The running theme at the 8th annual San Francisco International Chocolate Salon, March 15, 2014, seemed to be “personal chocolate.” There were lots of chocolate snack options, an art show of personal expressions in chocolate, and the ultimate personal theme for us CBTB chocolateers: We were asked to give a presentation this year and be judges.
Forget Paris chocolate, we’ve got SFBA
In our presentation, “Forget Paris: Touring the Bay Area’s Artisan Chocolate,” we explained that while the salon is a great way to discover local artisan chocolate, it’s only once a year and can often be a too-much-chocolate-in-too-little-time experience, so we were there with a way to have your own salon anytime you want: do-it-yourself chocolate tours of SFBA.
And since there’s been an explosion in the past few years of great local chocolate options, we had plenty of suggestions to offer attendees. We’ve also posted our tours here for you to explore on your own.
On with the show
Equally important to us as the presentation was judging this year’s show. As CBTB, we focus on local chocolate, and we did the same at the show. There are always out-of-town chocolatiers present, but I can’t try that much chocolate in a day, so I generally skip anybody without an SFBA connection. But we did check out the beautiful, delicious chocolates from Marco Paolo Chocolates, LA. He didn’t have a local distributor yet, but we sent some buyers his way during the show, so if you see Marco Paolo Chocolates around here soon, you can thank us.
Local chocolate icon, Guittard, had samples of their blended and single-origin bars. They described the Ambanja 65% from Madagascar as their most unique and “under the radar,” so we had to try it. They said some people find it too strong. To us, it had acidic fruity overtones, but it didn’t overwhelm. We think that as a strong flavored (versus sweet) chocolate, it would make an excellent pairing with red wine.
NeoCocoa had their whole line of uncovered (no chocolate coating) truffles available at the show, and they were offering a show discount (one of the perks of attending the show). We like how they boost the intensity of their dark chocolate truffles with ingredients like espresso in the Mocha Cinnamon and Marshmallow Espresso, ginger in the Warm Ginger Root, and cacao nibs in the Crushed Cacao Nib. And head chocolatier, Christine Doerr, told us that NeoCocoa’s whole line is now available at the La Cocina kiosk at the Ferry Building, so we encourage you to check them out for yourself sometime.
Maybe a bigger perk of the show was at Coco Délice’s booth (and this time I’m not talking about their peanut butter bunnies). If you signed up for their newsletter, you were entered into a drawing for a $150 gift certificate for Coco Délice chocolate. Whoever won that is in for a treat because Chef Dennis makes some of the most delicious French-style truffles around. And his new product, Bison Black Magic Beer Chocolates, which combines his dark chocolate ganache with local Bison Brewing’s chocolate stout, won a Good Food Award this year, his first time entering the competition.
Socola Chocolatier, who just opened their new chocolate café in February, was at the show with a line of truffles leaning toward fruit, including Asian flavors of lychee and kumquat, but also including bacon and bourbon options. We loved the lychee, which is half ganache and half fruit paté, making for a bigger fruit flavor from what is usually a subtle taste that chocolate could easily overwhelm. And now that they have their own shop & café, it’s easier than ever to enjoy their unique chocolates anytime you get a craving.
As I mentioned in the beginning, snacking chocolate options at the show were numerous. From veteran show vendors like Jade Chocolates, NewTree, ToffeeTalk, and CocoTutti to newcomer Clairsquares.
Clairesquares makes Irish-style shortbread and other sweet treats. At the show, they were handing out samples of their Caramelized Oat Bar. I don’t care for granola, so the name was off-putting for me, but it’s not a granola or breakfast bar. It’s really more of a chocolate bar with a small dollop of caramelized oats in each square. One square makes for a satisfying snack: plenty of good dark chocolate with a little crispy crunch from the oats. It reminds me of chocolate bars topped with quinoa.
Jade Chocolates had their full range of Asian-inspired chocolate at the show: truffles, bars and snacks. We love their chocolate snacks, especially the Rice Paddies, because they are less sweet than chocolate bars and crunchy/chewy. Add in their snack-sized portion control, and you have a great treat.
Charles Chocolates brought a few of their popular treats and snacks to the show, including their top-selling triple covered almonds and orange twigs. The orange twigs are a light/soft alternative to chocolate dipped orange peel. They are milk chocolate ganache flavored with orange essence, then dipped in dark chocolate and covered in powered sugar. The twigs are smaller than traditional truffles so they make for a nice orange chocolate snack.
NewTree, the Belgian chocolate company with a chocolate café in downtown SF, debuted their new snack-size chocolate bars and chocolate pearls. The snack bars are about 1/3 the size of a regular bar and come in NewTree’s popular flavors, such as quinoa, super fruit, lime granola, and Belgian biscuit. The pearls are small chocolate-covered spheres of fruit bits, which satisfy with the strong tastes of dark chocolate and orange or black currant.
Benoît de Bruyn, NewTree’s CEO & head chocolatier, explained that they came up with the snack-sized items in response to customer requests for single-serving treats. Like their other chocolates, the snacks are all organic and high in fiber.
Big, bold flavor in teeny, tiny snacks
As usual, CocoTutti had a system for handling the never-ending crush at their booth. One or two helpers had sample trays they carried through the crowd so you could start sampling before you even got to the booth. And because their samples are miniatures, you can actually try a bunch before you need to take a break.
Eating a tiny cappuccino bonbon tasted and felt like I just had a cappuccino. But that’s typical of CocoTutti chocolates. Owner/master chocolatier Elyce Zahn has said before that she strives to get the chocolates to taste like what they are made of. So the Spicy Ginger Caramels are really spicy with a very strong ginger taste. The Peanut Butter Cup is crunchy peanut butter. And the tea-flavored pieces, like the Keemun Black Tea Infusion and the Dragonwell Tea with Cherry, are distinctively tea infused, with the Keemun being a favorite for me (a tea lover) with a good tea flavor that’s almost minty.
At the show, Elyce had 3 snack options for us. One is the minis you could previously only enjoy at the shows are now available online. That’s great snack news. Another option is a new line of toffee: starting with a coffee hazelnut and a bitter orange chocolate. Both are delicious, but I’m partial to the orange one because it’s more unusual, incorporating their house-made marmalade. I know a lot of people find marmalade too bitter, but it balances the sweetness of the toffee so the taste is neither bitter nor too sweet. Give it a try!
The most interesting snack option from CocoTutti perhaps is the new chocolate bars, although they are really more like a connected set of 5 bonbons. They are flavored ganache in chocolate that is hand painted in the same designs as the regular bonbons. The difference is that Elyce found people love the bonbons, but consider them as gifts because of the presentation. Chocolate bars, however, are personal. So Elyce is putting her bonbons into bars. They will come in resealable bags, so you can carry them with you anywhere and break off a piece/individual bonbon to enjoy anytime.
Cool, right? But then she’s taking it one step further. She is working with several wineries to create bars that complement wine tasting flights. So each “bonbon” on the bar will be flavored with a different ganache to complement a particular wine in the flight, and they will be individually decorated so you will know which bonbon bite goes with which wine.
Look for the bars this autumn. She’s also planning a Kickstarter campaign to fund some of the equipment and supplies needed; so look for that soon and support your local chocolatier.
Another new toffee snack at the show was from show veteran Toffee Talk, who debuted a toffee almond pretzel combo which they said was their first new flavor in 4 years. Characterized by co-owner Ellen Purdom as a fun new flavor, it actually seemed to me as more aimed at people who find regular toffee too sweet. The salt from the pretzels cut the sweetness of the toffee some and added a softer crunch to the mix. Toffee Talk is primarily available online and in a few retail shops, like Bi-Rite Market and Piedmont Grocery.
What else is new?
We checked out the new local artisan chocolatiers presenting at the show for the first time. Nuttyness offers a line of chocolate-covered flavored marzipan bars. That’s not my thing, but the other CBTB chocolateers assured me that even the basic plain almond bar was good, and the flavored bars, especially coffee vanilla, were winners.
Fera’wyn’s Artisanal Chocolates is only 1 year old, and located in Vallejo. They don’t have a store or local distributor yet, but you can buy their truffles online or at farmers’ markets in Walnut Creek and Orinda. As much as possible, they use local ingredients combined with French chocolate. They mentioned that they sometimes use chocolate from local bean-to-bar maker, Dandelion Chocolate, but have found it trickier to work with than a traditional blended chocolate. They had a range of truffles at the show including their popular raspberry lime chambord (nice balance between the raspberry and dark chocolate) and limoncello (which includes passionfruit with the lemon burst from the Italian liqueur).
We had to ask about the company name. It turns out that it’s the name of a dancing elf character in an online game that the principals played when they lived half a world away from each other. A modern love story ending in marriage and chocolate. Talk about happily ever after.
Another new-to-us chocolatier at the show, Quail Point Chocolates from Napa Valley, isn’t new. They’ve been in business for over 10 years, but they market mostly to corporations, wedding planners and the like. Their chocolates were beautiful, but their focus seems to be more on taste with a light, flowery Fleur de Sel caramel as compared to the more expected salty/sweet salted caramel. Their Marrakesh truffle embodies their attention to taste: It incorporates 3 different north African chocolates in the ganache to achieve the flavor they want. It’s unique, but subtle with a nice aftertaste. They don’t have an online store, but there are instructions for ordering on their website.
Flying Noir Chocolates, whom we haven’t seen before, recently moved to Oakland from Mendocino. Their packaging is very pretty, including the brightly colored wraps that are painted by adults with disabilities. The wraps compliment the chocolates, which are hand painted by the chocolatier Karen Urbanek.
This one-person operation makes bonbons, bars and what were labeled “teeny tiny cubes of heaven,” which are similar to NeoCocoa’s truffles or Charles Chocolates’ paves. We tried some of the cubes and also bought a box of the bonbons. Although the bonbons are pretty, we preferred the stronger flavors of the cubes. Of course, without the shells, the cubes need to be consumed quickly because they are made without preservatives.
Another new vendor, Saint & Olive, isn’t a chocolatier, but instead makes biscotti based on a family recipe, some drizzled with chocolate. We got the Spicy Mexican Chocolate biscotti, which they recommend pairing with coffee, tea or wine. We thought the hot-hot-hot, softer, more-cookie-like-than-biscotti texture would be better paired with a glass of milk to cool it down. They are also great on their own, especially because the heat and drizzled-on chocolate make this a cookie that you won’t overindulge in.
Expressions in chocolate
To break up all the chocolate, the show included vendors of complementary products, such as tea, wine, perfume, and beef jerky (huh?). There was also a small art show in the front of the pavilion with a chocolate theme including some art made from chocolate.
The art ranged from cute (crocheted chocolate cake tissue cover) to commercial (chocolate Lego characters) to kinda creepy (life-size chocolate human skull). The skull ended up winning Gold in both Best of Salon and Attendees Choice Awards. Not sure what that says about us chocolate lovers.
2014 SF Chocolate Salon awards to local chocolatiers & candy makers
Congratulations to all of our local chocolate purveyors whose confections won awards at this year’s salon:
- CCMade: 1 Silver, 3 Bronze in Best of Salon; 1 Silver in Attendees Choice Awards
- Charles Chocolates: 2 Gold, 1 Silver, 4 Bronze in Best of Salon; 2 Silver, 1 Bronze in Attendees Choice Awards
- Clairesquares: 1 Silver, 1 Bronze in Best of Salon; 1 Silver, 2 Bronze in Attendees Choice Awards
- Clarine’s Florentines: 2 Bronze in Best of Salon; 2 Bronze in Attendees Choice Awards
- Coco Délice: 1 Silver, 2 Bronze in Best of Salon; 1 Silver, 1 Bronze in Attendees Choice Awards
- CocoTutti: 4 Gold, 4 Silver, 3 Bronze in Best of Salon; 5 Gold, 7 Silver, 2 Bronze in Attendees Choice Awards
- Fera’wyn’s Artisanal Chocolates: 3 Silver, 4 Bronze in Best of Salon; 4 Silver, 2 Bronze in Attendees Choice Awards
- Flying Noir Chocolates: 2 Gold, 3 Silver, 3 Bronze in Best of Salon; 1 Gold, 3 Silver, 2 Bronze in Attendees Choice Awards
- Guittard Chocolate Company: 2 Gold, 2 Silver in Best of Salon; 7 Gold, 3 Silver, 3 Bronze in Attendees Choice Awards
- Jade Chocolates: 2 Silver, 4 Bronze in Best of Salon; 2 Silver, 3 Bronze in Attendees Choice Awards
- Kika’s Treats: 1 Gold, 1 Silver, 3 Bronze in Best of Salon
- Kindred Cooks: 1 Silver in Best of Salon
- Mission Blue Confections: 2 Bronze in Best of Salon
- NeoCocoa: 1 Silver, 5 Bronze in Best of Salon; 10 Silver, 2 Bronze in Attendees Choice Awards
- NewTree: 1 Gold, 3 Silver, 3 Bronze in Best of Salon; 6 Silver, 7 Bronze in Attendees Choice Awards
- Plumeria Flours: 1 Bronze in Best of Salon; 1 Gold, 2 Silver, 1 Bronze in Attendees Choice Awards
- Quail Point Chocolates: 2 Silver, 3 Bronze in Best of Salon
- Sacred Chocolate: 2 Bronze in Best of Salon; 9 Silver, 5 Bronze in Attendees Choice Awards
- Saratoga Chocolates: 1 Silver, 2 Bronze in Best of Salon
- Socola Chocolatier: 2 Gold, 4 Silver in Best of Salon; 3 Gold, 4 Silver in Attendees Choice Awards
- TeaRoom Chocolates: 1 Bronze in Best of Salon; 2 Gold, 9 Silver, 5 Bronze in Attendees Choice Awards
- Toffee Talk: 2 Gold, 1 Bronze in Best of Salon; 1 Gold in Attendees Choice Awards