Bean-to-bar chocolate is tough to do authentically, and other than TCHO, S.F. hasn't had a local B2B producer of note since Scharffen Berger shut down their facility, but here's some good news: Dandelion is a weed worth watching. Since their start in an East Palo Alto garage, these chocolatiers have moved to the Dogpatch and are prepping to open to the world in the Mission this summer. In the meantime, you can buy their "Small Batch" bars in stores.
They "roast, crack, sort, winnow, grind, conch, and temper" the beans they buy from around the world, then wrap them up in classic golden wrappers,number them by batch, initial them by hand, and send them out to eat.
As with any small-batch product, there are huge variations between batches, so here are our takes on three:
Batch No.1: 70 percent Colombia 2011 Harvest
Nice snap to the break, no air bubbles in the darkness. The initial flavor is tannic with a real roasted note, rustic and rich. Flavors soften in assertiveness at the mid- to late- palate. There's a creaminess and a touch of vanilla, and I do get the "ending like an Oreo cookie" promised in the label notes: a mix of chocolate and cream. The chocolate closes with a lasting dusty tannic finish, without being overpowering. Rich and comforting. A warm chocolate robe to wrap yourself up in. Like exceptional hot chocolate made in a double boiler with heavy cream -- Angelinas in Paris comes to mind. OUR FAVORITE.
Batch No. 4: 70 percent Sambirano, Madagascar
Modestly paler color. Nice break, but a few pinholes this time. Rustic start with a note of prune in liqueur moves rapidly to red fruit; dark cherry, boysenberry, even cassis, with a hint of tamarind. Soft finish, almost velvety, but not as lasting as the last. Tiny tips of cherry continue to spring in the mouth even after the chocolate is gone.
Batch No. 5: 70 percent Upala, Costa Rica
Back to darkness. Fewer pinholes here than the last but not pristine (small-batch variance). First notes are of heavy cream, then tannin, then a lightly burnt component of roasted beans, moving to coffee, to a light menthol/eucalyptus component hanging at the back. A bit drying. Our least favorite, but La Tache has a lot of the eucalyptus/menthol/mint thing that puts me off, and it's one of the top three wines in the world, so who's to say?