Friday, November 14, 2008

Chocolate on the Cheap

On our Chocolate Tours you'll usually find us talking about why we should be spending more money on chocolate. Especially if that money is going to companies (like Askinosie) who reward struggling cacao farmers with good wages and a stake in the outcome of the company. Or going to companies (like Dagoba) who spend money on reforesting plantations with heirloom cacao trees. But when times are tough, we can't all spend $10 or more on an artisan chocolate bar that will be gone in just a few hours.

If you need a chocolate fix and have long since sworn off 50 cent candy bars, we have some suggestions. All of the bars below are under $5 at Chocosphere, and the truffles won't cost more than $1 each. If you buy in bulk, you'll save even more. They are perfect everyday chocolate treats. And that means you can save up and buy the $19.95 Bonnat Porcelana bar for a truly special occasion!

1) E. Guittard ($2.50 for 2 oz bar)
Guittard's premium line of blended chocolate bars are named after the company's founder, Etienne Guittard. Many chocolate lovers do not know that Guittard has been around almost as long as Ghirardelli. They source their own beans, and manufacture the bars in their Burlingame factory. We like the Tsarantana 61%, but the bar is also available in 38% and 72% cacao.

2) Chocolove
($2.95 for 3 oz bar)
We've always enjoyed the smooth, creamy textures of Chocolove bars, based in Boulder, Colorado. Although they use Belgian chocolate and are not a true bean to bar company, they have a wide range of flavor options, including a new higher priced single origin line ("Chocolatour"). As a bonus for gift givers, each bar includes a love poem on the wrapper. We like the 65% "rich dark" bar and the "Chilies and Cherries" bar.

3) Dagoba ($2.68 for 2 oz bar)
If you're committed to eating organic, Dagoba is an excellent choice that is kind to your wallet. In fact, you'll often see them on sale at Whole Foods for just $2/bar. Given founder Frederick Schilling's fondness for chocolate "alchemy," there is a wide variety of flavors to choose from: seeds, superfruit, lavender, mint, lime and their most popular "xocolatl." We like the "beaucoup berries" and even include it on our Chocolate and Wine Tour. Dagoba also has a single origin line that is higher priced at $3.95/bar.

4) Ghirardelli Milk Luxe
($3.95 for 3 oz bar)
Most tourists can't leave San Francisco without a Ghirardelli souvenir, or at least a visit to Ghirardelli Square. San Francisco's oldest chocolate maker, Ghirardelli has kept pace with its artisan competitors by offering their "Intense Dark" line and the new "Milk Luxe." If you have a milk chocolate lover in the family, we recommend the Crisp Milk Luxe bar - like a Nestle crunch bar, but much better.

5) Scharffen Berger ($4.15 for 3 oz bar)
Scharffen Berger bars are the most expensive on this list, but they are still well below our $5 threshold. And like Dagoba, Scharffen Berger often discounts the bars at stores like Whole Foods. Since bars can last up to a year, it makes sense to stock up. Your money will buy you a high quality artisan, small batch chocolate bar, made right in their Berkeley factory from a blend of cacao beans. A favorite on our Chocolate Tours is the Nibby bar, available in milk (41%) or dark (62%).

6) Whole Foods 365 ($2.19 or 3 oz bar)
Whole Foods, Safeway and Trader Joes, among others, are getting into the chocolate scene with their own private label brands. No surprise, the Whole Foods bar is one you can feel good about eating. They work with a co-op of small-scale farmers in the Dominican Republic, and say they pay a premium to guarantee organic production. But the chocolate itself it actually made in Switzerland, which means a bigger carbon footprint than some of the other brands we've recommended.

7) Leonidas (truffles approximately $1 apiece)
The Belgians invented filled chocolates, and Leonidas is just the place to go for those creamy, luscious treats - all at $34/pound. If this sounds like a lot to you, step into Richart and get your credit card ready. If you're a hazelnut fan, we recommend anything with praline or gianduja. Their buttercreams are always a big hit on our Chocolate Tours.

7) See's (filled chocolates approximately 50 cents each)
You crave something sweet and a 75% cacao bar is just not going to do it for you. Chances are a See's is right around the corner. Their filled chocolates are priced at an amazing $15/pound - plus they'll always give you one free sample! You won't find any cutting edge exotic flavors, but you'll get chocolate the way grandma likes it. That can be a very good thing.

Looking for even more savings? Join one of our Chocolate Tours and you'll get a Gourmet Walks Chocolate Lover Card. This card entitles you to discounts at 8 different Bay Area chocolate shops, including Scharffen Berger (which also sells Dagoba), Leonidas and Fog City News. Fog City News carries the complete E. Guittard line.


Monday, November 10, 2008

TCHO "Beta" Store Now Open

"Single origin" is the phrase of choice for most fine chocolate makers right now, but not for TCHO. TCHO, founded by Timothy Childs of Wired Magazine, aims to be flavor-driven. This is good news for the average chocolate enthusiast who walks into a store like Fog City News and is overwhelmed by eight different varieties of Michel Cluizel plantation bars. They're all the same cacao percentage; how do you know which one to choose?

TCHO's 50 gram tablets (all 70% cacao) are now available in "chocolatey," "fruity," "nutty" and "citrus." The beans come Ghana, Peru and Madagasgar (for now) and are processed right in TCHO's Pier 17 facility. Since Ghirardelli and Guittard have moved East and South, TCHO is actually the only bean-to-bar chocolate factory in San Francisco. Like most small batch American chocolate makers, TCHO says they are committed to working closely with cacao growers to grow the best possible beans while raising their income for the long-terms. That all sounds very good, but you're probably wondering - how is the chocolate?

Customers on my Chocolate and Wine Tour have been loving the "chocolatey" variety, one which TCHO has had ample time to perfect as consumers emailed in their feedback to A nice democratic touch, and I can't help but wonder what the uber-secretive Valhrona would think! While "fruity" was not to my liking, I've been enjoying the "citrus" variety that just came out a few weeks ago. It makes for an interesting comparison to Scharffen Berger, whose signature bars have citrus flavors. For several months now TCHO has been selling the bars online only ($5 apiece), but the big news as of last week is the new "beta store" at Pier 17.

Pier 17 is not particularly close to anything, so think of it as a destination chocolate shop. The tiny office-like space sells all the TCHO bars (now available in a snazzy orange and gold packaging), and cute, simple t-shirts designed to advertise your personal flavor preference. As in "I am chocolatey." Soon they will be selling coffee (Blue Bottle) and hot chocolate drinks as well. The best part for all Gourmet Walks customers is that our new Chocolate Lover Card entitles you to a 10% discount. Sample TCHO, and we'd love to hear what you think!