do YOU recognize and think you can eat in one bite?

South Bend naturally caters to holiday shoppers on Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas, and any other excuses we can make up to buy each other sugary edibles. Some require more effort to eat than others.

Mega Chocolate Santa!

For your consideration: a chocolate Santa larger than most human babies.

To learn more about chocolate, be sure to visit your local library, or you can check out their free Chocolate Museum, a single backroom with collections of vintage chocolate memorabilia and paraphernalia commemorating great moments in chocolate history.

Cocoa Tins!

Fans of powdered chocolate can peruse the international decorative tins of yesteryear.

Mega Valentine Candy!

Once upon a time, buying your sweetie anything smaller than a four-foot candy box was grounds for an armed duel.

FAO Schweetz!

Giant sign belonging to the erstwhile FAO Schwartz toy stores, who also sold tons of candy on the side.

Chocolate Vice!

If chocolate by itself isn’t enough of a vice for you, try it infused with hard liquor, wrapped inside a cigar, or mixed with strychnine for medicinal purposes.

In a creative act of recycling, their primary supplier recently began saving all their cocoa shells and selling them as garden mulch. I’m not sure if your vegetable garden will absorb any flavors from it, but I’d be open to experimenting with it if we had a vegetable garden.

Cocoa Shell Mulch!

For those new to the concept: mulching is a process of inbred fertilization which employs certain decomposed organic materials — including but not limited to animal sediment — to blanket an area in which vegetation is desired. The procedure enriches the soil for the stimulated plant’s development while, at the same time, preventing erosion and decreasing the evaporation of moisture from the ground.

A few displays in the front lobby show off bits of the chocolate farming process. Our free(!) factory tour began there with a brief lesson in the differences between cocoa pods, cocoa beans, and cocoa nibs — each a different step in the life cycle of the cacao plant that sustains 90% of all human life in America.

Cocoa Beans!

The beans after they’re removed from the pods, but before the nibs are removed.

Before moving from the lobby to the factory floor, we all had to don hairnets for food safety compliance. As the only bearded person in our tour group, I had to wear twice as many nets as everyone else.

Man Nets!

Low-budget Lecter don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies.

Our gregarious, animated tour guide — who told us his nickname ’round these parts is “Hot Latte” — escorted us to the employees’ areas, where there were zero workers on hand because this was a Saturday. He showed us where the magic actually begins, with a Chicago supplier who provides ten-pound chocolate bricks as their raw materials to melt and reshape into whatever forms come to mind.

10-Pound Chocolate!

James didn’t explain his nickname. Presumably the “Hot Latte” story either contains some use of the phrase “with The Ladeeez” or ends with a painfully comedic second-degree burn.

That manila vat behind him is filled with milk chocolate, kept heated and constantly stirred. Each of the basic chocolate forms have their own vat. Dark chocolate is kept in this white vat, maybe because it’s the real hero of their story.

Dark Chocolate Vat!

I didn’t see a spigot I could just open and pour into a bucket. Must be on the other side.

A lineup of giant mixers can be used for additional concocting as needed. A nearby table is used for cooling and chopping chocolate into traditional bite-sized units.

Giant Mixers!

A fine addition to any wedding registry.

This was the machinery Anne and I had come to see: the conveyor belts! One worker places the chocolates at one end and runs them through the machine for their various additions, depending on what specific kind of chocolate candies they’re making that day. Another worker catches and adds the mandatory little wrapper. Repeat times a zillion, and eventually you have classic yummy products for sale.

Conveyor!

Note the big mirror above the far end that lets worker #1 keep an eye on the workflow. Also note the chocolate crust on the belt at the nearest end.

The machines can turn different colors depending on the candies involved. This one had been used for pumpkin-based confections the day before.

Pumpkin Conveyor!

I know what you’re thinking: “Pumpkin-flavored anything in May is MADNESS!” Probably also illegal in 27 states.

If the conveyors remind anyone over 30 of a certain famous TV show…they’re well aware and fully embracing it.

I Love Anne!

You can watch the I Love Lucy episode in question, “Job Switching”, on Dailymotion for free, or pay to watch it on Hulu or on CBS All Access. Have fun with those free trials and paywalls, kids.

After cutting but before toppings or insertions, chocolates go on pans to cool and await their true calling.

Chocolate Racks!

To the right of the racks is their white chocolate rack, a bit smaller than the others but no less a part of the chocolate nutrition pyramid.

And it all comes down to this: single chocolates for fun and frivolity. Each of us received one (1) free chocolate as a reward for behaving on the tour.

Vanilla!

Thankfully I was able to sneak this vanilla creme around that stupid beard net without alerting Hot Latte or bringing snack security down on my head.

Those who paid extra for the longer behind-the-scenes tour followed Hot Latte back to other secret rooms while the rest of us were released back to the chocolate shop to spend money on goodies. The longer tour wasn’t expensive, but we were short on time and had to move on. We appreciated the experience and commend Mr. Latte for his informative lecture and his keen live-performance skills. We were also grateful that he didn’t leave any of us behind to die. For that alone the South Bend Chocolate Factory scores bonus points in our book.

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About Randall A. Golden
Hoosier since birth, geek since age 6, father at 22, Christian at 30; launched Midlife Crisis Crossover at 39. Full-time service rep; part-time internet contributor; former message board admin; inhabits Twitter as @RandallGolden. Views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of any other corporation, being, or party line.

Comments, questions, and suggestions for future entries welcome. No, really!

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