Tag Archives: sustainability

5th Annual International Chocolate Salon: San Francisco

21 Apr

When I first found out about the International Chocolate Salon I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I just like the word salon. In this case, because it implies that there is a conversation, an exchange of ideas and methods in the art of chocolate.

As I strolled down from the Marina to Fort Mason, I thought about how I was going to approach such an overwhelming situation. What does one do when they are surrounded by table after table of chocolate in all of its delicious reincarnations? What should I taste? Who should I talk to? How will I not get sick from eating too much chocolate? What will I do if I clean out my bank account after being seduced  by a particularly sumptuous looking bunch of truffles?

By the time I arrived at the Festival Building I had decided that I would focus on bars from single origin, bean to bar companies, I would pick three, and I would only taste dark chocolate. The only tasting dark chocolate idea lasted till the second table from the door. I saw salted caramel truffles.

The salon was in full swing when I got there at 11:30 am. The event was very well attended, but not so crowded that you couldn’t snag yourself a sample of whatever chocolate confection or creation may have caught your eye. Also, the exhibitors were generally very helpful and knowledgeable. In several cases I was able to speak to the chocolatiers and chocolate makers themselves.They were all happy to talk about their greatest passion: chocolate.

This is Neo Cocoa’s spread. The salted caramel truffles that were my downfall. I love the time the exhibitors took with their presentation.

And now for our feature presentation:

http://www.cacaoatlanta.com

Kristen Hard (above) is the owner, founder, and chocolate maker behind Cacao Atlanta. As  you may have guessed, the company’s boutique and production facility are located in Atlanta, Georgia, which is where Kristen hails from as well. She is also the first female chocolate maker in the United States. An important specification is that chocolate makers start with the unroasted bean, chocolatiers start with something called chocolate liqueur, after the beans have been roasted, shelled, and ground into a paste. The reason I was originally drawn to Cacao Atlanta was the bars, but one of the interesting things about Kristen, is that while most chocolate makers stick to making bars, she also uses the chocolate that she makes for her own line of truffles. She actually began her chocolate business by creating a variety of herbally infused truffles, which were  not only delicious, but also contained healing properties.She is now heavily involved in sourcing the beans for Cacao Atlanta. She has developed relationships with all of the growers that she works with and considers them to be her friends. Once she decides to buy from someone she goes and participates in the harvest. She is also focused on working with farmers to improve all aspects of the production process, such as fermentation. Recently, she has been assisting the University of the West Indies in developing a documented fermentation method.

Love Bar (Patanemo) Straight Up 75% from Venezuela is one of my new favorites. This bar has a smooth caramel intensity, cushioning your senses with just the right amount of sweetness, so that you only notice the rich cocoa flavor. I think it was Oscar de la Renta that said something to the effect of, “When  you make a dress for a woman, you want people to look and say, “What a beautiful woman!”  not “What a beautiful dress!”.”

The logo is a flying cocoa pod.

http://www.snakeandbutterfly.com

Caught in action, talking about bean to bar.

These are the owners of Snake and Butterfly. From left to right, Celeste Flores, her father Vince Flores, and the guy in the hat as Vince told me. It turns out his name is Ben Bulik and it turns out he does research and development for Snake and Butterfly. They are located in Campbell, CA and I fully intend to go and check it out at some point.

What initially caught my eye in this box of chocolate bars was the third one in from the left. I had never seen a bar from Belize before. However, I seem to be following a trend because I  tasted a Venezuela 75%. It was rich and savory in a way that I haven’t tasted in a chocolate before. There was just the slightest suggestion of citrus at the end. It was bold, yet soft around the edges.

http://www.madecasse.com

Brett (above) and  Tim, his friend in the New York office, started Madecasse after being Peace Corps Volunteers. Their term of service ended, but their lives had become intertwined with those of the people with whom they had been living and working. They knew that 85% of the worlds cocoa comes from Africa, but only 1% is made there. Brett and Tim decided to create a company that would produce in the beans country of origin, but still sell to consumers in the United States. As a result four times more income is generated for the workers in Madagascar than if beans were shipped for production.

I tasted their Madagascar 70% and it is one of the juiciest chocolates I have ever had. The taste of berries floods your mouth. I would say blackberries with a little cranberry tartness. The interesting thing is that the fruitiness doesn’t linger. It recedes and the flavor of pure cocoa lingers and cleanly fades away.

Here is a list of the exhibitors if you want to explore.

SLO Down Wines strikes a pose.

They featured their wine “Sexual Chocolate”, which also has one of the most entertaining wine labels you will ever read. Chip, in the hat, is one of the winemakers.

As it turns out there was also wine tasting! How do you make a good thing better?

There will be an International Chocolate Salon Part II

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TCHO: San Francisco

11 Apr

TCHO

Pier 17: The Embarcadero @ Green Street

San Francisco, CA 94111

Monday to Friday 9 am – 5 pm

Saturday and Sunday 10 am – 5 pm

(415) 981-0189

Tours: Every day at 10:30 am and 2 pm

If you walk down to Pier 17 on the Embarcadero you won’t be able to miss TCHO, right next to a tug boat rental company. You would never know that this building is the home of innovation on several fronts. Founded by Timothy Childs, a former NASA employee on the shuttle program, literally a rocket scientist who turned to chocolate making, and Karl Bittong, a chocolate industry veteran who has been constructing chocolate factories for the last 42 years, TCHO was set up to succeed from the beginning. They sweetened the deal by bringing in the c0-founders of Wired Magazine, Jane Metcalf, as President and Louis Rossetto, as CEO. For anyone who has written a business plan, this is a management dream team. TCHO is the beginning of a socially conscious chocolate revolution that synthesizes the art and science of chocolate making while still maintaining environmental and human ideals by qualifying as a fair trade organic product by third party certifiers such as California Certfied Organic Farmers (CCOF) and Fair Trade USA. We can only hope that their practices will cause a ripple effect throughout the industry.

TCHO is a self proclaimed flavor based chocolate company. While the popular trend right now is to focus on the origin of the cacao beans, TCHO has chosen to focus on the primary flavors cacao beans are known to produce. They locate beans that manifest the chosen characteristic, such as chocolatey, citrus, fruity, or nutty and then develop the chocolate making process to maximize their flavor potential. Flavor notes are connected to the regions from which they come, so they usually have a pretty good idea where to start when they begin development.

One of the characteristics that makes TCHO so different from other chocolate making companies, is their scientific approach to the entire chocolate making process from pod to bar. TCHO has worked with farmers to innovate the fermentation and drying process by working with farmers to create a three tiered fermentation system, allowing for thorough fermentation and a mellowing of the cacao bean, and drying beds where beans are exposed to the air on all sides, releasing gases that would otherwise create a harsh or bitter flavor. Also, they have built flavor labs on location at the farms so that farmers can taste what type of product their beans are going to create.

Right now “chocolatey” is from Ghana, “citrus” from Madagascar, “fruity” is from Peru, and “nutty” from Ecuador. The jury is still out on my favorite.

TCHO has also produced a flavor wheel and they are in the process of developing “floral” and “earthy” chocolates. There are also several milk chocolates that are in the beta phase due to demand. They have also developed a line of baking chocolates because chefs and bakers were coming to TCHO asking if they could create a high quality baking chocolate so they could buy  within the United States instead of having rely on Europe. I got some. I will report back on my findings.

The tour guide, Tyler, told us that two of the indicators of a well tempered chocolate, thus having a wonderful mouth-feel and well balanced flavor, is the shine and snap of the chocolate when you break it.

 

I took the factory tour on Saturday. The first part of the tour was a very engaging presentation by Tyler. With the aid of a slide show you learn about the history of chocolate from its origin in the Amazon Basin to the process of fertilization of the cacao flowers performed by a midge, a tiny winged insect. A dried cacao pod is passed around as well as some beans. You get to see them up close. I like the tactile aspect of it. The most interesting thing  I learned about the growing process, is that the cacao pods begin to glow when they are ready to be picked. I’m not joking. It really happens.

The factory itself was not in production so it was a bit of a different experience than it may have been. Tyler said that it is usually extremely loud with all of the machinery going. We had the added benefit of being able to hear a description of what the machines do, while seeing them. The factory was actually moved over to San Francisco piece by piece and reassembled at Pier 17.

You are not allowed to take pictures on the tour so I snagged a few of TCHO’s so I could give everyone an idea of what the factory looks like inside. You have to wear hairnets and beardnets, when applicable, even when the factory is not in production. They are extremely serious about maintaining cleanliness. My favorite part came at the end when we got to taste the chocolate! If you want to, you can talk about the different flavors you tasted. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy. It is always interesting to hear what other people are experiencing. I recommend you try the hot chocolate. It’s amazing. Get one.

P.S. Bonus innovation. They developed an Iphone app so you can run the factory remotely from your Iphone!

TCHO: “chocolatey” 70%

7 Apr

As advertised, this is an intensely chocolatey chocolate. Apparently, chocolatey is actually an industry term so saying chocolatey chocolate is not redundant. The bouquet on this single origin chocolate from Ghana is amazing, a fragrant, earthy, clean scent.Rich and velvety all the way through, you can tell they put a lot of work into creating this bar. The experience starts out with a cranberry tartness easing you into a wash of chocolatey cacao that dominates your palate until its gentle finish.  One thing about this chocolate that differs most from the other bar chocolates that I have tried thus far, is that it doesn’t have that astringent, slightly bitter tail at the end. Instead, there is a full earthy flavor of cacao that slowly fades away. A much appreciated smooth finish.

If you ever want to be adventurous and try a chocolate and cheese combination, I would recommend using TCHO chocolatey and your favorite triple cream. Now all you need is the right wine and the world will be a perfect place.

The TCHO chocolate factory is located down on Pier 17 in San Francisco. I intend to go there this coming weekend for a factory tour, so stay tuned.

 

DAGOBA: xocolatl 74%

30 Mar

So just an interjection in Dolfin week. I read an article about Dagoba, an organic chocolate company started by Fredrick Schilling in his very own kitchen. He hand poured the bars for the first year and a half. He has moved on to other projects now, such as a new company he started called the Big Tree Climate Fund. He sold to Hershey, which was a bit controversial. He said that Hershey would be able to bring the organic product to hundreds of thousands of people with their reach, whereas he could only bring it to a few thousand.  There are many opinions on this issue. However, right now I want to talk about their most popular bar.

The Dagoba, xocolatl  is a dense bar of dark chocolate with chilies and nibs. The chocolate is velvety smooth, while there is the slight crunch of the nibs that add a nice nutty roundness to the initial fruitiness, a bit of pineapple, to the chocolate as it melts in your mouth. As the sweet, but not to sweet creaminess of the cocoa butter fades, the heat from the chilies kick in. Be ready for it. This is some spicy chocolate. Not for the feint of palate. Don’t feel bad if the astringency of the cacao and the spiciness make you a little parched. I would have a little water handy with this one. Also, the finish is a bit heavy on the bitters. It is made as a tribute to the rich history of cacao’s use in a hot spicy beverage of the Mayans and then the Aztecs called, you guessed it, xocolatl. The original beverage didn’t include sugar so the bitter, spicy finish seems an effective expression of the name.

Enjoy. A new classic. An ancient classic.

Chocolate Love

25 Mar

Welcome to Chocolate Explorer! I am going to use this space to share information about the many beautiful types of chocolate that are out there. There are many different growing regions, so there are distinctive differences between single origin and multi-origin chocolates. Mostly, I am going to discuss chocolate bars that have been developed for you instant enjoyment and not bakers chocolate. I will also be staying away from brands like Hershey and Nestles since, while they are classic, everyone has already tasted them and they are considered to be of fairly low quality. Also, this is not an advertising site, although I will tell you which chocolates I prefer, I will also be giving a flavor description and if you like berry undertones and I like caramel or peppery then you will be learning what you don’t want in addition to what you do want. If there is something that you thing I should investigate I would love a comment. What it comes down to is that I love chocolate and I want to share that love with everyone.

I will also be posting links relating to the entire chocolate making process, a bit of history, and some of the great projects involving sustainable chocolate production around the world, and maybe a little chocolate artwork.