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

2019 Salon feature image

Experiments in chocolate


So much excitement to share

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At TasteTV’s 13th Annual International Chocolate Salon, March 30, 2019, in Golden Gate Park, Cacaopod and I did a presentation on local artisan chocolate history. But before that, we and a couple of our other CBTB-ers visited the contemporary local chocolatiers who were at the Salon and found lots of good stuff, including some new and interesting experiences.

lily pad chocolates
Kokak’s hand-painted lily pad chocolates

Lily pads & starry skies

The first local vendor booth at the Salon was right in front of the entrance. Kokak Chocolates was new at the 2018 Fall Salon, but I didn’t get a chance to stop by, so I was glad they were conveniently located this time and weren’t too busy at first to chat a little.

Kokak’s logo is a frog on a lily pad, and they had molded chocolate lily pads, pyramid-studded bars, and square filled chocolates at the Salon, but no frogs. So I asked Kokak’s founder and chocolatier, Carol Garcia, about the frog-less offerings, and she said they did have frogs, but there had been problems and they were working on fixing the mold.

kokak sign
Carol Garcia and her company’s cute logo that draws from her Filipino background

Inspired by the Philippines

Carol told us she is half Irish/half Filipino, and likes to make chocolate that reminds her of the Philippines. Her branding reinforces that: Kokak is Tagalog for the sounds frogs make, and the frog and lily pad logo is because she studied at a school that had a lily pond.

Kokak is mostly a one-person operation. Carol was manning the booth herself, and told us she made everything fresh the week of the show.

When she said she made everything, she meant everything.

For example, for her Vanilla Bean Sea Salt Truffle, she starts with vanilla pods. For her Macadamia Nut Praline Truffle, she started by grinding macadamia nuts into a paste. “I am working by myself,” she said. “I didn’t sleep all week.”

Starry Night Bars
Kokak’s pyramid-clustered Constellation Bars

Tropical flavors

At the Salon, Carol had boxes of a 3-truffle selection of Macadamia Nut, Mango, and Passion Fruit.

The chocolate used for the truffle shells was really good. Both the Mango and Passion Fruit were very flavorful, though a little too sweet for me. The Macadamia Nut Praline had an interesting flowing texture: the filling was liquid-y, but crunchy.

She also had a Vanilla Bean Sea Salt Truffle, decorated with a hand-painted Shooting Star, and Constellation Bars, which were filled dark chocolate bars with an interesting shape of interlocking pyramids sprinkled with tiny white dots that looked like stars.

A hit

With such a prime location, Kokak’s booth got busy quickly and did a brisk business: They were sold out by 3pm at an event that lasted 2 more hours. They also did well with the Salon’s Judges Awards: Silver for Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product, and Honorable Mention for Best Traditional Chocolates, and Best Caramels or Truffles.

Currently, Kokak is available at special events and by contacting Carol through the Kokak website.

The Good (for you) Chocolate

Next to Kokak was another new-to-me Salon vendor, The Good Chocolate, a local bean-to-bar maker, whose major selling point is making chocolate with zero sugar. Instead, they use a custom mix of 3 natural sweeteners: Erythritol, which comes from pears and other fruits; Mesquite, from mesquite tree pods; and Stevia, from stevia plants.

TGC samples
The Good Chocolate offered samples of their entire line at the Salon

We were told this substitution results in chocolate with half the calories of regular chocolate and a low glycemic index. The packaging provides more information, such as each serving has 1 net carb, and it’s keto friendly, metabolism friendly, soy free, and does not promote tooth decay. Plus it’s 100% organic and hand crafted in San Francisco.

TGC square
TGC stacked “Good” logo on one of their sugar-free tiles

They offer bars and tiles in 6 flavors: Signature Dark, Mint, Salted Almond, Himalayan Salt, Ginger, and Milk. Except for the milk, they are all 65% cacao.

The tiles are cute 1-3/4″ squares embossed with their logo, then wrapped in gold foil and sealed in square, printed wax paper envelopes that reminded me of single tea-bag envelopes. Kudos to The Good Chocolate for the non-plastic packaging.

With all of their good intentions, I wanted to like The Good Chocolate, but I am just not the audience for sugar-free chocolate. The natural sweeteners they use definitely taste better than artificial sweeteners, but I really don’t like the cooling sensation I get eating these, and I think it interferes with the chocolate taste.

Cool chocolate

The 65% Signature Dark and the 54% Dark Milk were OK and more chocolaty tasting than the flavored chocolates, but like the rest of the line, they lack the mouthfeel and lingering aftertaste of good chocolate. Instead, they feel cool as they melt, which just short-circuits my chocolate enjoyment. One of our CBTB-ers who is avoiding sugar gave the dark milk the thumbs up, but the rest of us were not digging it. I also didn’t like its milk-powder taste.

TGC package
TGC tile packaging looks like individual tea bags

Of the others, I have to say avoid the Mint. The first taste is mint, which would be OK, but the sugarless ingredients give it a cool mint flavor which overpowers the chocolate. The Salted Almond was better than the Mint. It still had the cool sensation of non-sugar sweeteners, but the flecks of almonds and sea salt help. Same for the Himalayan Salt.

If you like ginger and want to try sugar-free chocolate, I can recommend their Ginger. It’s not a strong ginger, but it has the crunchy, sugary texture of candied ginger. How do they do that without sugar? Must be some kind of [natural, ethical] magic. However, it still has that cool sensation and is not real chocolaty tasting.

The Good Chocolate received a Bronze Judges Award for Best Organic or Fair Trade Products, and a Bronze People’s Choice Award for Best Milk Chocolates at the Salon.

You can buy The Good Chocolate online through their website or Amazon, at their kitchen and store (25 Leland Ave, SF), and at various local cafés, markets, and bakeries. Check their website for current locations.

Alexanders Eggs
Alexander’s hand-decorated chocolate eggs would look right at home in a Parisian chocolate shop

A certain je ne sais quoi

We were happy to see the French-influenced Alexander’s Patisserie back at the Salon. We first discovered them at the 2015 Fall Salon, when they were just starting out, and really enjoyed their beautiful, inventive, and delicious bonbon orbs.

This time they had the orbs, but also traditional square truffles, pâte de fruit, chocolate-covered marshmallows, enrobed orange peel, and big molded hand-decorated chocolate Easter eggs.

This expanded line was part of the change that came with a new head chocolatier. Phuong Quach, who was hired last year as head chocolatier, told us that in the last year they started making the traditional truffles and enrobed chocolates, plus a broader range of flavors. She said they include more classic flavors, but also some tweaks, like the vanilla truffle also contains peppercorns.

They were offering custom boxes of their truffles and bonbons at the Salon. Quach said their store is like a jewelry store with the selection laid out, and you choose what goes in your box, so they did the same for the Salon. We decided to go with a box of the new truffles.

Masterful floral piece

The Jasmine truffle was outstanding — a smooth ganache with a very thin shell in classic French style, with a nice jasmine floral flavor. As the chocolate melted away it left a lingering jasmine aftertaste. It was a very nicely balanced truffle.

Alexander Box
Sample box of Alexander’s truffles and bonbons

The rest of the pieces were a mixed bag. They were generally subtly flavored like most French truffles, where the added flavors are more about enhancing the chocolate than asserting themselves. The Jasmine and a Cappuccino truffle, which had a good coffee flavor in a dark ganache covered in milk, were the exceptions and my favorites. A single-origin Madagascar was also nice with a very fruity, somewhat cherry taste.

We also tried the new orange peels. These are enrobed, not dipped, so the strips of peels are covered entirely in chocolate with a few thin stripes of orange-colored white chocolate encircling the end.

The strips were chewy and very orange-y ending bitter like marmalade. A very classic taste. I didn’t like the chocolate covering very much though — it was hard and crumbly. When it comes to chocolate and citrus peels, I much prefer Basel B’s dipped peels with jellied peels subtly flavored with spices and herbs in his signature 85% dark chocolate.

My other complaint is with the packaging. Even if I didn’t know these were a new item, I could have guessed from the packaging. The strips were sold in a clear envelope, with not even a label. This was very un-French-like for such a French-influenced company because every chocolatier I visited in Paris last year had great packaging. I was also disappointed in the lack of a menu for the truffles and bonbons. It’s hard to remember what you bought if you don’t eat it right away. I rely on menus to help me better appreciate what I am eating, especially with subtly flavored chocolate. I hope by next year, they have some amazing packaging to showcase their wares.

Alexanders Truffles
Alexander’s truffles were laid out on beds of crushed cacao beans

Alexander’s Patisserie did very well at the Salon with Gold Judges Awards for Best Milk Chocolates and New Product Award; Silver for Top Artisan Chocolatier, Best Traditional Chocolates, Best Caramels or Truffles, Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product, and Best in Salon; and Bronze for Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations. They received a Gold People’s Choice Awards for Most Artistic Designs; a Silver for Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations; and Bronze for Best Caramels or Truffles, Most Luxurious Experience, and Best in Salon.

If you would like to experience Alexander’s French-style chocolates, your best bet is to visit one of their 2 locations in the South Bay. You can order online, but you have to pick up your selection at one of their stores.

Molly Martell
Mojo founder & treat-maker, Molly Martell

Toffee re-imagined

Toffee is not my go-to treat — dark chocolate is — but the more artisan toffee I’ve had due to covering Salons and judging competitions has increased my appreciation for it, so I was interested to see what new-to-me local toffee maker Mojo Bakes! SF  would bring to the Salon.

We talked with the toffee maker herself, Molly Martell, who told us they were very local, literally blocks away from the Salon on Fulton St. in SF. Molly told us she makes toffee, brittles, and shortbread cookies. Her pumpkin seed brittle, called The Spicy Vegan, was a 2019 Good Food Awards finalist.

She had 3 of her toffees at the Salon. The toffees are nut free, substituting crunchy salt, sesame seeds, or ground coffee beans for the more common almonds or pecans.

Molly gave us samples of Smokey the Bourbon Toffee, and told us it was on Dandelion Chocolate’s advent calendar this past year. The toffee is infused with bourbon and liquid smoke, then painted with dark chocolate and sprinkled with black lava salt. It was a chewy toffee, with the smoky flavor coming at the end.

It was not very chocolaty, which I found disappointing. Molly told us she was using a 70% single source cacao from South America, which she thought had a good fruity balance with the toffee, but I think it needed more chocolate.

MoJo Bakes Sesame Toffee
These are big pieces of Black Sesame Toffee: the largest piece is approx. 2-1/2″ by almost 3″

I felt the same way about the other 2 toffees: Black Sesame and Espresso. I prefer a harder toffee with more chocolate, like Heavenly Taste Toffee or Rainy Day Chocolate’s toffees. Mojo Bakes! SF toffees seem more candy than chocolate confection to me and very chewy.

The toffees have a more freeform look to them than other toffees, with chocolate painted over the toffee instead of poured, resulting in different thicknesses and even bare spots of straight-up toffee, no cover.

I appreciate that Molly is experimenting with her medium. So I look forward to seeing how her toffee develops. I hope it includes more chocolate, which in addition to changing the taste ratio, would also solve another issue I had with the toffee: It was greasy. If there was tempered chocolate on both sides, I think it would seal in the butter and make for a cleaner treat.

Mojo Bakes! SF received a Bronze Judges Award and a Bronze People’s Choice Award for Top Toffee in Salon.

Mojo Bakes! SF treats are available online and at Rainbow Grocery, Local Take (Castro and 19thand Irving), and other local shops. Check their website for more locations.

Experiments in 3-D

When we got to Basel B Inc.’s booth, chocolatier Basel Bazlamit was busy handling everything himself because his help hadn’t arrived yet, so while waiting to chat, we perused his spring collection of unique molded chocolates: unicorns, large ducks and rabbits, plus little roses, tea cups, clocks, and daisies.

Basel B’s new shapes included sparkly unicorns with sprinkles

Like the elaborate mold he made for his jewel-like 85% Darkness truffles, he made some the molds for this new line. Others were vintage molds, but he demurred about telling us which was which.

Basel B crocodile box
Basel B’s embossed crocodile-texture truffle boxes with gold interiors were made in France and reminded me of a favorite pair of loafers

In addition to the new molded chocolates, he had two new truffles: passion fruit and peanut butter (yea! my fav flavor in its first appearance at this Salon). The peanut butter was a brand new flavor, Basel told us. He made it the week before for the first time. And passion fruit was a new flavor for Valentines Day this year.

Crunchy chocolate & peanut butter

We tried both. The peanut butter had nuts in the ganache; it was like a crunchy gianduja but with peanuts instead of hazelnuts. I liked it a lot.

Basel B lemon peels
Basel B candied peels are a nice little splurge

The passion fruit was also good with a very liquid-y inside and good flavor. As usual with Basel B truffles, we liked the ganaches a lot, but the 85% shells are too bitter for us. He is still working on a milk chocolate, he said, so we look forward to the next Salon.

Finally, Basel had his dipped orange and lemon peels. I don’t know why, but I have no problem with the darker chocolate on these. Maybe the sweetness of the soft and chewy peels balances the intense chocolate. And like his ganaches, Basel infuses the peels with interesting flavors: the orange with cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, and cardamom; the lemon with lavender, fennel, and cardamom. They also come in super cute packages, so they make easy gifts.

Basel B Inc. received 3 Judges Awards at the Salon: Gold for Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product; Bronze for Best Organic or Fair Trade Products; and Honorable Mention for Best Dark Chocolates.

You can find Basel B chocolate at the Velvet Raven café and at special events.

Sticking with the classics

It was nice to see R&J Toffee back at the Salon. They bucked the experimental trend, selling their classic toffee. As  they described it, “One recipe, that’s it, classic toffee for 60 years from the same recipe.”

R&J toffee
R&J Toffee is liberally sprinkled with lots of tiny bits of almond

R&J is a nice crunchy almond toffee from a family recipe. It’s very buttery tasting with a good roasted almond flavor. It has a thin coating of chocolate on both sides. I would like more chocolate, but otherwise I think it’s a good toffee.

Judges and others at the Salon seemed to agree. R&J Toffee received Gold Judges and People’s Choice Awards for Top Toffee in Salon; a Silver Judges Award for Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product, and a Bronze People’s Choice Award for Best Caramels or Truffles.

R&J Toffee is widely available locally, especially in the South Bay, at Whole Foods, Costco, and some specialty markets. You can also buy it online and at special events like the Salon. Check their website for upcoming events and current store locations.

Too-too good

To me, the top local chocolatier for consistently delicious experiments in chocolate is CocoTutti 4-cup chocolatier, and that held true again this time. Elyce Zahn, CocoTutti’s visionary chocolatier, always surprises us with unexpected combinations, unusual ingredients, and unrivaled deliciousness.

This time, she had a new truffle flavored with La Kama, which she described as a warm and aromatic Moroccan spice mix. She blended it with house-made lime marmalade and Valrhona Opalys 33% white chocolate, then covered it in dark chocolate.

Not knowing La Kama, we did not know what to expect. It was interesting, starting with an apple pie flavor from the spice blend, then lime, and ending with warm chocolate, the heat coming from the spices. The house-made lime marmalade added a little texture from lime bits to the white chocolate ganache.

CocoTutti bag
CocoTutti descriptions range from very detailed to mysterious

Coffee Toffee Hazelnut mendiants were like the opposite of R&J Toffee — lots of chocolate with chunks of toffee and nuts mixed in. The disks were 64% Guittard, the toffee was house-made and chewy, and the nuts were crunchy hazelnuts. The mendiants had an excellent coffee flavor, which even the CBTB non-coffee drinker liked.

Even with simpler combinations, CocoTutti shines. The Dark Chocolate Bunny looked very unassuming: A 2-1/2+ inches long, dark chocolate molded bunny. And there was no description on the package, so I didn’t know what to expect. But OMG, Elyce filled the outer shell with a very soft, dark chocolate ganache that was super rich and chocolate-y. Simple, but killer.

Space to experiment in

In addition to the new flavors at the Salon, Elyce told us she is working on her own dipped candied orange peel. The peels will be infused with spices first, then candied and dipped, similar to Basel B’s candied citrus peels, so I’m pretty sure I am going to love her version.

Her other news is CocoTutti has moved to their own kitchen in Brisbane. Elyce told us it’s been hectic in the new kitchen: she had been sharing her kitchen with out-of-towners Amano Artisan Chocolate and Ferawyn’s Artisan Chocolate for the Salon. “Art from Amano said, ‘This is really clean.’ He’s bean to bar, so he’s used to a kitchen covered in cacao dust, but I’m not like that,” she said. And she was looking forward to after the Salon: “It’s going to be really quiet now, and I can concentrate on new flavors for the end-of-year holidays.”

I can’t wait.

As expected, CocoTutti received an armload of awards at the Salon. Their Judges Awards: Gold for Top Artisan Chocolatier, Best Dark Chocolates, Best Caramels or Truffles, and Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product; Silver for Top Toffee in Salon and New Product Award; and Bronze for Best Chocolate Bar and Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations.

Their People’s Choice Awards: Silver for Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations and Best Milk Chocolates; and Bronze for Top Artisan Chocolatier, Best Dark Chocolates, New Product Award, and Best in Salon.

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

Raphio Booth
Raphio’s booth manned by Yohannes and a loyal customer (really!)


Bean-to-bar chocolate maker Raphio Chocolate has been experimenting too. In addition to their single-origin, olive-oil, and sugar-free bars, they are now making bonbons. They brought 3 flavors to the show, and we liked them all.

Yohanes Makmur, Raphio’s spokesperson+, told us they made their own couverture to make the bonbons and gave us samples of the ganaches to try. They had one each of a dark, a milk, and a white chocolate ganache. They used local ingredients to infuse the ganaches with flavor.

Straight-up ganache

The dark chocolate ganache was flavored with port wine from Ficklin Vineyards. It was subtle, not boozy. The wine enhanced the chocolate, giving it a sweet sour, almost cherry flavor.

The white chocolate was flavored with clementine-infused olive oil from Enzo’s Table, like their 72% Clementine Olive Oil bar. The ganache was very smooth, maybe a little extra from the olive oil, and not too sweet. It had a very bright, citrus-y flavor balanced with olive oil.

Even if we hadn’t been told what the milk chocolate ganache was, there was no mistaking its coffee taste, courtesy of Kuppa Joy. The Mocha Latte was strong, but not bitter, and the ganache was very creamy.

Raphio Clementine Olive Oil bonbon
Raphio Clementine Olive Oil bonbon

The whole package

We also bought some of the Raphio bonbons to get the full experience. The molds were very pretty half-domes with raised curlicues, and painted distinctly so you knew which was which. They were well cast with nice thin shells. The 72% shells added to the rich mouthfeel of the ganaches. The shells also added an extra chocolate zing to each bonbon.

The Clementine Olive Oil ganache hadn’t been very chocolatey; in a bonbon, the  clementine flavor lingered with the dark chocolate from the shell, which added a nice dimension.

Raphio Port Wine
Raphio Port Wine bonbon

The dark red luster Tinta Port Wine bonbon was very pretty with a good shell-to-filling balance and a silky smooth ganache. The bonbon had a pronounced chocolate flavor, but not bitter or overwhelming, and a long chocolate finish. Probably my fav of the 3.

The gold luster Mocha Latte was the prettiest, and as well made and delicious as the others. It had an immediate coffee flavor followed by chocolate; it was strong but not bitter, with a creamy texture. It had a better mocha balance of coffee and chocolate than the ganache alone.

Raphio Mocha Latte
Raphio’s Mocha Latte bonbon was cute as a button

Raphio Chocolates did well at the Salon getting Gold Judges Awards for Best Chocolate Bar and Best Organic or Fair Trade Products; Silver for Best Dark Chocolates; and Bronze for Top Artisan Chocolatier; Honorable Mention for Best Traditional Chocolates, and Best in Salon. They also received Bronze People’s Choice Awards for Best Milk Chocolates and Best Dark Chocolates.

Raphio has a store at their Fresno factory, but if you can’t get there, Raphio chocolates are also available online, at special events, and at specialty markets around California and even further afield. Check their website for locations.

Improving/improvising on the classics

Michael himself
Master Chocolatier Michael Benner handing out samples: “I don’t consider myself a master chocolatier, but I’ve been called a lot of things so this is ok.”

Across the aisle from Raphio was Michael’s Chocolates, a master of beautiful, flavorful bonbons. I don’t know how much Michael’s may have influenced their buddies, Raphio Chocolates, to create top-notch bonbons, but Michael Benner was upfront about Raphio’s influence on him.

Michael explained to us his new single-origin Ecuador chocolate: “In a previous life, I was a sommelier, so I knew a lot about wine and terroir; and now I’m learning about the different areas where cacao grows from working with Raphio.”

He picked Ecuadorian cacao for his first single-origin chocolate because “Ecuadorian cacao is very chocolate-y chocolate: It’s deep and rich, almost smoky.” As an aside, he added, “My favorite description when talking about chocolate is chocolate-y.”

Michael made a 72% chocolate (Raphio’s magic number too), using cacao from 3 different producers. “I blended them myself,” he said. “I found it had a nice texture and lasting chocolate aftertaste. It’s how chocolate should be.”

We sampled a combination of Michael’s new flavors and classics. The first was a raspberry bonbon, which Michael made because “Raspberry and chocolate is one of my favorite combos, along with passion fruit and chocolate. My goal is to, when you have raspberry’s acidity, get that sweet-tart balance. I want to make an adult flavor, not too sweet.”

He succeeded with a deeply chocolate, but definitely berry treat. He let the fruit shine, and didn’t over-sweeten it.

A different kind of crunch

Introducing the next sample, Michael said, “I like simple flavors; and peanut butter and chocolate is my fav. So I made a very smooth peanut butter ganache, and added feuilletines — what I call French corn flakes — and pop rocks. It gives it some fun at the end.”

The piece had a good peanut butter and chocolate flavor balance. The crunch was the thinner crunch of feuilletine as opposed to chunks of peanuts, then the pop rocks crackled! Salty-sweet all the way through, crunchy, then crackly afterwards: Cacaopod declared it the best use of pop rocks ever.

Michaels Peanut Butter
Michaels Peanut Butter bonbons included a surprise ingredient

After the excitement of the new, we switched to Michael’s Chocolates classics: Salted Caramel and Lemon Burst.

“Everyone has their own idea of how the caramel should be,” Michael said as introduction. “Mine is chewy. I like chewy: After 3 chews, the butter flavor bursts in your mouth with the help of the salt.”

I can’t make a more accurate description of the experience than that. This is a subtler piece than the pop rocks peanut butter. But if you like a firm, chewy caramel, this piece is top notch.

The Lemon Burst is a Good Food Award Winner. “I save that for last,” Michael said. “I think of it as a palate cleanser. The lemon is a nice finish.”

I say it’s good anytime. It’s like a burst of really good lemon pie filling in the middle of chocolate. A perfect citrus bonbon.

An awards list to rival a CVS receipt

Michael’s Chocolates won more awards than anybody at the Salon: Gold Judges Awards for Top Artisan Chocolatier, Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations, Best Traditional Chocolates, Best Dark Chocolates, Best Caramels or Truffles, and Best in Salon; Silver for Best Milk Chocolates, Best Organic or Fair Trade Products, and Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product; and Bronze for Best Chocolate Bar and New Product Award. Plus Gold People’s Choice Awards for Top Artisan Chocolatier, Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations, Most Luxurious Experience, and Best in Salon; Silver for Best Milk Chocolates and Best Dark Chocolates; and Bronze for Best Caramels or Truffles and New Product Award.

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

Rainy Day Logo and Bars
Rainy Day’ new logo and single-origin bars

Happy Rainy Days

In addition to their truffles, bars, toffee, and dipped marshmallows, Rainy Day Chocolate had some new non-chocolate items to announce at the Salon: A new logo and their own grinder.

The new logo is the happiest interpretation of rainy day that I have ever seen. It definitely suits Jen and Chris Daly’s happy chocolate business. Chris told us that they met the designer at the last Fall Chocolate Salon, proving again that these events are more than just a place to try lots of chocolate.

Chris also told us that with their own grinder, they were able to do bean-to-bar. They had a 69% single-origin bar made from beans from Belize at the Salon.

“I fell in love with single origin after trying Dandelion Chocolates,” Chris said, “And seeing that a bar could taste like cherry with no extra ingredients.”

Rainy Day did well at the Salon, winning Gold Judges Awards for Top Toffee in Salon and Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product; Silver for Best Chocolate Bar and Best Organic or Fair Trade Products; Bronze for Best Dark Chocolates; and Honorable Mention for Best Traditional Chocolates. They also received a Gold People’s Choice Award for Best Milk Chocolates, and Silver for Best Dark Chocolates and New Product Award.

Rainy Day Chocolate is available online, at special events, and at some local markets. Check their website for locations.

Cross-country chocolate

David Whittingham brought some new chocolate treats from Fera’wyn’s for everyone to try

Next to Rainy Day Chocolate was formerly local Fera’wyn’s Artisan Chocolates. It was our first time seeing them since they left the Bay Area, so we wanted to find out how they were doing since moving across the country to Holly Springs, NC, and check out what they brought to the Salon.

Joanne wasn’t able to come, but her partner, husband and fellow chocolatier, David, caught us up: “We like the move. They have real seasons there. Our husky loved it when it snowed.”

And he told us about their biggest change, making baked goods at Fera’wyn’s Chocolate Café. “Joanne is celiac, so everything is gluten free. People who haven’t been able to enjoy pastry for years can have an éclair again,” David said.

“It took several years to figure out the flour blend,” he told us, “And the downside is that the baked goods go drier faster, so something like a cupcake which would normally have a 3-day shelf life, we have to make fresh every day.”

New takes on classics

They are still making chocolates (whew!) and brought their truffles and other treats, including a new peanut butter truffle and an “Almond Joy” bunny.

Ferawyn Bunny
Fera’wyn’s “Almond Joy” Bunny

This third (!) new peanut butter chocolate at the Salon was yet again a different take on the classic. Fera’wyn’s Peanut Butter truffle had a liquid-y peanut butter filling in a milk chocolate shell. The peanut butter was too subtle for me, I prefer a denser peanut butter filling a la Reeses, and this one might be a more adult peanut butter truffle: I detected overtones of some kind of alcohol.

The bunny was the opposite, definitely going for the candy bar experience: very sweet and coconut-y in a milk chocolate shell. I haven’t had an Almond Joy in a long time, but I think the bunny needs more almonds, whether that’s authentic or not.

We also revisited some classic Fera’wyn’s truffles, which were all well made with good thin shells surrounding interesting fillings. Like the limoncello with its taste shifts from dark chocolate to lemon then finally chocolate combined with lemon that lingered. While it is flavored with limoncello and you can smell the alcohol, it tastes lemon-y, not boozy.

Our other fav classic was their Bananas Foster with a banana caramel filling in a dark chocolate shell. The banana was the most forward flavor, but I thought it also tasted a little of coconut. It’s a good dessert truffle.

Fera’wyn’s Artisan Chocolates received a Silver Judges Award for Best Milk Chocolates; a Bronze for Best in Salon; and Honorable Mentions for Top Artisan Chocolatier, Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations, and Best Caramels or Truffles. They received a Silver People’s Choice Award for Best Milk Chocolates; Bronze for Most Artistic Designs and Best Caramels or Truffles; and Honorable Mentions for Most Luxurious Experience and Best in Salon.

If you can’t make it to Holly Springs, NC to visit their café and shop, Fera’wyn’s Artisan Chocolates are available online and at special events. Check their website for the latest.

Socola Booth
Socola’s well-stocked booth

Local chocolate veteran

Socola Chocolatier3-5 cup chocolatier probably had the most well-stocked booth at the event. Lots of bars, boxes of different truffle combos, and confections like the new Matcha Almond Dragees, which Wendy Lieu, co-founder and head chocolatier, described as caramelized almonds covered in three layers of matcha and white chocolate to make a crunchy, sweet treat. I like them almost as much as I love their Crunchy Matcha Green Tea White Chocolate Bar.

Socola also had new T-shirts featuring their mascot, Harriet the flying alpaca, so I got one to wear around town, promoting local chocolate. I wish more local chocolatiers would have branded apparel and bags. I can’t walk around eating chocolate all the time, but I can wear or carry something with a chocolate theme.

Not resting on their laurels

While Socola was the oldest local chocolatier at the Salon, they came to the event with even more new items: Wendy gave us samples of their 3 new truffle flavors: Kumquat, with a definite kumquat taste first, then mild chocolate, and a fun texture of  tiny chewy bits of kumquat; Kheer, inspired by the Indian dessert, and very coconut-y, with raisin or some other dried fruit, and bits of nuts — I liked this one best, with its interesting flavor combination; and a hot chocolate, which I didn’t get a description of, which tasted slightly citrusy, with lingering heat.

Socola Blind Dates
Socola Blind Dates are the only dates I’m interested in

I hope they get distinctive names like a lot of Socola treats, like the Bear Hugs, marshmallows wrapped in caramel, then dipped in chocolate, or the Blind Dates, which are just 3 ingredients: a big soft medjool date stuffed with a couple of whole almonds and dipped in dark chocolate, but as they say on their site, they are “the best blind date of your life.”

On the news

Socola is such a Salon veteran (10 years), Wendy was interviewed before the Salon on Bay Area Focus about Socola and the show. Socola is also a veteran local artisan chocolatier, started in 2001 by Wendy and her sister, Susan. They were the only local chocolatier at the Salon this year who has been making chocolates longer than we have been writing about chocolate, and we included them in our Pioneers & Veterans talk at the Salon.

Socola won an impressive array of awards at the Salon: Gold Judges Awards for Best Milk Chocolates and Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product; Silver for Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations and Best Dark Chocolates; Bronze for Top Artisan Chocolatier, Best Traditional Chocolates, and Best in Salon; and Honorable Mention for Best Caramels or Truffles. They also received a Gold People’s Choice Award for Best Milk Chocolates; and Silver for Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations, Best Dark Chocolates, Best Caramels or Truffles, and Best in Salon.

Socola chocolates are available at their SF café, online, at special events, and select locations. Check their website for details.

flying noir package
flying noir’s package is wrapped with art by chocolatier Karen Urbanek

The experimental chocolate veteran

The last vendor we visited at the Salon was also the one I most identify with this year’s theme. Flying noir is the epitome of experimental chocolate here in SFBA. It makes sense because flying noir’s founder and head chocolatier, Karen Urbanek, is a visual artist. As such, she is always creating new chocolates, pushing the boundaries, and coming up with interesting experiences for those of us who try her work.

At the Salon, she had a new box of 6 vegan selections. Karen explained its impetus, “Sometimes the Survival Kit [the ever-changing selection packed into a sardine tin] has been mostly vegan, and often the solid chocolates are vegan; but people asked for an entire vegan collection.”

The new vegan box, V’garia, is all dark chocolate and includes 2 mini bars: One layered with a 74% Premier Cru and a 72%, both from the Dominican Republic. The other bar is a 58% bittersweet blend. “Normally I use chocolate from the Americas,” Karen said. “This bar has 4 African sources.”

flying noir vegan
flying noir’s new vegan box

We tried the new mini bars, starting with the lighter African one. It was fruity and very pleasant tasting. The contrast with the darker bar was pronounced. The 74/72 bar was much darker, a little woody tasting that ended fruity, but also a little acerbic.

The rest of the vegan box was bonbons, all enrobed in BioSure Grand Cru Hacienda Elvesia 74% dark from the Dominican Republic.

The Diamond Moon was a crunchy, solid cylinder with a strong bergamot scent and lingering flavor from its caramelized bergamot zest.

flying noir big box
The deluxe poetry & prose box

The Amma was a candied ginger piece, but Karen used Asian ginger, which she described as less sweet and drier than tradition candied ginger. It was crunchy with some heat from the ginger coming at the end.

My favorite piece was the D’Marco. Its crunchy cinnamon almond gianduja reminded me of the flavor (but not the texture) of CocoTutti’s Almond Butter Crunch with Cinnamon CoCoQuintet bars.

(I did not try the last piece, the Pumka, which contained caramelized pumpkin seeds with wasabi, because wasabi in America is usually just disguised horseradish, and that tastes like poison to me.)

In addition to the vegan box, flying noir had  9-piece and 16-piece versions of their poetry & prose collection, with pieces inspired by literature. Karen didn’t have her award-winning out of country collection this time, which highlights areas around the world that need attention/help, because of a dire situation: “I can’t get chocolate from Venezuela right now [due to the political conditions],” Karen explained. “Venezuela needs everybody’s help now.”

Flying noir received a Bronze People’s Choice Award for Best Milk Chocolates.

Flying noir chocolates are available online and at special events. Check their website for the latest information.

Drinking chocolate flights

My favorite healthy chocolate, Cacoco Drinking Chocolate, was at the Salon, but I didn’t stop by. They were offering a flight of their drinking chocolates, and the line to sample them was never shorter than loooong. They didn’t have a new flavor, so I might have missed some news, but I couldn’t wait to find out. I do recommend them, especially their 65% Golden Dark Chocolate with turmeric, cardamom, and orange peel; and 70% Spicy Dark Chocolate with reishi mushroom extract and habanero for a nice afterburn.

Cacoco received a Gold Judges Award for Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product; and a Bronze for Best Organic or Fair Trade Products.

Cacoco Drinking Chocolate is available online, at special events, and nationwide at grocery stores and specialty stores. Check their website for locations.

Salon Crowd
On the left is the head of the line for the drinking chocolate flight at Cacoco’s booth. The line stretched further than my patience

Missing in action

Our fav local caramel maker, Kindred Cooks and almost-raw chocolate maker Endorfin Foods were listed as vendors for this Salon, but we didn’t see them. I hope they were too busy with their own experiments and will make it to the next Salon to catch us all up.

Brush up on local artisan chocolate history

In celebration of our 10 years of writing this blog, we did a talk, Incomplete History of SF Artisan Chocolate, about the 3 pioneers of local artisan chocolate, and the veterans chocolatiers who have been making chocolate and confections here in SFBA longer than we have been writing about it.

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Published May 7, 2019