Move over wine, there is a new industry in the Northern California: one that is creamier, cheaper, and won’t get your fired if you keep it in your desk drawer and partake all day.
Sure, San Francisco is known for Ghirardelli; A chocolate so popular there is an entire city square named after it. But if you think Ghirardelli is the only chocolate maker in town, you will be missing out on the city’s emerging industry. Just Google artisan chocolate in San Francisco and you’ll get more than 200,000 hits!
The Bay area is quickly becoming the United States gourmet chocolate heart. Fueled by technology moguls who have given up buying vineyards and making wine with their millions (that’s so 1993), many of these dotcom wonders are turning to creating the next best thing: chocolate.
1000 Fights got an up close and personal tour of the city’s best chocolate stores and chocolatiers. As part of Gourmet Walks Chocolate Tour we got the 411 on the city’s best chocolate while learning about how chocolate is made and why you should eat it (not a problem for us). As part of an intimate tour, the group only had seven people. Now the Fighting Couple are very particular about tours. We don’t like big tours and we expect someone who knows their stuff. We got just the right kind of experience with the Gourmet Chocolate Tour. It was a small tour and Beth knew a lot about chocolate, but more about San Francisco. That’s the benefit of a tour, you get the chance to interact with locals, asking your questions and get a different perspective.
Our tour guide Beth began with some chocolate education by showing us what chocolate comes from: the cacao bean. We got to touch, smell and worship the bean. Beth explained the entire chocolate miracle: from the bean to production. We even got to taste the cacao nibs, which are cacao beans that have been roasted. It’s the rawest form of edible chocolate. We also learned why 1000 Fights loves white chocolate. It’s the fat of the bean. Yes, white chocolate is the cacao butter and unfortunately, doesn’t have the same health benefits as milk and dark chocolate. However, it won’t stop us from eating it.
Our walking tour started at Justin Herman’s Plaza and moved into the bustling Ferry Building Market Place. We started at the self-proclaimed chocolate mecca, Scharffen Berger, where we got a first of many tastes as part of the Gourmet Walks. Just like fine wine, we were told to enjoy the chocolate experience. Instead of popping and chomping on the chocolate immediately, look at it, feel it, smell it and enjoy it. Let the taste sink into your palate and close your eyes. Absorb the chocolate and decipher the flavor. Does it taste of fruit, woods, milk or cream? Remember, wine and chocolate are some of the world’s finest substances, savor them.
The tour continued to Recchiuti’s, local chocolatier where we enjoyed spring Jasmine Tea Chocolate: Jasmine blossoms and green team infusion blended with pure dark chocolate and Burnt Caramel Chocolate: smoky burnt caramel infused in fresh cream with 70 percent dark chocolate paired with spring water. Recchiuti’s is gourmet chocolate on steroids. Just walking into the shop, makes you feel swanky. Even the walls are covered with its descriptions of chocolate heaven-including Lavender Vanilla Chocolates and my personal favorite, Lemon Verbena with organic local lemon verbena steeped into whole cream and blended into decadent chocolate ganache.
Next we continued through the Ferry Building to LaCocina, a local company which specializing in giving local food entrepreneurs a leg up. We had the opportunity to eat the up and coming NeoCocoa truffles including Salted Caramel Milk Chocolate Truffle with Hawaiian black lava sea salt and the seasonal Pumpkin Spice Truffle. If you go to San Francisco, check out the Ferry Building Marketplace. There aren’t just chocolates there. While we were on the tour, we found ourselves wishing we had more time to come back and take it in a bit more.
As Beth led us out of the Ferry Building, we started towards Fog City News. In true San Francisco style, we saw a protest. Free Tibet! Locals will say if you don’t see a protest or someone scantily clad or less, you haven’t seen the true San Francisco. As we snaked along the city, we stopped in on Fog City News. The news stand and chocolate shop carries any magazine from any country you want and the chocolate to go with it. The staff personally tries every chocolate offered and I interrogated them, “What does this taste like, do you recommend it, what else would you buy?” The staff knew the answers! You can get chocolate from the world at Fog City News as well as local Northern California favorites. I bought Maison Bouche’s Fleur de Pecher (that’s a peach blossom chocolate for those of you in Lake Woebegone) and Ginger Elizabeth’s Vanilla Been Toffee Almond Desert Bar.
At every stop on the tour, we tasted the incredible offerings, including hot chocolate (at Leonidas) and the opportunity to buy chocolate. The tour even offered a discount card. It made a dent into the $80 worth of chocolate I bought along the way. Beth told us to pace ourselves with the chocolate. I did well until the sixth stop and by then I couldn’t fit anymore chocolate in my stomach. Luckily, we could take it in our “to go bag,” that included Swiss Chocolate maker Teuscher’s famous champagne truffles, obsessed by celebrities including Oprah. One of the biggest takeaways from the tour is that unlike wine, fine chocolate won’t run you hundreds of dollars. The most expensive chocolate in the world is a fraction of the price of the world’s most expensive wine. For a couple of dollars, you can get a piece of chocolate flown in from the capitals of Europe or better yet, Northern California!
The three hour tour ended at the Piece de Resistance: CocoaBella Chocolates in the Westfield San Francisco Center for even more tasting and explanations of the chocolate industry. CocoaBella carries designer chocolates from around the world. If it’s not beautiful and tastes amazing, CocoaBella doesn’t carry it. I couldn’t resist buying the Vanilla Cupcake Chocolate made with sweet cream and vanilla frosting ganache mixed with tiny cake pieces from Norman Love, a chocolatier in Florida or Turin Italy’s Guido Gobino’s Peppermint Infused White Chocolate. I bought the most chocolate here, including CocoaBella’s Hazelnut Toffee with Alaea Hawaiian Salt. Luckily, I have hid it where no one in my family can find it.
There’s no better way to spend an afternoon in San Francisco than walking around the iconic city and tasting the mind blowing, marriage altering, moan inducing chocolate of the town. We highly recommend Gourmet Walks. We can’t wait to go back and check out their other tours. After all we, left our heart and more chocolate we’d like to taste in San Francisco.
A special thank you goes out to our friends at Gourmet Walks who provided this experience. Check them out next time you are in San Francisco.