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

Banyan Tree Rose truffle

Lust for luster dust


Is it just me or were this year’s entrants exceptionally stunning?

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At the 6th Annual Truffle Artistry judging, November 12, 2019, we sampled truffles from 26 entrants. Not 26 truffles—because some entries were collections, ranging from 2 to 6 pieces—more like 40. That’s a lot of chocolate in 3 hours. And a lot of it’s worth writing about.

Chocolate moments in history

The first entrant we tried was competition regular, Delysia Chocolatier, Austin, TX. They entered one collection, The History of Chocolate, plus 2 single entries. All Delysia truffles have the same stepped square shape with pretty transfers on top, packed in bright red boxes tied with white ribbon. They would make a pretty gift, if you like the flavors, but the shells are too thick, and I didn’t care for the flavors submitted this time.

Delysia Box
The Delysia boxed set was pretty, and the concept was intriguing

The History of Chocolate sounded intriguing, with the tagline: “Savor uniquely handcrafted chocolates inspired by defining moments in chocolate’s history.” In this collection celebrating historic moments in chocolate making, there were 4 pieces meant to evoke different eras with ingredients related to the time and place.

Mayan Mole included pepper, spices, and nut pastes in bittersweet chocolate. It was too sweet for me and became too hot, burning by the end and lingering hot. Cortez’s Discovery, a blend of spices and honey in bittersweet chocolate was better with a sweet/savory mix. It tasted a little medicinal, but was best of this collection.

Amour a Paris, on the other hand, was the worst of the collection for me. Bittersweet chocolate flavored with orange blossom and almond was super floral, and that’s my kryptonite. Swiss Honey Nougat, a milk chocolate truffle containing chopped almonds and nougat, and flavored with honey, was better, but too sweet for me.

The collection did OK in the competition rating 3 stars; and winning Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best Packaging; plus Honorable Mentions for Best Taste, Most Unique, and Best Overall Truffle Artistry.

Of the 2 single entries, Fig Baklava, a milk chocolate truffle containing orange blossom, cinnamon, citrus zest, walnuts, and figs, got 3 stars, Bronze for Best Exterior Design, and Honorable Mention for Most Unique. I didn’t care for it because it had no discernable fig or baklava taste. Their final entry, Sparkling Ruby Chocolate truffle was made with the latest chocolate type, ruby chocolate, but like most ruby chocolate, it was too sweet for my taste.

St Croix Fall Box
The St Croix Fall Collection Box was understatedly elegant

Chocolate perfection

The second collection we tried was by the always amazing St. Croix Chocolate Company, Marine on St. Croix, MN. Their Fall Flavors Collection consisted of 6 beautiful and unique pieces in a brown suede and gold foil box, a 5-Star effort in my book and keeping with their top-notch aesthetics.

The collection featured what was a big trend in this competition: luster dust. Two of the 6 pieces in the collection used it. The Pear Caramel, with an appropriately pear-shaped mold, was an all-over shimmery dark gold lightly splattered with brown speckles. The Dirty Chai had a more subtle use of luster dust, brown/dark copper emerging from a milky background.

The other pieces were just as attractive, with 3 fall themed transfer designs and one hand painted piece. All had perfectly thin shells and flavorful fillings.

St Croix Fall Collection
Every piece in St Croix’s Fall Collection was attractive, but I especially liked the look of the pear shaped Pear Caramel with its mottled green-gold luster dust decoration

The Pear Caramel was great with 2 layers inside: a liquid caramel filling and a liquid pear preserve(?) that was full of pear flavor balancing the caramel. The Dirty Chai had an unexpected licorice top note, turning more chai tasting in the middle but the licorice lasted all the way through. It was a nice surprise in a very spicy but not too sweet piece.

The Maple Pecan had finely chopped pecans mixed in maple flavored milk chocolate ganache. It was well balanced with a delicious nuttiness.

The Apple Walnut Caramel was an interesting chewy caramel, with strong top notes of apple over nice crunchy chunks of walnut in a mild milk chocolate. We rank it very very very good.

Pumpkin Brandy had a hand painted reddish orange swirl on top of a dark chocolate half dome. Another very flavorful piece, it had a crunchy layer on bottom and started with the brandy flavor and little burn, then pumpkin and spices, and ending with brandy. Cacaopod said it tastes like holidays at his sister’s house: A little bit of pie with a little bit of brandy.

The simplest piece was the Vanilla Bean, a dark shell with dark ganache that had a nice vanilla chocolate flavor that lingered. Like all of St. Croix’s ganache pieces, it was very smooth. A simple but excellent chocolate. 

The Fall Collection did very well in the competition rating 4.5 stars (the most awarded); plus winning Gold for Best Ingredient Combinations; Silver for Best Taste, Best Packaging, Most Unique, and Best Overall Truffle Artistry; and Bronze for Best Exterior Design.

St Croix Koi Box
St Croix’s second entry was over the top

Most amazing entry

The real show stopper in this competition was St Croix’s other entry, the Koi Inyodo collection, designed for the Japanese market. and rated 5 stars by me! We knew it was going to be special from the get-go: a small wooden crate branded with St Croix’s logo and an image of a koi fish, sealed with a stamp.

Sliding open the box revealed a pretty Japanese flower print which contained flavor information on the back. Inside the box were crumpled pieces of blue tissue paper evocative of swirling waters. Underneath the paper was the prize: 2 chocolates in the shape of koi and handpainted  to look like koi swimming on the bottom of the box over a picture of light refracting in water. Beautiful.

St Croix Koi
The 2 hand painted Koi swimming in the bottom of the box were adorable

One koi was a white chocolate ganache flavored with yuzu layered over crunchy almond buckwheat praline in a milk chocolate shell. Citrus-y yuzu appeared first followed by smoky, nutty buckwheat that lingered. We first encountered buckwheat in chocolate on our Europe trip last year, but this was a more pronounced smoky taste.

The second koi, Honey & Black Sesame, was not as successful to me as the Yuzu with Almond Buckwheat Praline. Inside a dark chocolate shell was a runny layer of honey and sesame seeds on top of a dark ganache. I could taste the sesame and honey, which I liked, but there was a third taste that is hard to describe: a kinda off, almost industrial taste. There was no ingredient list, so it remains a mystery what that extra something was, but it was not a winner taste-wise to me.

Still, the collection did very well in the competition earning 4.5 stars, and receiving Gold for Best Exterior Design, Best Packaging, Most Unique, and Best Overall Truffle Artistry.

Tea & chocolate

Our local experimental chocolatier, flying noir, Oakland, submitted a pretty tea-themed collection. In the TEAer box, Karen Urbanek said she was “playing with tea & praslin.”

flying noir teaer
Another pretty flying noir collection

All the pieces in the collection had shells of single origin Cru Savage 68% Bolivian dark chocolate painted with natural colors and shimmery mica. Each piece was infused with a different tea; and more unusually, the praslin in each piece (which is usually crushed caramelized nuts) was made by caramelizing tea leaves.

The Rooiboser had the lightest flavor of all: A white chocolate ganache filled with a praslin of caramelized rooibos, it had a sweet vanilla and honey flavor.

The Oolonger was a layered piece of dark ganache topped with a layer of caramel and caramelized tea leaf praslin. It was a nice caramel and chocolate piece that was made a little savory by the green oolong tea flavoring the piece.

The Assamer had a little slab of crispy praline on top of the piece filled with dark milk ganache. Milk was a good choice with this classic black tea flavor, complimenting the tea’s caramel and malt flavors.

The Pu-erher was the strongest flavored piece with a little crunchy praslin at the bottom of a dark chocolate pu-erh tea-infused ganache that tasted like fermented tea with mild overtones of earth and mushrooms. It was intriguing.

The TEAer box did well in the competition earning 4 stars; plus Silver for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best Overall Truffle Artistry; Bronze for Best Packaging; and Honorable Mentions for Best Exterior Design, Best Taste, and Most Unique.

Bon box lid
The inside of the Bon box lid was a shiny reflective silver card

Simply elegant

I got excited when I saw the last collection in the competition. An understated low-profile white box wrapped with a blue ribbon and printed with the chocolatier’s name and the word “Paris” underneath. A Parisian entry? How cool!

Turns out Bon Chocolatier is a Belgian trained Parisian chocolatier making Belgian/French style chocolate in Bay Harbor, FL. As anticipated, their Creative Truffle Collection was subtle, not too sweet, with perfectly thin shells. An American twist to the collection was that the pieces were vegan and kosher.

The collection consists of a series of simple square truffles, each topped with a color that identifies the truffle’s flavor. This “every color is a flavor” reminded me of the chocolate tasting by color chart we saw in Amsterdam last year, which encourages tasters to identify flavors in chocolate by thinking of colors when trying a chocolate, then looking at the chart to see which flavors correspond to the imagined colors. (Cool theory, but I admit I taste flavors first, not colors.)

Bon Quinoa Hazelnut
Blue = Quinoa Hazelnut

Bon Chocolatier submitted 3 flavors in their collection, and I give them all 5 stars. The blue square was organic puff quinoa and hazelnut praline in 70.5% dark chocolate. It had a good hazelnut chocolate flavor and was extra crunchy due to the puffed quinoa in the praline.

Bon Basil Lemon
Green = Basil Lemon

The green square was organic basil lemon in 70.5% dark chocolate. As expected it had a slightly spicy, herbaceous taste; but it didn’t taste lemony. The lemon oil acted more as a flavor enhancer than a flavor on its own.

Bon Raspberry Ginger
Pink = Raspberry Ginger

The pink was raspberry and organic ginger in 54.5% dark chocolate that used almond milk instead of dairy. The inside texture was like a berry, and the flavor started as raspberry, changing to ginger — a very spicy ginger. I was surprised a European style bonbon would pack such heat.

Bon’s collection rated 4 stars; and received Silver for Best Packaging and Best Overall Truffle Artistry, Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations, and Honorable Mentions for Best Taste and Most Unique.

Singular chocolates of note

The rest of the entries were single entries, although some competitors submitted multiple single entries, such as competition regular, Seleuss Chocolates, Seattle, WA. Seleuss truffles are big and I don’t like how thick the shells are, but the ganaches are very smooth and creamy, and I think their 3 entries this year are their best ever.

Seleuss Peaches Cream
Seleuss Peaches & Cream truffle had a double shell of 2 different chocolates around a third chocolate ganache

I especially liked the Porter 75% and the Columbian Coffee & Chicory. I am not a beer drinker, but I liked the dark and stout-y Porter 75. It was sweet but the beer gave it a good fudge flavor with coconut overtones and a bit of a nutty aftertaste. It wasn’t a boozy piece; the porter darkened the ganache flavor. I would give it 4 stars; it rated 3.5 stars in the competition and received Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best Taste, and an Honorable Mention for Best Overall Truffle Artistry.

The Columbian Coffee & Chicory was really good too, starting right out of the box with a nice coffee aroma. If you like coffee, this is a good one. As soon as you bite into it, you taste coffee; it’s a little bitter, but in a strong coffee way. Totally delish; it rated 4 stars and received Silver for Best Taste and an Honorable Mention for Best Ingredient Combinations.

The Peaches and Cream was interesting with a dark outer shell and a white inner shell surrounding peach-infused milk ganache. It had a distinctive peach flavor, although according to the ingredients list, it was more complex than that with cream, peaches, mango, orange, and Prosecco in the 34% light milk ganache. It rated 3.5 stars and received  Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations.

Local stars

In addition to flying noir, 2 other local chocolatiers submitted entries in the 2019 competition. One was a familiar favorite, and the other was a new-to-me instant fav. Both entries merited 5 stars from me.

Craft Chocolates
Craft Chocolates’ hearts & widgets

Michael’s Chocolates, San Francisco, submitted an understated dark chocolate half dome bonbon decorated with reddish brown luster dust. The Bourbon Caramel Pecan had a nice balance between the bourbon and pecan, in a soft caramel with a lingering pecan flavor. It rated 4 stars, and received Silver for Best Ingredient Combinations and Bronze for Best Taste and Best Overall Truffle Artistry.

New local entrant, Craft Chocolate, is based in Alameda. Their submission, Craft-Chocolate with Wright & Brown’s Rye Whiskey, came in 2 shapes: a heart with its own little heart debossed on it, and a half-dome widget. The bittersweet chocolate piece smelled boozy, and the smooth ganache had a nice whiskey flavor with a light burn and a nutty chocolate aftertaste. My only quibble is that the shells could be a little thinner. It rated 3.5 stars, and received Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best Taste.

Simply Saskatoon
The visually impressive Simply Saskatoon


The most eye-popping piece in this visual buffet of a competition had to be Baetz Chocolates’ Simply Saskatoon. This giant tear-drop shell of dark chocolate is a riot of purple, blue, and gold luster dust, ending in a gold tip. Just on looks alone, I wanted to give it 5 stars; luckily the taste was equal to the look.

Baetz Chocolates is based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, where Saskatoon berries are local. At the competition, we had to google them because no one on the panel had ever heard of them before. They were described as tasting similar to huckleberries, which didn’t help me cuz I’m not familiar with that taste either.

Baetz Espresso Lime
Were Baetz’s Sublime Espresso Lime truffles trying to hypnotize me?

Instead, I would describe the purple-tinged white chocolate ganache as tasting like elderberry/blackberry, that tart dark berry taste. Really flavorful and a good combo with the dark chocolate shell. Simply Saskatoon rated 4 stars, and received Gold for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best Taste, Silver for Best Exterior Design and Most Unique, and an Honorable Mention for Best Packaging.

Baetz had another entry, which was also top notch, but a little more subdued visually. Their Sublime Espresso Lime was a dark half dome swirled with blue-green luster dust that looked a bit like a wide-eyed stare. This beautiful piece was a surprisingly delicious combination of espresso first, then lime in white chocolate ganache. It rated 3.5 stars, and received an Honorable Mention for Best Ingredient Combinations.

Creme de Cassis
Beth’s bubbly Crème de Cassis

More worthy competitors

Another strong entrant was Beth’s Chocolate, Newton, MA, with 3 great pieces. Their Crème de Cassis was a cute, purple lustered, squat square embossed with a bubble design. Its purple ganache had a dark berry flavor from black currant puree and Crème de Cassis liqueur in a good thin dark shell. It was almost as good as Simply Saskatoon. It rated 3.5 stars, and received Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best Taste, and an Honorable Mention for Best Overall Truffle Artistry.

Orange Spice
Beth’s glowing Spiced Honey Orange

Their Spiced Honey Orange was a pretty knot mold painted with orange and gold luster dust. The shell was too thick, but the taste was great: immediately a good orange chocolate, followed by Christmas spices (cinnamon and cloves). It rated 3.5 stars, and received Bronze for Best Exterior Design andBest Ingredient Combinations.

Their last piece, Limesicle, was more modest in appearance: an all white chocolate with a cute green transfer pattern on top. But that just added to the surprise inside: the white ganache was liberally sprinkled with lime zest, so it had an immediate lime taste, which got even more lime-y, tasting like Key Lime pie. It rated 4 stars; and received Gold for Best Taste and Honorable Mentions for Best Exterior Design, Best Ingredient Combinations, and Most Unique.

Bella Sophia Box
I think I have to steal Bella Sophia’s wrapping idea for Christmas presents this year

The last piece in the competition that I thought was worthy of mention was the Yuzu Chiffon from Bella Sophia Chocolates, Huntington Beach, CA. The box was gorgeous: Dark yellow paper stamped with a low-contrast textured pattern, encircled by a ridged cumberbon of the same paper, wrapped with a dramatic black ribbon topped with a black flower jewel.

The piece was a simple bullet shape decorated with mostly gold luster dust, plus some drips of light blue and copper. Similar to Beth’s Limesicle, the Yuzu Chiffon tasted like the best lemon merengue pie — light and citrusy. My only quibble was that the chocolate in the shell was not top notch and too ascerbic tasting. It did very well in the competition though, rating 4.5 stars; and receiving Silver for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best Taste; and Honorable Mentions for Best Packaging, Most Unique, and Best Overall Truffle Artistry.

The rest of the entrants were generally very attractive with many sporting the luster dust trend. But they didn’t meet my threshold of “I’d eat that again,” usually because they were too sweet and/or contained ingredients I don’t like, like lapsang souchon tea, florals, or ruby chocolate, so I’m not recommending them. Check the complete list of 2019 Truffle Artistry winners if you want to see how some of these other entries did.

single truffles

As usual, as reward for our participation, we got to take home all the chocolate we wanted  although after tasting 40 chocolates in 3 hours, that never seems like quite the perk it sounds like. This year however, we also received copies of The Chocolatier’s Primer and the Chocolate Salon’s Official Chocolate Journal, for recording info about our chocolate tastings, favorite chocolates, favorite shops, and recipes (although if you know me, you know that’s one section that will always be blank).

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Published December 5, 2019