See you all next year!
See you all next year!
Tucked in the back corner of our factory on Valencia street, through double doors leading down a narrow hallway, lies a 12×12 foot tiled room, the contents and activities of which are largely unseen and perpetually enveloped by the sweet nutty scent of browning butter and baking brownies. This is the Dandelion Chocolate kitchen.
While visitors can watch the production team sort beans, crack, winnow, temper, and wrap bars in our open factory space, the process of making pastries is less visible. As a member of our small but mighty pastry team, I can assure you the days are long, the pace is fast, and the work is tiring. Each week, our team produces and sells over 1800 pastries, 1200 marshmallows, and 47 gallons of hot chocolate. Nothing compares, however, to the adrenaline rush of a busy Saturday stocking the café with fresh treats. Here at Dandelion, Saturday is gameday: a attempt to satisfy the deluge of locals, tourists, regulars, first dates, families, and anyone else seeking a chocolate fix on a weekend afternoon. What follows is an account of what a busy Saturday looks like for the Dandelion kitchen.
Valencia Street is deserted. I unlock the front door and see that Lisa, our executive pastry chef, has already arrived. Mary, Dandelion’s other pastry assistant, walks in right behind me.
Aprons on. Ovens on. Towels folded and stacked. Sanitizer bucket filled. Production list double-checked, tasks assigned, and taped to the back of the Hobart mixer. Nibbun dough and marshmallows pulled from the fridge. Let the morning bake begin!
First in the oven go brownies, Nutella-stuffed cookies, malt cookies, tart shells, and graham cracker squares. Mary puts the European Drinking chocolate on a double boiler, and pulls logs of nibby oatmeal cookie dough from the freezer to cut (these are the small cookies we serve with every drink). I start making a triple batch of our Double Shot espresso cookie, and Lisa cuts small squares of red velvet beet cake.
Our first round bake is done, and the kitchen island is open for bun business! Mary rolls out the dough, which has risen overnight in the fridge. She spreads it with chocolate custard, brown sugar, nibs, and starts rolling.
Meanwhile, Lisa fills tart shells with coconut ganache and lime filling, and prepares the rest of the components of the Chef’s Tasting menu. Nib tuile is baked, panna cotta and PBJ cups are portioned, and mini s’mores are assembled.
Nibbuns, now rolled and sliced, are set on top of the oven to proof. I spread malt cookies with malt ganache, and top each graham cracker with a fluffy square marshmallow that we piped into silicone molds the day before.
Mary makes a quick batch of mascarpone cream, a cloudlike blend of mascarpone, sugar, and egg yolks gently folded into a french meringue. She dips each circular ladyfinger in decaf espresso and layers soaked cookies, chocolate cremeux, and mascarpone cream into each Weck jar.
Lisa weighs each three ounce portion of toffee, preparing at least four trays for what we’re all convinced is going to be the busiest Saturday yet. We each make predictions for that day’s sales, based on factors like weather, time of the year, nearby festivals, and just that general gut feeling—Lisa’s got a knack for predicting our busy days, and she’s pretty convinced today will be nuts. Bring it on!
Thirty minutes to opening means it’s almost showtime. At this point Nibbuns are in the oven and every pastry receives its final touch-up. Tarts are garnished, smores are filled with ganache, dulce de leche bars are salted, and tiramisus are dusted with chocolate. I open the freezer to see how many frozen praline mousses we’ve got to start, hoping we didn’t sell out last night. Luckily, six jars remain in the hotel pan. I check the production list and Mary is in charge of making mousse today. I put a star next to it so she knows that project should take priority. Mary quickly butters and sugars the Nibbuns and I bring up the European drinking chocolate before we officially open at 10:00am.
Coffee! One of our opening barista rockstars delivers two pour overs and a cappuccino to the kitchen. The adrenaline that fueled the two-hour morning bake is happily replaced with caffeine. While scarfing down hard boiled eggs or a cup of yogurt, we each review our production lists. I mentally organize my day based on prioritization, kitchen space, and equipment required for certain tasks, and appropriately timing projects that require several steps.
With production in full swing, these next few hours are our most efficient. Before the line is out the door later in the day, we focus on longer-term projects to stock up for the days ahead, such as brownie batters, graham cracker dough, chocolate syrup, candied nibs, and custards.
We hear a familiar chime and receive our first message of the day on our iPad; we read that someone just bought 25 Double Shot cookies for a party. Mary grabs the espresso powder from the pantry shelf, and I know she’s already on top of making another batch.
Our kitchen iPad, which hangs from a pastry shelf under the measuring cups, is the kitchen’s lifeline for several reasons. First, it plays our much needed Justin Timberlake albums, Yacht Rock Pandora mix, or NPR to ensure maximum kitchen efficiency. More important is its main function as a communication tool with front-of-house staff. They text us when they are running low on a certain pastry or drink so we can restock their supply, and we text them with updates of when a item we’re preparing might be ready to sell.
In the middle of scaling out malt dough, I open the lid of our baking soda container to find a measly pinch at the bottom, and no back-up bin on the pantry shelf. One of us has to go buy some– we need this dough for tomorrow. Lisa offers to run to our local market, Bi-Rite, for baking soda and lunch. Now is as good a time as any to take a short break.
Fueled by Bi-Rite sandwiches (try the Vegan Hippy!) scarfed down in our aprons on the mezzanine stairs, we return to the kitchen to find more messages on the iPad from the café (“8 Nutella cookies! 4 Brownie flights! Any Nib Infused Whip Cream back there?”). It’s that time of day when things really start getting crazy– the growing line of customers likely won’t disappear until we lock the doors nine hours from now.
“Out of marshmallows!” the iPad reads. “Double Euro please! Someone bought all the toffee!” quickly follows. Inevitably, the timing couldn’t be any more inconvenient. To heat another batch of European drinking chocolate, we’ll need a third burner, and all three are currently being used for time consuming projects: I’m boiling sugar syrup to make marshmallows, Mary is stirring a large pot of sugar, butter, and sweetened condensed milk to make dulce de leche, and Lisa is tempering chocolate, which requires heating and cooling chocolate to exact temperatures.
Every work surface is covered: sheets of toffee, marshmallow molds, bowls of flour and eggs, kitchen scales and thermometers cover every surface. Right when my marshmallow syrup reaches 261° exactly, I lift the pot from the burner, yelling the requisite “hot pot behind!” as I bring it to the Hobart mixer and stream it into the whipping egg whites. At the same moment, Lisa’s chocolate has reached 34° and she immediately spreads the chocolate onto a full sheet tray of toffee, working quickly while the chocolate is in temper. The dulce de leche Mary has been stirring for the past 25 minutes finally reaches the right thickness and she uses a spatula to spread it onto three baked crusts. After a minute or two of whipping, my marshmallow has reached maximum volume and I pull the large bowl from the mixer, fill piping bags with the warm white goop, and start filling molds, working quickly before the marshmallow stiffens inside the bags. At this exact moment, a shoulder-high delivery of milk arrives at the door of the kitchen, a timer goes off, and we notice the dishwashing machine has flooded again. Never a dull moment in the Dandelion kitchen!
At this point in the day, major production projects have been completed. We’re working on a large second bake to stock the cafe with enough pastries to sell until 10pm closing: 35 more Nutella, 15 more malt cookies, 11 more brownie flights, and a few more sliced logs of free treats go in the oven.
We bring up the fresh cookies and brownies, and weigh four more trays of toffee for the cafe. Lisa writes a production list for tomorrow, Mary writes a list of available backup pastries on our kitchen dry erase board, and I cut half sheets of parchment, refill salt and vanilla extract containers, and wrap, label, and date everything. I see we’re running low on cinnamon, and add it to our pantry order list. Then—at last—it’s time to scrub down. All surfaces, doors, and appliances in the kitchen get a hot, soapy bath, followed by a towel dry. We take out the trash, sweep the floors, and hand wash our chocolate-and-marshmallow-spattered aprons.
Before hopping on my bike to meet friends for dinner, I grab a warm Nutella-stuffed cookie from behind the counter, and take a large, gooey, deeply satisfying bite. Despite being constantly surrounded by chocolate, sugar, butter and the treats created from their divine fusion, I still—without exception—eat dessert every single day, and today I’m eating it first.
Kaylen Baker—one of our café baristas—takes a look at hot chocolate through the eyes of one of history’s original gastronomes, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.
It’s hard to forget your first hot chocolate. I sipped mine inside Angelina’s, off the rue de Rivoli in Paris, where Marcel Proust allegedly dined. I’m talking about the thick stuff, not the scalding, sandy-textured, cocoa-water of the collective American youth (though that’s just as hard to forget; the smell of chlorine and campfire comes to my mind). I still remember steam coming from my cup, the bowl of whipped cream, and a blanketing sensation as molten chocolate rolled across my tongue and hit my taste receptors, flooding my brain with sweet signals. The moment felt holy.
Since then, I’ve spent five years hunting down and devouring this beverage in all its variations: sipping chocolate, chocolat chaud à l’ancienne, European drinking chocolate, even “l’africain” (a perplexing nod to colonial imperialism). Its modes are endless: slurped from bowls, chewed with cinnamon-sugar churros, flavored with strawberries, deconstructed with a meltable chocolate spoon. Dripping, thick-skinned, coagulated, and cooling, hot chocolate takes so many forms. But there’s one version that continues to evade me, and my search—like Proust’s—is futile, because I’m looking for a hot chocolate from a lost time. Let me explain.
In 1825 a Frenchman named Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin published a book about food. Or rather, a book about survival and the human spirit, using food as both the key and the keyhole (we’ll assume that the door opens a forbidden pantry) to a happy life. He called it The Physiology of Taste, or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy, and he called himself the Professor (he was not). If you haven’t heard of Brillat-Savarin, you’ve at least heard his famous phrase, “Tell me what you eat, and I shall tell you what you are.”
A country lawyer, amateur violinist, and suppertime storyteller, Brillat-Savarin lived long enough to witness 71 years of drastic change in France: the birth of fine-dining, the invention of the guillotine, bread riots, bloody riots, the death of the monarchy, rolling heads, and the rise of haute cuisine. Amidst all this, Brillat-Savarin jotted down alimentary observations. He made talking about lunch trendy long before we started to Instagram our plates.
But what does he have to do with hot chocolate? Well, by this time, the drink had already leaked across the continent, carried over the mountains by monks and a princess, one Anne of Austria. It caught like the bubonic plague, but this time people praised God. In fact, in 1753 Swedish botanist Karl von Linné dubbed the tree cacao theobroma*—“food of the gods.”
According to Brillat, the Italians drank it bitter, while New World señoras drank it during mass, under the chagrined eye of their bishop. King Louis XVI drank chocolate made by the pharmacist M. Debauve of rue des Saintes-Pères, 25. (His shop still stands. I ate a truffle as I left, it was pralinée.)
Brillat-Savarin drank chocolate for breakfast, claiming it had two main functions: to aid in happy bowel movements, and regulate feminine beauty. This prescription may sound absurd to us, with our indoor plumbing, fiber supplements, and vast array of grocery-aisle lipsticks. Yet in Brillat’s day, when gout and gallstones could take your life if the Jacobins didn’t, the speed of your bowels indicated not only your physical health but a spiritual one. Digestion, said Brillat, “makes us habitually sad or gay, taciturn or talkative, morose or melancholy, without our even questioning it, and especially without our being able to deny it.”
In order to maintain a healthy weight and fight off disease, he recommended breakfasting with “a little meat pie, a cutlet, or a skewered kidney” (yum), then washing it down with “a bowl of Soconusco chocolate.” His version of hot chocolate began by dissolving chocolate, sugar and cinnamon in hot water, then boiling the mixture for 15 minutes, “so that the solution takes on a certain thickness,” and finally leaving it in a porcelain coffee pot overnight to develop a velvet texture. For special ailments he advised add-ins: salep for the gaunt, almond milk for the irritable, orange flower water for the nervous, and amber for the unhappy.
“Because of my scientific enthusiasm and the sheer force of my eloquence,” Brillat-Savarin wrote, “I have persuaded a number of ladies to try this, and although they were convinced it would kill them; they have always found themselves in fine shape indeed, and have not forgotten to give the Professor his rightful due.”
Which brings me to—ah, yes. The ladies. Nothing made Brillat-Savarin happier than sitting across the dinner table from a beautiful woman, engaging in “coquetry.” Though he never married, Brillat fell in love once, but the girl, Louise, wasted away from a poisonous diet. After drinking down a glass of vinegar each morning, she turned skeletal, and died at 18. Thus haunted, Brillat took on the role of beauty consultant, administering hot chocolate to the wives of friends and neighbors.
If we are what we eat, then these were people of exotic hopes, relying on sensual and sensory remedies as an answer to their bodily crises. They were health-crazed monks, monarchs and mademoiselles, peering into murky mugs for balance and beauty. They knew life was short, and drank dessert first.
Today, we still take chocolate hot. I serve about 75 European drinking chocolates on a busy day in our café, and I wonder what Brillat-Savarin would think, were he to walk in and order one. We’ve simplified ours by eliminating cinnamon and vanilla to let the flavor of the Camino Verde bean shine through, and use milk instead of water. I imagine the silky-soft, dense consistency of our European remains true to Brillat’s recipe, but this is based purely on gut instinct, and my own affinity for the man.
You see, Brillat-Savarin didn’t include any measurements. He only referenced a “cup,” which could have been an exact volume in 19th century France, or simply a drinking utensil. Furthermore, by omitting quantities for sugar, cinnamon or vanilla, his recipe remains vague and unreliable. I’ve attempted to make his drink at home several times, all with different results. So I shrug, and slug, and will continue to wonder. What I do know is Brillat had a penchant for pure, quality flavors, and from that alone I feel sure he’d deem our European très bon. In fact, judging by the size of his paunch, I expect he’d order a double.
Though Brillat-Savarin would have wandered into Dandelion at breakfast time, we San Franciscans drink chocolate all day long, and often at night, more for pleasure than for potion (though the two remain inextricably linked). We’re a people of practicality, of play, and we expect we’ll live forever. For now, at the end of each day when we fall into theobromine-infused sleep, we dream of firsts sips, lost times, and wake remembering a mishmash of sweet, holy things.
*We now know that theobromine, the bitter alkaloid C7H8N4O found in chocolate, produces certain effects on our nervous system: a rush to the head, sweaty palms, a fluttering, excessive trips to the bathroom—hold on, does this sound a bit like falling in love?
It may only be March, but it sure feels like summer outside. If this warm weather is too soon for your taste, we’ve got just the thing to ease you from the winter blues into these sunny days. Enter our brand new drink: The Cure-All! (We actually love the warm weather, but it’s never a bad time to drink something tasty.)
The Cure-All is an espresso tonic with bitters: a double shot of Four Barrel Friendo Blendo Espresso, a shot of Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic, and a dash of Work Horse Rye Salted Cacao Bitters served over ice in a Gibraltar glass. It’s at once refreshing, energizing, and delicious. It’s effervescent and foamy, citrusy and rich, light and dark.
Friendo Blendo Espresso has a clean citrus acidity and syrupy body, balanced with sweet berry, stone fruit, and dark chocolate notes. This unique profile interacts playfully with Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic Water, which combines the traditional quinine with lemon thyme, rosemary, and carbonated mineral water. The floral mingles with the bitters, resulting in a complex, compact, and satisfying beverage. The bitters, of course, are the Salted Cacao Bitters that came about from a collaboration with Workhorse Rye, and feature (among many other things) cacao from Mantuano, Venezuela.
At various points in their history, all three of these ingredients have been used for their medicinal properties so I thought it’d be fitting to playfully title it “The Cure-All,” and although it is not intended to diagnose, prevent or treat any illness, it is really tasty.
On a side note—since The Cure-All is served in a Gibraltar glass, we will now be able to serve cortados as well!
This holiday season, we are proud to announce our upcoming 2nd Annual 12 Nights of Chocolate, a late night dessert series benefiting the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank. Last year, we raised over 10,000 meals for the hungry and we’re hopeful we can raise even more this year. This season, an inspiring lineup of chefs and connoisseurs will host a series of events celebrating chocolate through desserts, tastings, demonstrations, book signings, and more. The proceeds from each event go to support those in need.
Tuesday, December 2nd 7-9PM
3-Course Dessert Tasting
Hosted by Ramon Perez of Puur Chocolat, Matt Sicilliano of Michael Mina, and Rob Easter of Workhorse Rye
Ramon Perez of Puur Chocolat and Matt Sicilliano of Michael Mina join forces to create three courses of chocolate desserts alongside bitters crafted by the newly launched whiskey and bitters operation, Workhorse Rye.
Wednesday, December 3rd 7-9pm
Marla Bakery & Sean Ehland Present
Buffet at the Hotel du Chocolat
Marla Bakery and Sean Ehland present a sweet and savory evening with sparkling wine pairings by Chris Deegan of Sacred Thirst. Come try inventive treats like ‘Molé in a Bowlé’ as well as a chocolate fountain.
Thursday, December 4th 7:30-9pm
An Evening with Alice Medrich
Dessert Flight and Flavor Flours Book Signing
Alice Medrich shares her latest culinary breakthrough in her new book, Flavor Flours, through a chocolate dessert flight using Dandelion Chocolate. Flavor Flours breaks tradition with classic baking and contemporary gluten-free baking as we know it. Alice’s insights present a new world of flavor for every curious baker and passionate eater, not just for those living gluten-free. Books will be available for purchase and signing at this event.
Friday, December 5th 7:30-9pm
Hosted by Stephen Durfee, Chef-Instructor at CIA with CIA alums Lisa Vega of Dandelion Chocolate and Sharon Wang of Sugarbloom Bakery.
Join us for a fun, informal dessert party hosted by CIA instructor and alums.
Saturday, December 6th 7-9pm
Chocolate and Cheese Pairing
Hosted by Alex Ourieuf, Vagabond Cheese and Jenna Nicolas of Dandelion Chocolate
In this private event, Alex Ourieff of Vagabond Cheese and our very own Jenna Nicolas will present the ultimate combination of sweet and savory by pairing our various single origin chocolates with cheeses hailing from the US and Europe.
Sunday, December 7th8-10pm
Tosca & Tartine: A Match Made in Heaven
Hosted by Tosca Cafe and Tartine Bakery
Tosca Café will be offering four to five playful ‘Choc’tails to be enjoyed with sweet and savory treats from Tartine Bakery & Cafe.
Monday, December 8th 7-9PM
Happy Hour with Stones Throw and Almanac Beer
Hosted by Jason Halverson and Tara Lewis of Stones Throw and Almanac
Join us for an informal happy hour featuring sweet and savory bites by Stones Throw alongside a selection of inspired and seasonal aged beers from Almanac Beer Company.
Tuesday, December 9th
Bring your cans and nonperishable food by for donation to the SF-Marin Food Bank. Receive a free hot chocolate in exchange for donated items.
Wednesday, December 10th 7:30-9pm
Willy Wonka Wednesday!
Cozy up in the cafe for a live showing of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, complete with caramel corn, and hot chocolate.
Thursday, December 11th 7-9pm
An evening of holiday treats with Bi-Rite Creamery
Hosted by Anne Walker and Kris Hoogerhyde of Bi-Rite Creamery
Anne Walker and Kris Hoogerhyde will give a Buche de Noel demonstration made with a special limited-edition batch of Dandelion Milk Chocolate. After learning how to make one of the most traditional chocolatey baked goods, attendees will finish the evening with sparkling wine and treats.
Friday, December 12th 7-9pm
An Homage to the Classics
with William Werner, Bill Corbett, and Matt Tinder
Chef William Werner, San Francisco magazine’s 2014 Best Pastry Chef, has made waves with his ever changing sweet and savory menu at Craftsman and Wolves. For this special evening, Bill Corbett, Executive Pastry Chef for The Absinthe Group, and Matt Tinder, Pastry Chef for The Restaurant at Meadowood, will join him in creating a 3-course tasting menu inspired by their favorite French classics and featuring Dandelion Chocolate, all paired with wines selected by David Lynch, Sommelier/Owner of St. Vincent.
Saturday, December, 13th 10-11AM
Cookies for Santa
Christmas Cookie Decorating
Hosted by Lisa Vega of Dandelion Chocolate
Our very own Lisa Vega will close our 12 Nights of Chocolate with a morning of Christmas Cookie Decorating. Wee ones and their chaperone are invited to our Mezzanine for a hands-on, frosting-filled morning, complete with hot chocolate and marshmallows.
Recommended for kids aged 5-12.
About six months ago, we started making chocolate out of a cacao from a farm and fermentary in Ecuador called Camino Verde. Internally, it’s become a bit of a favorite, but our café manager Jenna had an experience that prompted a deeper dive into the beans’ chemical makeup, inspiring a love letter to the chocolate itself.
From my culinary career, I recall the things that made me really stop in awe of their simplicity and power: oysters, anise, egg yolk, white soy sauce, cheese—things that are imprinted in my mind for the way they make me feel when I eat them. When something makes you stop dead in your tracks and pay attention, it makes you remember with your whole being. I was struck by this feeling—for reasons I couldn’t identify—the very first time I tasted the beans from Camino Verde, a farm and fermentary in Ecuador.
As a 70% bar, the chocolate from Camino Verde is interesting: chocolatey in a classic way, but simultaneously particular, and characteristic of a single origin chocolate bar. It’s easy to like.
The day that I tasted the 100% Camino Verde bar, though, a part of me shifted. This is 100% cacao. No sugar. It’s a different animal. As I tasted and ate, there was an overwhelming feeling of heat and excitement in my brain. Yes, I felt it in my brain. The saturation of flavor on my palate was intense: sunflower butter, hearth baked sourdough crust, and most importantly: chocolate. I became addicted to the experience of eating it. But how could I explain it? What made that feeling happen?
Fortunately for me, there is some very compelling science that validates my admitted addiction to this bar. Greg D’Alesandre, our Chocolate Sourcerer, sent the beans to Adam Kavalier Ph.D—a plant scientist and the man behind Undone Chocolate in Washington D.C.—to get some chemical testing done out of curiosity. Camino Verde ranked peculiarly high on a few of these tests, as seen below.
Key: Camino Verde (CV), Papua New Guinea (LAE), Liberia (LIB), La Red (LR), Madagascar (MD), Maya Mountain (MM)
Palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) – a fatty acid that has been shown to bind to brain receptors, inhibiting chronic pain and inflammation. This compound has been shown to have a similar effect on the cannabinoid receptors in the brain, is an anticonvulsant, and has neuroprotective properties.
Theobromine– derived from theobroma, the name of the genus of the cacao tree. It is a basic nitrogen- containing compound found in chocolate, tea leaves, and kola nuts. Has a similar but lesser effect than caffeine. Theobromine also impacts HDL (good cholesterol) and LDL (bad cholesterol), increasing HDL and decreasing LDL oxidation, basically improving the cholesterol profile. Interestingly, theobromine content naturally diminishes the longer a bean is roasted, which suggests that the the Camino Verde—which we roast on the longer side—must have an even more impressive amount of theobromine than this chart shows.
Procyanidin– a condensed tannins class of flavonoids. Procyanidins are the principal vasoactive polyphenols in red wine that are linked to reduced risks of coronary heart disease. The antioxidant capabilities are 20 times more powerful than vitamin C and 50 times more potent than vitamin E. Check out the results for Camino Verde (CV) and La Red (LR) on this one-— pretty epic.
Also interesting to note: I haven’t found a published study that indicates there is a dose limit that your metabolism is more or less effective at handling of PEA fatty acid. Maybe I could be a first test subject?! On the other hand, a reporter for Men’s Health—Aaron Gilbreath—recently ran an experiment on himself and chose to eat nothing but chocolate for an entire day. Aiming to match his typical calorie intake through chocolate, Aaron consumed a wide variety of bars but ended up cradling the toilet.
Adam’s lab also identified oleoylethanolamide (OEA) in the cacao, which is especially interesting because it is a neurological compound, an one of the reasons that you cannot overdose on cacao—because the body tightly regulates its accumulation of these naturally occurring compounds in the blood. So, try as you might, there’s only so far you can go.
While I can’t be certain how much of my experience was a direct reaction to the compounds in the bean, it’s exciting to find at least some evidence that may help to explain my experience. There is much research to do, but if we were to hypothesize what compounds contributed to the feeling I got, we’d point to theobromine, which is thought to cause a heightened neurological experience, and PEA, which contributes to a sense of wellbeing (incidentally, it is the same adrenal-related chemical that our bodies produce when we are excited, or falling in love). It has also been shown to increase anandamide activity in the brain. Even the word “anandamide” comes from the Sanskrit word ananda, meaning “bliss,” and anandamide has been popularly pegged the “bliss molecule.” Inside the body, anandamides are cannabinoid neurotransmitters produced by the brain that activate the same receptors as THC. The molecule itself has a similar structure to THC, and both of them slip easily across the blood brain barrier, producing different elevated states—anandamide’s being more mild and short lived. So, there’s that.
Even a little bit of sugar changes the way a certain cacao tastes, and chocolate without sugar at all is an entirely different thing to behold. So many things influence the taste of chocolate, not least of which is cultivation and fermentation. Vicente Norero—a farmer and the proprietor of the Camino Verde farm and fermentary—takes an approach to fermentation that is uniquely controlled, draining the cacao pulp from the beans and reintegrating it with carefully measured mixtures of microorganisms. Sometimes, it’s the little things that make the biggest difference.
On Tuesday June 3rd we will be hosting a sourcing talk about Papua New Guinea in our cafe at 7pm. Greg D’alesandre will be talking about his recent trip to the country to find new sources of cacao. And speaking of cacao from Papua New Guinea…
I’ve been hanging out with William Bostwick, a local beer maker that often works at the small brewery La Cervezeria de MateVeza on 18th St and Church a lot lately. We met a few months back when he was buying a bag of Whole Roasted Madagascar Beans and I asked how he was going to use them. “I’m making beer!” he said, as he pulled out a bag of Far West Fungi mushrooms that smelled like maple syrup. He used the mushrooms and cacao to make a great ale for SF Beer Week.
William is an inventive and enthusiastic beer maker (and writer) that likes to use unusual ingredients in his beer making, which brought him to Dandelion. That beer turned out really well, so I’ve been working with him and playing with new ideas about using cacao in beer making. We’ve discussed how different origins could be used to get different flavors out of the brews and how to best use the beans. His batches are only around for a couple weeks at the longest and are served on tap at La Cervezeria. All of their beers are brewed in just 20 gallon batches, which lets their brewers have fun playing with new ingredients and recipes very often.
Our most recent batch is a South Pacific Stout made with our Papua New Guinea beans called “Cocoa Crisp”. However, it doesn’t come off as a stout. It is very dark in color with a very creamy coconut body and mouthfeel, but it has a very light flavor profile. It’s playfully malty and effervescent with undertones of rich prune and… chocolate! It’s really unique and if I were blindfolded while drinking it, I would think of it as an amber ale; it’s surprisingly light in body for it’s color.
Alright, let’s nerd out for a minute. I’m new to brewing so all of this was very exciting to me. The base of the beer is Maris Otter Barley, which is a traditional British grain known for it’s “bready” sweetness, that William likened to a honey graham cracker. These grains were added to oatmeal (for body) and wood-smoked grains, to emphasize our Papua New Guinea beans’ smokiness, and some dark roasted grains (for color). All of these ingredients make up the “mash” for brewing the beer, to which we then added Papua New Guinea Cacao! We were thinking “S’mores” when we thought up this profile, but the beer ended up being much lighter and fruitier than we imagined!
We ended up adding the PNG beans to the mash whole and cooking the mash below boiling in order to more more gently extract their flavors. Considering the cacao is naturally about %50 fat (cocoa butter), releasing that much fat into beer isn’t great because it has would decrease the head on the beer, so we decided not to crack them. So we essentially steeped them like a tea in the mash.
After we steeped the mash and drained it, we have “wort”. Wort is essentially beer tea. It’s hot, unfermented beer. It’s got tons of sugar in it that’s been extracted from all of the grains and would make a bountiful feast for yeast… so this is the part where we inoculate with yeast! We used a Belgian Trappist Ale Yeast, which ferments with a lot of fruity esters and lending flavor notes of plum, raisin or even caramelized banana. All of these parameters match up with what we’ve gotten out of the cacao in our Papua New Guinea chocolate, so it made sense to use it for the beer. The brew then took about a week to ferment before it was put into kegs (carbonated) and tapped! It’s on tap right now at La Cervezeria if you want to want to go try it!
Our Cacao beans from Papua New Guinea are delicious and unique because of the way that they are dried on the farm using wood burning fires that give them a “campfire smokiness”. PNG has a tendency to be very humid and wet, so drying the beans in the sun, as most farmers do, is out of the question. To make up for this, the build huts over metal pipes in which they build wood fires. Then they put place the beans on racks above these pipes to receive heat and dry. Of course, this is all in a very rural area with limited building resources, so some smoke reaches the beans. This is where the “smokiness” comes from, if you’ve ever been anywhere near a campfire, I don’t have to tell you that wood smoke has a tendency to stick to things. There are A LOT more ins and outs to the growing cacao industry in Papua New Guinea, their processes and practices that is beyond my knowledge, but if you want to know more, Greg D’alesandre (our Bean Sourcerer) just got back from a trip to Papua New Guinea and is conducting a talk about his trip, the farms he visited there, and their practices on June 3rd at our Factory on Valencia Street! The presentation will start at 7pm and include photos and lots of fun information. If you’re interested in beer as well as the chocolate side of all of this, there’s going to be an unofficial “after-party” for the talk at La Cervezeria, where you can try the Cocoa Crisp Papua New Guinea beer! Hope to see you there!
I love coffee. A lot. (It’s even how I met my fiance, but that’s another story). I also love chocolate and the two make a great pair. My experience in coffee is how I got started at Dandelion Chocolate. I got involved with Dandelion through our mutual friends at Four Barrel in January of 2013 and I’ve had a great time helping to develop our drink menu. I’ve experimented with different ingredients, origins and methods of preparation for hot chocolates, mochas and coffees alike and it’s tons of fun to be able to adapt our menu seasonally… or whenever we feel like it.
We already have a variety of drinkable chocolate options and a few Café Mochas made with Four Barrel Friendo Blendo Espresso, combined in ways that we think blend our single origin chocolate with their seasonally varied ‘spro. Four Barrel has been a great partner to us in the past year as we’ve learned and grown into a full fledged chocolate cafe and we think that their coffee and our chocolate go great together. They roast their coffee only a few blocks down from us on Valencia Street here in San Francisco, and their dedication to ethical coffee and education is super rad and pretty similar to our approach to chocolate; light roasts, small batches, single origin, and personal relationships with farmers.
Since opening, we have offered a seasonal rotation of coffees brewed in the french press method. We are now offering single origin coffees brewed in the pour-over method. I think that french press tends to make a cloudy and relatively weak brew in contrast to my personal preference of a strong and clean cup of coffee. French Press produces very pleasant earthiness and silky mouthfeel, but in brewing tends to lose some of the brightness and unique flavors that make our coffee selections really stand out… and that is why we are now offering Four Barrel Coffee brewed via the pour over method.
When making a single cup of coffee, the pour-over method makes a really delicious cup of bright, flavorful brew with a crystal finish and I think makes a great pairing with chocolate. Similar to the way some people pair wines with chocolate or Lisa Vega uses different origins to help certain pastries shine (see: Papua New Guinea S’mores), the unique flavor notes in coffee can pull out flavors in chocolate that one may not have noticed before and vice versa. For this reason we are introducing a seasonally rotating pour over coffee option with a pairing suggestion depending both on the coffee that we are currently serving and the chocolates we are currently making. Instead of combining the Espresso and Hot Chocolate, we want to also show how the can complement each other.
The coffee that we are currently serving is from a co-op farm in Robot Mata, Ethiopia. On its own, this coffee has flavor notes of kiwi, lemon, ginger, green tea, and honey with a very pleasant sweetness that lingers at the back of the palate and followed by a clean finish.
While the flavors of the coffee can stand on its own, when paired with chocolate we get new interesting notes. Our newest bar from Ecuador (Camino Verde), has the quintessential flavor of fudge brownies that many people look for in chocolate and is definitely the mellowest of our bars. Having a couple pieces with the Robot Mata is like putting cream in your coffee. The smooth chocolate melts over your tongue and slightly mutes the brightness in the coffee in a pleasantly sweet texture and mouthfeel that makes me forget that I’m drinking black coffee and eating a 70% dark chocolate.
When paired with our chocolate from Mantuano, Venezuela, the slight fruitiness of the chocolate and the coffee play off of each other resulting in a roasty, dried cherry flavor with cinnamon notes at the end and a buttery mouthfeel. This pairing is definitely spicier and more interesting than the Camino Verde, but it really depends on your preferences or mood as to what you want. I like a square of the mellower chocolate with my coffee in the morning, but enjoy a more fruity pairing in the afternoon or evening, which is especially nice if you’re sharing it with someone. Everyone’s palate is different, so not everyone will get the same tasting notes out of every chocolate or coffee, so these foster great conversation for the coffee or chocolate connoisseur!
If you come in and order a coffee, you can feel free to taste our varieties of chocolate samples on the shelf and think about flavor profiles for yourself and if you find something that you like in particular, you can take home a bar and a bag of the coffee (yes, we sell Four Barrel Coffee Beans!) that we are brewing so you can have the pair that you like at home! Our coffee offerings and pairing suggestions will change seasonally, but each new variety will be chosen thoughtfully with specific pairings in mind. And as always, everyone at Dandelion is more than happy to answer any questions that you might have regarding any of our products or practices.
If you like our Marocchino, this weekend you should stop by Caledonia Alley behind Four Barrel! This little treat is our version of a traditional Northern Italian drink (Drinking Chocolate + Espresso + Nib Whipped Cream), and for this weekend only Four Barrel is serving their interpretation (think bourbon whipped cream)!
Caledonia Alley is a small kiosk that harkens back to 4B’s earlier (build-out) days, and is located directly behind the building in the alley. They’ll only be open from 9am-3pm for a few weekends coming up, during which they are hosting signature drinks from a number of their favorite wholesale accounts (we’re one of ’em!)! This definitely aught to be a fun way to start a weekend morning, so check ’em out!
Gino from Meridian Cacao, Caitlin, Greg and I recently returned from an exploratory sourcing trip to Samoa, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea. Since each country was so different we decided it would not give due credit if we tried to summarize our entire trip in one talk. Instead, every few weeks we will share what we learned about each country’s cocoa industry with photos and stories from our trip as well as tastings.
Please join us in the cafe from 7pm-8pm:
Additionally, Greg, Chiann, Pearl, and Arcelia will be traveling to Camino Verde this May and will do a talk to share what they learn. Tasting will include multiple bars from Camino Verde.
Hope to see you there and stay tuned for blogs about our trips.