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Sweet Treats: Chocolate and Chocolate Makers

by Gloria Lenhart


Tired of making the same old resolution year after year? Lose 10 pounds. Floss. Exercise. Eat more fruits and vegetables. This year, how about making a resolution you’ll want to keep? Support Bay Area artisans. Shop local merchants. Eat more chocolate.

Chocolate has been part of San Francisco history since the Gold Rush. The two oldest chocolate companies in the U.S. -- Ghirardelli and Guittard -- both started in San Francisco and still make their chocolate here in the Bay Area. Inside this issue, we’ll share the history of these two iconic companies and their founders. But today, San Francisco is attracting a new breed of chocolate artisans. We visited several and we’ll give you a full report.

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The cacao fruit provides beans used to make chocolate.
Photo courtesy Guittard Chocolate

First, let’s define some terms. A chocolate maker sources the cacao (pronounced kaCOW) fruit and ferments it to extract the beans. The beans are are then roasted and ground to cocoa powder and chocolate. A chocolatier uses that chocolate as the primary ingredient in a variety of distinctive creations like molded bonbons, specialty drinks, baked goods, and other custom-made confections. Lastly there are chocolate curators, specialists who provide a convenient way to sample a selection of the best local and international chocolate creations.

Historic Chocolate Makers

Ghirardelli, the country’s oldest chocolate maker, started in a Portsmouth Square storefront in 1852. Today the company is owned by the Swiss chocolate maker Lindt and produces its signature Ghirardelli Squares in a San Leandro factory. Etienne Guittard began making his French-style chocolate on Sansome Street in San Francisco in 1868. Today the company, located in Burlingame, is run by the fourth generation of the Guittard family, making it the oldest continuously family-run chocolate maker in the U.S. You may have seen the Guittard name on baking chips, but they also supply the chocolate to See’s Candy as well as many local artisan chocolatiers.

The Next Generation of Chocolate:

TCHO and Dandelion

Continuing our city’s tradition as an incubator for chocolate innovation, San Francisco now has two new chocolate makers who specialize in making artisan chocolate by custom roasting beans sourced from small growers around the world. “Chocolate is the next big thing in the world of artisan foods,” Todd Masonis, co-owner of chocolate maker Dandelion in the Mission, told me. “In coffee, companies like Peets, Blue Bottle and Ritual built their reputations by sourcing and roasting their own beans to control quality and taste. We are now on the leading edge of the same trend in chocolate.”

TCHO (pronounced chO) calls itself New American Chocolate. They offer tours and tastings twice a day, every day, at their factory at Pier 17, right next to the new Exploratorium. Founded by NASA engineer Timothy Childes and now managed and funded by the couple who also started Wired magazine, early on there were rumors that the T in the company name stood for Tech. According to the company’s website, TCHO is the first syllable of chocolate spelled phonetically.

TCHO is proud of their advocacy of small growers of cacao, the football-sized fruit that produces the beans used to make chocolate. They partner closely with growers in places like Peru, Ecuador, Madagascar and Ghana, applying technology to the fermentation and roasting processes to preserve the natural flavors of the beans. Many growers never tasted the chocolate produced from their beans, so TCHO rigged on-site tasting labs that allow farmers to taste their final product. All this and details of the chocolate making process are covered in a slide show that precedes the factory tour.

The best part of the TCHO factory tour was the guided tasting which included samples of chocolate with flavors ranging from “Nutty” or “Fruity” to “Earthy” or “Bright.” I confess that I am mostly unable to taste the “grass” or “raspberry” or “apricot” notes in wines, but I definitely noticed the “sour cream finish” on the “Bright” chocolate sample, and could easily tell the difference between “Nutty” and “Floral” chocolate tastes. You can recreate the tasting experience at home with the boxed sets for sale in the retail store, which also offers bars and other chocolate confections. Tours are free, but reservations are recommended, online at:

Dandelion Chocolate at 730 Valencia St in the Mission is San Francisco’s newest chocolate maker. College friends Todd Masonis and Cameron Ring started making chocolate in their garage to share with friends. About a year ago, they took over a brick building that once housed an auto repair shop. It was also once the site of the Valencia Street Hotel, which collapsed in the 1906 earthquake.

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Innovative chocolate tastes at the Dandelion Café.
Photo: Gloria Lenhart

Dandelion offers a tasting wall with free samples of their various chocolates and information on where the beans were grown, flavor profiles and tasting tips. You can watch them make their chocolate -- from roasting the beans to molding and wrapping bars by hand – from behind a glass wall. The café offers hot chocolate with handmade marshmallows, plus chocolate-inspired treats by Gary Danko-alum, Chef Lisa Vega.

The only ingredient Dandelion adds to their beans is sugar. “Most chocolate makers add vanilla and an emulsifier,” Todd said. “We don’t. Our taste profiles come solely from the roasted beans.” Dandelion offers classes, from the basics in Chocolate 101, to Chocolate 201 which provides a hands-on experience, and Chocolate 301 which includes an overseas trip to cacao farms.

Chocolate Makers

TCHO: New American Chocolate

Pier 17, Embarcadero at Green St.
Free tours with tasting daily at 10:30 am and 2 pm
Reservations suggested:

Dandelion Chocolate

740 Valencia St, btwn 17th and 18th
Café, free tasting wall plus a peek at the chocolate makers

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