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

Chocolate Salon entrance

It takes a neighborhood

By

With a familiar layout and bustling crowd, the 2024 SF International Chocolate Salon seemed like a super trendy neighborhood and inspired me to ask my own neighbors to help a chocolate taster out

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The 16th Annual San Francisco International Chocolate Salon, sponsored by TasteTV, was held April 7 in the San Francisco County Fair Building (AKA Hall of Flowers) in Golden Gate Park.

Chocolate Salon crowd
Chocolate Salon crowd

CBTB was there sampling and catching up on what’s happening chocolate-wise — and also doing a presentation about new local chocolate locations that have opened since our last Salon talk 5 years ago.

I felt a bit of déjà vu — not just that we were doing a talk again but also there were a lot of familiar local vendors and their booths were in the same locations in the Salon as in previous years. This makes it easier for me to not miss any SFBA vendors. Plus the Salon is taking on the feel of a friendly neighborhood — only one that is flooded with tourists because oh whee, does it get crowded in there.

Keeping with the neighborhood theme this year I also arranged chocolate tastings with my for-real neighbors focused on bonbons so Cacaopod and I could get through sampling a lot of collections without having to try everything ourselves. Most every chocolatier at the Salon uses no preservatives so they recommend eating bonbons within 2 weeks of purchase. With so many bonbons to try there was no way the 2 of us could manage that. I knew a lot of my neighbors are foodies from our National Night Out potlucks, so I had no problem finding willing participants.

SFBA vendors at the Salon

There were 24 local vendors this year — the most I’ve ever seen. I visited almost every one of them. Click a name in the list to skip directly to their part of this hella long article:

CocoTutti Chocolates

The first booth to the right of the entrance was CocoTutti Chocolates 3-5 cup chocolatier— just like always. I think every visitor to the Salon stops by this prime location — it’s almost like Elyce is the neighborhood mayor. Usually her husband John is at the booth too — there are a lot of husband and wife teams in local chocolate which also contributes to that neighborhood feel at a Salon — but he was missing in action.

Elyce Zahn handling out samples at CocoTutti’s well stocked booth
Elyce Zahn handling out samples at CocoTutti’s well stocked booth of their bars, bonbons, and treats

Instead Elyce was manning the booth with just one helper. Elyce told me John was working their booth at a quilt show that day. They often split duties like that when there are scheduling conflicts. I didn’t get a chance to talk to her beyond that — she was super busy with the crush of attendees sampling, buying, and asking questions.

Triple Vanilla bonbon

I did get to try her new bonbon: The Triple Vanilla was a pearlescent dome (my photo doesn’t do it justice) of white chocolate. Inside the shell was a smooth almost liquid cream filling with visible vanilla specks that smelled strongly vanilla.

The taste was also very vanilla with a subtle tang that reminded me of a light mousse like cheesecake I had years ago in SF made by my friend’s FIL, Sam Zanze — the cheesecake had to be cut with fishing string it was so light. He’s retired now so the bonbon’s taste was a welcome nostalgia trip.

I also had a sample of her S’mores with its thin extra crispy riff on graham crackers, good dark chocolate, and soft squishy marshmallows that melted away. A satisfying sweet snack. And her chocolate covered matzah which added caramel and sea salt to the matzah and 72% Guittard couverture. It was a little messy to eat, but I loved the caramel and chocolate combo.

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon Judges Awards CocoTutti won Silver for Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations, Best Caramels or Truffles, and Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product; Bronze for Best Traditional Chocolates, Best Dark Chocolates, and Top Toffee in Salon; and received Honorable Mentions for Top Artisan Chocolatier and Best in Salon.

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon People’s Choice Awards CocoTutti Chocolates won Silver for Most Artistic Designs, New Product Award, and Best in Salon; Bronze for Top Artisan Chocolatier, Best Milk Chocolates, Best Dark Chocolates, and Best Caramels or Truffles; and received an Honorable Mention for 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 also arrange to pick up chocolate orders at their kitchen.

Back to the list

Minée Chocolate

Minee chocolate booth
Michael Sigmon, Minée’s founder and CEO, shows off their latest bar

At the next booth, we met new Salon neighbor Michael Sigmon, the co-founder and CEO of new chocolate maker Minée Chocolate. Located in Menlo Park, they make a range of single origins —60%, 75%, 80% — plus a coffee inclusion bar and a vegan milk bar named Marsha for his mom.

Minée sources their beans from Ecuador, and in addition to making the chocolate Michael told us he roasts his own coffee that he adds to a 75% cacao bar called Demitasse.

Currently they are working on a caramel blond bar named Dorothy for his chocolate making partner’s mom but he didn’t have samples of that one yet.

Minée bars are thin with a smooth texture and a good snap. The vegan milk had a softer break than the others and a pronounced coconut flavor from the coconut milk used as a substitute for dairy. The Demitasse had a grainy texture from the ground coffee inclusion.

Of the 5 bars, I liked the 80% best. It was an earthy chocolate, savory, a little nutty, slightly drying, a little bitter when melting but with a good chocolatey aftertaste.

Minée line of bars
Minée line of bars

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon Judges Awards Minée Chocolate won Silver for Best Dark Chocolates. In the 2024 Chocolate Salon People’s Choice Awards Minée Chocolate won Bronze for Best Dark Chocolates.

Their products are available on their website, at special events, and at some local markets and retailers. Check their website for locations.

Back to the list

flying noir

Across from CocoTutti was longtime Salon neighbor flying noir handing out samples of 4 new flavors that were also available in their latest poetry & prose collection. I caught up briefly with Karen Urbanik, flying noir’s founder and head chocolatier. She is still dealing with landlord issues and looking for a new space. Describing what she wants, she said, “Not a physical store, that’s too much. I have a pickup kitchen now. I want something in between.”

me at flying noir booth
I actually managed to stop by flying noir’s booth when there was a break in the crowds
opihra hand sculpted bonbon
Hand sculpted opihra bonbon

Since Karen is an artist I expect she will craft a space uniquely in between. And speaking of crafting something, she was really excited about a new technique she was using with some of her pieces — sculpture. She showed me one of the new flavors, opihra, which was hand shaped into a flower, as she said, “The sculpted pieces are new — it’s really fun. I want to do more of that.”

Made with Opihr gin, Middle Eastern spices, and peppercorn in a 43% dark milk chocolate, I could smell and feel the booze. The flavor profile is hard to describe — it started floral, then a little bitter with a coffee taste. A savory piece, it gave the sensation of salt but didn’t have salty taste.

The other new/tweaked samples flying noir handed out were a revamped absinthe piece, a piece featuring flavored vodka, and a Mezcal piece. I also got a box of the current poetry & prose collection that included most of the samples and it was the first box I shared with a few neighbors.

poetry & prose collection
2024’s poetry & prose collection

Opening the box eliciting raves about the visuals, with one taster declaring they rated the aesthetics 10 out of ten, and one of the artists wanting to try the cylindrical piece embossed with a face without even knowing what was inside — maybe because it reminded her of her own drawing style of strongly outlined faces and bodies.

It was the hawaj 55, a repeat piece which is solid 55% bittersweet chocolate flavored with espresso and Yemeni coffee spices. She adored it with its hint of coffee but mostly spiced flavor, similar to a pumpkin spice mix or spice cake.

sinthe bonbon
Sugar coated sinthe bonbon

My group was very interested in trying the revamped sinthe bonbon because of the exotic ingredient absinthe. None of them had had absinthe before but had all heard of it and its dangerous reputation.

The bonbon mixed absinthe and armagnac in a bittersweet 55% ganache with a sugared exterior. It smelled boozy and had a sweet alcohol taste that ended with a little burn.

My tasters liked the strong anise flavor of the absinthe in the smooth 55% ganache. Some liked the contrasting texture of the crunchy sugar coating. Others thought it took away from the creamy chocolate texture. (I am definitely Team Crunch.)

pashka bonbon
pashka bonbon

They also liked the pashka, a vegan piece made with caramelized oat milk ganache, caramelized passion fruit, pineapple, lemon, lime, and ginger in a 64% dark shell. They tasted the pineapple immediately then passion fruit with some tasting apple and lemon too. One declared it 10 out of ten (there were several people in these tastings who liked to judge pieces on a scale), another said it was a fun ride.

They loved the kuri made with Kuri (chestnut) Japaneses whiskey in a 70% dark chocolate ganache. They liked the flavor and smooth texture, one rating it a 10 again and another said it “makes me want to try Japanese whiskey.”

That’s one of the attractions of flying noir chocolates: Karen uses a lot of exotic and rare ingredients — I have to google so much with flying noir chocolates — that you are guaranteed some unique tastes in each box. And she combines these singular ingredients with a range of good chocolate — rich, never bitter — sourced from different places around the world using a variety of processes, some very labor intensive. With this box, she got Cacaopod to declare, “She’s an alchemist!”

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon Judges Awards flying noir won Gold for Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations and Best Organic or Fair Trade Products; Bronze for Best Dark Chocolates and Best Caramels or Truffles; and received an Honorable Mention for Top Artisan Chocolatier. In the 2024 Chocolate Salon People’s Choice Awards flying noir received an Honorable Mention for Best in Salon.

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.

Back to the list

R & J Toffees

Next to flying noir’s booth Joel Sakakihara and his helper were selling R & J Toffees’ traditional toffee that’s based on Joel and his brother Ryan’s grandfather’s recipe. Their toffee is pretty much a staple around here. One of the nice things about it you can store it in the fridge for months and it gets better over time.

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon Judges Awards R & J Toffees won Gold for Top Toffee in Salon. In the 2024 Chocolate Salon People’s Choice Awards R & J Toffees won Gold for Top Toffee in Salon; and Bronze for New Product Award and 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.

Back to the list

Green Panda Eats

Carmen and her cookies
Carmen and a small sample of her cookies

New vendor, Green Panda Eats, is not a chocolate vendor but chocolate adjacent: They make cookies with over 150 flavors of cookies, some including chocolate.

Carmen, Green Panda Eats’ founder and baker, was manning the booth and told us she was a corporate banker for 15 years. When her grandmother was dying, she quit to take care of her. With it being during COVID she said it got really boring so she started making cookies for her grandma, which evolved into a business in 2022.

One of the selling points of Carmen’s cookies is that they have 50% less sugar than traditional recipes because her grandma liked less sweet sweets. Carmen explained that she is born and raised Bay Area with South East Asian ancestry so she uses a lot of Asian flavors but not exclusively. For example she has a hot Cheeto white chocolate cookie and a watermelon tahini cookie.

She posts flavors on Instagram and decides which ones to make each month based on input from her Instagram followers. She works out of a kitchen in Richmond and makes limited batches of cookies — when they’re gone, they’re gone until they next time they appear on the website. That’s where I saw her Pandan Coconut Butterscotch cookie — which was already sold out 😥

Along with all the uniquely flavored cookies, Carmen showed us some of her iced vanilla bean sugar cookies with cartoon characters printed on them and told us these cookies can be printed with any logo, artwork, or photo. She said she can also do custom shapes and different flavors.

the awesome Ube + Oreo cookie
the awesome Ube + Oreo cookie

She had free salted chocolate chip cookie samples but more enticing were her big $5 cookies. Cacaopod spotted a distinctly purple cookie and on closer inspection saw it was an Ube & Oreo cookie with half an Oreo cookie half sunk into the top. Since ube is one of our new fav flavors, he nabbed one for us.

Carmen recommends heating her cookies in the microwave for 10 seconds to get that fresh baked flavored. We followed her instructions and it resulted in a soft texture in both the ube cookie and the half Oreo.

I used to love Oreos but I stopped eating them back in the day when we were first warned to avoid high fructose corn syrup. They might still contain that but since this was half an Oreo and we would be splitting it, I figured it wasn’t a problem. Everything in moderation, right?

When I broke off a piece I saw there were bits of Oreo mixed into the ube cookie but still not enough to worry me. And the flavor mix worked — it had the distinct flavors of both in a lightly sweet cookie with the soft starchy texture of ube. It was delicious, and we both liked the chewy texture and mild sweetness. As Cacaopod declared, “Ube makes everything taste better.”

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon Judges Awards Green Panda Eats won Gold for Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product. In the 2024 Chocolate Salon People’s Choice Awards Green Panda Eats received an Honorable Mention for Most Artistic Designs.

Green Panda Eats cookies are available online and at popups and special events. Check their website for what flavors are currently available (Ube + Oreo was still available as I wrote this) and their Instagram for where they will be next.

Back to the list

Michael’s Chocolates

Michael & his busy crew

Next to Green Panada Eats, Michael Benner of Michael’s Chocolates 3-5 cup chocolatier  had Oreos too! I saw these at their 2nd anniversary celebration along with a bunch of other things they have added since they got an enrober. At the Salon they had the enrobed Oreos plus Red Vines (yup, it’s a regular offering now), along with the more sedate orange peels and ginger. They also had their new-ish mendiants — which I love for the distinct flavors and textures of its toppings — plus some other new chocolate treats.

Michael’s Chef’s Collection at the Salon included the new Espresso Hazelnut Crunch which uses local St. George Spirits’ NOLA Coffee Liqueur to intensify the espresso flavor while avoiding bitterness. My neighbors liked the piece’s slightly crunchy texture, how the flavors that blended together, and the small buzzy sensation of the liqueur.

Spring 2024 Chef’s Collection
Spring 2024 Chef’s Collection — Espresso Hazelnut Crunch in the upper lefthand corner

Another popular item in the collection was a single origin bonbon made from Dandelion Chocolate’s Camino Verde that one of my tasters described as “an explosion of chocolate.”

Along with the bonbons and enrobed treats, there were also more bar options at the booth. It’s a legacy thing: Michael’s Chocolates’ factory store is in the former Michael Mischer space and a lot of people who visit assume because of the similar names that they can still find their favorite Michael Mischer chocolates.

It’s the reason Michael started making enrobed Oreos — Michael Mischer did it — and it’s also why he has expanded their bars/tablets offerings. “Michael Mischer had so many bars so I just started coming out with more bars,” Michael explained. “Plus I’ve been getting more requests for milk chocolate options.”

As of now it’s mostly milk chocolate versions of his regular dark chocolate bars — for example he had both a milk and a dark version of his Hazelnut Tablet at the Salon. And since it’s Michael he gives milk chocolate his own touch: “I use Guittard milk with a 72% dark,” he said. “So it’s a milk but not as sweet.”

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon Judges Awards Michael’s Chocolates won Gold for Top Artisan Chocolatier, Best Milk Chocolates, and Best in Salon; Silver for Best Chocolate Bar, Best Traditional Chocolates, Best Dark Chocolates, Best Caramels or Truffles, and Best Organic or Fair Trade Products; and Bronze for Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product.

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon People’s Choice Awards Michael’s Chocolates won Gold for Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations, Best Milk Chocolates, New Product Award, and Best in Salon; Silver for Top Artisan Chocolatier, Best Dark Chocolates, and Best Caramels or Truffles; and received an Honorable Mention for Most Artistic Designs.

You can buy the full line of Michael’s Chocolates at their factory store in Oakland. You can also buy some of their most popular items online. And some items are available at local shops — like Michael’s collaborations with Dandelion Chocolate you can buy at Dandelion locations — and there’s usually a mix of new and familiar treats at special events.

Back to the list

Rainy Day Chocolate

Next to Michael’s was Sonoma County chocolate maker Rainy Day Chocolate with their addictive toffees and single origin bars — but of course the first thing we wanted to know was ‘what’s the status on their Forestville factory store?’

Rainy Day booth
Handing out samples at Rainy Day’s booth

Chris Sund, Rainy Day’s co-founder, said it was taking longer than expected to convert a 30-year-old Chinese restaurant to a chocolate factory but they are projecting it will open by the end of this summer. He also showed us the latest update video: A beautiful just-completed mural covering 2 interior walls that features colorful cacao trees. I can’t wait to see it in person.

Even with all that happening Chris had more news: “What I’m most excited about is we just got back from our first trip to Guatemala sourcing cacao,” he said. “We brought back 200 pounds of seeds that have never been seen here before.

“The cacao farm is 1 hour into the middle of nowhere,” he continued. “We wanted to check out things like if they were doing proper fermenting and not water washing (a water wasting technique for cleaning cacao beans after fermentation that also removes flavor from the beans).

“This is our first time taking this leap. And I’m going back in a few months to keep developing that supply chain.”

Chris has a connection that helped make this happen: His dad lives in Guatemala on a lake in the mountains near Volcano de Fuego and says “It’s like Tahoe except 70 degrees year round.”

So in addition to the new factory opening soon, they have plans for doing guided tours featuring Mayan ruins and cacao farms possibly starting before the end of this year. “We will have a Kickstarter with big donations getting a trip to Guatemala,” he said.

Rainy Day Tanzanian single origin
Rainy Day’s 72% Tanzania single origin

With that exciting news we got their single origin bars to try — the Guatemalan of course and a Tanzanian.

Chris described the Tanzanian single origin as a fruity chocolate while the Guatemalan was more chocolatey with a hint of berry. They each came wrapped in a folded flyer-like sheet of paper that when opened describes Rainy Day and the cacao used. They include a map of the world that highlights the equatorial cacao growing zone and which they mark with where the featured cacao came from — good information presented visually.

The bars are attractive — made with a cacao themed mold — with a crisp snap. The 72% Tanzanian used beans from Kokoa Kamili Fermentary, which seems to produce consistently high quality cacao. This bar was no exception with a very fruity, primarily cherry taste and hints of smokiness and earthiness. It wasn’t bitter — just a strongly fruity chocolate.

The 69% Guatemalan contrasted with that as a more savory, nutty chocolate. It had a good chocolatey aftertaste that lasted. I liked both bars. They also make a sugar free bar using the Guatemalan single origin. It seems like a good choice — the more savory slightly bitter chocolate balances the sweetness of monk fruit and erythritol used as a sugar substitute.

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon Judges Awards Rainy Day Chocolate won Gold for Best Organic or Fair Trade Products; Silver for Best Chocolate Bar, Best Dark Chocolates, and Top Toffee in Salon; and Bronze for Best Traditional Chocolates.

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon People’s Choice Awards Rainy Day Chocolate won Gold for Best Dark Chocolates and New Product Award; Bronze for Best Milk Chocolates and Top Toffee in Salon; and received an Honorable Mention for Best in Salon.

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

Back to the list

The Chaga Company

Gavin in his mushroom themed outfit
Gavin in his mushroom themed outfit

At The Chaga Company booth founder Gavin Escolar had the party music pumping as he offered drinks of his iced jasmine green tea and cold brew coffee for $6 — both infused with chaga mushrooms.

The cold brew includes other healthy ingredients like cacao, resihi and turkey tail mushrooms, mace root, cayenne, and cinnamon — plus monk fruit as a sweetener. It had a good coffee aroma but it was a little too earthy for me — I prefer his chaga powder which I can control the ratio of chaga to coffee or hot chocolate. And I’d rather it not have any sweetener so I can add my own but the cold brew mix is more convenient as long as you like monk fruit.

Gavin was also handling out samples of his 70% Dark Chocolate Ingots which I enjoyed. Even though it’s infused with 15% chaga I didn’t taste any earthiness or outright mushroom flavor. It is a savory chocolate with a creamy texture that ends with a a mild drying sensation but you would never guess that it was made with mushrooms. This is the way to include chaga in chocolate — not so much as to scream mushroom! but enough to give the chocolate some depth.

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon People’s Choice Awards The Chaga Company won Gold for New Product Award.

They have an online store and Gavin sells at a lot of special events. In fact we saw him 2 weeks later at the Craft Chocolate Experience and he had done another event in the meantime. Follow their Instagram to see where Gavin might be next — or just follow the party music at the next event you attend in the Bay Area to the Chaga Company booth.

Back to the list

Raphio Chocolate

Returning to the Salon after a few years was Raphio Chocolate from Fresno. It was nice to see both husband and wife co-owners Yohanes and Elisia there. Elisia explained that now that their kids (Raphio is a portmanteau of their names) are old enough, both parents could come and man the booth. I guess in a few years we might see the kids at the Salon too!

Yohanes & Elisia at Raphio’s booth
Yohanes & Elisia with some of the bars at Raphio’s booth

Raphio had a wide range of bars including new single origins from Indonesia, Trinidad, and India. New to us: They added a dark sugarfree bar to go with their Nibby Sugarfree White Chocolate bar since the last time we saw them. And a dark milk chocolate bar.

Raphio started out all dark chocolate, then after a couple of years they branched out into white chocolate and bonbons, but this is the first Raphio milk chocolate bar I’ve seen.

62% Dark Milk Chocolate bar
62% Dark Milk Chocolate bar

The 62% Dark Milk Chocolate bar had a spicy aroma — I forgot to ask what cacao they used in the couverture — with a smooth texture and a slow melt. It had a little bite and was a not too sweet milk chocolate that finished mild. Overall I would describe it as having a melted chocolate ice cream flavor.

Our tasters dubbed it a sophisticated milk chocolate bar. At the same time the 4-year-old taster (our youngest taster) approved of it too even getting a second sample to confirm.

Another bar I got that day was the 72% Fresno Chili Olive Oil bar on Elisha’s recommendation that it was more about the chili flavor than the heat. I could smell the roasted chili in the 72% dark chocolate. As it melted it had the smooth slippery texture that olive oil adds to chocolate and I could feel the heat but also taste the chili. It got hotter but not too much to erase the distinct chili pepper flavor — it’s a hot but addictive taste.

Banana bonbon
Banana bonbon

I also got a sample pack of their current bonbons at the Salon. The pieces were well made and the flavors I liked the most were the Salted Caramel and Banana. The Salted Caramel had a dark chocolate shell & ganache and an intense chocolate taste with caramel coming second. It wasn’t salty — salt was used to enhance the flavor not be a flavor.

The Banana bonbon had a white chocolate shell and ganache that was a light yellow speckled with bits of banana. It had a real banana taste and texture, not extract. I would like to try this ganache in a shell made with their new dark milk chocolate couverture.

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon Judges Awards Raphio Chocolate won Gold for Best Milk Chocolates and Best Organic or Fair Trade Products; and Silver for Best Chocolate Bar.

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

Back to the list

VB Fine Chocolates

New-to-us vendor VB Fine Chocolates was at last year’s Fall Salon but we couldn’t make it so they were on my list of must-visit new chocolate neighbors. Started by Victoria Bracha in 2022 they use a Belgian couverture, lots of fresh ingredients, and no preservatives.

VB Fine Chocolates booth
Victoria and her helper at VB Fine Chocolates’ booth

The booth was packed with boxes and bars from the full range of bonbons and bars that VB Fine Chocolates makes. It was a bit chaotic with multiple people asking for samples at once but Victoria was a blaze of energy and managed to multi-task giving out samples, selling, refilling boxes, and introducing VB to me.

I tried to keep it brief but for a new chocolatier Victoria has a wide selection — lots of bonbons grouped into collections and a set of bars. She said last time the judges missed the bars (Cacaopod and I are Salon judges) so this time she wanted to point them out.

Some VB bars
Some VB bars

The bars are pretty squares of chocolate airbrushed in 2 colors. The flavors were also available at the Salon in a bonbon collection which made them easy to sample.

Of the 4 spiced nut bars and 4 dried fruit & liqueur bars I preferred the fruit bars — I thought the nuts in the nut bars were too subtle, they seemed more like spice bars with nuts for crunch.

The dried fruit bars had complimentary liqueurs added which enhanced the flavor and had a little boozy kick. I especially liked the Belgian 70% Cacao Dark Chocolate with Dried Turkish Apricots & St. Germain Liqueur and the Belgian 70% Cacao Dark Chocolate with Dried Tart Cherries & Cherry Heering Liqueur (whew! that’s a lot to type). The big pieces of fruit were soft and chewy, the flavors were distinct, and the chocolate wasn’t bitter.

Of the bonbon collections — Mocha, Rose, Heart, and Liqueur — I liked the Mocha Collection best. The tall domes hand painted with swirls of bright colors were all dark chocolate shells filled with espresso flavored soft-to-liquid fillings.

Mocha bonbon
Belgian Dark Chocolate Filled with Dark Mocha bonbon

The Belgian Dark Chocolate Filled with Dark Mocha looked like the interior was solid when we cut it in half to share but it dissolved quickly to liquid as soon as we tasted it. The flavor was a good deep chocolate with just a hint of coffee.

The Belgian Dark Chocolate Filled with Salted Caramel & Espresso added salted caramel to the big mocha bonbon. It was very caramel tasting, not salty, with a good espresso flavor. It was like a caramel latte in a dark chocolate shell.

Victoria also shared samples of new bonbons she’s working on with a pie & cake theme. The 1st one was a cake & alcohol piece — I didn’t catch what alcohol was used but it had a big boozy kick with a white cake taste — Victoria told us it had the biggest kick because it was freshly made.

She said that her bonbons require refrigeration because they are made with fresh ingredients and no preservatives — and a lot have alcohol, so keep them in the fridge until 20 minutes before enjoying them and eat them within 2 weeks of purchase for the best taste.

With those instructions she gave us some of the new pie based bonbons to take home. She told us she had just made them before the Salon using fresh fruit. They had an interesting marzipan texture but not flavor (thank goodness, not a marzipan fan). I liked the white peach pie best — it smelled like peaches and tasted very peachy and chocolatey.

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon Judges Awards VB Fine Chocolates won Silver for Best Caramels or Truffles and New Product Award. In the 2024 Chocolate Salon People’s Choice Awards VB Fine Chocolates won Silver for New Product Award; Bronze for Most Artistic Designs; and received an Honorable Mention for Best Caramels or Truffles.

You can buy VB Fine Chocolates’ bonbons and other treats online and at special events.

Back to the list

That Batch

I didn’t make it to That Batch’s booth this time. I saw that they had their dessert items and cookies but no truffles this time. Maybe next time if they aren’t mobbed like they were when I slow rolled past this year I will stop by and properly greet this new-ish Salon neighbor.

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon People’s Choice Awards That Batch won Bronze for New Product Award.

In addition to their online shop, they do popups and catering.

Back to the list

Kindred Caramels

We checked in with Jeri Vasquez of Kindred Caramels across the way to find out what her new flavor for 2024 is. She gave us samples to try of the new Guava Cake Caramel.

Kindred Caramels booth
The lineup at Kindred Caramels’ booth

It had both a distinct guava AND birthday cake flavorin a smooth buttery caramel. These non-traditional flavors in a traditional caramel were interesting but too sweet for me. However birthday cake lovers be on the lookout for these caramels because they will give you that birthday cake vibe. Jeri told us she thought about adding sprinkles but decided against it because one of the big features of her caramels is their smooth texture. To me since these were already on the sweet side she made the right call.

Jeri also gave us samples of last year’s new flavor — Mango Tajin which is so flavorful — the mango flavor pops and the piece has a nice tang with a little spiciness. It not especially hot but this is a more mature flavor profile and more in my wheelhouse.

She also gave us samples of a flavor she has been developing and workshopping for a while: Espresso Coconut. The first time she had us try it the espresso was too subtle. In this latest iteration the first flavor we tasted was distinctly espresso but then the ever-assertive coconut took over. Maybe next year!

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon Judges Awards Kindred Cooks Caramels won Bronze for Best Caramels or Truffles. In the 2024 Chocolate Salon People’s Choice Awards Kindred Cooks Caramels won Bronze for New Product Award and received an Honorable Mention for Best Caramels or Truffles.

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

Back to the list

Deux Cranes

Michiko rings up our purchases
Michiko rings up our purchases

We were excited to see the next vendor, Deux CranesWe enjoyed their chocolate last year but this was their first Chocolate Salon and I wanted to meet founder and head chocolatier Michiko Marron-Kirby to fangirl a little.

Michiko was there with her helpers and their current lineup of dazzling French/Japanese inspired bars, truffles, salted caramels, and cookies.

After gushing a little bit, I got to asking Michiko a few questions. I saw she still had the Hojichi Caramel Milk Chocolate Bar which we liked when we tried it last year. It was done as a collaboration with Konbi, a Japanese sandwich shop in LA but since Konbi went out of business — Michiko said they were another casualty of the pandemic — I wanted to know if the bar had a future. She told me that it is their best selling bar so it was safe.

Michiko pointed out another Deux Cranes collaboration bar — the Milk Chocolate with Candied Violets bar — that she said they created with Native Poppy, a San Diego florist. So why all the SoCal collabs?

It’s all about location, location, location: “I grew up partly in Japan,” Michiko explained. “Then I was a teacher in D.C. I moved to Paris with my husband and went to pastry school then worked in a pastry and chocolate shop. After that we moved to San Diego and I started Deux Cranes in 2018.”

A job opportunity for her husband brought them to the Bay Area where she opened her first store in 2021 which now has 8 employees — that’s a large staff for local chocolatiers. So far it’s working for her. Michiko explained, “We know our price point is high but we are creating a luxurious experience. It’s been an easier sell here because people are more adventurous and looking for quality here.”

back of Native Poppy bar
Back of Native Poppy Candied Violets bar

And even with cacao prices rising and other hurdles to overcome she doesn’t plan on changing her business template: “It’s what I want to eat,” she said. “And besides, it’s my business.”

We can all approve of that plan — especially if you’ve had French and Japanese chocolates. Deux Cranes is very evocative of both traditions with subtle flavor combos, sophisticated techniques, and beautiful packaging.

We covered a lot of Deux Cranes’ regular bar lineup previously so this time we got a few new-to-us bars plus some truffles and other treats.

Of course we had to get the Native Poppy Milk Chocolate with Candied Violets bar. While the front of the bar was their regular 3-D  triangles mold pattern, the back was where the action was with brilliant purple candied violet petals scattered across it.

I’m always leery of floral flavors but this was sweet and very subtle — it was more about the candied aspect than a flower. Deux Cranes uses good couverture — Valrhona, I think — so it was more a mild milk chocolate with a candied crackle texture. A fun bar.

Sakura + Matcha Chocolate Bar
Sakura + Matcha Chocolate Bar

It was also a big hit with our tasters. People really liked the candied texture — it was crisp and shattered but didn’t hurt anyone’s teeth. And it was the chocolate that our youngest taster — when offered a choice of one thing to take home — chose.

In writing this I realize that all 3 bars we bought had floral ingredients 😳

The Sakura + Matcha Chocolate bar was a vibrant green and delicate pink colored white chocolate bar. It had a remarkably crisp snap for a white chocolate bar.

The flavor was mostly matcha — the bar only had a couple of circles of sakura (cherry blossom) flavored chocolate and even those rested on a matcha bed. It was a strong slightly bitter matcha with a small crunch from bits of rice crackers scattered throughout. (Maybe the rice crackers were added to mimic the texture of candied flower petals? It was a nice touch.)

Me — the one who avoids florals — thought it needed more sakura — the cherry-ish flavor of the sakura was a little tangy but too mild to stand up to that sea of matcha.

Pistachio + Rose Chocolate bar
Pistachio + Rose Chocolate bar

The 3rd bar we got I had seen the first time I saw Deux Cranes bars and I have avoided it until now because it’s Pistachio + Rose. Rose is the floral-est of florals, and I will never understand how someone looked at a rose, smelled it, and still decided to eat it.

I’ve been impressed with Michiko’s soft touch with ingredients so I decided to trust her and give it a go finally. The bar was pretty with small rosy flecks and pieces of caramelized pistachio scattered throughout. And it started out very promising with a nutty aroma — no rose scent at all.

The bar had a surprisingly soft break which I attribute to the combination of soft pistachios, pistachio paste, and plain white chocolate. The texture was smooth with lots of little crunches from the caramelized nuts and candied rose petals.

It tasted good! Not rose-y at all! It actually had a nice mild nutty flavor in a good not too sweet white chocolate. A winner with us tasters.

Deux Cranes empty bonbon box
Deux Cranes empty bonbon box is another expression of French/Japanese luxe

I think this is an example of why Deux Cranes bars are worth the higher cost — with that price point Michiko does not scrimp on ingredients. Pistachio paste is expensive as are regular pistachios. The chocolate used is high end, and other ingredients — if they are not in themselves expensive — are processed in time/labor intensive ways. (From what I googled, making candied rose petals involves picking petals off a flower carefully, washing, drying, then painting egg whites on both side of each frigging petal, and something about superfine sugar and oh never mind it’s too much for my non-chef brain to take in.)

Of the Deux Cranes truffles we tried the 3 we liked best were Coconut Cream Pie, Black Sesame Praline, and Japanese Curry.

The Coconut Cream Pie was a dark shell with 2 layers of white chocolate inside: a light almost foamy top layer and a visibly textured bottom layer. It had a good coconut flavor and texture without the coconut dominating the chocolate.

The Black Sesame Praline smelled like sesame and had a tiny crunch from the ground sesame with salt hits all along. All 3 of us who tried it thought it was really tasty with a satisfying texture and a good balance between the sesame and chocolate. One person described it as “a Butterfinger-y texture.”

Japanese Curry bonbon
Japanese Curry bonbon

The Japanese Curry smelled like curry but the first flavor experienced was chocolate then curry. The mellow curry flavor didn’t dominate but was distinct. The combination of dark chocolate and curry was a pleasant surprise.

Chocolate Sables
Chocolate Sables

The treats we got included classic Chocolate Sables —thin crisp cookies that look like chocolate ginger snaps. They tasted buttery at first, then a little salty with a light chocolate taste that came last and lingered.

We also got classic Salted Caramels that were smooth, not salty, with a browned butter flavor — and Miso Pepper Caramels which had a strong miso smell and were surprisingly bitter. These very savory caramels packed some heat but ultimately I didn’t care for the bitter overtone. Maybe a different pepper would work better for me.

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon Judges Awards Deux Cranes won Silver for Best Chocolate Bar, Best Organic or Fair Trade Products, and New Product Award; Bronze for Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations and Best Caramels or Truffles; and received an Honorable Mention for Best in Salon. In the 2024 Chocolate Salon People’s Choice Awards Deux Cranes won Bronze for Best Milk Chocolates and received Honorable Mentions for Top Artisan Chocolatier, Most Artistic Designs, Best Caramels or Truffles, and Best in Salon.

You can buy Deux Cranes chocolates and confections at their store in Los Gatos, online, and at select stores nationwide. Check their website for locations.

Back to the list

Kokak Chocolates

Next door Kokak Chocolates had boxes of bonbons, their best selling dipped mangoes, and bars including the award-winning savory Unami White Chocolate (candied ginger, orange rind, sesame seeds, shichimi togarashi, masago arare, and nori) and sweet/tart Sunshine Dark Chocolate (cherries, pistachio, and orange rind — this bar seems to get rechristened every year but the ingredients remain the same) bars, both of which I love and recommend.

Carol Gancia at Kokak’s booth
Carol Gancia at Kokak’s booth

Carol Gancia, Kokak’s founder and head chocolatier is half Filipino and a lot of her chocolates and other treats are inspired by Filipino food and culture, her helper at the booth explained as she handed out samples of kalamansi ganache and banana caramel.

She described the kalamansi (AKA calamondin) as a lemon/orange flavor. It had a citrus aroma and was a little tart with a burst of undefinable citrus flavor. The banana caramel was a soft caramel with a mild banana flavor.

We got a sampler box that included the 2 flavors plus an Earl Grey milk chocolate piece, a vegan guava in dark chocolate, a vanilla bean sea salt caramel, and a single origin piece.

I loved the Earl Grey piece with that distinct Earl Grey aroma and light Earl Grey flavor in a good milk chocolate. Most Kokak bonbons are in dark chocolate shells, but milk chocolate was a better choice for this because most people drink Earl Grey tea in milk so it’s evocative of that experience. The ganache was very smooth and disappeared quickly so it ended with a milky chocolate taste from the shell.

Kokak sampler pack
Kokak sampler pack

The vegan Guava was a soft pâte de fruit in a dark chocolate shell.
The strong guava flavor of the pâte de fruit was a good match with the dark chocolate.

The 64% Single Origin Ecuador Dark piece was smooth with slightly fruity and caramel notes. Kokak uses Ecuadorian Naciónal heirloom cacao for their couvertures and this piece really shows it off.

The last piece in our box, the Vanilla Bean Sea Salt Caramel, is decorated with the cute Kokak frog-on-a-lilypad logo. It’s a liquid caramel in a dark chocolate shell that is buttery, sweet, and very vanilla — like the most vanilla vanilla caramel I’ve ever had. It’s a nice combo with the dark slightly bitter chocolate shell.

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon Judges Awards Kokak Chocolates won Gold for Best Caramels or Truffles; Silver for Best Traditional Chocolates and Best Milk Chocolates; Bronze for Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations; and received an Honorable Mention for Best in Salon. In the 2024 Chocolate Salon People’s Choice Awards Kokak Chocolates won Bronze for Best Milk Chocolates and Best Dark Chocolates.

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

Back to the list

Socola Chocolatier

At the Socola Chocolatier 3-5 cup chocolatier booth the first thing I saw wasn’t chocolate, it was a copy of Susan Lieu’s just published book, “The Manicurist’s Daughter: A memoir.” Susan co-founded Socola with her sister Wendy, but has since gone on to a creative writing and performing career. The book is available at Socola’s SOMA store — and coming August 1st at their new shop in Terminal 3 at SFO.

Socola’s new snack packaging
Socola’s new snack packaging

The new shop is exciting news. Make a mental note that if you fly United out of SFO after July, you can stock up on some chocolate gifts and reading material to take with you. I know, your family loves See’s but trust me, they will love Socola more.

Wendy had more non-chocolate news. They have new packaging for treats to go along with the attractive boxes they use for their bars.

They were still working on the change to the new packages so we got some Raspberry Almond Dragées in the old bags but next time we hope to get treats in the new elegant cylinders with the arched window showing off what’s inside. Oooh, so gift-y!

For the Raspberry Almond Dragées Wendy took the recipe for their Almond Dragées and substituted freeze-dried powdered raspberries for the cocoa powder.

Socola’s Raspberry Almond Dragées
Socola’s Raspberry Almond Dragées

In addition to the pretty deep pink color the powdered raspberry gave the dragées, the almonds had a strong raspberry aroma and immediate raspberry flavor. Chocolate and caramelized almond flavors followed. The caramelization gave the almonds a crispy crunch and a roasted almond flavor. Another great combo from Socola.

In the bonbon collection we got to judge we were thrown off initially by the change in decals on a couple of pieces — disaster averted we figured it out by taste.

I liked all 4 pieces but the ones I thought were standouts were the Champagne and Jasmine Tea. The Champagne in dark chocolate had an enticing alcohol aroma with chocolate as the first flavor followed by a sweet alcohol taste — a good combo.

Socola bonbons

We didn’t recognize the Jasmine Tea at first — it’s the one with the MÁ decal — but we could tell by the aroma. A good jasmine tea infusion in good chocolate — it wasn’t bitter or overly floral which happens with cheap jasmine tea. Wendy selected a high grade tea and brewed it just right. It made for a really good floral chocolate — impressive.

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon Judges Awards Socola Chocolatier won Gold for Best Milk Chocolates; and Silver for Best Chocolate Bar, Top Artisan Chocolatier, Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations, Best Caramels or Truffles, and Best in Salon. In the 2024 Chocolate Salon People’s Choice Awards Socola Chocolatier won Bronze for Best Milk Chocolates and Best in Salon; and received an Honorable Mention for Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations.

Socola chocolates are available at their factory store, online, at special events, and at their new SFO location starting this August.

Back to the list

Charlotte Truffles

Charlotte Truffles booth
Charlotte Truffles booth

We asked Charlotte Walter of Charlotte Truffles what was new and she told us that she is now shipping nationwide — great news! And she had a couple of new collections at the Salon — one for Mother’s Day and one focused on Indonesian flavors inspired by her childhood.

The AAPI Collection included 3 flavors: Mango, Pineapple — which Charlotte said was based on pineapple tarts — and putu Bambu, inspired by the snack made with pandan and palm sugar. She said she was also developing a Pandan bar which she planned to have at the upcoming Indonesian bazaar May 18. Since pandan is one of my latest favorite flavors I made a mental note to check their website for when the bars would be available. (They are available now!)

Since the pandan bar wasn’t available we got a couple of new-to-us bars. The Solace bar is a partnership with Teas with Meaning, a tea company that sources ingredients on Mount Shasta. The dark chocolate bar is infused with rooibos tea, cherry, peppermint, and sage. That’s an unusual combination and also listed in the ingredients was ‘magic’ so I had to try it.

It was a blast from the past, reminding me of the Smith Brothers cough drops we used to sneak because they tasted like candy but our mother was convinced they were medicine. This bar is even more blasphemous since it took that flavor and covered it in chocolate.

Parisian Pink bar
Parisian Pink bar

The bar had a fine grain texture and was mostly cherry chocolate tasting with the peppermint giving it a refreshing feeling. I thought it was yummy, a treat for whatever ails ya.

We also got a Parisian Pink bar because we’ve wanted to try this pretty pink bar with the white chocolate Eiffel Tower on the back since forever.

It’s a buttery white chocolate with a mild strawberry flavor. Our youngest taster, age 4, is a person of few words but she nodded approvingly and declared it, “Good.”

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon Judges Awards Charlotte Truffles won Gold for Best Chocolate Bar and Best Traditional Chocolates; Bronze for Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations, Best Dark Chocolates, and Top Toffee in Salon; and received an Honorable Mention for Best in Salon.

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon People’s Choice Awards Charlotte Truffles won Gold for Top Artisan Chocolatier and Best Caramels or Truffles; Silver for Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations, New Product Award, and Best in Salon; and Bronze for Most Artistic Designs, Best Milk Chocolates, and Best Dark Chocolates.

Charlotte Truffles chocolates are available online, at the Menlo Park Farmers Market, and a few select other locations.

Back to the list

Coba Coffee + Chocolate

COBA booth handing out samples
COBA booth handing out samples

At the far left side of the hall we were 3/4 quarters of the way around the space and arrived at the Coba Coffee + Chocolate booth where they were handing out oat milk latte samples that used their liquid coffee concentrate. I skipped that — in a room full of chocolate the last thing I needed was a cup of coffee.

They also had their new packaging for their flagship product, COBA Coffee and Tea Bars — squares of white chocolate infused with espresso, chai, matcha, or hojicha.

new COBA packaging
New COBA packaging

I liked the original packaging better with icons representing the featured ingredient scattered across the bottom of the front of the package, but this one is more streamlined so people get the pertinent info faster — like how all of the squares are made of only 2 ingredients — chocolate and a caffeine source.

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon People’s Choice Awards Coba won Silver for New Product Award and received an Honorable Mention for Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations.

You can buy COBA chocolates online and at special events.

Back to the list

aL chocoLat Boutique

A long line next to COBA announced one of the chocolatiers I missed at previous Salons whom I did not want to miss again, so we got in line and waited. The wait was long but worth it. Lena Walther’s aL chocoLat Boutique had some of the prettiest bonbons, giant Easter eggs, and molded chocolates I’ve seen.

Lena describing flavors at aL chocoLat Boutique’s booth
Lena describing flavors at aL chocoLat Boutique’s booth

Lena and her helper were handing out samples of bonbon fillings as fast as they could, and it was too hectic to talk but I did learn that after the Salon Lena was headed to Paris to study chocolate. Based on the pieces I tried she could probably teach them something too.

Fruit Caramels with Rice Crispies
Fruit Caramels with Rice Crispies

We got a box of current bonbons and a couple of spring fruit caramels. The caramels were such cute molds! And so nicely decorated — look at that bunny with the handpainted eyes, ears, and tail.

The attractive visuals were just the beginning. We tried the bunny first. The Passion Fruit Caramel with Rice Crispies had a strong passion fruit aroma and a thick dark chocolate bottom shell which caused me to pause at first – I expected a uniformly thin shell — but I discovered that was where the crispies were.

Inside a good chocolate shell it had some crunchiness, then a passion fruit explosion. Wow! So good, it had a mostly smooth texture from the caramel and chocolate with just a little crunchiness from the crispy layer. I am earmarking these (haha) to get next spring again.

The pink egg embossed with a bunny head silhouette was Raspberry Caramel with Rice Crispies. It was similar to the Passion Fruit Caramel with a caramel layer on top of the crispies in dark chocolate. The raspberry red caramel had a strong raspberry flavor that worked well with the quality chocolate used and contrasted nicely with the small crispy crunch. Another amazing piece.

aL chocoLat Boutique’s spring 2024 collection
aL chocoLat Boutique’s Spring 2024 collection

Amazement continued with the Spring 2024 collection. This box we brought out for several tastings with different neighbors — everyone was impressed with the visuals and they were also impressed (mostly) with the flavors and textures.

Lemon Pie bonbon
Lemon Pie bonbon

We tried the Lemon Pie bonbon first — cuz it was so cute. It looked like a mini bundt cake. Inside the white shell were layers of marshmallow, lemon cream, and pretzel cookie on a dark chocolate bottom shell — a crazy amount of work must go into each of these. The marshmallow had a light fluffy texture that when it mixed with the smooth lemon and small crunch cookie bottom tasted and felt like lemon meringue pie. So good.

More amazing was the Orange and Marscapone which was a simple dome splashed with red, blue, and yellow. Inside the dark chocolate shell were 3 layers of red, blue, and yellow matching the outside colors — I’m sorry I didn’t photograph it because it looked cool. The taste was interesting too — like the colors were different sorbet flavors. Super fun piece.

Pomegranate bonbon
Pomegranate bonbon

The Pomegranate surprised us with how well it balanced 2 tart flavors. It had a pink filling inside a thick dark chocolate shell. The filling wasn’t a ganache, it was foamy, more like a pink marshmallow. It had a distinct pomegranate taste, but not sour. Cacaopod said he thought she made the pomegranate filling a light foam so it wouldn’t taste too strong and would balance well with the dark chocolate shell.

The other outstanding piece in the collection was the Cafe au Lait with a dark shell and 2 layers inside: white chocolate below and a light coffee color on top. My neighbor taster declared it the best coffee chocolate and said it was out of this world.

Coconut bonbon
Coconut bonbon

There were lots of other fun delicious pieces in the box. The Coconut was a white dome that resembled a golf ball. It had a dark bottom and white top shell, a coconut texture and very strong coconut flavor. Damascus Baklava was filled with pistachio and feuilletine — orange blossom was the strongest flavor then sweet pistachio. Our neighbors thought it tasted just like baklava.

With its dark chocolate bottom shell and layers of cookie, pistachio, and marshmallow in a white shell, my tasters compared the Aleppo Karabeej to a Rocky Road treat but with pistachios and graham cracker. They especially liked the chewy marshmallow and pistachio mix.

Citrus Cheesecake bonbon
Citrus Cheesecake bonbon

The Citrus Cheesecake was another crowd pleaser. Similar to the Aleppo Karabeej it had a dark chocolate bottom, white shell, and graham cracker cookie layer. This time it had a filling that tasted just like a light cheesecake. The Champagne was another piece that captured the original it was emulating. But instead of experiencing a boozy alcohol burn this piece tasted like champagne grapes.

There were like 10 more great pieces in the collection, but I’ll stop here. You get the idea. The only piece that didn’t receive rave reviews was the Marzipan and that was because none of my tasters — including me — like marzipan so nobody tried it.

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon Judges Awards aL chocoLat Boutique won Silver for Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations and Best Caramels or Truffles; and Bronze for Top Artisan Chocolatier, Best Dark Chocolates, New Product Award, and Best in Salon.

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon People’s Choice Awards aL chocoLat Boutique won Gold for Most Artistic Designs and Best in Salon; Silver for Top Artisan Chocolatier and New Product Award; Bronze for Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations, Best Milk Chocolates, and Best Dark Chocolates; and received an Honorable Mention for Best Caramels or Truffles.

You can buy their current bonbons on the aL chocoLat Boutique site and at special events. Visit the website for more info.

Back to the list

Volo Chocolate

At the Volo Chocolate booth chocolate makers Jeff and Susan had samples of their flavored and plain dark and milk single origin bars. The bars were available singly or as a set of all 9 bars. Along with the bars they also had their Chocolate Salted Caramels.

Jeff & Susan at Volo Chocolate’s booth
Jeff & Susan at Volo Chocolate’s booth

Jeff told us about their newest Olive Oil bar — Dark Milk Chocolate 62% Olive Oil Roasted Almonds. We’d liked their Meyer Lemon & Extra Virgin Olive Oil bar last time which was a dark chocolate infused with Meyer Lemon olive oil and candied lemon peel. The almond bar used olive oil in 2 ways — added to the chocolate and also used to roast the almonds in before adding them to the chocolate.

The extra olive oil boosted the olive oil flavor along with its distinctive slippery texture. Roasting also boosted the almond flavor. Volo bars are a good thickness — they have a slow melt and feel luxurious with little salt hits. This savory bar was so good, it was addictive.

Volo Olive Oil Roasted Almonds bar
Volo Olive Oil Roasted Almonds bar

Other new to us Volo bars we tried were the Dark Milk Chocolate 62% Fig + Hazelnuts, Cream Chocolate 70% Mexicali Chilis + Dried Cherries, and Cream Chocolate 70% Caramel Crunch. You could call them all dark milk chocolates because the bars labeled Cream Chocolate means they literally include milk cream in the chocolate.

The Dark Milk Chocolate 62% Fig + Hazelnuts had a medium snap. Initially I tasted only salt and the finely chopped hazelnuts in the smooth mild chocolate. In the second taste I got a taste of the crunchy dried fig scattered through the bar. I liked this not too sweet bar especially when I got both fig and hazelnut in one bite.

The Cream Chocolate 70% Mexicali Chilis + Dried Cherries might sound like a weird combination but it works. Heat from the chilis came fairly quickly, the a little salty chocolate before the chewy cherry released a tart cherry flavor. The heat rose toward end and increased in the aftertaste.

MexiCali bar
MexiCali bar

All Volo bars include salt and cinnamon in their ingredients list but of these bars the only time I tasted cinnamon was in the Cream Chocolate 70% Caramel Crunch and then it was only a hint. The bar had a medium hard snap and a slight crunch in the otherwise smooth chocolate. This very dark milk chocolate had a slight bitterness along with sweet caramel and buttery notes and a good mouthfeel.

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon Judges Awards Volo won Gold for Best Chocolate Bar and Best Dark Chocolates; Silver for Best Milk Chocolates; and Bronze for Most Delicious Ingredient Combinations and New Product Award. In the 2024 Chocolate Salon People’s Choice Awards Volo Chocolate won Gold for Best Dark Chocolates and Bronze for Best Milk Chocolates.

Volo Chocolate bars, caramels, and other chocolate treats are available online, at special events, farmers markets, and local markets. They also offer subscriptions.

Back to the list

1.2.3 Chocolat

Catherine handing out samples of chocolate mousse at 1.2.3 Chocolat’s booth

Another new-to-me chocolatier at the Salon that I did not want to miss was 1.2.3 Chocolat.
When we got to the booth owner and head chocolatier Catherine Delfino was handing out samples of her rich, creamy, velvety chocolate mousse.

Catherine explained that her mousse uses only 2 ingredients: “The best chocolate and the best eggs… and my secret power!”

She confessed that it took her a few tries — I guess she had to develop her secret power first — but she’s proud of her signature creation. She also had other chocolate treats for sale including a big blue chocolate bunny and large Easter eggs (Le Rooster is in the bottom left corner of the photo). These were something new for the holidays. She was trained by a 3-star Michelin chef who made chocolate sculptures and these seemed like an homage to her roots.

She also had what she described as “basic French treats made in traditional ways. I’ve been using the same techniques for 20 years and playing around — but not too much.”

Mendiant
Mendiant

Catherine is French so all the treats were labeled with their French names like Friture: fish shaped chocolates (traditional Easter treat in France), Rochers: chocolate covered slivered almond clusters, and Orangettes: candied orange pieces dipped in chocolate.

The Truffes, classic French hand rolled truffles covered with powdered cocoa, were all gone by the time we got there. Catherine listed the ingredients — only 3 — chocolate, cream, and rum. Like the mousse they need refrigeration. We picked some treats that we didn’t have to hurry back home: Mendiants, Noisettes, and Amandes.

Amandes
Amandes

The mendiants were delicious bite sized chocolate disks topped with a dried cherry and roasted almonds and pistachios. The crunchy toasted nuts and slightly dark chocolate gave the mendiants a chocolate cookie like taste/texture. They’re a great snack.

The amandes — roasted almonds, dipped in caramel then chocolate and rolled in powdered sugar — had a good roasted almond flavor and crunch, the chocolate was good, and even with powdered sugar they were not too sweet.

It was the noisettes however that made me a believer in Catherine’s super power — she transported me to France.

Noisettes
Noisettes

Like the almonds, she roasted hazelnuts, then dipped them in caramel and chocolate. As tradition requires, these were rolled in cocoa powder. They had an excellent roasted hazelnut flavor and crunch and a cocoa flavor. I think the chocolate covered hazelnuts I usually get here are more about the chocolate. Catherine used a light hand with the chocolate so these were more savory and spotlighted the roasted hazelnuts. They taste like France.

My tasters liked them too: “Le noisettes sont très bonne,” said my French friend. Others in the group called them excellent. They liked the light chocolate and crunchy roasted hazelnuts, and how they “really feature the ingredients.”

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon Judges Awards 1.2.3 Chocolat won Gold for New Product Award; Silver for Best Traditional Chocolates, Best Dark Chocolates, and Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product; Bronze for Best in Salon; and received an Honorable Mention for Top Artisan Chocolatier. In the 2024 Chocolate Salon People’s Choice Awards 1.2.3 Chocolat won Bronze for Best Dark Chocolates and received an Honorable Mention for Most Artistic Designs.

You can buy 1.2.3 Chocolat’s mousse and other chocolate treats at special events or order online for Saturday pickup at their Belmont kitchen or in SF.

Back to the list

At this point we hadn’t even gone around the whole neighborhood once but we had to break to give our talk. The Salon added a separate room for presentations this year which was nice but it meant we had to leave the hall and we didn’t get as many attendees as in previous years because people couldn’t just drop in. Luckily I had notes and posted them here.

The Good Chocolate

Back in the ’hood after our talk we continued our local sightseeing.

The Good Chocolate booth
The Good Chocolate booth

The Good Chocolate
display was full of their new brighter packaging. Along with their usual lineup of flavored sugar free bars, they had a new flavor: coffee in dark and milk chocolate. They were also selling their Coco Jungles which is how I like their sugar free chocolate best — mixed with chunks of toasted coconut.

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon Judges Awards The Good Chocolate won Gold for Best Chocolate Bar and Best Milk Chocolates; and Bronze for New Product Award. In the 2024 Chocolate Salon People’s Choice Awards The Good Chocolate won Silver for New Product Award.

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

Back to the list

Brigadeiro Sprinkles

Zeila talking with Salon visitor
Brigadeiro Sprinkles’ owner and chef Zeila Schappelle talks with a Salon visitor

Return vendor Zeila Schappelle of Brigadeiro Sprinkles had some new brigadeiro flavors to sample and other goodies to draw in the crowds. Brigaderios are Brazilian confections that are similar to truffles. Zeila takes this traditional treat and adds her own vision — less sweet, more flavors, and new expressions.

A new flavor Zeila was excited about was totally new to me: cupuaçu, which she described as Amazonian cacao or cacao’s cousin. She described it as having earthy and tropical fruit tastes — some say pineapple — to which she added toasted cashews for texture. “ It’s very popular in Brazil,” Zeila said, citing examples like cupuaçu ice cream and drinks. “But here I had to get it from an import store.”

My impression was a very fruity flavor — not chocolate at all, more like guava — with the cashews giving not only texture but a savory balance. So cool to experience a new flavor I didn’t know existed.

Other flavors Zeila featured in her latest collection were pineapple yuzu caramel, ruby, passion fruit, and açai.

Spring 2024 collection of brigadeiros
Spring 2024 collection of brigadeiros

We shared the collection with our neighbors who hadn’t had brigadeiros before. While they found them sweeter than regular truffles no one thought they were too sweet. The Cupuaçu was the most popular, then the Noir — a 70% dark chocolate piece they described as having a brownie/cookie dough texture — which they attributed to the coating of chocolate sprinkles — and tasting like fudge with a little smokiness.

The Traditional rounded out the top three most popular. Made with 3 ingredients — milk chocolate, condensed milk, and cream — they liked it because it was not too sweet or condensed milk tasting. They thought it had a good chocolate taste and they liked the play of textures with the smooth ganache-like inside and soft crunch sprinkles coating the outside.

Of the flavored brigadeiros after the Cupuaçu, they liked the Turkish Apricot best with its chewy dried fruit and milky white chocolate which was sweeter than the plain brigadeiros but not too sweet.

I couldn’t get any volunteers to try the Açai, a traditional Brazilian fruit that most Americans know as a superfood, so Cacaopod and I sampled it alone. It had a fruity smell but it tasted vegetal and earthy to me. Cacaopod described it as tasting like potting soil. Not a winner in our house.

Not to worry Zeila had other treats to try‚ although not any brigadeiro filled Easter eggs. She told us she did a Brazil/Amazon theme for Easter this year and sold out all of the Easter eggs with the cupuaçu one being very popular. I think we will see this flavor in more items to come.

Zeila had 2 baked goods made with brigadeiro filling at the Salon. The Chocolate Chip Cookie with Brigadeiro Filling was the ultimate comfort food with big soft chips in a chewy soft cookie and a spoonful of filling inside. It had an excellent chocolate flavor especially with the extra oomph from the filling and a nice slight sugar crunch in the cookie which was a big enough size to share.

Individual piece of honey cake
Individual piece of Pão de Mel

Even better was the Pão de Mel — Brazilian honey cake that Zeila told us was her favorite. She doesn’t offer it on her website because: “I have to make a whole cake and cut in pieces. It’s a chocolate honey cake with honey, spices, lemon, and dulce de leche inside, then dipped in chocolate. It’s a lot of work!”

We had to try it. The square piece of chocolate honey cake was completely enrobed in a hard dark chocolate shell like an Eskimo Pie (now Edy’s Pie) ice cream bar. The cake itself was a tasty chocolate with distinct honey and spice flavors that reminded me of spice cake. The dulce de leche filling put it over the top. Cacaopod described it as, “Hostess HoHos turned up 100 notches.”

Zeila said she’s not sure if she will offer it as a regular thing because it’s so much work but I plan to lobby for it, it’s that good.

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon Judges Awards Brigadeiro Sprinkles won Silver for Best Milk Chocolates and New Product Award; and Bronze for Top Toffee in Salon and Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product. In the 2024 Chocolate Salon People’s Choice Awards Brigadeiro Sprinkles won Silver for New Product Award; Bronze for Best Milk Chocolates; and received Honorable Mentions for Most Artistic Designs, Best Caramels or Truffles, and Best in Salon.

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

Back to the list

Sonoma Chocolatiers

Sonoma Chocolates’ nuts & chews
In addition to bonbons and caramels, Sonoma Chocolatiers makes nut clusters and turtles

We got to talk to David Gambill, founder and chief chocolatier of Sonoma Chocolatiers, briefly while sampling their dark chocolate. Their booth is always hectic since it’s near the entrance to the Salon so while he was multitasking, he told me that business is getting better but they are “still recovering from fires of 2017.” He continued, “… and 2018, and 2019, and 2020. And COVID.”

Whew, it’s kind of amazing they are still going after so many years of potentially business killing natural disasters. They have become regulars in the TasteTV competitions and Chocolate Salons since 2021, and I like to think all of us attendees are helping them recover.

Of the pieces they submitted for the Salon judging I liked the Honey Pistachio Caramel, Orange Elderflower Chocolate, and classic Salted Caramel best. The Honey Pistachio Caramel had a mild pistachio flavor and soft crunch from the whole nut on top. Pistachio is a hard flavor to include in dark chocolate (all Sonoma Chocolatiers’ bonbons are made with dark chocolate) because it’s so mild that if the chocolate is too dark or too bitter the pistachio gets lost. They picked a good not bitter chocolate and added enough pistachio so it was distinct.

Some Sonoma Chocolatiers’ bonbons and caramels
Some Sonoma Chocolatiers’ bonbons and caramels

The Orange Elderflower Chocolate included orange pâte de fruit and St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur in a dark chocolate square. It was a little herbal, subtly orange, and very chocolatey. This was more on the savory side with a good alcohol flavor.

Their Salted Caramel had a nice balance of salt, caramel, and chocolate. It had a good soft chew caramel texture and wasn’t salty or overly sweet. It was just right.

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon Judges Awards Sonoma Chocolatiers won Silver for Best Milk Chocolates and Bronze for Best Traditional Chocolates. In the 2024 Chocolate Salon People’s Choice Awards Sonoma Chocolatier won Bronze for Best Dark Chocolates.

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

Back to the list

Z. Cioccolato

Owner Mike Zwiefelhofer was manning the Z. Cioccolato booth so we stopped by to say hi and see what’s new. Next to him was a bucket of salt water taffy. Taffy? “We carry 50 types of taffy at our [North Beach] store,” Mike explained. “Locals ask about it at these shows so I brought some this time.”

Z. Cioccolato booth
Mike and his helper at the Z. Cioccolato booth with the salt water taffy on the side

We were more interested in the product they are known for — gourmet fudge. They had 2 new fudge flavors at the Salon: Cookie Dough and Peanut Butter fudge. Cookie Dough is not my thing but Peanut Butter? Tell me more.

Peanut Butter Fudge
Peanut Butter Fudge

This is not their famous 7-layer peanut butter pie fudge — this was a simpler affair made with caramel and chocolate on top of 2 layers of peanut butter fudge with peanut butter frosting in middle — simpler but not simple — this is Z. Cioccolato after all.

It was very peanut butter forward with the caramel and chocolate adding some interest to the salty peanut butter layers. We found it to be less sweet than other fudges. Cacaopod said the saltiness probably cuts down the sweet.

I liked how peanut buttery it was, and the chewy chunks of caramel were a satisfying texture and flavor. The peanut butter layers had that typical sugary fudge texture but the added caramel and chocolate layers balanced that out.

In the 2024 Chocolate Salon Judges Awards Z. Cioccolato won Gold for Best Comfort Chocolate or Snack Product. In the 2024 Chocolate Salon People’s Choice Awards Z. Cioccolato won Silver for Best Milk Chocolates and New Product Award; Bronze for Best Dark Chocolates; and received Honorable Mentions for Most Artistic Designs and Best in Salon.

In addition to their North Beach store, you can order Z. Cioccolato fudge online. But if you want to try their taffy, you will have to visit the store.

Back to the list

In conclusion

Whew! That was quite the Salon — and I didn’t even cover any out-of-town or non-chocolate vendors. The spring Salons have really grown to be too much to take in all in one day. We will have to see what the Fall 2024 Holiday Salon (11/24/24) holds.

Visit the International Chocolate Salon site for the full list of 2024 winners.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Published May 14, 2024

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.