The Bay of Chocolate
It was the heady days of 1849 when a young Frenchman arrived in San Francisco to seek his fortune panning for gold. Instead, like many gold-mining hopefuls, Étienne Guittard inadvertently found his path leading elsewhere. In the young days of the Wild West fortunes were to be made, not so often from the fabled quest for gold, but by supplying miners and the families that followed with the staples and little luxuries of everyday life. On the advice of shopkeeper friends Guittard opened a store purveying tea, coffee, yeast powder and chocolate.
For Guittard, a number of factors contributed to his business success. San Francisco naturally possessed the perfect climate for manufacturing chocolate. The deep waters of San Francisco Bay’s port and its location close to the equatorial climes where cacao beans flourish were ideal. Large ships arrived regularly heavily laden with commodities from the Far East, the East Indies, South Pacific Islands and the western side of South America and Central America.
With the sheer amount of chocolate Guittard’s little shop was moving, it didn’t take long for him to decide to dedicate himself exclusively to the sweet specialty. He became part of a generation of Bay Area chocolate and coffee movers and shakers that included MJB Coffee, Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, Hills Bros. Coffee and Folgers Coffee.
Today Guittard Chocolate Company is still laser-focused on quality chocolate, just like it has been for nearly 150 years. At their Burlingame headquarters and factory a whir of activity permeates the rich chocolatey air. Conveyer belts chug along overhead transporting cocoa liquor while colossal melting kettles heat and melangers churn. Employees clad head to toe in white garments package, pour, test, conch, refine and temper the sweet confection. The bustle of activity at the Guittard factory reflects what they’re about today—a blend of heritage and innovation. Over the decades they’ve remained agile, pivoting to primarily sell directly to the food industry and leading the chocolate industry’s Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund. As fifth-generation chocolate maker Amy Guittard says, “Guittard Chocolate is all about an old-school approach in a really innovative way.”
Other local chocolate makers and innovators have also arrived and thrived in the region’s “Bay of Chocolate.”
Campbell’s Snake & Butterfly is making a name for itself with its signature sparkly, hand-painted truffles. They are the South Bay’s first bean-to-bar chocolate makers, and the entire chocolate-making process happens start to finish right in the store. Founder Celeste Walker’s mother, Debbie Regis, joined her daughter in the business and is excited about where Snake & Butterfly is headed. “The cornerstones of our philosophy are quality chocolate and sustainability,” said Regis. To that end, they upcycle book pages and scrapbooking paper as chocolate bar wrappers, provide meaningful work opportunities for young adults with developmental disabilities and source their cacao beans ethically, paying farmers fair trade prices.
In nearby Los Gatos, Chocolate Dream Box showcases continental and New World chocolate confectionery traditions. From the case, you can travel the world of chocolate with Belgian style caramel-filled truffles, French-syle framboise ganache truffles, chewy English toffee and American turtles. Each tempting bite-sized collection vies for attention alongside owner Holly Westbrook’s signature chocolate heart boxes. Westbrook trained at the world-renowned French L’École Valrhona and is pretty particular when it comes to her chocolate. “It absolutely matters where your chocolate comes from. Flavor profile is totally dependent on where the bean was sourced.”
Chocolate curator Sunita de Tourreil’s visually voluptuous pocketsized shop is lined with little tubes of chocolate samples along one wall. Arrayed up and down an adjacent wall are small-batch, bean-to-bar chocolate bars. A former scientist turned proprietor of the Palo Alto–based The Chocolate Garage, Sunita is on a mission with her chocolate. She was inspired to start The Chocolate Garage when she became acquainted with the Grenada Chocolate Company, the first small-batch cooperative to go entirely bean-to-bar in a country of origin. Sunita calls chocolate that passes her criteria “happy chocolate.” “For me, happy chocolate is the combination of very high quality, delicious, well-executed, really good beans, masterfully turned from bean to bar.” She continues, “When sourcing chocolates, I look at what the supply chain looks like. How much does the farmer make? How many intermediaries are there?”
A nostalgic holdover from the baby boomer days, Preston’s Candy & Ice Cream shop makes chewy peanut brittle, luscious Rocky Road fudge and many other chocolate delights in small batches on vintage equipment. Stepping into their workspace on Broadway in Burlingame you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a time capsule. Antique patinated copper kettles hang high on the wall while a giant candy cooker-mixer simmers aromatic chocolate. On a warming table brought over from a See’s Chocolate factory shuttered back in the 1970s, a mint fondant for thin mint chip ice cream is folded and layered with dark chocolate. Upstairs glacé apricots are dipped in Guittard’s dark chocolate and molded chocolate turkeys are filled by hand.
With abundant options to choose from, Silicon Valley chocolate enthusiasts can head in any direction to find distinctive, decadent chocolate. Whether you’re looking for bean-to-bar, fair trade, small-batch or nostalgic chocolatey favorites from childhood, you will find it right here in the Bay Area of chocolate makers and masters.