This past winter was colder than usual so Cacaopod and I got into drinking hot chocolate on our walks around Oakland. One place we liked to get drinks was The Chocolate Dragon in Rockridge. They have a nice variety of hot chocolate drinks plus a growing assortment of artisan chocolate — mostly bars — for sale.
It was there that I saw a small selection of bars by Deux Cranes Chocolates and Confections who are chocolatiers/confectioners in Los Gatos, so I got some to try. They were so good I decided to order more flavors from Deux Cranes directly.
The offer a range of flavored bars in dark, milk, and white chocolate plus caramels, bonbons, cookies, and other treats. I found some of their other offerings intriguing — like a miso and Japanese pepper caramel — but I kept my focus on their bars this time.
On their website they state that “Deux Cranes strives to celebrate the flavors and aesthetics in Japanese and French culinary traditions.” So they use Valrhona chocolate (great French couverture chocolate) and Japanese ingredients like matcha, miso, and yuzu.
The bars were a little pricy but I was so intrigued by the flavor combinations — and the photos were so pretty — I decided in the name of research to spring for them. I picked a mix of their regular and seasonal limited edition bars, which in this case were their early spring offerings.
What I got was a package of pretty boxes carefully secured with Deux Crane’s own wrapping paper and a thank you card hand addressed to me. Even though it was not a gift it felt like one. What a treat! And the wrapping paper was a full-size sheet of tissue paper that I can reuse for gift giving myself.
This review starts with the 3 bars I got at The Chocolate Dragon and proceeds in the order of tasting Cacaopod and I did with help from a few friends.
Crème Brûlée Chocolate
This flavor might be having a moment now what with Charlotte Truffles’ bar and the Bon Sucreé bonbon we just discovered at the last Salon. Compared with those 2 experiences — which mimic the dessert experience in addition to capturing the flavors — this bar was a quieter experience.
The bar was pretty with its broken cubes mold and attractive champagne color. It had a nice aroma of burnt caramel and cocoa butter.
It was a smooth milky tasting white chocolate interrupted by tiny crunchy caramelized bits. It wasn’t too sweet. It landed more on the cream side than brûlée but it had nice butterscotch notes.
This was the first of many mild tempered bars from Deux Cranes which matched my expectations of French/Japanese inspired chocolate.
Matcha Chocolate with Caramelized Sesame
The dark green Matcha Chocolate with Caramelized Sesame bar was a more vivid experience. It was another white chocolate bar but this time green from matcha tea. The caramelized white sesame seeds were visible on the back of the bar.
It had a distinct matcha aroma and a softer break than the crème brûlée bar. It had an immediate matcha taste. The matcha was strong bordering on bitter but the toasted sesame seeds and caramelization countered the bitterness. I liked this solution: Assertively matcha but tempered.
Sansho Japanese Peppercorn Chocolate
The third bar we got at The Chocolate Dragon was the limited edition Sansho Japanese Peppercorn Chocolate bar. It was a single origin dark chocolate from the Dominican Republic flavored with sansho peppercorns, vanilla, feuilletine, and sea salt.
Sansho pepper is that condiment you see at some Japanese restaurants with the green top and label. Usually sprinkled on chicken or seafood it was interesting to see it as a chocolate flavoring.
The bar was made with a cute bubble mold. It had a nice chocolate aroma and a hard break. It tasted slightly bitter and smoky, then citrusy. It had a small crunch combined with small hits of salt; and a little heat at the end that faded quickly.
It was my fav of the three — I loved it. And it matched well with a cup of Earl Grey tea.
Strawberry and Dark Chocolate
The vegan Strawberry and Dark Chocolate bar was very eye-catching with Valrhona Strawberry Chocolate flowing over 70% dark chocolate molded with the broken cubes pattern.
It was a good example of another Japanese tradition: the aesthetic philosophy of wabi sabi which is all about the beauty of imperfection.
All Deux Crane bars are handmade and the hand is visible in the molding of the bars — the slightly irregular edges of the back of the bars show the chocolate was poured by hand and not tided up square and perfect. This bar is much bolder in its embrace of wabi sabi with the irregular application of bright pink layered over the dark chocolate.
The bar had a good strawberry/chocolate aroma and strong snap. It had an immediate strawberry flavor then chocolate. The strawberry was intense; the chocolate was mild not bitter. It had a smooth texture. This is an excellent bar.
Passion Fruit Chocolate
The vegan Passion Fruit Chocolate bar was an eye opener. It is TART — like an upscale riff on Sour Patch Kids. I was unprepared for how tart this bar is. I realized that most passion fruit chocolate I’ve had added other flavors like mango or guava to moderate the tartness.
The bar was an attractive yellow-ish cream color and molded with their cute bubble mold. It smelled like passion fruit but with a savory undertone which I discovered came from the cacao nibs that also gave the bar its speckled appearance.
The chocolate was smooth and the cacao nibs added a soft crunch to the intense passion fruit taste. According to the Deux Cranes site they add nibs to mimic the crunchy texture of passion fruit seeds. I think they also helped temper the super tart passion fruit chocolate a bit.
After the initial shock the tartness did seem to moderate a little but maybe my mouth was just going numb 😜
Sakura Cherry Dark Chocolate
The Limited Edition Sakura Cherry Dark Chocolate bar looked like a pale pink version of the Strawberry and Dark Chocolate bar. Maybe not as dramatic looking but just as pretty, it had a medium hard snap and the flavored white chocolate had a grainy texture from the inclusions — sakura leaf powder, sakura blossom powder, and sakura sugar.
The first taste was a light cherry flavor which was replaced by the stronger dark chocolate as it melted. The dark chocolate was a balanced chocolatey chocolate and not bitter.
When I tried the bar again a few weeks later the cherry flavor had changed to almost a sweet cinnamon candy taste. It’s interesting how some flavored chocolates change over time. The chocolate hadn’t gone bad and I kept it wrapped up so it wasn’t affected by other flavors floating around, it just had aged. It was still tasty.
Milk Chocolate with Ginger, Sesame, and Buckwheat
I was excited about the single origin Milk Chocolate with Ginger, Sesame, and Buckwheat bar because while I saw a lot of chocolate with buckwheat inclusions in Europe; I’ve only seen it once stateside. When I’ve had it I liked it — it tasted kinda like hazelnut chocolate to me.
This bar had that distinct nutty-and-a-little-sour flavor (like buckwheat pancakes) in a good not too sweet milk chocolate. It had little bits of chewy crystalized ginger and white sesame seeds. I didn’t really taste sesame in the bar — it was all about the pronounced buckwheat flavor then ginger in a fudgy single origin chocolate from Madagascar. I liked it.
And let’s pause for a moment to appreciate Deux Cranes’ bar packaging. The cardboard boxes are sturdy carriers protecting the bars from breakage. They come in an array of subdued colors that pair nicely with the chocolate visible in the parallelogram shaped cutout on the front. The logo and text are printed in metallic gold ink adding a luxury touch to the understated refined design.
Matcha Strawberry Chocolate
Another visually wow bar like the Strawberry and Dark Chocolate bar but this time substituting matcha infused white chocolate for the dark was the Matcha Strawberry Chocolate bar. This bright green and pink bar would make a good gift for any Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sisters you know.
The bar had a good strawberry aroma and a medium break. It tasted initially of only strawberry, the mild matcha was almost an aftertaste. We liked the combination — the strawberry was a bright slightly tart taste that the earthy matcha toned down a bit.
At the same time we were tasting this bar, Socola Chocolatier came out with a Strawberry Matcha White Chocolate bar. So we did a comparison test with a couple of friends.
The main difference between the bars is that Deux Cranes used Valrhona Strawberry Chocolate which has freeze dried strawberry powder for the flavor while Socola used slices of freeze dried strawberry berry slices on top with more strawberry bits mixed in the matcha infused white chocolate bar.
Everybody liked both — it was really a tossup — however there were a couple of differences besides the visuals. Socola’s big freeze dried strawberry berry slices and strawberry bits gave a more pronounced strawberry taste than Deux Cranes. And while the matcha experience was the same (a mild second flavor) and neither bar was too sweet, the Socola bar had more of a creamy white chocolate taste. The Deux Cranes bar had a good matcha taste and fruitiness — it’s a simpler more subtle bar.
Matcha Chocolate with Yuzu
The Matcha Chocolate with Yuzu bar was another broken layered looking bar, this time with white chocolates infused with yuzu and matcha.
The bar had an enticing citrus aroma and a medium break. The strong yuzu flavor had a little bitterness but it mostly tasted to me like lemon sherbet.
Despite being dark green the matcha chocolate was not very matcha tasting. It was more of an undertone under the intense initial citrus flavor. It gave a small grain to the creamy white chocolate.
I don’t know if this was a different matcha than the other bars or a different white chocolate or what, but this bar was less matcha tasting and more creamy white chocolate tasting to me.
Dark Chocolate and Caramelized Salted Hazelnuts
The Dark Chocolate and Caramelized Salted Hazelnuts bar didn’t have chopped hazelnuts scattered over the back or mixed in the bar as I expected. Instead there were tiny bits of caramelized nuts throughout the strong 70% dark chocolate couverture which gave a small caramelized crunch to the smooth chocolate.
It was a savory nutty chocolate with a lightly hazelnut taste. Even though “Salted” is in the name, it was not a salty chocolate. I think the salt is there to heighten the other flavors but I think it needed more and bigger nuts to give it a more distinct hazelnut flavor.
As with the other Deux Cranes regular bars, the back of the package included flavor notes — in this case “Roasted Nuts, Caramel, Earthy” which were accurate. It did have a more general roasted nut flavor instead of hazelnut, the caramelization gave the bar some caramel notes, and the nuts gave the not very sweet chocolate a savory/earthy taste.
Even though I wanted more of a hazelnut experience, I liked the bar — it was a good non-bitter 70% that was more on the savory side with an interesting little crunch.
Dark Chocolate with Miso Almonds
The vegan Dark Chocolate with Miso Almonds bar was a similar experience to the Dark Chocolate and Caramelized Salted Hazelnuts bar with tiny bits of nuts instead of chopped or slivered almonds as I had assumed.
While both were 70% dark chocolate, I don’t know if they used the same couverture — it wasn’t specified on the packages —but the chocolates tasted different. This one was more bitter with a fermented taste like it was made with a single origin chocolate while the hazelnut one was more savory/fudgy tasting.
This bar was also saltier than the hazelnut bar which I attribute to the miso that was roasted with the almonds. The bar had a mild miso flavor but more interesting to me was that the almond bits had the mealy texture I associate with miso paste which was kinda cool.
Konbi X DC: Hōjicha Caramel Chocolate
The last bar we tried was the Hōjicha Caramel Chocolate which Deux Cranes developed with Konbi, a sandwich shop in LA that specialized in Japanese style sandwiches. Not a sandwich themed bar, instead this bar was inspired by Konbi’s hōjicha latte made with roasted green tea from Kettl — a Japanese tea importer.
They used milk chocolate as a base which was a good choice for evoking a latte experience. The bar had a strong snap for a milk chocolate.
A strong caramel flavor came through immediately, then I noticed the grainy ground tea texture. Finally a creamy flavor appeared along with the caramel. I didn’t taste any roasted or green tea but maybe hōjicha is a subtle flavor.
This is not a very sweet milk chocolate even with the strong caramel flavor. I really like this bar — both the creamy caramel flavor and the grainy mouthfeel. Recommended.
Sadly Konbi closed in early 2023 but at least their hōjicha latte lives on in this bar.
If you like Japanese and French aesthetics and flavors, check out Deux Cranes. Their visual branding from the logo to packaging has a Japanese vibe and the careful presentation of the bars I received reminded me of shopping in Japan.
They have a unique take on flavors, adding more savory ingredients than other chocolatiers including unique Japanese ingredients I haven’t seen in chocolate before. And most of the bars are subtly flavored in the manner of Japanese and French chocolate.
These bars are definitely giftable — and there’s no reason the recipient can’t be yourself.
You can buy Deux Cranes chocolates and confections at their store in Los Gatos, online, or at select stores nationwide. Check their website for locations.