The longer you live in a place, the lesser you know about it than tourists and travelers. This has been the case with me since for the past year, the only time I visit San Francisco is either for work-related conferences or showing out-of-town friends around to standard locations – including the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory.
Hence, it was exciting for me when a friend signed me up for 2 chocolate classes in a newer chocolaterie of the city, away from the downtown, piers and other more well-known places.
Dandelion San Francisco
Dandelion is a bean-to-bar chocolate factory in the Mission District. There are 2 locations – one is a smaller shop on Valencia Street, which I had been to before for a Hot Chocolate on chilly evenings.
But the other one is a Chocolate Factory on display on 16th Street. This is a beautiful Wild-West Style building with brown-red bricks and straw-sacks. There are numerous industrial machines sorting cocoa-beans, pressing them and tempering chocolates. The aroma of cocoa fills the woody-textured rooms.
In the foyer, several chocolate bars were lined up, made from single-source beans with sampling pieces. I sampled at least 25-30 pieces from different regions including Belize, Sierra Leone, Taiwan, Tanzania, Costa Rica and Indonesia.
The first class I attended was a Chocolate Ingredients one. We were lead to a large marble tasting table in groups of around 10. Photographs on the walls showed chocolate farmers, cacao fruits and charts of various terms in the chocolate industry.
Several tiny cups were laid out before us on wooden planks. We were shown the ingredients of chocolates – from basic ones like Cocoa powder and cocoa butter to more complex ones.
A particularly interesting one was Soy Lecithin – a substance that helps in texturing commercial chocolates for longer shelf life, but at the cost of a waxy taste. This is the major point of difference between commercial chocolates and small-batch gourmet ones.
We were then given a series of chocolate bars to taste and quizzed on what ingredients we thought were in it.
A memorable chocolate bar was that of white-chocolate – which contains milk, cocoa-butter and sugar only, and which serves the purpose of highlighting the flavor of milk used – in our case – sheep milk.
The second class I took was a chocolate-tasting class. In this one, we were shown a chart of various chocolate-flavor profiles and where they come from.
Some interesting ones were Oreo (indicating too much dry cocoa powder), Cherry (for acidic), Mushroomy (for earthiness or umami), or Off (such as rancid milk).
While different individuals had different flavor-profiles and memories activated from the same bar, there were often common majority agreements.
I personally found the flavors of Americas’ chocolates to be more acidic and fruity (flavor profiles include melon, strawberry, grapes, wine etc.) while African chocolates were more spicy (cinnamon), woody and earthy and much to my liking.
The Taste-Master explained that traditional chocolate-makers preferred African varieties because of their flavor-consistency and characteristic bitter-sweet taste, while newer hipster places favored Meso-American varieties due to their larger flavor-diversity and more astringent and floral notes, which has led to American craft chocolatiers developing newer flavor-blends to beat their traditional European counterparts.
This is the case with the Americas because cacao originated here, and the origin-point often has the highest diversity and variety. Although, the newest cacao-region in the world is South East Asia, like Taiwan. And gourmet chocolate processing is becoming an industry in Japan.
The participants were given a voucher for a free hot chocolate at the cafe. I had to choose between the House Cocoa, European Cocoa and the Aztec Cocoa, but I was distracted by the barista torching a giant marshmallow container with molten chocolate inside for the guest before me.
I picked the European Cocoa which had a salty-buttery toast flavor – heavy and homey without being too sweet. While cookies, marshmallows and sugar-candies came with it, I decided not to have them in order to not ruin the taste of the hot chocolate.
There were several desserts on the menu. I opted for a Chocolate Mont Blanc. Mont Blanc is a dessert of chestnuts, pureed and passed through a sieve to turn them into a sweet pasta-like shape. This one was the second best chocolate dessert I’ve had (first one being a chocolate-ball filled with absynthe in Prague).
The Gift Shop
I had to bring stuff for my friends and room-mates. My favorite part of the gift-shop was cacao-liqueurs. I bought the “Flowers & Cacao” liqueur and made an excellent Old Fashioned.
Recipe for Dandelion Old Fashioned
- Cacao liqueur (Dandelion)
- Bourbon (Kentucky)
- Cinnamon Liqueur
- Hot water
- Vanilla bean
- Mix up syrup, bourbon, cacao liqueur and cinnamon liqueur.
- Pour into a mug and top it with hot water.
- Cut open the vanilla bean vertically and graze the knife across it to pick up the dust inside on the knife’s edge. Mix this in the mug before serving.
- Use the remaining peel of the vanilla bean for garnish.