Monday, January 28, 2013

San Francisco

Yes, in this post I review San Francisco for its chocolate.  I am an ambitious man.  As you will soon be able to tell from my description of all the chocolate I ate in my ONE DAY in SF.

Double Rainbow's Ultra Chocolate Ice Cream at SFO

I got started before leaving the airport:

proof: clearly airport escalators

Honestly?  It was really good.  Off to a great start, with chocolatey chocolate ice cream.


I've liked Tcho for a long time.  I first encountered them years ago at the Chocolate Show.  Their thing is to make "flavored" chocolate without using any flavoring ingredients -- just chocolate, sugar, soy lecithin, and vanilla.  Their "flavors" are "fruity" (from Peru), "citrusy" (from Madagascar), "nutty" (from Ecuador), and my (obvious) favorite, "chocolatey" (from Ghana).  These origins are no accident -- Peruvian chocolate is famously fruity, while West African chocolate (especially from Ghana) is by far the most common chocolate we eat, so we identify it as quintessentially "chocolatey."  (Also in the works are floral and earthy bars.)

I stopped by Tcho twice -- first I picked up a small "chocolatey" square and a 99% blend bar (chocolatey and nutty).  

they gave some explanation for their complicated patterns (both on the wrapping and printed on the chocolate), but i don't really remember it.  pretty though!

I seriously recommend all of Tcho's bars.  It's a great way to develop a chocolate vocabulary and to familiarize yourself with different origins' different flavors.  The ingredient list for their 99% bar says it includes only cocoa beans, so it might actually be 100%.  It tastes it.  Good but bitter.  I also got a slightly disappointing ice cream pop of some sort:

oh, hello there, california.

I later returned to Tcho to do a (free) factory tour, which they seem to offer multiple times per day.  No photos were allowed, so this is all I managed to take:

you may notice that subhumans patch.  it is actually a subhummus patch.

It was a good tour.  I already knew a lot of what they were teaching, but it was a really solid background on the making of chocolate.   They also gave out samples of all their dark chocolates, as well as several milk chocolates -- specifically a "classic" milk chocolate and a "cocoa" milk chocolate.  Both were delicious, and both were as described.  Obviously, I preferred the latter.  After the tour, I had to make several more purchases:

purchase batch #2.  in the background: prescription bottles for a chocolate a day.

I got a Tcho Shot -- a shot of melted dark chocolate -- along with some chocolate-covered nibs and some more "chocolatey" squares (for distribution throughout my trip).  The shot was excellent, but actually less thick than I expected when compared to something like the hot chocolate at Grom or DT Works.  The nibs were good, too, but were not as "pure" as most Tcho products.  They were made with confectioners' glaze, among other ingredients.  Tcho usually prides itself on tempering its bars to get a shine without any glaze, but that's obviously much more difficult -- if not impossible -- when trying to coat nibs.

Scharfen Berger

Scharfen Berger has moved their factory from SF to Illinois, but they still have their outpost at the Ferry Building.  They sell stuff there that you can't get elsewhere:

i ate most of the chocolate before i remembered to take a picture :(

I tried a whole bunch of things, and most were really good, but I'm just not as much of a fan of Scharfen Berger as many others.  They really like fruity chocolate, which is just not my thing.  I tried some mint bark, which was delicious, and their bonbons were of course good quality, but I was not wowed.


Recchiuti is a SF-based chocolatier whose shop is also in the Ferry building.  My trip just having gotten underway, I was still just whetting my appetite, and I picked up a brownie, bar, and some bonbons:

i'd only eaten about two pounds of chocolate.  appetite: almost whetted.

The bar was good but not extraordinary.  I always love bars with nibs, and this had a nice smokey flavor, but I couldn't get too excited about it.  The two bonbons were a step up.  There was a very dark "force noir," which was good, and a Venezuela-origin bonbon, which was even better.  Best of all was the brownie.  It was chocolatey, fudgey, and delicious.  One of the best brownies available anywhere.

Neo Cocoa

I had wanted to try Neo Cocoa, but I couldn't figure out a way to get any.  Imagine my surprise when I stumbled across there table in the Ferry Building totally by accident -- and they were passing out free samples!  Most of the products available were flavors, so I settled on the mint.  It was ok, but nothing special.  I'd like to try something purer by them.

Fog City News: Labooko 100% Peru and Amano 70% Dos Rios

Many cities in the US have unassuming shops with excellent chocolate selections.  In New York, the classic example is The Meadow.  In SF, it's Fog City News.  Outside of chocolate, the two shops could not be more different.  Fog City News is exactly as described.  It sells newspapers and magazines.  The Meadow sells salts and bitters.  But they actually have a startlingly similar chocolate collection, which speaks incredibly well of both places.  (Though Fog City News is consistently $1-$2 cheaper per bar.)  I took the opportunity, of course, to pick up two bars I had not seen elsewhere, as recommended by the proprietors.

it looks like a book.  leila loves books.  but she probably wouldn't love this bar.  MYSTERIES.

Labooko is an Austrian company, and the packaging and bar is possibly the most beautiful I've ever seen.  Their 100% bar is a Peru origin.  Peru is typically my least favorite origin, because it is typically the fruitiest.  This bar, though, was exceptional.

even the bar is SO PRETTY.

At 100%, it's a slow eat, so a lot of people got a chance to taste it.  Even people who didn't like 100% bars liked this.  Possibly the fruitiness offset some of the bitterness.  There is only one caveat: after you eat this, everything else just doesn't taste as good.  Normally you start with the darkest chocolate and work your way down (or else the dark just tastes too bitter in comparison).  Trying that with Labooko is a mistake.  I can't tell you why.  Maybe it's just so good that everything else becomes disappointing.  Fortunately, I saved some of the other bar I purchased at Fog City after initially eating some subsequent to a bite of Labooko:

at my cousin's house the next night.  all the doors were made of glass.  including the bathroom doors.

Amano is a Utah-based company, and I purchased a 70% Dominican-origin bar.  I like that each square has the logo:

Eating it separately from the Labooko bar, it was actually quite good, though by no means my favorite from the trip.

See's Candies

See's Candies is famous in SF.  It's an early career Warren Buffett acquisition, and one can see why.  They do a great job of producing delicious, candy-quality chocolate.  The 62% "dark" chocolate bar had milk in it. But it was still delicious.  The bonbons there cost half the price or less as compared with many of the other places I went, but they too were delicious.  They would never be mistaken for something snobby and artisanal, but that's not what they are trying to do.  They were extremely chocolatey, and they tasted great.  Every See's I saw had a line, but a short line, which is a pretty good indication that they are doing their business right.  Nice job, Warren.

Cocoa Bella: Mary's Truffle and Bon Bon and Christopher Elbow Bon Bon

My last chocolate stop was Cocoa Bella.  Cocoa Bella is a chocolate importer.  They don't make their own chocolate, but they scour the world for the best bonbons and truffles.  They have a couple shops in SF.  I went to one in some mall.  I asked for guidance on the chocolatiest items they had, of course.  I was served a truffle and bonbon from Belgian chocolatier Mary and a bonbon from the local SF Kansas City-based chocolatier Christopher Elbow, whose (San Francisco) store I did not have time to seek out (thanks for the correction, Elaine!).

The Mary's truffle completely blew me away.  It was the first time since Bespoke Chocolates closed in NYC that I'd been so blown away by the quality of a truffle.  I thought there was no way that they would replicate the quality in their bonbon, and I was once again blown away.  It was incredible.  I was so impressed, actually, that I went all the way to Brussels to visit their flagship store and purchase even more of their products.  This is not a joke.  That review is still to come.

The Christopher Eblow 70% bonbon, in comparison, was bound to disappoint.  It was smokey and not chocolatey enough.

(As a side note, I did not make it back to XOX Truffles, but I had been there previously, and it is very good, though not particularly outstanding.)

Bottom Line: Honestly, San Francisco gives New York a run for its money on the chocolate front.  In any case, the two are certainly the top two chocolate cities in the USA.


  1. Hey, FYI Christopher Elbow does have a shop in San Francisco, but he is based in Kansas City Missouri.

  2. I stand corrected! Thank you!

  3. This post is amazing. David, you have set a new bar for Chocolate NYC.

  4. Great review David, so thrilled you stopped in while visiting our lovely City... who knew one person could consume this much chocolate, in one day?!
    (Welcome to the club, chocoholics are welcome anytime!)