As always, this year’s SF International Chocolate Salon (3/4/12) had more local chocolate than I could ever hope to sample in an afternoon. Newcomers and old favs put out such a great variety that I almost didn’t miss other favorite chocolatiers who weren’t exhibiting this year.
Chocolate to look forward to
We’d tasted the first 2 at the 18 Reasons event, but Todd of Dandelion was excited about the Venezuelan bar. The beans are from a new area for them: a little village, Ocumare, in northern Venezuela. Todd explained that the beans have a distinct flavor: “I taste cinnamon,” he said.
We got the hint of cinnamon and liked the texture of this bar, but it has a bit of an acerbic bite to it — it dried out our mouths a little. But it’s not a bad bar, it’s so dark and bittersweet that half a square would take care of any chocolate craving you’re having.
They will also be offering a Bolivian bar soon, and due to popular demand, they are giving their Chocolate 101 presentation once a month at their current space. Check their website for dates and also for updates on when they move into their new chocolate café and factory. Todd said they have 2 steps left to finish in the 10-step permitting process and have to start paying rent in 4-5 months so they are very motivated to get it done.
Chocolate brings people together
This spirit of fellow chocolatiers sharing and helping each other seemed to be one of the themes this year. We also spotted Her Coconess Shelley Seward helping out at Neo Cocoa’s booth. Turns out Shelley and Christine Doerr (Neo Cocoa) share a commercial kitchen space. And we ran into Anni Golding of Gateau et Ganache on the show floor. She wasn’t exhibiting this year; instead she came to see what the show is like for us attendees and to show support for her fellow chocolatiers.
Friends and family were also part of the support network of many chocolatiers at the show from (Vice Chocolates) I-Li Chang’s childhood friend pitching their Lush Collection of wine and beer flavored chocolates (“These are so good they make me want to punch myself in the face.”) to (Coco Tutti) Elyce Zahn’s calm, quiet husband filling custom orders all day long (the perfect Yin to Elyce’s high-energy Yang) to self-described “Helpful Husband” Erin of new exhibitor COCOA’s Jewel.
Jewel started COCOA in 2009, and although this is their first show, their products are available across the country at Dean & Deluca, and locally at more places, such as Bi-Rite Market and Boulettes Larder. Their main product line is a series of single-origin flavored tiles. Erin explained their philosophy is to “add a little flavor to accent the natural flavor of the chocolate.”
To achieve that, Jewel uses mostly essential oils; for example the Bergamot tiles are 68% cocoa flavored with oil of Bergamot. The taste is very subtle. Erin suggests it’s “good with a cup of tea.”
COCOA introduced a new product line at the show: blended bars, which included a white chocolate with candied violets bar that they created for their daughter who’s too young to appreciate dark chocolate yet. As someone on the opposite of the spectrum (both age wise and chocolate wise), I was amazed by this bar.
Normally I avoid all white chocolate, but this sample was so good that I bought a bar. The white chocolate is creamy and subtly chocolate (we think that’s due to its high fat content) with the violets adding a not-too-sweet note. I can’t believe it, I like white chocolate!
We four CBTB chocolateers found the flavored chocolates by COCOA generally too subtle for our tastes. We’d taste the flavor notes in the middle, but chocolate was always the end taste; and with the dark chocolate with matcha green tea and mint, we didn’t get a matcha taste at all. It was more grassy or earthy tasting. But if you prefer a chocolate in which chocolate is definitely the dominant taste, but want something a bit more complex than straight cocoa, you should check out COCOA.
The other new exhibitor we checked out was Sixth Course Artisan Confections. Chocolatiers Bridget and Gianina come from the restaurant world and do a lot of wholesale business. (If you go to Acquerello Restaurant, those are Sixth Course truffles on the tasting menu.)
Their focus is on local products. For example, Bridget listed St. George Spirits in Alameda, Clover Organic Farms and McClelland’s Dairy in Sonoma County, and SF’s own Guittard Chocolate as some of their suppliers.
They have 3 lines: Caramels, Wine & Spirits, and Chef’s Choice. We tried several: the Rosemary Caramel has a nice bite from the strong rosemary infusion, and the Hazelnut Praline truffle had a touch of Frangelico to temper its sweetness. We liked the very buttery Sage & Brown Butter Caramel with its aftertaste of sage. However, the Ceylon Cinnamon Caramel was a little too strong for us, verging on cinnamon candy hot-ness. Be forewarned: Sixth Course caramels are very liquid-y making for a potentially messy treat — especially when sharing one!
You can buy Sixth Course truffles and caramels at Rainbow Grocery and 24th Street Cheese Co. in SF. And after their impressive wins at their first Chocolate Salon appearance, highlighted by 8 Golds in Best in Salon, you’ll probably be seeing them in a lot more places soon. (See complete list of SFBA winners below.)
Our favorite returning champions
While we missed some old favorites (Au Coeur des Chocolats, Salt Side Down, Gateau et Ganache, Coco Delice) we were happy to see some veteran exhibitors and sample their wares.
Those characters at Socola Chocolatier did it again, adding levity to fine chocolates with their new “Inevitable Edible” truffle. Made with Death & Taxes Lager from Moonlight Brewing Company, they are launching it for Tax Day, but had it available for early filers at the show. We found that the beer taste comes on strong at first, but then smooths out, and we liked its fudge-y smooth texture.
Also new at the show were their raspberry champagne truffles and salty chewy caramels. And we got the scoop that they plan to create new telenovelas for new flavors. Catch up on their 1st series, “For the Love of Chocolate,” so you’re ready.
We were pleased to see Jade Chocolates at the show after their recent parting of ways with Leland Tea Company. While they didn’t have their flavorful truffles at the show, they did have their regular bars and new salted caramels and beautiful spicy mango orchids. And Mindy assured us that they are doing OK even with the loss of their retail space in Burlingame and will have truffles at the Christmas show. (That’s a relief!)
Neo Cocoa’s new flavors of shell-less truffles at the show included Wild Cherry, which used imported Italian Amarena cherries in 2 versions: a straightforward truffle and one layered with gourmet marshmallow. But the new Neo Cocoa truffle that I had to buy after tasting was the Espresso Mocha with marshmallow. With the marshmallow acting like the foam in a good mocha, it was like a spill-proof coffee drink.
And kudos to Christine of Neo Cocoa for being named one of 2011’s Top Ten Chocolatiers in North America by Dessert Professional Magazine.
In addition to the Lush Collection (which features Lucky, a chocolate lager flavored bonbon that even us non-beer drinkers love and other alcohol-flavored bonbons), a tea-flavored collection and the intriguingly named Concubine Collection, Vice Chocolates had their full line of bars including the award-winning fig & anise which along with Coco Tutti’s fig & walnut bonbon has me convinced that dark chocolate and fig are such an obvious combo every chocolatier should feature their own version.
We recommend another SFBA chocolatier
Speaking of Coco Tutti, the four of us just love their caramels, bonbons and truffles. Elyce had such a large variety of samples at the show, and each one was so good, I could’ve stood next to her all day eating her chocolates and come away happy from the Salon.
The selection changes depending on the season and maybe Elyce’s mood, so not everything that was at the Salon is always available. But if you ever get the chance, try the liquid ginger caramel with Thai chilies and roasted peanuts. The chocolate and caramel sweetness balance well with the hot chili/ginger bite. If you can’t get that, she also offers a ginger bonbon that she makes with fresh ginger too so it’s got that warm bite but a simplified taste palette.
Both Coco Tutti’s taste palettes and visual palettes are what draw us to these chocolates. The chocolates are not variations on each other, but instead so completely different. It’s obvious Eylce spends a lot of time in the kitchen experimenting and perfecting flavors. Visually they stand out too — like the wabi-sabi aesthetic of her hand-painted bonbons and hand-rolled truffles or the packed-with-peanuts topping of some caramels, even the pretty flower transfer used on her Jasmine bonbons — these are chocolates speak to the artist in us.
Other Coco Tutti chocolates that we enjoyed include the “Hot” Chocolate. This chipotle in adobo sauce bonbon has a smoky hot, but not too hot, flavor. The Raspberry bonbon, hand-rolled and dipped in raspberry-colored sugar, tasted like summertime. And the Cappuccino had a strong espresso flavor that seemed to make the chocolate more chocolate-y at the same time. Elyce explained her flavor mission: “I hate having a chocolate that says Cappuccino, but you can’t taste the coffee.”
I could go on and on about Coco Tutti, but suffice to say that all four of us CBTB chocolateers love these chocolates and have added Coco Tutti to our list of Recommended Local Chocolatiers. Check their website for events and stores where you can experience Coco Tutti for yourself.
SFBA chocolatiers and candy makers at the 2012 show & their awards:
- Alter Eco Fair Trade Chocolates: 4 Gold, 1 Silver, 6 Bronze in Best of Salon 1 Bronze in Attendees’ Choice
- CC Made: 3 Gold, 3 Bronze in Best of Salon
- Clarine’s Florentines: 1 Gold, 1 Silver, 2 Bronze in Best of Salon
- COCOA: 1 Gold, 2 Silver, 2 Bronze in Best of Salon
- Coco Tutti: 2 Silver, 2 Bronze in Best of Salon; 2 Gold, 1 Silver, 3 Bronze in Attendees’ Choice
- Dandelion Chocolate: 1 Gold, 2 Silver, 3 Bronze in Best of Salon
- Guittard Chocolate Company: 1 Gold, 2 Silver, 1 Bronze in Best of Salon
- Jade Chocolates: 3 Gold, 3 Silver, 1 Bronze in Best of Salon
- Kika’s Treats: 2 Silver, 2 Bronze in Best of Salon
- Monterey Chocolate Company: 1 Silver, 4 Bronze in Best of Salon
- Neo Cocoa: 1 Silver, 2 Bronze in Best of Salon; 1 Bronze in Attendees’ Choice
- Nicole Lee Fine Chocolates: 1 Bronze in Best of Salon
- Saratoga Chocolates: 1 Silver, 2 Bronze in Best of Salon
- Sixth Course Artisan Confections: 8 Gold, 3 Silver, 3 Bronze in Best of Salon; 6 Gold, 1 Bronze in Attendees’ Choice
- Snake & Butterfly: 1 Gold, 1 Silver, 4 Bronze in Best of Salon
- Socola Chocolatier: 1 Gold, 6 Bronze in Best of Salon; 3 Silver, 1 Bronze in Attendees’ Choice
- The TeaRoom Chocolate Company
- Toffee Talk: 1 Gold, 1 Silver, 1 Bronze in Best of Salon; 1 Bronze in Attendees’ Choice
- Vice Chocolates: 1 Gold, 3 Silver, 8 Bronze in Best of Salon; 1 Bronze in Attendees’ Choice