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

Chocolate Easter eggs

Egg-citing times


This year’s spring Chocolate Salon was focused on Easter in a big way

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The 15th annual San Francisco International Chocolate Salon sponsored by TasteTV was held April 2, 2023 in the Hall of Flowers in Golden Gate Park. It was a huuuge event, the largest Salon I’ve attended —at least 1000 visitors passed through the gate. Of the 40 vendors over half of them were local chocolate makers, chocolatiers, or chocolate-adjacent businesses.

Salon scene

The place was a hive of activity from when the doors opened until several hours later when I left. It was good to see the chocolate scene is thriving, but it was hard to talk to a lot of the vendors this time because they were so busy. I managed to find some news for you though and some new chocolate treats to try.

SFBA chocolate vendors at the show

As usual I am only covering local chocolate vendors but that still makes for a lengthy article. If you don’t want to scroll this long article, you can use this list to skip to your SFBA favs:


Our first stop was the booth of Salon veteran and someone we always look forward to seeing Elyce Zahn and CocoTutti3-5 cup chocolatier. They had a prime spot: first booth on the right as we entered the door which also meant their booth was mobbed most of the day.

CocoTutti Easter egg
CocoTutti Easter egg

After a short wait we got to chat with Elyce briefly and she showed us what she was highlighting at the Salon. For Easter she had hand painted chocolate eggs filled with assorted mini bonbons and molded guard bunnies.

This was the first we saw this year’s spring Salon trendy item: big chocolate eggs. There were bunnies elsewhere too, but they weren’t as splashy as the eggs. Elyce was one of the few we saw combine the two into one package.

Matzo and caramel treat
Matzo and caramel treat

And she was the only one with a treat for Passover, even though it was at the same time as Easter this year. She gave us samples of this new product made with layers of matzo, vanilla caramel, and 74% dark chocolate sprinkled with Maldon sea salt. I loved this explosion of vanilla caramel and salty dark chocolate with a soft matzo cracker crunch.

The other featured items were 2 bonbons/filled chocolate bars: “HOT” Chipotle Chocolate and Lemon with Olive Oil.

The Chipotle Chocolate was a reworking of the “HOT” Chipotle Ganache CocoQuintet filled bar which we liked last year. It started with a good not-too-sweet retro chocolate flavor that got hotter and more fruity tasting as it melted. Don’t chew this chocolate because you will miss the sensation of it getting hotter and hotter but never too hot as it melts. It moderated to a warm lingering aftertaste. I think it would make a lovely hot chocolate. It had a good balance between the chocolate and the distinct chipotle pepper flavor.

Lemon with Olive Oil CocoQuintet
Lemon with Olive Oil CocoQuintet

The Lemon with Olive Oil was a white and dark chocolate bonbon/CocoQuintet made with fresh lemon juice and rind and Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Del Oliva in Burlingame. The lightly lemon white ganache had a custard texture with bits of zest mixed in. The outer shell was white chocolate with a dark chocolate bottom. After the custard melted, there was a little olive oil slipperiness before the shell melted but the lemon flavor was the most pronounced.

In addition to the new items, the booth was full of bars, tablets, and bonbons but Elyce pointed out there were fewer booboo bags (their discounted chocolates) this time because “we are getting better at making chocolate.”

CocoTutti booth
Elyce Zahn and husband John helping Salon attendees at the CocoTutti booth

CocoTutti did very well in the Salon competition winning Gold for Best Traditional Chocolates and New Product Award (look for the matzo to be available this fall); Silver for Best Chocolate Bar, Top Artisan Chocolatier, and Best in Salon; Bronze for Best Dark Chocolates, Best Milk Chocolates, and Top Toffee in Salon; and Honorable Mentions for Best Caramels or Truffles, Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product. In the People’s Choice Awards, they won Silver for Best Caramels or Truffles and Best in Salon; and Bronze for Top Artisan Chocolatier and Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations.

You can buy CocoTutti chocolates online, locally in some stores (check the website), and at events around the area and beyond. You can pick up chocolate orders at their kitchen, and Elyce offers classes at the kitchen too.

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flying noir

Crossing the stream of foot traffic, we visited flying noir, makers of inventive artistic chocolates. This time Karen Urbanek, flying noir’s head chocolatier/artist, had 5 new flavors that she updated her regular poetry & prose collection with and which she had us sample.

flying noir new flavors
flying noir new flavors

Talking about the first new piece “pash,” Karen told us that her kitchen situation is precarious right now with a new landlord. And the person she had been sharing the kitchen with was leaving. So she made a special farewell collection for her.

She’s a chef who made pies in that space, one of which was called Frankenpie and was a pie of 6 pieces with each a different flavor. So Karen did a 6-piece collection with each bonbon a riff on the one of the flavors in the Frankenpie. The collection was called A is for Angela (the chef’s name is Angela Pinkerton) and each flavor description in box had the word Angela in the poems that accompany the descriptions. What a sweet send-off.

pash bonbon

Karen said that collection was an interesting challenge because she found it very different to work with pie flavors — her usual oeuvre is spirits and spices and teas and crunchy bits. One of the pie flavors made it into the revamped poetry & prose collection at the Salon: The new passion fruit “pash” is made with passion fruit curd which seemed appropriately pie-like. It’s also vegan made with oat milk and passion fruit in a 64% single origin. It had a tart passionfruit flavor and the chocolate Karen picked was a good compliment — it had berry and nutty flavors which blended well with the tartness of the fruit curd.

The other new pieces were more typical of flying noirs flavors — if I can really be so bold in labeling something typical of one of the most experimental chocolatiers in SFBA. The Virginière was a smooth 70% single origin ganache flavored with local distillery St. George’s Citrus Vodka. Not bitter it was mostly chocolatey with a mild citrus overtone.

Taisim bonbon

The Taisim was flying noir’s take on a spicy orange chocolate, this one a 55% flavored with Seville orange, star anise, and peppercorn. Karen told us she is still tweaking this one because she thought maybe the star anise was too strong and she planned to add more zest next time because the Seville orange tends to evaporate. I half agreed with her assessment. I didn’t think the star anise was too strong, but I did find the piece to be more of a savory chocolate that could use another shot of orange.

The metila was an organic white chocolate flavored with imperial jasmine tea. This one surprised me, I expected a floral jasmine flavor; instead it started very chocolately going to a very fruity liqueur taste.

IG bonbon
IG bonbon

The final piece, “IG,” used 2 ingredients that deepen the chocolaty-ness of chocolate — Irish whiskey and espresso — to make a very satisfying chocolatey tasting 55% ganache.

flying noir won Silver for Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations and Best Dark Chocolates; and Bronze for Top Artisan Chocolatier, Best Traditional Chocolates, Best Milk Chocolates, Best Caramels or Truffles, Best Organic or Fair Trade Products, New Product Award, and Best in Salon. In the People’s Choice Awards, they received Silver for Most Artistic Designs and Best in Salon; Bronze for Best Milk Chocolates and New Product Award; and Honorable Mention for Best Caramels or Truffles

You can buy flying noir chocolates online and at special events. You can also schedule a pickup at their kitchen. Check their website for details.

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Michael Benner at MIchael’s Chocolates booth
Michael Benner and a sweater bunny

Michael’s Chocolates

Michael’s Chocolates3-5 cup chocolatier had a double booth with their full line of chocolates and it was so crazy busy I didn’t get a chance to ask Michael what’s new. I did spy one of their cute Easter sweater bunnies and some new ginger bars, which I had tried when he was experimenting with them at his shop last year.

I was glad to see the ginger bars made it into production because the bar has a strong ginger flavor from the candied ginger pieces but it has more chocolate in the mix than dipped ginger pieces so I like it better.

Lemon Burst bonbons and Ginger Chocolate bars
Lemon Burst bonbons and Ginger Chocolate bars

As is often the case, Michael’s Chocolates went home with a bunch of awards, winning Gold for Top Artisan Chocolatier, Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations, Best Dark Chocolates, and Best in Salon; Silver for Best Traditional Chocolates and Best Caramels or Truffles; and Honorable Mentions for Best Chocolate Bar, Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product.

In the People’s Choice Awards, they received Gold for Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations and Best in Salon; Silver for Top Artisan Chocolatier, Most Artistic Designs, Best Dark Chocolates, Best Caramels or Truffles, and New Product Award; Bronze for Best Milk Chocolates and Top Toffee in Salon.

You can buy Michael’s Chocolates at their factory store in Oakland, online, at some local shops, and at special events.

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R & J Toffees

Sandwiched between flying noir and Michael’s Chocolates was Salon veteran R & J Toffees. They make one item: Premium Almond Toffee. Like a lot of toffee makers, their toffee is based on a family recipe but what’s different about R & J is that their toffee is aged for several months before it’s sold. They encourage buyers to age it even more to bring out more of its buttery flavor.

R&J toffee
R&J Toffee

R & J Toffees won Gold for Top Toffee in Salon; Bronze for Best Milk Chocolates, New Product Award, and Best in Salon; and Honorable Mentions for Top Artisan Chocolatier and Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product. In the People’s Choice Awards, they received Gold for Top Toffee in Salon and an Honorable Mention for Best in Salon.

R & J Toffees are available online, in local Whole Foods, Costcos, and some other local stores. They also sell their toffee at special events and festivals. Visit their website to find other locations.

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Jennifer at Rainy Day’s booth
Jennifer at Rainy Day’s booth

Rainy Day Chocolate

Next to Michael’s, Jennifer & Chris Sund, the owners/chocolate makers/chocolatiers of Rainy Day Chocolate had their booth well stocked with their chocolate covered marshmallows, bars, and award winning toffee. They are opening their first commercial space this year and Chris gave me an update on how it’s going.

They are planning a June or July opening and working on the interior now which Chris said will be “colorful and fun” with bright reds and purples. “We both like bright colors — so you’ll see the purple in our logo in the shop. And it’s a great location — on a hill overlooking a valley.”

They are not in the kitchen yet but Chris was excited about the new space and equipment: “The enrober will change my life, and we have a brand new grinder behind a plexiglas wall” which will be one of the attractions in the classes and tours they plan to offer.

Rainy Day marshmallows
Rainy Day’s 1-1/2″ tall marshmallows

They didn’t have a new product at Salon but Chris said he was working on a dipped honeycomb with sea salt (which that new enrober will definitely help with). Since we have already tried Rainy Day toffee and bars, this time we went for the marshmallows. They offer 2 kinds — milk and dark chocolate — of these big hand dipped (for now but soon to be enrobed) housemate marshmallows.

Both marshmallows had a soft chew in not too thick/not too thin shells (we will have to check later to see if the enrober can do as good a job applying the optimal amount of chocolate coating 😉). Both the milk and the dark were good, but I thought the dark was a tastier chocolate. It wasn’t bitter but more assertively chocolate. The milk chocolate one seemed more about the marshmallow.

Rainy Day Chocolate won Gold for Best Milk Chocolates; Silver for Best Traditional Chocolates, Top Toffee in Salon, and Best Organic or Fair Trade Products; Bronze for Best Chocolate Bar; and a Bronze People’s Choice Award for Best Milk Chocolates.

Rainy Day Chocolate is available online, at special events, and soon in their own place up in Sonoma County.

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That Batch

Around the corner from Rainy Day was That Batch, a new (since COVID) dessert maker based in Berkeley. While they primarily make sweets like cookies and cheesecake, they also make some truffles and hot chocolate bombs.

At the Salon they were highlighting their desserts, but they had one truffle, their Oreo truffle which we sampled. It was covered in white chocolate and had a soft almost fluffy texture from the combination of white chocolate ganache and ground up cookies. It had an authentic Oreo taste.

In addition to their online shop, they told us they do popups and catering and sell some items at The Oakland Food Hall where you can order and pick up food from a bunch of small local food vendors.

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Kindred Caramels

Confectioner Jeri Vasquez of Kindred Caramels had 2 new flavors at the Salon. She has said before she usually does one new flavor a year so this was special.

Some of Kindred Caramels flavors
Some of Kindred Caramels flavors on display at the Salon

The first flavor we tried, Mango Tajin, uses the Mexican seasoning combo of chili peppers, lime, and sea salt with mango in caramel. I hadn’t heard of Tajin (although it has been around for decades) so Jeri gave me a brief explainer. Since the combo is a classic seasoning for fresh fruit, tropical mango seemed an obvious partner for this caramel.

I liked the initial burst of mango flavor in the buttery soft chew caramel and the warmth that came next from the chili lime seasoning. Jeri said that with this new flavor she plans to approach Mexican food retail stores which could be a new market for her caramels.

Lemon Marshmallow Caramel
Lemon Marshmallow Caramel

The other new flavor, Lemon with Marshmallow, has mini marshmallows wrapped inside caramel. It had a good but mild lemon flavor — Jeri was already planning to add more lemon zest to make the next iteration more lemony tasting. The mini marshmallows gave a nice texture contrast to soft buttery caramel.

Kindred Caramels won Gold in Best Caramels or Truffles; Silver for New Product Award; Bronze in Best Traditional Chocolates; and Honorable Mention for Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product.

Kindred Caramels are available in stores around SFBA (check their website for locations), online, and at special events.

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Owner Chocolatier Malena Lopez-Maggi
Xocolate Bar owner/chocolatier Malena Lopez-Maggi

The Xocolate Bar

Next to Kindred, The Xocolate Bar of Berkeley had their eye-catching bars, bonbons, and “chocuterie.” The chocuterie was owner/chocolatier/creative head Malena Lopez-Maggi’s play on a charcuterie board with “salami” and “brie” rendered in chocolate.

These weren’t salami and cheese flavored chocolates (although I’ve had salami/bacon and bleu cheese chocolate before). While the chocolate salami and brie looked like their names they tasted like chocolate.

Salami and brie packaging
Salami and brie packaging

The brie was a round of white chocolate flavored with fresh lime. The not too sweet white chocolate had a refreshing lime flavor and a slightly chewy cheese texture — someone suggested it would be good on crackers just like real brie.

The salami was a log of dark chocolate mixed with pecans, roasted almonds, and gluten free cookies, then rolled in powdered sugar to give it that aged salami look. The texture was a cross between a brownie and fudge with lots of nuts. The taste was like a nutty chewy brownie. I recommend it. It’s fun and tasty, definitely a conversation starter.

The packaging of the chocuterie is clever and attractive too with wrappers printed to look like checkered picnic cloth closed with circular labels echoing the way a deli would wrap the chocolates’ namesakes. The salami wrapper is also closed with a cotton string to further mimic the food that inspired it.

Chocolate salami and brie
Chocolate salami and brie

The Xocolate Bar won Gold for New Product Award, and Silver for Best Traditional Chocolates and Best Organic or Fair Trade Products. In the People’s Choice Awards they received Bronze for Best Milk Chocolates.

The Xocolate Bar’s factory store is on Solano Ave. in Berkeley. If you can’t get to their store, you can buy The Xocolate Bar’s chocolates online and at special events.

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Bon Sucreé

First time Salon vendor Bon Sucreé makes and hand decorates artisan bonbons. Owner & chocolatier Jes Liao is an ex-software engineer who makes chocolates with flavors inspired by her Vietnamese heritage, her Hawaiian childhood, and world travels.

Jet Liao
Jes Liao, Bon Sucreé owner/chocolatier

Her husband was helping out at the booth and explained that because of these inspirations her bonbons incorporate a lot of tropical flavors, plus ingredients like matcha green tea from Japan and whiskey from Scotland. He told us she uses Valrhona chocolate, which is a premium French chocolate maker (their Ivoire white chocolate is the best tasting white chocolate in my opinion). And he said one of the unusual things about her chocolates is that many of them are 2 layers and some are 3 layers.

They had 2 flavor lines at the booth: Spring and Classics. We got the 16-piece Classics box to try. We loved this assortment — except for one which I think has got to be an acquired taste.

When Cacaopod and I sample bonbons, we cut them in half to share. If you are more the type to eat a bonbon in one go, I would encourage you to cut these in half first (or bite them in half) so you can admire the insides. The layered ones are pretty, but there are a couple of other things going on inside Bon Sucreé bonbons that we admired.

Hazelnut bonbon
Hazelnut bonbon

For example, the Hazelnut had a whole caramelized hazelnut suspended inside hazelnut gianduja in a thin milk chocolate shell. If we didn’t cut it in half first, I would’ve assumed it had crunchy pieces of hazelnut inside. Instead we got to admire this cool visual before tasting the piece. Moving along, it had a toasted nut aroma and good gianjula taste. I loved the toasted crunchy but not hard hazelnut.

Creme Brulee bonbon
Crème Brûlée bonbon

The Crème Brûlée bonbon had probably the coolest looking cross section with diagonal bits of caramel slicing through the white ganache that started flowing down while I was focusing the camera. It tasted as good as it looked.

Cacaopod said it tasted more like a real crème brûlée than any other chocolate version he had tasted. It started with a creamy light caramel taste then it had a slight alcohol burning sensation before ending with on a creamy white chocolate note. Such an interesting piece.

Berry Cheesecake bonbon
Berry Cheesecake bonbon

The Berry Cheesecake was a 3-layer piece: mixed berry jam, cheesecake ganache, and graham cracker in a white chocolate shell. Like many of Bon Sucreé’s bonbons this one was smooth and light. It had a good berry filling, the cheesecake layer has a little tang, and the bottom crust layer had a good graham cracker taste. The piece melted away. It’s excellent.

Banoffee bonbon
Banoffee bonbon

The Banoffee was another 3-layer piece. This time dulce de leche, white banana ganache, and dark banana ganache. With 2 layers of banana, banana was strongest flavor. Toffee came second: It was not crunchy, just a flavor, and the whole piece was smooth and light.

Tiramisu bonbon
Tiramisu bonbon

Bon Sucreé bonbons aren’t just pretty inside, they are pretty outside too: hand painted shiny domes that sometimes hint at the complexity inside like the Tiramisu with its dark and light dot and striation pattern circling the dome. Inside it was a 2-layer piece: one a light espresso mascarpone ganache, the other a slightly crunchy dense chocolate cookie crust in a milk chocolate shell. Coffee flavor came first then milky chocolate.

Ardbeg bonbon
Ardbeg bonbon

The rest of the pieces were all really tasty too — Cookies and Cream, Lilikoi Guava, Raspberry, Salted Caramel, Coconut, and Tropical — except one: The Ardbeg. It had Ardbeg scotch whisky infused caramel and ganache in a dark chocolate shell. It had a very distinct taste that I thought tasted like burning rubber and that smoky taste lingered long afterwards. I had to look it up and found Ardbeg described as the peatiest whisky. If you like that sort of thing this is a good rendition of it in a liquid caramel bonbon but it was too authentic for me.

Bon Sucreé won Bronze for Best Traditional Chocolates, Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product, and New Product Award; and Honorable Mentions for Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations and Best in Salon.

You can order Bon Sucreé bonbons on their website for delivery or pickup in SF. You can also buy them at special events. Visit their website for more info.

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Renata Stoica
Renata Stoica, tinyB’s owner & head chocolatier

tinyB chocolate

New to the Salon tinyB chocolate makes brigadeiros AKA Brazilian bonbons. Theirs are a less sweet version than traditional ones. They had their regular brigadeiros plus brigadeiro filled cookies, brigadeiro spread, and big chocolate eggs filled with different flavors like passion fruit, coconut, and pistachio. We bought a sampler pack of their classic brigadeiros to try.

The dark chocolate was my favorite. It had a deep chocolatey flavor and didn’t have the condensed milk taste that I often taste in brigadeiros. It was like a smooth soft fudge made with top shelf ingredients.

tinyB logo
tinyB logo

The pistachio dark chocolate was my second favorite. Like the plain dark it smelled and tasted like really good fudge but this time with soft bits of pistachio coating the outside.

The milk chocolate was good too: Smooth and chocolatey, not too sweet, and no condensed milk taste. I liked the flat crunchy chocolate sprinkles on it too.

The Coconut Cream smelled and tasted intensely coconut but it was sweeter than the other brigadeiros and had that condensed milk taste which I don’t like as much as regular dairy.

tinyB sampler pack
tinyB sampler pack

tinyB chocolate won Bronze for New Product Award and an Honorable Mention for Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product. In the People’s Choice Awards they received a Silver for New Product Award and an Honorable Mention for Best Dark Chocolates.

TinyB brigadeiros are available online and at select local markets, like Bi-Rite. Check their website for additional locations.

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The Chaga Company

Chaga Company booth
Chaga Company founder Gavin Escolar’s mushroom themed hat & jumpsuit

Next to tinyB was party central. Gavin Escolar of The Chaga Company, SF, had dance music pumping and was the emcee drawing a crowd to sample his chaga infused chocolates, teas, salts, tinctures, and other products.

Chaga mushrooms have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and from Gavin’s infectious personality I think they must have some euphoric properties too. He was a lot of fun, entertaining yet informational, easy going yet professional. He is definitely a person you want to hang with at a party.

The Chaga Company makes a couple of chocolate products, a hot chocolate mix and chocolate pieces infused with chaga. Gavin was offering samples of their 70% Dark Chocolate Ingots paired with sea salt infused with chaga mushrooms: A sweet vs. savory tasting to showcase the mushroom.

Hot Chaga Chocolate
Hot Chaga Chocolate Beverage Mix

We sampled the chocolate first. It was a good chocolate, not too sweet and not bitter. I didn’t taste mushrooms; it was a little savory, but not identifiable to me. I would’ve thought it was a simple single origin chocolate if I didn’t know better.

The sea salt sample after that was entirely different: The first taste was an explosion of mushroom flavor then saltiness. I am not a cook but the cooks with me were super inspired by this salt thinking about all the ways they could use it. They bought the salt; I bought a package of chaga hot chocolate mix.

Chaga Hot Chocolate
Warm Chaga Hot Chocolate

Of course the Hot Chaga Chocolate Beverage Mix contained cacao and chaga. Other ingredients were brown sugar, vanilla extract, and turkey tail mushrooms (another immune boosting mushroom).

The mix smelled like brown sugar and chocolate, slightly earthy, and it was a grainy powder. Added to warm milk it made a nice foamy cup that had a sweet cocoa taste. I didn’t taste any mushroom or even savoriness in the drink. It was thin — not thick like sipping chocolate — this is more of a hot cocoa beverage.

The Chaga Company received an Honorable Mention for Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product from the judges; and a Gold New Product Award and an Honorable Mention for Best in Salon in the People’s Choice Awards.

They have an online store and do special events.

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Kokak booth
Carol Gancia and staff at the Kokak booth

Kokak Chocolates

The Kokak Chocolates booth was filled with boxes of different truffle collections, several bar flavors, packages of their excellent hot chocolate mixes, and a special Heirloom Easter Egg. When Kokak’s founder and head chocolatier Carol Gancia told me the egg was filled with guava and peanut ganache, I knew this was the chocolate Easter egg I had to try.

We picked up one of the snack sized Easter Eggs and a Pedal Power bar, which was a rebranding/tweaking of a bar we had tried in a previous competition.

The Heirloom Easter Egg was an egg shaped dark chocolate shell topped with a cute bunny face and drizzled with white chocolate. Inside was a guava jelly layer and a peanut ganache layer.

Heirloom Easter Egg
Heirloom Easter Egg

The soft jelly had a distinct guava flavor. The slightly crunchy peanut layer was evocative of good organic peanut butter. The shell was made from a smooth chocolatey dark chocolate. The perfect Easter egg for me.

The Pedal Power bar was an attractive dark chocolate bar decorated with green pistachio halves, dark red dried cherries, and pieces of candied orange rind. The smooth, strong dark chocolate was a good base for the mild but distinct pistachios, soft orange rind, and soft sour cherries. I don’t know what they changed from the previous version, but I thought this version was excellent.

Kokak Chocolates won Gold for Best Milk Chocolates and New Product Award; Silver for Best Traditional Chocolates; Bronze for Top Artisan Chocolatier, Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations, Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product, and Best in Salon. In the People’s Choice Awards, they received Bronze for Most Artistic Designs, New Product Award, and Best in Salon; and an Honorable Mention for Top Artisan Chocolatier.

You can buy Kokak Chocolates at their Castro district store/café, online, and at special events.

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Wendy Lieu at Socola booth
Wendy Lieu at Socola booth

Socola Chocolatier

Across the aisle from Kokak, Socola Chocolatier3-5 cup chocolatier had lots of fan favs plus a couple of new bars. I was surprised not to see a giant Easter egg at Socola’s booth because they were one of the first — if not the first — local chocolatier to offer them. But Wendy Lieu, Socola’s head chocolatier and co-founder had done a riff on the idea that I liked — a smaller, easier to transport chocolate bar version. So I got one of those along with the other new bar, a 4-piece assortment, and a pack of Socola’s pâte de fruit.

I first tried a Socola pâte de fruit at last spring’s Salon and loved how aromatic and flavorful it was. The time the flavors were Mango, Pineapple, Lychee, and Strawberry. They were all delicious, even the lychee which I was wary of because I don’t like the perfumy, too sweet canned version of the fruit.

Lychee pate de fruit
Lychee pâte de fruit

This pâte had just the right amount of sweet with an intense distinct lychee flavor that I kinda liked. I should have known to trust Wendy. She has a gift for making unusual flavors approachable and understandable.

The 4-piece assortment was a nice sampler with a fruit, a nut, a spirit, and a tea bonbon. The fruit was lychee(!) but this was a lighter flavor than the pâte de fruit — the bonbon was half dark chocolate ganache and half lychee jelly so it was mostly a good dark chocolate and not very sweet with a subtle lychee taste. A good introduction to lychee.

The nut was the assorted nut Kheer with cashews, almonds, and pistachios —plus coconut, cardamom, and raisins. The only nut flavor that dominated was the coconut. The other nuts gave the piece a chewy crunch and generally nutty taste in a nice dark chocolate. The spirit piece was a cognac pave loaded with cocoa powder. The smooth dense chocolate had an enticing cognac aroma and delicious cognac flavor. The tea piece was jasmine. It had a distinct jasmine flavor in the dark chocolate ganache. This is a really good floral, not too intense.

Easter Egg Hunt bar
Easter Egg Hunt Bar

The portable Easter egg — the cute special edition Easter Egg Hunt Bar with Pâte de Fruit — had an explosion of flavored marshmallows, pâte de fruit pieces, and molded flavored white chocolate on a bar of milk or dark chocolate. We got the dark chocolate version.

Depending on what was in the bit sampled, I got a chewy chocolate flavored marshmallow, then a sugared strawberry jelly, and finally a banana flavored disc of white chocolate mixed with the dark chocolate base. Every bite was different and yummy. There were other flavors on the bar too but I was sharing so I don’t have details, but everybody liked it. This fun bar is not just for kids; if you get the chance I recommend you try it (and maybe next time I will keep a whole bar to myself 😉).

Strawberry Matcha bar
Strawberry Matcha bar

The other bar we tried was the new Strawberry Matcha White Chocolate Bar. The freeze dried strawberry slices on top and strawberry bits mixed inside gave it an immediate strawberry flavor. The matcha came second and was mild. The white chocolate gave it a creamy taste. This is a good, not too sweet white chocolate bar.

Socola Chocolatier won Silver for Best Chocolate Bar, Best Traditional Chocolates, Best Caramels or Truffles, and Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product; Bronze for Top Artisan Chocolatier, Best Milk Chocolates, New Product Award, and Best in Salon; and an Honorable Mention for Best Organic or Fair Trade Products. In the People’s Choice Awards they received Gold for Best Caramels or Truffles; Bronze for Best Milk Chocolates; and Honorable Mentions for Top Artisan Chocolatier, Most Artistic Designs, and Best in Salon.

Socola chocolates are available at their factory store, online, and at special events.

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Brigadeiro Sprinkles

At this point we were only halfway through the hall and there were still plenty more SFBA chocolate vendors to check out. And more Easter eggs to discover.

Zeila at Brigadeiro Sprinkles booth
Zeila at Brigadeiro Sprinkles booth with the Easter eggs displayed in egg shaped glass covers

Brigadeiro Sprinkles had a marquee location on the left of the entrance. In such a prime location, it was hard to catch owner/chef Zeila Schappelle’s eye but we eventually hooked up and she insisted we try their special treat: The giant sized Exotic Gold Egg, a molded chocolate egg made with traditional, coconut, and dulce de leche brigadeiro filling. It was soooo good.

Like tinyB the big eggs were wrapped in fabric squares and closed with a ribbon. Maybe this is typical for Easter eggs in Brazil. They also had smaller chocolate eggs with traditional brigadeiro filling that were wrapped in gold foil and packaged in egg cartons with fun chicken themed labels. Plus packages of their current brigadeiro flavors. The brigadeiro packs were clear plastic with each brigadeiro in its own sphere. They were so understated compared to the Easter wrappings, but Cacaopod was excited to reuse the packaging as wells for watercolors and other paints so big thumbs up from us for the packaging.

Brigadeiro Sprinkles Spring Collection package
Brigadeiro Sprinkles Spring Collection package

Thumbs up too for the spring flavors. We especially liked the Caipirinha, which was the Brazilian cocktail in brigadeiro form. The white chocolate brigadeiro was covered with sugar sprinkles and bits of green zest. It smelled great —very citrusy and had a good lemon/lime rum flavor. It was very light and melted quickly. The citrus and rum flavor lingered. These could be addictive.

The other standout piece to me was the blueish purple Honey Lavender. The white chocolate brigadeiro was flavored with edible lavender and organic honey. Although the outside was covered with the bright blue/purple sugar beads the inside was white. It had a light lavender aroma and the beads added a candy crunch to the smooth filling. The flavor was mostly honey and very slightly lavender.

We enjoyed the rest of the pieces. The traditional was like a cross between a pave and fudge. The Lemon was like a sugar encrusted dollop of lemon curd. And I loved the crunchy pearls on the milky Fleur de Sel.

Brigadeiro Sprinkles won Gold for New Product Award, Silver for Best Milk Chocolates, Bronze for Best Traditional Chocolates, and Honorable Mentions for Best Organic or Fair Trade Products and Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product. They also received a Bronze People’s Choice Award for Best Milk Chocolates.

You can buy Brigadeiro Sprinkles confections online and at special events.

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The Good Chocolate booth
The Good Chocolate booth

The Good Chocolate

Salon veteran The Good Chocolate had their no-sugar bars and squares at the Salon plus a new snack I hadn’t seen before. Coco Jungles are chunks of toasted coconut covered in their zero sugar chocolate. I prefer regular chocolate because I experience a cooling sensation with these zero sugar chocolates that I think interferes with the taste of the chocolate. But the toasted coconut pieces mitigated that sensation a bit so I liked these as a snack.

The Good Chocolate won Bronze for Best Chocolate Bar, Best Traditional Chocolates, Best Milk Chocolates, Best Organic or Fair Trade Products; and an Honorable Mention for Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product. In the People’s Choice Awards, they received an Honorable Mention for Best Dark Chocolates.

You can find The Good Chocolate online, at special events, and at some local grocery stores, such as Hudson Greens & Goods.

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Charlotte Truffles sign
Charlotte Truffles banner

Charlotte Truffles

One of my new favorite chocolatiers Charlotte Truffles had some new items including their take on this year’s trend of big Easter eggs. Charlotte’s version was DIY eggs. The molded eggs were 2 open halves so you could put stuff inside then heat the edges and close the halves together. But that’s not all! The eggs came with edible “paints”: colored cocoa butter to decorate the outside of the finished eggs.

Charlotte Truffles’ spring packaging
Charlotte Truffles’ spring packaging

Other new items were fun size bars in matcha and birthday cake flavors, and a 4-flavor Floral Collection of bonbons. I am not a big fan of florals, but I’d had one of these pieces before and I liked it so I wanted to see if Charlotte could move me from floral averse to floral friendly.

The piece I’d had before — Rose Water Saffron — was like a reunion to me: It’s the first flavor I ever had from Charlotte Truffles. It looks different now: a simple blue dome with a white bunny stenciled on top. Inside the dark chocolate shell a rose water jelly was layered on saffron yellow white ganache. It had a mild rose flavor just like I remembered and was not very sweet. This was the right amount of rose for me.

The Lemon Lavender was a yellow dappled dome with a cute chubby blue bird stenciled on top. Inside the thin shell were 2 layers: pale yellow on white chocolate. It smelled like lavender which I liked but the taste was too much lavender for me. The slightly bitter lemon helped tone down the lavender.

The Orange Blossom Pistachio smelled like orange blossom. It was another 2 layer piece. This time white chocolate ganache over a pistachio layer. It looked like a little cheesecake inside the thin shell. The piece had a small crunch and tasted like orange blossom. Pistachio was a savory undertone.

The Hibiscus was my fav with its layers of jelly and caramel in a dark shell. It was tart and tasted just like a cup of hibiscus tea — if you dropped a square of dark chocolate in it. Really good combo.

Charlotte’s Floral Collection
Charlotte’s Floral Collection

Charlotte Truffles received Honorable Mentions for Best Chocolate Bar, Best Caramels or Truffles, and Best in Salon. In the People’s Choice Awards, they received Bronze for Best Milk Chocolates, Top Toffee in Salon, Best Caramels or Truffles, and New Product Award; and Honorable Mentions for Top Artisan Chocolatier, Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations, Most Artistic Designs, and Best in Salon.

Charlotte Truffles chocolates are available online, at special events, the Menlo Park Farmers Market, and a few local stores. Check their website for details.

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CocoTerra booth
Nate Saal demo-ing the DIY chocolate making machine

CocoTerra Company

New Salon vendor CocoTerra Company makes DIY chocolate making equipment for home use which Nate Saal, CocoTerra’s founder & CEO, described as “like a bread machine.”

He explained that their machine is an all-in-one: It grinds, refines, conches, tempers, and molds chocolate. You just have to pour in nibs, cocoa butter, sugar, and milk when directed by the machine. It does the rest.

While it is simple to operate, it produces quality chocolate. Nate explained, “The tongue detects texture at 30 microns; this grinds down to 20 microns.”

CocoTerra result
Nate shows off a piece of the final product

The process takes about 2 hours from raw ingredients to molded chocolate. The machine can make about a half pound of finished chocolate at a time which Nate said is equivalent to 3 or 4 bars.

But the finished product is a circle of chocolate not a flat slab. This is because the machine uses centrifugal force to push the chocolate into a mold vertically. One of the reasons for this setup is it eliminates bubbles that can form in chocolate. The centrifugal pressure removes any bubbles.

Nate suggested that with the ring you could decorate it with transfers, airbrushing, and hand painting; you could put stuff in it like it’s a dessert shell; and you can break it into pieces. They also are developing molds that make it so the resulting ring could be broken into individual pieces like squares or other shapes.

Like any good kitchen appliance some parts can be cleaned in the dishwasher. And the beads in the processing chamber that grind the nibs also clean the chamber just by swirling them around with some water. (Nate compared it to the cleaning beads used in wine decanters.)

The machine isn’t shipping just yet. Nate was taking orders at the Salon and said the machines would be available at the end of year. If you missed the Salon, you can order a machine online at their site.

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Volo booth
Jeff and Susan Mall at the Volo booth

Volo Chocolate

First time Salon vendor Volo Chocolate is a bean-to-bar maker in Windsor up in Wine Country. Chefs Jeff and Susan Mall are the owners and chocolate makers at Volo.

Both were manning the booth and handing out samples of their award winning flavored single origin bars while educating attendees on the difference between chocolate makers and chocolatiers. In addition to their 9 flavored bars, they also had chocolate salted caramels and 2 molded pieces: Dark Hearts and Bean to Bunny solid chocolates.

Bean to Bunny
Bean to Bunny came with their own bottle of wine

Jeff told us their bars range from 62% to 75% cacao. At the lower end are their dark milk chocolates; at the upper end is their deep dark —no dairy. And in the middle there are their cream chocolate bars that include both milk and cream in their ingredient list. Jeff had us try one of each.

The 70% Dark Chocolate Meyer Lemon & Extra Virgin Olive Oil is their newest bar. Jeff told us they used chocolate from Guatemala and their neighbor’s olive oil along with Meyer lemon peel that they candied themselves. It had that recognizable slippery olive oil texture and a mild lemon flavor. The lemon zest gave it a little texture along with a sugar crunch. The chocolate was berry tasting which complemented the Meyer lemon flavor.

The milk chocolate we sampled was the 62% Dark Milk Chocolate with Brown Butter & Caramelized Milk. It was very smooth and tasted like a chocolatey buttery milky dulce de leche. Delicious.

The third bar we tried was the 65% Chocolate Mocha with Wolf Coffee & Cream. Volo uses local ingredients as much as possible (can’t get more local than your neighbor’s olive oil) so they used coffee from Wolf Coffee Company in Geyserville in this bar.

Jeff told us that when they make this bar, they grind the coffee beans with the cacao. I don’t know if that’s why but the bar had an immediate coffee taste, good strong coffee flavor, and a lasting coffee chocolate aftertaste. The chocolate was good — a fudge-y Haitian chocolate — but was second to the coffee. A lot of times when chocolate is infused with coffee, the coffee taste disappears and it just makes the chocolate more chocolatey tasting. Nothing wrong with that, but if you want a good coffee flavored bar, this is one to try.

This bar was my favorite and it was a crowd pleaser. Everyone I shared it with approved of its coffee/chocolate/cream combo.

I was pleased with these bars. They were well made with a nice snap and a very smooth texture. I’d tried Volo bars a few years ago and found them too salty. They make their chocolate Mexican style which means added salt and cinnamon, but I think they have refined their technique. The chocolate was smoother and I didn’t taste cinnamon or salt in any of the bars. And based on all their awards I think there is a consensus for how good these bars are.

Volo bars
Volo bars display some of their awards

Volo Chocolate won Gold for Best Milk Chocolates and Best Organic or Fair Trade Products; Silver for Best Chocolate Bar; Bronze for Best Traditional Chocolates, Best Dark Chocolates, and New Product Award; and an Honorable Mention for Top Artisan Chocolatier. In the People’s Choice Awards they received Gold for Top Artisan Chocolatier, Best Dark Chocolates, Best Milk Chocolates, and Best in Salon; and Silver for New Product Award.

Available online, at special events, farmers markets, and local markets. They also offer subscriptions.

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Sonoma Chocolatiers booth
Sonoma Chocolatiers booth

Sonoma Chocolatiers

Salon regular Sonoma Chocolatiers was mobbed as seemed to be the case with most all of the chocolatiers this year. We couldn’t even get close to their table so Cacaopod did an aerial shot so we could see that they had a selection of their dark chocolate truffles and caramels which people could choose from for custom boxes, plus ready made packages of chocolate covered caramels and some of their other treats like Peanut Butter Bliss, their version of peanut butter cups.

Sonoma Chocolatiers won Bronze for Best Traditional Chocolates, Top Toffee in Salon, New Product Award, and Best in Salon.

Sonoma Chocolatiers’ chocolates are available at their store, online, at special events, and at Oliver’s Market, a Sonoma County supermarket chain.

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Z. Cioccolato booth
Z. Cioccolato booth

Z. Cioccolato

Like last year, the staff at the Z. Cioccolato booth was busy handing out samples and offering deals on their fudge tubs in a variety of flavors. They seemed to be leaning more into the all ages flavors like their classic 7-layer peanut butter pie and cookies-n-cream. I didn’t see the Guinness or Dark Cabernet Sauvignon Chocolate Fudge or any alcohol flavored fudge this time.

Z. Cioccolato won Silver for Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product and Bronze for Best Traditional Chocolates.

In addition to their North Beach store, you can order Z. Cioccolato fudge online.

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aL chocoLat Boutique

We didn’t get a chance to talk to new Salon vendor and new business aL chocoLat Boutique, Los Gatos, this time. Owner/chocolatier Lena Walther started the company last year and makes complex hand decorated bonbons, bars, and molded chocolates.

aL chocoLat Boutique did well in the Salon winning Bronze for the Top Artisan Chocolatier and Honorable Mentions for Best Caramels or Truffles and Best in Salon. In the People’s Choice Awards they won Gold for Most Artistic Designs and Best in Salon; Silver for Top Artisan Chocolatier, Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations, and New Product Award; and Bronze for Best Milk Chocolate and Best Caramels or Truffles.

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1.2.3. Chocolat mousses
1.2.3 Chocolat mousses

1.2.3 Chocolat

Brand new dessert maker 1.2.3 Chocolat, Belmont, makes one item: chocolate mousse in 3 sizes from single treat Petite to made-for-sharing Grande. They had just opened for business the week before the Salon.

1.2.3 Chocolat won Silver for New Product Award and an Honorable Mention for Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product. In the People’s Choice Awards they received Silver for Best Milk Chocolates and Best in Salon, Bronze for New Product Award, and an Honorable Mention for Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations.

They are currently taking preorders for May pickup. Visit their website for more info.

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3D Candies Cinnaspice Caramels
3D Candies Cinnaspice Caramels

Phew! Done

Haha. Not quite. There were other great chocolate vendors at the event including Amano Artisan Chocolate (Utah), Forté Chocolates (Seattle), and Codinha Chocolate (Los Angeles) but they are not SFBA so they are beyond the scope of this article.

If you are interested in chocolate beyond SFBA, I recommend starting with these 3. They are worth checking out: Amano makes great bean to bar chocolate, Forté does flavored chocolate bars for cooking with, and Codinha is a very creative chocolatier making bars, tablettes, truffles, and other confections.

Amano won Gold for Best Chocolate Bar (not surprisingly) and a host of other awards. Forté picked up several awards, and Codinha grabbed a bunch too.

If you are looking for sugar free chocolate, Sacramento based 3D Candies had a sugar free chocolate covered caramel that Cacaopod liked. In the People’s Choice Awards they won Gold for New Product Award and several other awards.

There were also international chocolate makers and chocolatiers such as Siamaya Chocolate from Thailand and German Goufrais at this year’s International Chocolate Salon.

You can read the entire list of winners on the SF International Chocolate Salon site.

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Published April 29, 2023