Friday, June 14, 2013

Cocoa + Sugar = Heaven (aka Dandelion Chocolate)

Cocoa + Sugar = Heaven (aka Dandelion Chocolate)
Simplicity really is best.

Dandelion Chocolate combines cocoa beans and sugar to produce bars of extraordinary character and complexity.

Simple and Pure.

And when I write cocoa beans and sugar, I mean ONLY cocoa beans and sugar.  No preservatives, stabilizers, or other unpronounceable additives.  That is what makes it so great.  I love the fact that their chocolate is so simple.  The founders, Todd and Cam, go old school on this recipe and it pays off.  In fact, in less than three years they have moved from their personal garage shop to their Mission District Factory and Café.  And just walking into their new café in the Mission District of San Francisco is ethereal.  You are hit with a wave of chocolate air that carries you past the chairs and tables to a small counter filled with rich pastries and luxurious beverages.  Three types of hot cocoa can’t be bad.

Let’s start with the chocolate.
Everything about Dandelion Chocolate says quality and care.  The company purchases the raw cocoa beans directly from the farmer.  In many cases, team members have visited the farm and met the workers. They ensure that the farmers are getting a fair price for their beans and that the farms are up to Dandelion’s quality standards. Once back at the factory, they keep the beans from different farms separated because the flavor of the beans varies widely.  Todd explained that chocolate can differ for many reasons even within one farm. 
The beans are cleaned, roasted, and sorted in-house. Dandelion Chocolates are made in small batches, variant on the location and farm from which the beans originated. The labels reflect specific information about the origin and flavor of the chocolate, which is unique to each batch. Each bar is made by hand.

Just like wine, if you find a harvest that you love, buy a lot.  Unfortunately, the shelf-life of chocolate is not as long as wine, so you will just have to enjoy it.  (Darn.)

Recipe for success: perseverance
Obviously, this labor intensive process in difficult and expensive. As such, Dandelion Chocolate is one of the few bean-to-bar chocolate companies in the Bay Area.  The company was created by two friends, Todd Masonis and Cameron Ring, who founded and sold Plaxo, a personal online address book and forerunner to social networking in 2008. Afterwards, they decided to explore the world of chocolate.  They started by experimenting in a garage and building their own equipment when off-the-shelf wouldn’t work (so Silicon Valley).  A year later, they decided to make a company out of their experimentation.  Growth has been steady and they have learned a lot along the way.  When they opened their café last year, the incredibly fast growth was difficult to manage.  The owners did not have experience running a café.  When the WSJ ran an article near the holidays in 2012, sales skyrocketed.  They had just launched their café and basically sold out. 

The founders now balance economies of scale and their small product line.  For instance, large quantities of pre-printed labels are not feasible since batch sizes vary depending on the raw materials provided directly from the farmers.  Thus, they buy in bulk when feasible and then move production and finishing in house.  They also try to use sustainable materials from high quality sources.  For example, Dandelion has the wrappers made in India from recycled shirts!  The simple, elegant designs are perfectly fitting for the products. 

A recent development: the café invites local guest pastry chefs to transform the chocolate into decadent desserts.

Dandelion Chocolate  740 Valencia Street SF CA 

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