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

wheel of bars

Variety is the spice of life


A whole lotta Latin American-inspired chocolate to try

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wheel of bars
Some of the chocolate bar options at Casa de Chocolates

Casa de Chocolates is a chocolatier in Berkeley, CA, with their kitchen/shop in the busy Elmwood commercial district. Their specialty is chocolates made with ingredients, techniques, and visuals drawn from Latin American cultures. They make bonbons, bars, and molded chocolates, plus Latin American desserts, all on-site in their charming shop.

We visited recently with a focus on their bars. They have 2 sizes of bars, and all of the flavor options are available in both sizes. Full-size bars are 3 oz., mini-bars are 1 oz. You can buy them online, but if you go to the shop in Berkeley, you can get different deals. For example, when we visited, they had 3-packs of full-sized bars for beer pairings, and 3 mini-bars for $8, a discount on the single $3 price.

Treat yourself & try something different

While full-size bars are nice, small bars make it easy to try a range of flavors. It’s not such a big commitment to try them all. Then you know which ones you want to splurge on for the full size. Although at $7 for the full-size bars, it’s an affordable splurge. But if you are hesitant to pay that much for an unknown flavor, the small bars can’t be beat.

We bought a range of mini-bars and one 3-pack of full-sized bars, and liked them all. They use good chocolate and make well-tempered bars with a nice snap. Inclusions are plentiful, generally sprinkled all over one side of the bar, while the other side is molded into rows of squares making it easy to break off just the desired amount of chocolate at a time.

While inclusions like nuts, seeds, and fruits cover the bar, flavors, especially the spicy ones, are not overwhelming. Bars are generally well balanced. A simple bar like the 61% Brazilian Sea Salt has an initial hit of salt, but has a good balance between salt and chocolate all the way through.

Fuerte bar
Fuerte means strong, but they mean it in a good way

Lots of spicy options

A spicy bar like the 72% Fuerte does start with a spicy punch and ends hot, but not too much, and it’s balanced by the good chocolate, crunchy roasted quinoa, almond pieces, and pumpkin seeds, plus there’s a salty overtone that’s a nice surprise that also tempers the heat.

The Fuerte was the hottest bar we tried. There were other spicy bars, such as the 61% Chili Mango and Mole, which were flavorful but with a mild heat. The first taste in the Chili Mango was chocolate, followed by a little heat. The mango flavor arrived last, probably because it required chewing to release. The bar ended strongly chocolate and lingered. It was more sweet than spicy, and the mango had a tang that tempered the heat.

The Mole contained 8 different types of chili, so I approached it thinking it would be hot, but instead it was more complex, just like a mole sauce, but with a pronounced sweet cinnamon-y overtone. It ended a little hot, but again, not extreme. It’s a good bar.

The 61% Candied Ginger bar had a different kind of heat. Small cubes of candied ginger were well distributed over bar, so we got a good balance between the 61% chocolate and spicy ginger. Candied ginger can be so hot, it can bring tears, but having small bits mixed with enough moldy daily chocolate makes it enjoyable, not painful.

Cafe de la Olla is a traditional sweet and spicy coffee, and Casa de Chocolates’ take on my favorite brunch drink had an immediate coffee taste, with the spices toward the end. I could taste the cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon distinctly. I might say it even improved on my drink with the crunchy texture of broken coffee beans sprinkled over the bar. And although the first ingredient is cane sugar and it’s a 41% milk chocolate, it’s not too sweet.

If you prefer a stronger coffee flavored chocolate, try the 61% Peruvian Espresso. It smells so good, you can taste it before you sample it. It has a nice mouth feel, melting well, with a pronounced coffee taste, which is enhanced by the generous sprinkling of crunchy crushed coffee beans.

Valencia bar
The candied orange peel on the Valencia bar is pretty and also pretty easy to break

Milder, gentler choices

They also have “easier” flavored bars: The 72% Valencia Orange has long pieces of candied orange peel that break with bar’s molded squares, so you always have some candied orange when sampling. It’s a very orange chocolate bar, and even thought it’s one of their darker bars, it’s not bitter.

The 61% Almond & Brazilian Sea Salt has a nice contrast of salt and sweet, but we found it a little saltier than the straight-up Brazilian Sea Salt bar. It wasn’t enough though to disqualify it as a good simple chocolate and nut bar.

I approached the 61% Flor cautiously because it’s flavored with hibiscus and rose, and I am not into floral flavors generally, but this was a mostly chocolate bar. The florals were all light high notes. The bar had a little tang to it, but no actual rose or hibiscus taste. I think that is because the floral notes come from dried crushed petals sprinkled on the bar, not floral essences mixed in the chocolate.

Easy to be brave

The Flor and the last bar we tried, the 91% Amargo, were good examples of how the mini-bars lowered my inhibitions about trying flavors I’m not sure about: in these instances, florals and high cacao percentages. The smaller commitment made me more willing to check them out, and with the Flor, I was pleasantly surprised. The Amargo was not quite as pleasing. Amargo means bitter, and while the bar had a good smell, it was bitter (truth in labeling) and mouth drying. I think if you like high percentage bars, this would be a good one because it’s a well-made bar; it’s just not for me.

The Casa de Chocolates bar selection has a nice range to it, with something for everybody looking to try Latin American-inspired chocolate. And the mini-bars make it easy to take a chance on some of the more unusual flavors. And if that isn’t enough, check out their bonbons, which have a whole ’nother range of Latin American-inspired flavors, such as Tapatio, Tequila, Tamarind, Mezcal, Passion Fruit, Guava, and more.

Casa de Chocolates, 2629 Ashby Ave., Berkeley. Check their website for hours or to buy their chocolates online.

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Published October 29, 2019