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

vice Hearts

Vice is nice


In that gray area of naughty but nice, Vice Chocolates is a stand-out.

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Indulge in some unusual chocolates

UPDATE 2016: Vice has moved to Hayfork, CA.

A moment of silent contemplation.
A moment of quiet contemplation.

Photos by Elijah Song

In a spotless kitchen kept at the optimal temperature for chocolate making and shared with several other chocolatiers, Vice Chocolates didn’t look likely to live up its name. Before we were even allowed in, we had to don hairnets and rub lint rollers all over our clothes.

Hardly a den of iniquity, it seemed more like a church without pews where everyone modestly covers their hair. Almost unconsciously, we talked in low voices so as not to disturb the other practitioners in the large light-filled space.

In fact, I first met Vice Chocolates’ head evangelist/chocolate maker, I-Li Brice, on a Sunday morning at the Temescal Farmers Market, where her pointed-roofed tent could seem like a chapel of chocolate if we continue this analogy. She’s certainly got me tithing regularly.

But instead of betting on eternal salvation every Sunday, I’m getting truffles with unusual names and flavors like M. Butterfly, a riff on Tom Kha (Thai coconut soup), pretty handmade chocolate bars and lollipops in seasonal shapes. This looks like a religion I could get into.

Was it serendipity or fate?

I-Li’s path to Vice Chocolates began after an illness forced her to leave her job in the tech industry. As she recovered and looked for what to do next, on a whim she checked out job listings under Food & Beverages and landed an internship at Serendipity Chocolates.

“I worked at my dad’s restaurant for 10 years,” I-Li said, “And I hated the greasy smell that clung to my clothes and hair. I swore that I would never go into the food industry as a career, but it’s in my blood.”

Or we could say: she’s found her calling.

After interning at Serendipity and under Pete Brydon at Barlovento Chocolates, I-Li completed the Ecole online chocolate course and their master chocolatier course in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. In 2007, she was ready to go out on her own.

So, what’s in a name?

“When I was starting the business, I was still not entirely healthy,” I-Li explained. “I was on a strict elimination diet and not allowed chocolate, so it was a vice to me.”

The name is also a way for her chocolates to stand out from others. That and her industrial goth color scheme of black & purple, and her truffle names:

“Not to say the chocolates aren’t pretty, but I stick to my tomboy nature,” I-Li said. “And I have fun coming up with names for truffles – like Rasgasm [dark chocolate ganache & raspberries], which causes some old ladies to pause.”

Chipotle hearts are hand painted.
Chipotle-flavored hearts are hand painted.

And her truffles are indeed pretty. The Violent Hearts are splashed with color like a mini-abstract painting. Dominas are covered in gold. Others have delicate touches of color and chocolate accents.

“I’m such a foodie,” I-Li confessed. “I definitely eat with my eyes first, then my stomach.”

Quality is a priority

Vice chocolates are made by hand from single-source fair-trade chocolate with no preservatives, and are “as organic as possible. I also try to source locally as much as possible. The jasmine tea leaves [in Empress truffles] are from Mighty Leaf. Nuts and dried fruits are from the farmers’ market.”

Another thing that sets I-Li apart (besides being in a band called Bloodwire, but that’s a subject for a different blog) is that she likes to do commissions and custom chocolates with custom colors. “A woman wanted peace pops for her husband’s 40th. Tie dye’s kind of hard to do, so I did more of a Jackson Pollack style, and hand-painted 75 pops for her.”

Pretty scary skeleton pops
Pretty scary skeleton pops

She also does special seasonal and holiday chocolates. When we visited her in the kitchen, she was making skulls and cats for Halloween, and her seasonal truffle was Punk’n, dark chocolate ganache, pumpkin puree, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.

“I’m always working on new flavors, and many of my flavor combinations are from Asian cuisines. I definitely like to do unusual flavors.”

Although the name smacks of sin, Vice Chocolates are heavenly. Delicious combinations of quality ingredients crafted by a skilled chocolate maker, they make a virtue out of vice.

Where to Find Vice Chocolates

Vice Chocolates are  available online.

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Published March 1, 2010