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

2016 Fall Chocolate Salon

Chocolate sprinkles


Seems like the theme for this Fall Chocolate Salon was ABC: All ’Bout Coconut (with some serious bling on the side)

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At the Chocolate Salon in March, we had to get to and from Fort Mason, SF, in an El Niño downpour. And as is typical of the spring International Chocolate Salons, there was a tsunami of chocolate inside to try. The 7th Annual Fall Holiday Chocolate Salon, 11/20/16, on the other hand, only required us to deal with a steady, light rain outside plus a manageable number of local chocolatiers inside. I love fall salons, they are just my size.

Chocolate Salon room
The Hotel Kabuki version of the Chocolate Salon was not as glam as last year’s, but its more central location in the city was a plus

This year, the Fall Salon was held at the Hotel Kabuki in Japantown. The setting was not as gorgeous as last year, but it was easier to get to. One block from the 38 Geary bus stop, we almost didn’t need to open our umbrellas.

ferawyn's david showing new chocolate bars
David Whittingham shows off Fera’wyn’s new chocolate bars at the 2016 Fall Chocolate Salon

Chocolate fairies

Once inside, our first stop was one of our latest favorites, Fera’wyn’s Artisan Chocolates 4-cup chocolatier, of Vallejo. Partner David Whittingham was handing out samples of their new caramel and truffle bars. We tried the toasted coconut, which is a nice bar full of chewy coconut bits. Very satisfying.

It was also the start of a coconut theme for this Salon. Coconut oil, coconut sugar, and actual coconut bits were common ingredients this time. Toasting the coconut was a nice touch here, enhancing its nuttiness and elevating it from the nostalgia of the gummy filling of a commercial bar.

ferawyn box of truffles
Fera’wyn’s Holiday Collection includes the Green Fairy (absinthe with basil-lower left)

Fera’wyn’s also had their holiday collection of truffles at the Salon, which features holiday flavors like peppermint, gingerbread, and pumpkin, along with favorites like Limoncello. It also includes their Absinthe, AKA Green Fairy (which seems an appropriate chocolate for Fera’wyn’s).

David explained that they use St. George Absinthe Verte, from the local, highly regarded St. George Spirits Distillery. But — in typical Fera’wyn’s fashion — to make it more interesting, he added basil to the herbal elixir ganache. We sampled it and loved it; it’s very bright, herby, and a little boozy.

I also checked in with Joanna, David’s wife & partner, to see what else is new and if they had their Autumn Brittle that I loved at last year’s Fall Salon. She told me that they couldn’t make it for the salon because of the rain. Humidity is not brittle’s BFF. They do however offer free local SFBA drop-off service for any of their chocolates and candies, so I might not be totally out of luck.

ferawyn pretzels
Cute little package of Fera’wyn’s chocolate-covered pretzels would make a good stocking stuffer

In addition to the new bars and the holiday truffles, Fera’wyn’s double-wide booth also featured their adorable turtles and chocolate-covered pretzel rings decorated for Christmas. Since I am not a big pretzel fan, I asked someone who is to try them, and he gave them the thumbs up, especially in the personal package size I got at the show. They would make a cute gift for pretzel lovers. I, on the other hand, am torn between giving the box of turtles I bought at the show as a gift or keeping them for myself.

Any volunteers?

On the horizon, Joanna told me that they are developing a hot chocolate line, but they’ve encountered a problem: “It’s hard to get people as guinea pigs. Drinking chocolate is so rich that after a thimbleful, you’re done.”

If you think you can hang, you might want to contact Fera’wyn’s and volunteer your drinking chocolate services.

The Whittinghams have been busy doing a lot of shows, most recently in Seattle, WA, and Colorado Springs, CO. Locally, they will be at the KPFA Winter Crafts Fair, 12/17/16. While they are traveling a lot to promote Fera’wyn’s, Joanna noticed something: “It seems like chocolate is happening around the edges of the country, but not a lot in the middle.”

While I feel sorry for the middle states that are missing out, I’m glad we have so much good chocolate happening around us. Fera’wyn’s Artisan Chocolates are definitely a part of that, so much so that after this Salon, we 4 CBTB chocolateers decided to make them one of our 4-cup recommended chocolatiers.

Fera’wyn’s Artisan Chocolates are available online and at special events. Check their website for the latest info.

Delicious & ambitious

Elyce Zahn
Elyce Zahn must run an amazingly tight ship to keep everything stocked and delicious for the many shows CocoTutti is at every year.

The other CBTB-recommended chocolatier at the show, CocoTutti 4-cup chocolatier, was staying just as busy as Fera’wyn’s. Elyce Zahn, CocoTutti’s founder and head chocolatier, had just come back from the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle too, along with Mindy Fong of Jade Chocolates and Christine Doerr of NeoCocoa.

Not skipping a beat, Elyce was at the Fall Chocolate Salon with a wide array of bars, truffles, and housemade jams. (Mindy? Christine? Where you at?) The following weekend, she planned to be at the Wine Country Winter Festival, and then the KPFA Winter Crafts Fair in mid-December.

I’m not sure how Elyce manages to keep everything in stock and delicious, but next year sounds even more ambitious: “We will be doing 10,000-people shows back to back next year in Portland and LA,” she said. “Right now, I’m trying to figure out how to pull it off.”

However she does it, the magic is still there. We sampled bars and jams. Everything looked beautiful and had the wonderfully balanced and bright flavors we expect from CocoTutti.

CocoTutti Painted Bars
CocoTutti hand-painted CocoQuintets make a nice small gift or treat for yourself

CocoTutti bars, called CocoQuintet bars, are an ingenious way of making fancy chocolates personal. Each hand-painted bar is a set of 5 connected chocolate pillows filled with either caramel, ganache or nut butter. Much easier to buy for yourself than a box of truffles, they are also special enough to give as small gifts to other chocolate lovers. And I like how easy they are to share: just break off a pillow for each person, no muss, no fuss.

We tried the two new flavors she had at the show. (All this and new flavors too! Elyce is a chocolate superhero.) The Pink Peppercorn Ganache had a mild peppery heat in a milk chocolate ganache covered in dark chocolate. If you find spicy chocolates too hot, try this one. It’s not too hot, just a little assertive.

 CocoTutti Nut bars
CocoTutti nut bars

The other new flavor, Almond Butter Crunch, was house-made crunchy almond butter blended with a touch of cinnamon and covered in dark chocolate. The crunchy bits were chewy, not hard, and gave the distinctly almond bar a very appealing mouthfeel.

We also sampled the rest of her classic bars, and recommend them all. If you see CocoQuintets anywhere, get one for yourself. If you like orange-flavored chocolates, try the Blood Orange Truffle bar. Elyce makes the marmalade that flavors the ganache herself, then blends a perfect balance between the tart and the sweet.

If you like berry flavors, the Raspberry Truffle bar sprinkled with freeze-dried raspberries on the bottom is a must-try. (The top is hand-painted like all of the CocoQuintets.) It bursts with raspberry flavor. Like heat? The Ginger Caramel & Thai Chili Peanuts packs the double heat of ginger & chili. And all of her bars made with spirits are great boozy treats, which is funny because as Elyce explains, “I don’t drink a lot.”

She does claim an impressive liquor box though, which she is using as she works on a new line using spirits, including gin, vermouth, and a new rum. I especially recommend her Whiskey in Chocolate Caramel bar while waiting for the new flavors.

As always, Elyce makes ’most everything that flavors her bars, including nut butters and jams. She also sells the jams at the Fall Salons. We tried the Spiced Pear Preserves, which Elyce explained started out too mild when it was straight-up pear, so she added spices like cinnamon and cardamom. It was the right call, the more assertive flavors made us instantly think that this would be great accompanying a cheese platter.

CocoTutti products are available online and at special events (check their website for upcoming events they will be at). And the CocoQuintets are available in some local stores now: Elyce mentioned that they are in Woodlands Market, Diablo Foods, some Books Inc. locations, and Market Hall Foods.

Help a local chocolate company

Cacaco booth
Rob from CaCoCo fields questions from salon attendees about their drinking chocolate and Kickstarter campaign

Sandwiched between CocoTutti & Fera’wyn’s booths was CaCoCo, the almost-raw drinking chocolate from Santa Cruz. We love Cacoco’s dark drinking chocolate and their very cute mini-Mayan pyramid packaging. They make good, simple gifts for chocolate fans.

CaCoCo Packaging
CaCoCo’s packaging is good for you too

The big news from CaCoCo, according to Rob, who was manning the booth solo, is that they are doing a Kickstarter campaign through 12/19/16 to “source more regenerative cacao and have eco-friendly packaging.”

We love their packaging from the pyramid shape to the Mayam-inspired graphics. But how eco-friendly is it? Not only is it 100% compostable, printed with vegetable inks on recycled paper, but it is glue-free. Instead of using glue, it’s “held together with the power of origami!” according to their Kickstarter campaign page.

It’s a perfect fit for their chocolate, which is traditional-style cacao, minimally processed. It’s not raw nor is it roasted. Instead it is fermented, which Cacoco co-founder Liam Blackmon told us at the last Salon unlocks the flavor of the cacao.

You can order Cacoco online or find it locally in grocery & specialty food stores, like Farm Fresh to You, Rainbow Grocery and Real Food Company.

New perspective on white chocolate

lynn and kevin of Philip Marks
Managing Partner Lynne Israel and Chocolatier Kevin Turnbeaugh show off Philip Marks’ attractive logo

On the other side of the CocoTutti booth was a new local chocolatier, Philip Marks Chocolates, of Brisbane. We met Managing Partner Lynne Israel, who immediately gave us samples of their White Chocolate Bar Marbelized with Natural Raspberry.

The bar is pretty with alternating sections of pink raspberry and white chocolate throughout the bar, but as I’ve stated many times before on this blog, I’m a bit of a white-chocolate hater, and this bar was too sweet to change my mind.

Swiss chocolate

Lynne told me that Philip Marks is a local, super small company, started 1-1/2 years ago in Brisbane. They make bars, barks, and chocolate-covered fruits using Felchlin couverture, a high-end Swiss brand, and everything is all natural, with no preservatives.

Philip Marks Chocolates
A sampling of new chocolatier Philip Marks Chocolates’ wares

Undeterred by my stated dislike for the white chocolate/raspberry bar, Lynne gave me a sample of their White Chocolate Double Roasted Cashew Bark. This was a completely different white chocolate experience for me. Roasting the cashews twice gave them a smoky, pronounced nuttiness. That combined with Japanese sea salt balanced the sweetness of the white chocolate. This is definitely the white chocolate treat for non-believers like me.

Lynne confirmed that this is common: “We’re trying to change people’s perceptions of white chocolate,” she said. “They say they don’t like it, then they try the bark. ‘Oh, that’s really good,’ and they buy 12.”

We also tried the 72% dark with double roasted cashews, but didn’t like it as much (gasp!). The dark chocolate bark was too hard and thick; it was too much chocolate and too strong for the delicate flavor of the cashews. I have to go on record here as recommending that if you’d like to try their cashew bark, get the white chocolate version.

Philip Marks Bette Bites
Philip Marks Betta Bitta bites look sooo little in that big box

More, please

Finally, we bought a Betta Bitta box, which is a set of 4 chocolate squares, each containing pieces of a different dried fruit: Mango, Cranberry, Blueberry, and Cherry. We were disappointed initially: the box is big, but the squares inside are small; kinda like the packaging for a lot of personal care products.

The chocolate in the squares is 65%, and the squares are dense pieces that start out hard in your mouth, but as they warm up, become more chocolaty. Then you get to the chewy dried fruit, which is very flavorful. It was an experience that we liked more and more as we went through it.

Lynne told us that they had just gotten their products into Whole Foods. Philip Marks Chocolates are also available online and in other local grocery & specialty food stores. Check their website for locations.

Chocolate raindrops

Another new chocolatier at the Salon was Rainy Day Chocolate, out of Sonoma County. We met co-owner Jennifer Daly, who told us their name was inspired by last year’s El Niño rains.

rainy day chocolates jennifer daly
Jennifer from Rainy Day Chocolates offered samples of 2 single-origin chocolates and a blended Belgian

Rainy Day was probably the newest chocolatier at the Salon: Jennifer and her partner, Christopher Sund, just went full time on the business in June this year. Neither partner came from a chocolate-related field: Jennifer told us she came from a telecom company that grew from 30 to 1500 people over 15 years. And Christopher had a landscaping business for 10 years. “We decided to pursue our passion for chocolate,” Jennifer said.

And voila! Rainy Day Chocolate was born.

Christopher wasn’t able to come to this show, but Jennifer told me that he’s the one who makes the chocolate. Rainy Day makes flavored and single-origin truffles.

They use a Belgian couverture  for the flavored truffles, like Red Wine, which has a red wine reduction in the ganache, and Zebra, which is semisweet and white chocolate. They also make milk and dark truffles with the same couverture.

Their single-origin truffles also come in milk and dark. At the Salon, Jennifer had a couple of 70% single-origins to sample: Guatemalan & Belize. “We also make single-origin truffles with chocolate from Madagascar and Ecuador.”

Jennifer started the sampling with their 69% Belgium blended chocolate, which we found a bit bland, but that could be a good thing for flavored chocolates. The Guatemalan & Belize were much more interesting, very fruity tasting.

Where did I just eat?

rainy day single origin chocolates
Rainy Day Chocolates single-origin 2-pack

I bought the 2-piece single origin pack to taste later with my fellow CBTB chocolateers, and as soon as we got together and began the tasting, we had a problem: Neither the package nor the truffles themselves identify where they originate from. I think the point of single-origin is to give us a way to appreciate how different chocolate tastes depending on where it was grown. Without an identifier, there is no knowledge gained from the tasting.

This is important also because Rainy Day is charging a premium price for their truffles. We paid over $3 a piece for these truffles (in their online shop, it’s $4), which is more than we pay for other local artisan truffles. A premium price implies a premium experience. And while we liked the experience of the truffles — they had a creamy, smooth texture, and were clean tasting and fruity with a citrus finish — that is not enough if their unique draw (single origin) is lost.

This problem can be easily solved; and since Rainy Day is new, I am sure they will fix this in the next iteration of their line. They could add labels to the packaging or designs to the truffles with a key enclosed in the packaging, for instance, and problem solved.

We’d also like to see more luxurious packaging for a premium product. The current packaging seems too big and dark: the truffles get lost in the packaging. Again, since Rainy Day is new, we expect they are also evaluating the packaging, and we look forward to seeing how they develop their line.

Rainy Day Chocolate is available online, at events and in a couple of places in Santa Rosa currently, including a pop-up in a local mall. Check their website for locations.

Basel B truffle
Basel B truffles are big & ornate
Basel Bazlamit
Basel Bazlamit, Basel B Inc., and a few of his bejeweled creations


On the other end of the visual spectrum of luxury chocolates was another new (just started production in April 2015) chocolatier, Basel B Inc., of San Francisco. Basel B makes big, gilded truffles that look like expensive jewelry. Seriously, this stuff looks amazing. Very ornate gilded tops on large cylinders (1-1/4″w x 1-1/4″h) of chocolate, painted gold with a small jewel color in the middle representing the flavor inside.

Basel Bazlamit, the company’s CEO and chocolatier, worked as a designer and 3D artist in movies before starting Basel B, and that background shows in the engineering feat that is these truffles. If you didn’t know it was chocolate when you open the box, you might think they were jewelry, ornaments, or really big buttons.

The box is similarly ornate with the truffle line’s name, “Darkness,” printed in black varnish on black paper, and gold accents added inside and out. Inside, each truffle is cradled in its own individual pocket outlined in gold. They look too pretty to eat.

All that bling comes at a price — these were the most expensive truffles at the show at $5 a piece. They were also the largest. I was told they are meant to be savored over time: “The size is big to last as long as a glass of wine.”

It makes sense when you learn that Basel’s mentor was Joseph Schmidt, who also made some big truffles back in the day in SF. (Fun fact: the 4 truffles pictured on our recommended page are Joseph Schmidt’s signature egg-shaped truffles.)

At the Salon, they had small samples of their Darkness line (85% dark chocolate, gluten free, organic), and we tried the hazelnut caramel. I liked it; it was a chewy caramel in a good quality dark, but not bitter, chocolate.

Gift chocolate

Our experience with a purchased box afterwards, however, was not the same. Overall, we found the fillings interesting and delicious, but the exterior chocolate was a problem. The shells were too thick, and whether we bit into them or cut them in pieces to try (because they are too big to pop in your mouth), the chocolate shattered and left a mess of crumbs. It was a hard, waxy chocolate with a chalky aftertaste that didn’t match the beauty of the pieces or the flavor of the fillings.

And the fillings are pretty cool: The Mint Lemonade had a loose, jelly-like texture and a burst of fresh mint flavor. The Rose Champagne with Raspberry had a block of firm jelly placed on raspberry puree, which made for an interesting texture contrast and a mild raspberry flavor.

Maybe my favorite filling was the Pistachio with Honey & Cardamom. Pistachio is one of those mild nuts that often disappear in a truffle. This one was delicious with crunchy bits of green pistachio that the honey and cardamom enhanced and the dark chocolate didn’t overwhelm, but we still didn’t like the chocolate casing.

I want to love these glitzy, high-end chocolates. They are stunning to look at, and the fillings are great. But right now, they aren’t “user friendly” (in the words of one of my fellow CBTB chocolateers) — the shell is too thick and heavy and just not delicious enough.

Considering how amazing Basel B’s Darkness truffles are on so many counts already, I am sure they can find a way to upgrade the chocolate shells to make them one mind-blowing luxury experience.

Basel B Marshmallow
Basel B Marshmallow Treats are pretty, flavorful and have a better chocolate-to-filling ratio

More modest luxury

At the Salon, Basel B Inc. also had marshmallow pops in 3 flavors: Pumpkin Spice, Black Cherry, and Green Apple & Caramel. I’m seeing Pumpkin Spice everywhere these days, so I opted to try the other two.

The Green Apple & Caramel is a play on caramel apples with the apple-flavored marshmallow layered on top of caramel, dipped in chocolate and rolled in chopped almonds. It was an interesting flavor and texture combo, the marshmallow was very soft, almost melting, the caramel was chewy, the almonds crunchy, and the chocolate was the right thickness and didn’t overwhelm the rest of the ingredients.

Black Cherry was simpler, but also a pretty treat with a shell of pink-tinged white chocolate on top, the slightly redder marshmallow visible in the middle, and the bottom third covered in dark chocolate. It looked kinda like those monochromatic 3-toned sweaters that come into fashion every few years.

The taste was very cherry, but too sweet for me. I think if they made these half as sweet, they would be twice as delicious. A nice touch is that even the white chocolate on top was cherry flavored. The amount of dark chocolate seemed right to me too and balanced the cherry flavor.

Basel B Inc. chocolates are available at the Velvet Raven café and at special events.

Fabulous, fabulous

Fab Delights’ Jen Missakian
Fab Delights’ Jen Missakian shows off her latest creation, Chai Truffles

Another new-to-us chocolatier at the Salon was Fab Delight’s Chocolate Truffles of Brentwood. They are not a new chocolatier, however, as owner & head chocolatier Jen Missakian told us this is their 6th year, and they won 3 Bronze Awards at the 2013 International Chocolate Salon. I missed them that time ’round, so I was glad to have the chance to get to know them at this more modest-sized affair.

Jen told me that they make truffles plus “fun things on the side like drunken strawberries.”

At the Salon, they were sampling 2 flavors: their award-winning Tiramisu truffle, which had a chocolate-covered espresso bean in the center of a cappuccino ganache, and a Raspberry truffle, with fresh raspberries mashed into the ganache.

Jen explained that the Tiramisu is “heavily caffeinated. It’s meant to revive you.”

It was also pretty sweet, so if the caffeine didn’t do it, I think the sugar in it could give you a bit of a boost too.

Next, we tried the Raspberry, which Jen explained took a bit of experimenting to work out: “I tried to juice the raspberries, but there was no juice! I realized that’s because raspberries are made of seeds. So instead, I punched them down, I mashed them with a fork and added that to the ganache to get a higher raspberry flavor. They turned out fabulous. I learn a lot by trial and error.”

The raspberry flavor did mix nicely with the dark chocolate, the seeds were not a problem, but I would prefer a less-sweet truffle. As I get older, I like less sugar in my chocolate, and while I’m not interested in sugarfree chocolate (which Fab Delights offers), I find it harder to enjoy the flavors in sweeter truffles. The sugar grabs my attention.

Fab Delights Chai Truffles
Fab Delights’s latest flavor, Chai Truffles, has a cute sugar leaf decoration

Holiday spice

Fab Delights also featured their holiday/seasonal flavors at the Salon, like Peppermint and Cinnabun, plus a brand new flavor: Chai Tea, which featured an 80% ganache flavored with chai tea dipped in 80% chocolate.

Jen makes her own chai tea for the ganache, and it was nice and strong: we could taste the different spices in the tea.

The first taste we got from the truffle though was not chocolate or spices, but (today’s theme) coconut. There was no ingredients list included with the box of 6 chai truffles we bought, so we don’t know what gave it that taste, but we thought Coconut Chai would be better name for these truffles. We didn’t mind the coconut flavor, it was just unexpected.

The Chai Tea truffle was not as sweet as the other 2 we sampled, and we liked that it was 80% cacao. However, the tea spices made the ganache a little gritty, which we found off-putting. They are cute truffles though, with a small different colored sugar maple leaf atop each round ball in the pack.

Fab Delight’s Chocolates are available online and at special events.

Megan O'cacao
Megan of O’Cacao explains the different flavors in the 4-morsel pack

Food for thought

And now we come to the healthy eating part of the show (aww man…):

New chocolatier O’Cacao of San Francisco was selling little cubes of “chocolate food, not a candy,” in the words of creator & SF native Megan O’Grady Greene.

O’Cacao is organic raw chocolate lightly sweetened with birch tree sugar (AKA xylitol) and flavored with organic, raw, GMO-free, low GI (Glycemic Index) ingredients and botanical superfoods.

Raw chocolate is considered superior health-wise to traditionally processed chocolate because it is not roasted, so it has more of the vitamins, antioxidants and minerals that occur in the cacao bean. And low GI foods don’t cause the “sugar highs” and crashes that mess with our blood sugar levels. So O’Cacao is only sweetened with birch tree sugar, which is very low on the GI scale.

“There’s no cane sugar, no agave, no coconut sugar [in O’Cacao products],” Megan said. “You can eat it for breakfast.”

Besides raw cacao and birch tree sugar, all of the flavors include mesquite powder, goji berries, coconut oil, chicory, and sea salt, which are considered botanical superfoods (they should deliver superior health benefits). Megan said, “Consider it luxury food medicine.”

Ocacao box
O’Cacao has some simple, pretty graphics on their eco-friendly box

Or punishment. My idea of a luxury food-as-medicine experience is eating out in Seoul. This is starting to sound like the Chinese medicine I used to have to brew up and hold my nose while drinking.

So far, the chocolate being described is far from what I look for when trying artisan chocolate. And calling chocolate food doesn’t seem like a selling point to me.

The 180 continues with the eating directions. Because the chocolate is raw with no preservatives, Megan recommends either eating it within 5 days or storing it in the fridge for up to 3 months. If you do keep it cold, you should take it out of the fridge a day or 2 before you plan to eat it (! — my chocolate-planning window is more like 5-10 minutes).

After leaving it out for a day or 2, you cut the little <1″ cube into small pieces to eat over the next 2 days. “It’s like a glass of wine,” Megan explained. “You don’t chug it, you’ll miss the nuance.”

Healthy choice

OK, but what does it taste like? Megan said that after you let it warm it up in your mouth, you will notice it has a textured quality: “Some describe it as like a cookie, others a fudge.”

The first thing I notice about the piece before I put it in my mouth is the intense smell of fresh, raw chocolate. It’s a good start. However, the taste experience didn’t win me over. Like other raw chocolates I’ve tried, I found the texture too grainy and the chocolate bitter. I’m still not a raw chocolate fan.

If you do like raw chocolate or are watching your sugar intake, you might find O’Cacao wonderful. High-quality ingredients, low GI, beautiful logo and graphics, cool name, and a lot of integrity in their business model, down to the eco-friendly packaging: Even the clear wrap around the morsels is compostable cellulose.

O’Cacao comes in 11 flavors and is currently available online. Check their website for other locations.

Local inspiration

Firefly Jonas
Firefly’s Jonas Ketterle describes alternative uses for their traditional bars

Next at the Salon, we checked in with Jonas Ketterle, Founder & Chief Chocolatier at Firefly Chocolate of Sebastopol to see what’s been happening with their brand since the last Salon and hear about the cacao ceremonies he participated in in Thailand last spring.

Firefly is fairly new — they started selling bars in June 2015 — but they hit the ground running and at each Salon, they’ve had new products and interesting concepts to share.  This time was no different.

We missed Jonas at the last Salon because he was in Thailand for a month, drinking cacao in ceremonies that last for hours. He explained that you drink 1 oz of pure cacao mixed with water and spices, and the experience is very moving. “People feel bliss, joy,” he said. “And aren’t those things we all want?”

While there he also learned Thai massage, which he related to the cacao ceremonies: “Cacao is a vasodilator [increases blood flow],” he said. “It improves your sense of touch.”

We suggested he should bring the concept to SFBA, and he’d already been thinking about it, even has a name for it: Chocolodge, a place to drink chocolate together. We will bring you updates as we hear them.

Jar of Joy
Jar of Joy is aptly named and is topped with a copper foil version of the Firefly logo

Firefly’s expanded line of products was at the Salon including cacao nibs (Jonas said they are working on maple-glazed cacao nibs), their full line of bars, spreads/butters, and their chocolate salve in a larger size (yea!). They had also come up with a name (Jar of Joy) and packaging for the dark chocolate/hazelnut spread that we loved from the last Salon.

It looked like Jonas was doing brisk business in all things cacao at the Salon, and he told us that surprisingly 20% of their sales now is 100% bulk chocolate. They’ve even set up a separate space online to sell bulk cacao.

Nuts for bay nuts

As for what was new at the Salon, Jonas introduced us to the seasonal, limited edition Bay Nut Chocolate Bar.

Jonas explained what bay nuts are: “It’s the roasted nut of the same tree that we harvest bay leaves from. You can’t eat the nut raw. You have to roast it. It’s really aromatic.”

The wild harvested bay nut bar came about because Jonas thinks it’s important to learn about local ecology. Being conscious of what we have locally resulted in this unique find.

We 4 CBTB-ers tried the Bay Nut bar and loved it: It tastes a little coffee-ish, it’s very nutty and savory, with a smoky or roasted grain flavor like Gen Mai Cha (green tea with roasted brown rice). It’s not too sweet, instead it’s just enough sweet with a smoky aftertaste.

The Bay Nut bar is available for a limited time only. We suggest you try it now if you are interested in unique local chocolate.

Firefly Bay Nut bar
Firefly’s Bay Nut bar identifies its ingredients by percentage and origin

Firefly Chocolate products are available online and at a few select locations, mostly in the North Bay. Check their website for details.

Full of beans

Our almost-raw friends at Endorfin Foods of Oakland had their full line of bars and gift boxes at the Salon plus their new Ritual Sipping Cacao and something from their subscription boxes.

Endorfin crew
Endorfin crew, their line of bars, and the new coffee-like drinking chocolate

When I was told that Ritual Sipping Cacao is a “whole bean” drinking chocolate, I immediately thought, “Whole beans? Like I have to grind them in my coffee grinder?”

Turns out that’s not what whole bean means in this context. Instead, Endorfin grinds the whole beans for you, and the resulting cacao paste is what’s in the big bag of drinking chocolate.

Ritual is unsweetened and contains just 1 ingredient: 100% cacao paste.

Endorfin’s founder and chief chocolate alchemist, Brian Wallace, explained that he wanted to do a simplified, 100% cacao drinking chocolate. “We’re taking a coffee approach to doing chocolate,” he said. “You can drink it straight; or if you want, you can put sugar in it. You can make it with milk too.”

He said that like coffee, you can add as much or as little sugar and/or milk, adjusting to your tastes. But his aim was for a drinking chocolate that is bold and flavorful.

Monthly delights

Endorfin offers subscription boxes of their chocolates which feature unique items you can’t buy separately online, such as the chocolate-covered figs and chili-dipped pineapple and mango at the Salon, which were in their box that month. Brian explained that he grew up on a farm so a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) plan was a natural for their chocolate. They currently offer 3 levels of Community Supported Chocolate Subscription Boxes.

You can purchase Endorfin’s CSC subscriptions online, along with their bars, gift boxes and Ritual drinking chocolate. You can also find their bars in select locations. Check their website for current locations.

Cowboy Toffee Garth Pitt
Cowboy Toffee’s Samantha hugs her husband, “Garth Pitt”

Greener pastures

With a tear in our eyes, we have to say goodbye to Cowboy Toffee Company of Oakley. Makers of consistently delicious toffee with a fun theme and attractive packaging, Samantha & Dan McGinnis have outgrown their Oakdale facility and are looking at the wide-open spaces of Texas to settle down in.

Samantha told us that commercial space here is just too expensive, so they are looking to move to the Fort Worth area, which she described as more business friendly. But she reassured us that they will keep a presence here. After all, their roots are here: She’s from San Jose, and Dan is from Monterrey.

Until they move, we can count on seeing them at local events such as the KPFA Winter Crafts Fair, 12/17/16, and Dan said they are at the Treasure Island Flea most months. After they move, they plan to still be at some events. Check their website for where you can buy their toffee in person (and tell Dan how great he looks).

Dan, or as Samantha calls him, “Garth Pitt,” gave us a sample of their seasonal Bushwacker toffee, which adds semi-sweet chocolate, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), sage, and pumpkin pie spice to their buttery toffee. Definitely a winner with our crowd: We liked the caramel-tasting toffee, the slightly crunchy seeds, the more assertive dark chocolate, and the subtle seasoning that became more pronounced at the end.

Before they ride off into the sunset

Cowboy Toffees
Two Cowboy Toffees to enjoy now: Chuck Wagon, sprinkled with coffee grounds, and the seasonal Bushwacker, topped with pepitas

Since it’s seasonal, you should get some now before it’s gone. And good news: Cowboy Toffee is offering free shipping through the holidays, AND they’re having a half-price sale on toffee right now. So don’t wait.

And while you’re at it, get their Chuck Wagon toffee too for a very different experience. It’s a milk chocolate toffee that sprinkled with wood-fire roasted coffee grounds and smoked sea salt.

We think it’s well-named: the coffee grounds remind us of “cowboy coffee,” and the smoky aftertaste reminds us of a campfire. Definitely a fun gift for friends who like to camp or coffee lovers who enjoy something different.

While we are sorry that Cowboy Toffee can’t stay here, they will still have their online store, and we will look for them at future events to see how things turn out for them in the Lone Star State. We wish them all the best.

Heavenly Toffee's Matt
Heavenly Toffee’s Matt shows off their redesigned packaging and spill-proof samples


We checked in with the other toffee maker at the Salon, Matt Elkins, owner/candymaker of Heavenly Taste Toffee, Danville. He had new packaging and business cards at the Salon, and we liked the cute, loose illustrations on the packages. I pronounce them, “gift worthy.”

Matt jokingly explained the new look: “I’ve been doing this a few years now; I’m getting the hang of it.”

He’s also getting the hang of these tastings. He had 2 toffees to sample this time: His classic Dark Chocolate Almond Toffee and his favorite Black & White Toffee. He had the toffees in small individual sample cups with lids. When my fellow CBTB-er dropped the sample cup on the floor, he didn’t lose the sample.

“That’s what the lids are for,” Matt dead-panned.

Matt also told us he’s been busy getting Heavenly Taste Toffee into more local stores. He told us they are now in Draeger’s and Whole Foods. Check their website for current locations. You can also order Heavenly Taste Toffee online.

Kindred Cooks coconut caramels
Kindred Cooks coconut caramels in their holiday wrappings.

Happy Holidays

Finally, we dropped by Kindred Cooks, the South Bay candy maker to see what’s new with their soft caramels.

Jeri Vasquez, Kindred Cooks’ founder, showed us their new holiday colors packaging. There are several different designs, and we liked how they would work for a lot of occasions, and while they are simple, they are suitably gift-y. I think these caramel packages would make great hostess gifts this holiday season.

And rounding out the unintentional theme of this year’s Fall Salon, we tried Kindred Cooks’ Toasted Coconut Caramels. We can recommend this one for coconut lovers with its chewy bits of coconut in the soft caramel.

As it says right on the package: “Worth It.”

Kindred Cooks Caramels are available online and in some Peninsula and South Bay locations like Draeger’s. They are often at special events like the Chocolate Salons and San Jose Made. And Jeri told us they are now in a kiosk at Valley Fair Mall in San Jose with 9 different vendors of locally made products. The kiosk is up indefinitely, so be sure to check it out next time you are nearby and support your local makers!

Local chocolatier/candy maker award winners at the 2016 Fall Chocolate Salon

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Published December 9, 2016