Complete Chocolate Lover’s Guide for the San Francisco Bay Area

Fall 2019 Salon feature

Lights, camera, chocolate!


I couldn’t make it to the Salon this time, but the show must go on

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I missed the 2019 Fall Holiday Chocolate Salon because I had a dress rehearsal at the same time across town for a show I was in. I was sorry to miss the Salon, but priorities. Lucky for me, my fellow CBTB chocolateers brought me back some of the treats they found at the Salon. So this will be one of my shorter Salon reviews, and one that’s very light on news.

The Out of Towners

As you might know, I focus on SFBA chocolate at these events. There’s always too much for me to cover in a day, so at least by limiting myself to locals, I come closer to 100% coverage. But my fellow chocolateers had other ideas and brought me some chocolate that had traveled across state lines to be in the Salon.

Tandem Chocolates Box
Tandem Chocolates peek-a-boo box

Tandem Chocolates from Reno, NV, makes pretty bonbons with interesting flavors. We are familiar with Tandem since they have been entrants in some competitions we’ve judged. We usually love their pieces, so I had no complaints about receiving a box of their flavored chocolate caramels.

The piece I liked best was actually a ganache/caramel combo. The Peanut Caramel Crisp had 2 layers inside: a crunchy ganache and a smooth caramel. It was good, only lightly peanut tasting, with feulletine adding a nice crispy crunch.

I also enjoyed their Elderflower and Cassis. It used white chocolate, and was more caramel than cassis tasting. Elderflower was very subtle, and the overall flavor was a light syrupy berry, not like a concentrated inclusion.

The other piece I liked was the Hot Toddy. It was an interesting experience, mostly caramel, but with a strong alcohol sensation and a citrus tang.

Tandem Chocolates selection
Tandem Chocolates selection of gourmet caramels

A chocolatier told me recently that a lot of people are doing caramel instead of ganache. It’s cheaper and has a longer shelf life. If they can do as good a job as Tandem does, then I’m not mad at it.

Tandem did very well at the Fall Salon winning Silver for Top Artisan Chocolatier; Bronze for Best Traditional Chocolates, Best Caramels or Truffles, New Product Award, and Best in Salon; and Honorable Mentions for Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations and Best Organic or Fair Trade Products.

You can buy Tandem Chocolates online or at their storefront in Reno.

The rest of this review will be about SFBA chocolate. Now on with the show!

Our Town

There was a new SFBA chocolatier at the Salon, so I was extra sorry I missed it this time. Formosa Chocolates was started this year by Kimberly Yang, who was a psychiatrist before she was a chocolatier. Formosa is based in Oakland (my town!), so I was doubly excited to try out their wares.

My fellow CBTB-ers raved about the samples Kimberly handed out — including an excellent peanut butter/dark chocolate piece (2 of my favorite things)! Unfortunately, she was running out of samples and couldn’t give them one for me. (Sigh, I suffer for my art.) And she wasn’t selling them at the Salon either.

But Cacaopod did bring home Formosa’s 12-piece box for me to sample. The pieces looked so pretty in the box, but the white coffee cup stood out because it was so distinctive. Of course, I tried that one first (since there was no peanut butter piece to enjoy).

Formosa Chocolates selection
Newcomer Formosa Chocolates put together a pretty box

It was excellent: coffee flavored caramel in a dark chocolate shell. The rest of the pieces were very good too: well made and subtly flavored. The subtleness seemed very French to me, and with flavors like hazelnut, black cherry brandy, and blood orange speculoos, there was definitely a European style to the box.

The piece I liked best was the Hazelnut Crunch. It had a crispy, crunchy texture and distinct hazelnut flavor. I also liked the Lemon Cognac with its white chocolate shell and dark inside. It smelled boozy, and tasted lightly lemon-y at first, then noticeably cognac later.

The Peach Raspberry Caramel and Blood Orange Speculoos bonbons were interesting too. The caramel was more of a dark chocolate ganache that tasted like peach first, then raspberry. It was a good combo. The Blood Orange Speculoos had 2 layers inside: a milk chocolate ganache with crunchy bits of cookie and an orange flavored dark chocolate ganache. It didn’t have a very speculoos cookie-ish flavor. Besides the orange and chocolate flavors, it had a little burnt sugar flavor but not any real Christmas spices like I expected. I still liked it as I did the rest of the box.

I am so happy there was a new chocolatier at the Salon, and I look forward to seeing more from Formosa — and maybe a shop in Oakland sometime soon?

Kimberly made a strong first impression on the judges at the Salon too. Formosa received Gold for New Product Award; Bronze for Best Traditional Chocolates and Best Caramels or Truffles; and Honorable Mentions for Top Artisan Chocolatier and Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations.

Formosa Chocolates are available online and at special events like the Chocolate Salons. You can also order for pickup in Oakland.

Road to Morocco

2 CocoTutti bonbons
Holiday Fall Spice and La Kama Moroccan Spices with Lime bonbons

Show veteran and recommended chocolatier CocoTutti 3-5 cup chocolatier had 3 spicy samples for judging, which were all good and unusual.

The Holiday Fall Spice was CocoTutti’s head chocolatier Elyse Zahn’s idea of what holiday spice should be: Hot! Or in her words, a “warming spiced chocolate for cooling evenings.”

That makes sense, and it made for a good piece: The bonbon with an abstract painting of warm colors had a good smell and a little grain in the chocolate ganache’s texture. It was a good winter spice mix with the surprise of some spicy heat at the end.

The La Kama Moroccan Spices with Lime was also interesting and harder to describe. It had a dark chocolate shell around white ganache that was super tangy from the house-made lime marmalade. A little heat from the spices came in the middle and tempered the brightness. I couldn’t pick out individual spices in the mix, but it did evoke Moroccan/African cuisine to me. While combining lime marmalade, 2 kinds of chocolate, and this complex spice mix might sound weird, it really works.

Berbere Orange Peel

The third piece in the judge’s bag was an enrobed candied orange peel that continued CocoTutti’s hot & spicy theme. The Berbere Spiced Orange Peel was dipped in white chocolate and had a savory curry smell (Berbere is an Ethiopian spice blend). The spices built up heat at end and lingered, cutting through the white chocolate. The orange peel melted away nicely, and the piece had a good orange spice balance in flavor.

CocoTutti scooped up a lot of awards at the Salon: Silver for Top Artisan Chocolatier, Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations, Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product, and Best in Salon; plus Honorable Mentions for Best Chocolate Bar, Best Caramels or Truffles, and New Product Award.

You can order CocoTutti chocolates online, pick them up at special events, or visit their kitchen, 100 North Hill Drive, Unit 15, Brisbane, with prior notice.


Michael’s Chocolates had a 6-piece box with some new flavors and old favs that were all delicious — as I have come to expect from Michael Benner, master chocolatier and alchemist. Even if I didn’t get a chance to chat, it was still exciting to sample what they are concocting.

Michael’s Collection
Michael’s Fall 2019 Collection

The 2 liquor based pieces, Bourbon Caramel Pecan and Old Potrero Rye Whiskey, used the liquors as flavors and were not boozy at all. The Bourbon Caramel Pecan had 2 layers inside the shiny copper shell: a slightly grainy white ganache (from the ground nuts?) and a thin layer of caramel. The bourbon and pecan came through with the caramel; the chocolate was pretty subtle, definitely a supporting role.

The dark chocolate ganache in the Rye Whiskey bonbon was delicious, very  flavorful with a good balance between whiskey and chocolate. I have had both of these pieces in other competitions before, and they are just as good as I remember.

Michael’s Salted Caramel
Michael’s Salted Caramel

The 2 biggest hits in Michael’s repertoire were included in the box. The Salted Caramel is a soft solid caramel dipped in dark chocolate and daubed with big chips of salt. It could be addictive with the chewy dense caramel, pops of salt, tasty dark chocolate, and a lingering butterscotch aftertaste.

Michael’s Lemon Burst
Michael’s Lemon Burst

The Good Food Award-winning Lemon Burst is aptly named. The white ganache inside has a light lemony flavor that kinda explodes in your mouth, and at the same time matches well with the dark chocolate shell. And it’s so pretty painted a shiny yellow and white.

Michael’s 70% Camino Verde
Michael’s 70% Camino Verde

The single origin 70% Camino Verde, Ecuador piece was a pretty red dome that had a nice dark chocolatey chocolate flavor. It wasn’t fruity or bitter or savory or smokey, just chocolatey. Even when making a bonbon without inclusions, Michael achieves a balance in the flavors.

Michael’s Hazelnut Coffee
Michael’s Hazelnut Coffee

The new piece in the collection, the bright purple Hazelnut Coffee was as delicious as the rest. It had an immediate coffee flavor, then I encountered the crunchy bits with a hazelnut flavor, and it ended creamy.

The Salon was almost solid gold for Michael’s Chocolates. They received Gold for Top Artisan Chocolatier, Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations, Best Traditional Chocolates, Best Caramels or Truffles, and Best in Salon; plus a Silver for New Product Award.

Michael’s Chocolates are available online, at special events, and at some local specialty shops. Check their website for locations.

White Nights

Raphio White Nibby bar
The nibs in Raphio’s White Nibby bar are what made the bar work for me

Bean-to-bar maker, Raphio Chocolate, brought a couple of limited edition bars from Fresno to the Salon. The 2 bars featured white chocolate, a first for Raphio, and one was sugar free.

The 42% Sugar Free Nibby White Chocolate bar was very attractive with the dark nibs swirled throughout the MC Escher-esque bar mold Raphio uses for all of their bars. The ingredient list was simple: organic cacao butter, nibs, whole milk powder, and monk fruit sweetener.

I am no fan of sugar free chocolate (or white chocolate), but this one was pretty good. It smelled chocolatey, and wasn’t too sweet, which is always a plus with white chocolate.  There was a little cooling sensation from the sugar substitute but not too much.

It’s not a real chocolatey bar, but the nibs are a genius addition. They were the right grind/size: sometimes nibs are too big, but these added a pleasant crunch. The nibs added some chocolate flavor while holding down the sweetness, and I think helped contribute to the bar not having a weird non-sugar aftertaste. Raphio took 2 things I don’t favor — white chocolate and non-sugar sweetener — and made them work with the addition of the nibs.

Raphio White Mocha bar
This is a white chocolate bar, really!

The other bar, the 42% White Mocha contained organic cacao butter, whole milk powder, cane sugar, and coffee beans. I had to look at the ingredients list twice because the bar looks like a creamy milk chocolate. But that was just the coffee coloring the white chocolate base.

I liked this bar. It had an immediate strong coffee flavor, then a little caramel came in. It was like coffee with milk in solid form.

Raphio received Gold for Best Chocolate Bar; and Bronze for Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations, Best Traditional Chocolates, Best Organic or Fair Trade Products, New Product Award, and Best in Salon.

Raphio Chocolate is available online, at their shop on Fresno and other stores, and at special events. Check their website for more info.

A Shot in the Dark

The bonbons Cacaopod brought home from Alexander’s Patisserie suffered a mishap. Instead of a box or other sturdy packaging, they put the bonbons in a little plastic bag. Once added to the rest of the chocolate Cacaopod had to carry back to me across the Bay, they got a little smushed.

Alexander Patisserie mashup
This mashup from Alexander’s Patisserie looks worse than it was — we were able to separate out most of the bonbons, although they remained a mystery

We separated them as best we could to sample, and another problem arose: There was no menu included. I think that at shows like this, vendors should always include a menu. We are trying and buying a lot of chocolate that day. Who can remember what each bonbon is supposed to be?

So it was basically a blind tasting for me. There were a few fruit based pieces, one that seemed like maybe raspberry, one that was definitely passion fruit, and one that was maybe a fruit combined with something else. They were tasty, the passion fruit had a lot of flavor, but they were a little frustrating.

The 2 nut bonbons were easier to identify: a hazelnut milk chocolate and peanut butter in a dark shell. They both had a grainy texture, maybe praline? The hazelnut had a more pronounced flavor, the peanut butter flavor was very light.

The last 2 pieces I have no idea what they were. One of them was a white chocolate that tasted like birthday cake icing (not a fan), but the other one, a dark chocolate shell and ganache was nice and smooth, the best tasting one of the bunch. Maybe it was a single origin?

In spite of the packaging issues, Alexander’s Patisserie did well at the Salon, receiving Silver for Best Caramels or Truffles and New Product Award; Bronze for Top Artisan Chocolatier and Best Traditional Chocolates; and Honorable Mentions for Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations, Best Organic or Fair Trade Products, and Best in Salon.

Alexander’s Patisserie doesn’t have an online store per se. You can order chocolates for for pickup at either the Mountain View or Cupertino location. Or visit their new location in SF, One65.

Socola Happy Feet pop
Watch out when unwrapping Socola’s Happy Feet pop: Those little decorations roll away everywhere

Happy Feet

Veteran Salon exhibitor, Socola Chocolatier,3-5 cup chocolatier is known for their well stocked booth, full of bars, bonbons, snacks and more. But either they were sold out of our favs by the time Cacaopod got to them (this happens, so my advice is if there is something you know you want to get, go there first) or he was exercising restraint because he only brought back 3 Socola treats to me.

Or maybe he had reached his limit in what he could carry. That happens to me at these Salons often.

What he brought home was delicious. Almond Dragees (caramelized almonds coated in dark chocolate and dusted with cocoa powder) were the perfect crunchy combination of roasted almond and chocolate. Salty Chewy Caramels are aptly named, with a salt hit in the chewy buttery caramels.

And Happy Feet! The chocolate pop molded into the shape of a foot and covered from heel to toe with brightly colored nonpareils was a fun —if a little messy — chocolate treat. And the perfect way to celebrate my upcoming dance performance.

Socola received Silver for Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations and Best Traditional Chocolates; Bronze for Top Artisan Chocolatier, Best Caramels or Truffles, and Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product; and an Honorable Mention for Best Chocolate Bar.

Socola’s chocolates and candies are available online, but for the full line including pastries, coffee and hot chocolate drinks, visit Socola Chocolatier + Barista on Folsom in SF. It’s also where you can pick up non-edible Socola items, like T-shirts and jewelry.

Local Hero[es]

There were more SFBA chocolate vendors at the Fall Salon, but I didn’t get to try their wares this time. However they were all returning exhibitors, so I’ve sampled their chocolate before. They all did well at the Salon, with each receiving at least one award — including a Best in Salon award.

  • flying noir received Bronze for Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations and Best Traditional Chocolates; and Honorable Mentions for Top Artisan Chocolatier, New Product Award, and Best in Salon.
  • Endorfin Foods received Bronze for Best Chocolate Bar; and Honorable Mentions for Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations, Best Organic or Fair Trade Products, and Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product.
  • The Good Chocolate received Bronze for Best Traditional Chocolates and Best Chocolate Bar, and an Honorable Mention for Best Organic or Fair Trade Product.
  • Kindred Cooks received Silver for Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product, and an Honorable Mention for Best Caramels or Truffles.
  • Mojo Bakes! SF received Gold for Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product.
  • Z. Cioccolato Fudge received Bronze for Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product.

I was sorry to miss this years Fall Salon but was happy to see the full list of award winners at the Salon was dominated by SFBA entrants. Bravo, all! Encore!

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Published December 22, 2019