San Francisco Chocolates to Melt Your Heart
There’s no shortage of superlatives to describe San Francisco, but the city’s chocolate tradition definitely deserves a spot at the top of the list. If your travel plans take you to the City by the Bay this Valentine’s Day, indulge yourself and your sweetie with a modern take on this 2,000-year-old treat.
The Latin name for the cacao plant translates to the “food of the gods,” a fitting designation for such an ethereal flavor. Chocolate earned its place as a symbol of romance after Hernán Cortés brought it back to Spain following his conquest of the Aztec Empire, and with its reputation as an aphrodisiac, it remains one of the most popular Valentine’s Day gifts. Initially reserved for royals and people of means and importance, chocolate’s popularity soon spread to the masses. Today’s producers sell their wares online too, so you can resupply your favorites long after the Valentine’s roses wilt.
The granddaddy of San Francisco chocolatiers, Domingo Ghirardelli began selling confections out of a tent in 1849 when his dreams of striking it rich in the gold rush failed to come true. Fire destroyed that early business, but Ghirardelli quickly reorganized his assets into the beginnings of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company in 1852. By 1893, business had grown so much he acquired the Fisherman’s Wharf manufacturing location known today as Ghirardelli Square, which achieved National Historic Register status in 1982 and today houses restaurants and retail shops. Though you can purchase Ghirardelli’s chocolate at your local grocery store pretty much anywhere in the country, it’s infinitely more fun (and much more romantic with two) to visit the festive atmosphere of Ghirardelli Square and get it from the original source.
Whereas Ghirardelli prides itself on maintaining the tradition in its chocolate goodness, Tcho bills itself as “New American Chocolate,” boldly presenting the unadorned flavors inherent in cacao with its PureNotes dark chocolate line. Pronounced like the first syllable of chocolate, Tcho operates the only bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturing facility in the city. You can take a free tour of the production line, which combines vintage European machines with cutting edge technology, at Pier 17 on the Embarcadero to sample the flavor intensity of this artisan New Age chocolate.
Another relative newcomer to the San Francisco chocolate scene, Poco Dolce produces chocolate that falls to the “savory side of sweet.” In 2010, the Aztec Chili Tile was a finalist in the chocolate category of the Good Food Awards, recognizing the company’s commitment to using responsibly sourced ingredients and sustainable production practices. If standard milk chocolate strikes you as too sweet, you’ll especially appreciate Kathy Wiley’s imaginative chocolate pairings, which include sea salt, olive oil and Chinese five spice. You can visit the production kitchen and retail store at 2419 Third Street in the Dogpatch neighborhood.
Other longstanding San Francisco chocolate proprietors include Teuscher Chocolates of Switzerland, which imports all of its preservative-free products from the family-owned and -operated factory in Zurich, and See’s Chocolates, beloved throughout the West for its old-fashioned chocolates and other candies. CocoaBella in the Marina District collects small-batch artisan chocolates from around the world. Among the 175 different chocolates are some from Bay-area locals Michael Recchiuti, known for his herbal flavor infusions and artistic finishes, and Michael Mischer, master of the filled chocolate known as “pralinen” in his native German.
If the dizzying number of options seems overwhelming, you can sign up for the San Francisco Gourmet Chocolate Tour with Gourmet Walks and let them introduce you to the favorite, the best-known, the most unusual, and the up-and-comers of San Francisco chocolatiers, adding your own superlatives to this sweetest of lists.