Bay Area Chocolate Unwrapped!
There is so much amazing bean-to-bar chocolate and confections out there! I try to explore a new shop and maker whenever I get the opportunity to visit a new city or state (countries in the near future). This blog entry is focused on my love for the Bay Area, which is home to many chocolate makers, some of which I recently discovered! When I was in San Francisco and the Bay Area Thanksgiving weekend, I got the opportunity to visit three chocolate makers: TCHO (Berkeley), Dandelion Chocolate (in the Mission), and Coracao Confections (Oakland).
The first chocolatemaker I visited was TCHO, a fun alternative play on the word Chocolate, located in Berkeley, CA. Here are my three big takeaways after attending their presentation/tour/tasting: 1. TCHO knows what they are doing. They have an in-depth knowledge of cacao-- where it grows, the production process, and what their consumers want. They have an intricate, streamlined process of chocolatemaking, which begins onsite when they receive the ground cacao (from their partnering farms) up until packaging the beautifully-wrapped bars (three sizes) that you see in chocolate shops today. I felt I had stepped into an inventor’s castle (ala Edward Scissorhands) when I saw all the metallic machinery for conching, tempering, and testing for viscosity and defects! They are very thorough in testing for abnormalities of their Chocolate! 2. TCHO cares. They care about the work, their team and farming partners, and providing consumers with quality chocolate. Many farmers who harvest, ferment, and dry the cacao across the globe have never tasted a cocoa bean! TCHO not only participates in fair trade practices, ensuring that their cacao suppliers are paid a decent price and receive a special Fair Trade premium, which can be used to fund quality-improvement and social programs. Their Source Program helps supply the tools and training needed, so their partners can become experts at both flavor analysis and cacao production. 3. Lastly, TCHO knows how to have fun! Our tour guide, Catherine, was so vibrant and engaging— and so happy to be talking to us about chocolate! Their pairing bars (and micro-batch Maker’s Series) demonstrates this playfulness with their combination flavors — mint chip gelato, orange & toffee, and umami (the 68% bar I picked up which has seaweed and black garlic!). Wow, consider my curiosity and palette blown away! I walked away with new information, a greater support for the company, and a post-chocolate grin!
My trip to Dandelion Chocolate in SF's Mission District had one of the most educational, personalized, and tasty experiences I have been on thus far! Dandelion uses two ingredients to make their chocolates from bean-to-bar: cocoa beans and sugar. Don't let the minimal ingredients fool you, however! Each single-origin bar Dandelion makes is full of unique, complex flavors that leaves your mouth feeling happy, as if you've traveled to farms, forests, and mountains in Central, South America, and Africa. My original idea was to take my mom and sister to the factory and cafe, simply to buy a bar or two and get the Northern California chocolate experience. We began by ordering and drinking chocolate (I tried the Italian-inspired European drinking chocolate; my mom had the spicy Mission drinking chocolate). Little did I know my family and I would receive a private tour by one of Dandelion's knowledgeable and passionate staff. Rob, who also happens to be a chocolate apprentice, spent 45 minutes with us on the chocolate making origins, process, and what makes Dandelion's chocolate and company unique. We tasted three bars: 70% bar from Mantuano, Venezuela with notes of classic dark chocolate, roasted almonds, and espresso; 70% bar from Ambanja, Madagascar with notes of ripened strawberries, tart yogurt, and a sweet peachy finish; and, my favorite, an 85% bar from Camino Verde, Ecuador with notes of nutty, rich fudge brownie. I left feeling so grateful for chocolate, the makers, the farmers, and happy endorphins that linger with me after tasting quality cacao. Dandelion just opened a shop in NYC and does tours, classes, and educational trips! Chocolate Pursuit has already started infusing Dandelion's Costa Esmereldas (70%) and Camino Verde (85%) in their tastings and has had an overwhelmingly positive response. Who doesn't want a delicious brownie bite with hints of nuts and espresso on the tip of their tongue? Dang. It is truly one of my favorites.
My third stop on my Bay Area journey was the Oakland Confectionary, Coracao Chocolates. I envision a rainbow of chocolate in every form falling from the sky (and on my face): Decadent truffles, toffee, fudge, and, of course, candy bars! Not just any candy bars but hand-crafted confections that are a spin-off of the Twix and Snickers bars you ate as a kid (or just now)! Good news-- That's exactly what Coracao Chocolate Company Owner Daniel Korson is successfully doing with his organic business that started in 2008. Coracao recreates the candy of our youth, only a healthier, more ethically-sound, allergen-conscious (dairy, cane sugar, soy, and gluten-free), and just as tasty (tastier in my opinion) candy bar alternative. There is a reason I gorged out on this Oakland, California Chocolatemaker's After Dark Fudge Bar before I got home from the Seattle Northwest Chocolate Fest. I gobbled it up, and I craved more. Call me an addict, but this rich bar hit the chocolate spot with the 81% creamy, dark chocolate exterior and a 90% dense ganache filling accompanied by 100% pure chocolate chunks. What a nostalgic feeling to realize you are 35 and eating an organic candy bar from the finest ingredients and Peruvian and Ecuadorian cacao! When taking a bite of the Triple Berry Bar, you feel like you are eating homemade jam made just for you complemented by dark chocolate bliss. Coracao also makes truffles (try their Berkeley Bar!). I couldn't be more grateful than to have the experience of visiting their factory last week. The small team was beyond friendly and enjoyed what they were doing! Next time you are looking to satisfy a sugar craving, try Coracao sweetened with coconut sugar and childhood memories.
This was definitely a trip to remember-- cannot wait to explore bean-to-bar chocolate and confections all over the world!