So, after extensive research at the San Francisco International Chocolate Salon (I guess “show” is declasse…), I’ve come to the conclusion that lots of people really like chocolate! I was sort of expecting it to be a low key event full of chocolate geeks like myself, but instead found that if you put on a show with 35 chocolatiers giving out samples, you get a big crowd! Here’s a gratuitious crowd shot in the entry room. According to an exhibitor, this was the slow day, but both rooms of the show were packed.
Located conveniently right inside the entrance was the booth I most wanted to stop at, Amano Chocolate. Here are Art Pollard and Clark Goble, two escapees from the tech business that are now on the forefront of American artisan chocolate. Their company makes bean-to-bar chocolate using premium varietal beans and painstaking attention to detail. That gleam in their eye? That’s what living the dream looks like….
Here’s my pick for best item of the show: Amano’s limited edition Cayagua bar. My biggest frustration of the show is that, even here, there was a lot of confusion about who was MAKING chocolate and who was using other people’s chocolate to make confections. Consider the work that goes into something like the Cauagua bar: years of learning how to coax chocolate from the bean, buying tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment, flying to scout out suppliers, dealing with import/export issues, and the weeks it takes to perfect the right combination of roast, refine, and conching. By contrast (not to denigrate chocolatiers) most of the other vendors at the show were using premade chocolate to coat or enrobe other ingredients. Doing this well requires a deep level of skill, but it’s not the level of craftsmanship required to turn raw beans into finished chocolate. Anyway, rant over….
In the same room was Sacred Chocolate, a California company claiming to be making chocolate from raw, unhulled cacao beans. Supposedly, this preserves some nutrients in the chocolate. I’m a teeny bit suspicious, because the chocolate, while definitely raw tasting, seemed too uniform to have the hull incorporated. The hull fats are basically incompatible with the cocoa butter in the nib, and that should yield a less smooth texture. (Not to mention the moisture control and microbiological problems inherent in unroasted cacao.) I’m going to investigate this company a little more in the future. The guy in the green hoodie is me, looking a little skeptical, and trying to decide if I like chocolate with 12 “tropical herbs” in it.
Another bean-to-bar company at the show was Theo, a Seattle chocolate startup that’s growing very quickly. They have a nuanced market strategy, making and packaging their single origin chocolates and flavored chocolates in very different packaging, with the intention of putting them in different sections of the store. I’m working on lining up an interview with the Theo folks soon. They were passing out a diagram of their process, which incorporates two roasting steps, and a refining with a ball mill followed by rollers. This is different than the “textbook” chocolate making process, and I’m excited to find out their reasoning here. Here’s a picture of the good life: free high-end chocolate! (Yes, there were a lot of samples. Going in, I heard some people leaving and claiming that they were going to only eat salads for a week.)
Most of the rest of the vendors at the show were chocolatiers showing off their finest truffles and coated confections. Not wanting to shirk my investigative duties, I felt compelled to do some sampling. (Yes, definite hardship duty!) San Francisco is lucky to have some extremely talented chocolatiers. Charles Chocolates is one of my favorites. They use fantastic ingredients, and takea lot of care in matching chocolate to the ingredients. Their finishes are also top flight. These are some extremely good looking chocolates, with really intense flavors. My favorite was a Meyer lemon truffle, which started with a strong nutty chocolate flavor that transmuted slowly to a sunny, tart lemon finish.
Of course, I’m neglecting a bunch of worthy companies here. XOX, Poco Dolce, Lillie Belle, etc, etc. I also missed most of the lectures and talks that went on during the show, some of which sounded interesting (a Venezuelan tasting) and some a little…strange (a “chocolate meditiation”) I’m hoping that next year, the artisan chocolate makers will be back in force, and perhaps the show will put forth a concerted effort to educate chocolate nibblers on where and how chocolate is made.