Entering into the clear glass doors of Dandelion Chocolate is like entering the gates of heaven into a hidden paradise. This small, elegantly crafted chocolate factory is the dream of every chocolate aficionado and health conscious foodie. Buried deep in the shops and blocks of Valencia street, this “bean-to-bar” factory is an inspiration for those wanting to find quality handcrafted chocolate and for anyone with a refined palette for all things Cacao. All chocolate is processed and hand-packaged in house with beautifully wrapped packaging, hand crafted from India. The chocolate itself is unique in that it contains only two ingredients, cacao and sugar cane. The owners truly want to highlight the taste, flavors and health benefits that come from this ancient and sacred bean. Besides the rows of carefully crafted chocolate and delicious treats on the store shelves, there is also a plethora of goodies to choose from at the factory’s café. From Chef Tasting Samples of homemade chocolate confections to gourmet pastries, it is impossible not to fall in love with their ingenious explorations. Some of my favorite items included a full range of drinks like “Nibby Horchata,” a twist on the Mexican classic, made with almonds, hazelnuts, cinnamon and rice. You can also find “Frozen Hot Chocolate” and “Cacao Fruit Smoothie” on the healthy and delectable beverage menu.
In addition to their in-house chocolate offerings, the factory itself is an educational portal. You can learn not only about the origins of cacao and where it comes from but how the bean is processed, chucked, roasted and churned into the food of the Gods. Dandelion Chocolate offers free tours of their factory, classes and a range of special events revolving around all things chocolate. This last Saturday I had the privilege of attending one such event. It was a talk and tasting with award winning chocolate maker Rob Anderson of Fresco Chocolate, and Bar Cacao’s chocolate connoisseur, Jessica Ferraro. Having no expectations but simply hoping to learn more about this fascinating process, I could not have been more impressed with the information and experience offered there. Rob and all those supporting the event were incredibly knowledgeable, gracious and humble. It was easy to see that those in attendance were there because of their love of chocolate and were completely open to discovering ways of improving their craft.
After a brief introduction about who he was and his factory, Rob began to tell us more about the actual processing of the Cacao from bean to bar. Throughout the talk, we were given different samplings of chocolate from Fresco, based in Washington state. As samples were passed around the room, Rob discussed the country of origin for each bean and the difference in roasting techniques for the chocolate being tasted. I learned very quickly that just a slight variation in roasting time could dramatically alter the taste and texture of chocolate. The bean’s origins also had an impact on how the ultimate product affected your taste buds. By the end of the event, I felt much more informed about gourmet chocolate making and also had a deep found respect for those who are setting out to bring back the art of food in today’s culture. In addition to emphasizing quality over quantity, these gourmet chocolate manufacturers are practicing ethical sourcing, being as careful as they can to support local growers and farmers who are using sustainable agriculture and fair working practices for their employees.
Though at first one might balk at the higher prices of gourmet chocolate, it is in all of our best interest to support these local artisans and the food revolution occurring today. The pleasure received from one bite of Fresco or Dandelion chocolate compared to generic and chemically infused chocolates is immeasurable, not to mention all the health benefits you receive from eating bars made with such simple and clean ingredients. So if you haven’t already, be sure to check out Dandelion Chocolate, located at 740 Valencia Street in San Francisco. It’s an experience you won’t want to miss. Also, for those of you outside of California wondering how you can get your hands on some of this gourmet chocolate, Fresco is sold nationwide and you can find retailers offering their treats here. You can also visit Bar Cacao’s online site, offering information about cacao production and selling products by fine quality chocolate makers in the US. Remember, we are what we eat. What is your choice of chocolate saying about who you are and who you would like to be?