A lot of chocolate producers these days talk the talk about small batch production, fair trade farming practices, and cocoa content. They dress up their bars in pretty printed papers and charge exorbitant prices. But one new store in the Mission is actually walking the walk: and it's all there for you to see in their bean to bar chocolate factory.
I'm talking about Dandelion Chocolate and yup, they're actually making chocolate right there on Valencia Street . Well, first owners Cameron Ring and Todd Masonis and other Dandelion chocolate makers travel the world to source their beans, most recently visiting the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. There they work with small batch farmers to choose the beans—which the farmers have fermented and dried—that will be brought back to San Francisco.
The rest of the production all happens in house. The beans are sorted, with any rocks or cracked beans thrown away, then roasted. In fact Dandelion chocolate built their own roasting machine which roasts the beans at a low temperature and speed to bring out the natural flavors of the cocoa. The roasted beans are then put in a machine which uses air to separate the shell from the nib. Those nibs, which are 100% cocoa, will mostly go on to become chocolate, though you may have tasted a few in Almanac Brewing's Biere de Chocolat.
The next step is where the beans begin to look like chocolate, and where a lot of chocolate goes south. Instead of adding extra flavors or ingredients like vanillin or cocoa liqueur, Dandelion chocolate crushes their cocoa nibs with just one ingredient: sugar. The nibs are put in a machine called a melanger, which is essentially a barrel with big stone rollers. The nibs are crushed for three days, eventually turning into smooth melted chocolate.
Before you try this at home, know that chocolate isn't naturally shelf stable. The crystals need to be aligned in a process called tempering, in which they're agitated and cooled until they set. Once the chocolate is stable, the chocolate makers pour it into molds. Once dry, each bar is hand wrapped in gold foil. The foiled wrapped bars are then wrapped again in a thick paper that Dandelion has specially silk screened in India.
At this point, the bars are ready for eating. From fruity to smokey, each one has specific tasting notes, which the bar's label explains (though if you want a full rundown, it's even better to ask someone at the shop.) Most of Dandelion's chocolate is sold as bars, but some is taken by pastry chef Phil Ogiela and turned into the sweet confections laid out in the pastry case. There is everything from Flourless Chocolate Cake ($4.65) to Crispy Chocolate-Hazelnut Pralines ($1.75) to tempt you, and a short menu of hot chocolates to wash them all down.
Click through the slideshow above to see the chocolate making in action, as well as a close up on the pastries.