San Francisco Bay Area Chocolate Makers: Ghirardelli, Guittard, TCHO, Recchiutti And More
San Francisco: Home of the Artisanal Chocolate
San Francisco is the true American hub of gourmet chocolate makers.
There's something about the climate here — never too hot, never too cold — that makes it perfect for making chocolate. Indeed, chocolate is as native an industry to San Francisco as jeans making, which was started here by Levi Strauss during the Gold Rush.
Ghirardelli Chocolates, now owned by the Swiss chocolate powerhouse Lindt, is the most iconic and well-known of the local chcolate makers.
The Ghirardelli chocolate factory at Ghirardelli Square near Fisherman's Wharf is now a tourist destination with a hotel, gourmet cupcake and wine boutiques, and soon a brasserie from the world-renowned chef Gary Danko. There is still a Ghirardelli Shop and chocolate museum on site, and the Ghirardelli cafe is a pretty good place for an ice cream sundae.
While Ghirardelli is as San Franciscan a brand as they come, it is just the beginning of the chocolate delights you can find here.
Large San Francisco chocolate makers
Guittard, which is actually located in Burlingame 20 minutes south of San Francisco, is America's response to Valhrona chocolate form France. Many people believe that Valhrona is the best baking chocolate available at the local gourmet grocery store, and it is used by many a top chef and pastry chef around the world.
Some believe Guittard to be as good as Valhrona, especially since Guittard started to beef up its cacao contents to make less sweet varieties of chocolate. Guittard is a family business that's been around over 140 years.
See's is the other famous Bay Area chocolate maker. See's is primarily known as a candy maker, but its chocolate is a tasty piece of Bay Area history. No less a man than the investor Warren Buffett is sweet on See's: His Berkshire Hathaway owns the company.
Artisanal Chocolate Makers in the Bay Area
San Francisco is known for its food: the quality ingredients and the food trends that start here.
Local chocolate makers are also making a name for themselves and starting to shape national and global tastes with gourmet chocolates that are themselves work of arts.
Scharffen Berger chocolate out of Berkeley was one of the first gourmet chocolate makers embraced by "foodies." Scharffen Berger helped prime American palates for dark chocolate. It did such a good job of spreading the dark chocolate gospel, no less than Hershey ended up buying the company. Hershey realized that the small-batch gourmet chocolate makers the Bay Area bred so effortless were a critical piece of the chocolate market to own.
The same year that Hershey bought Scharffen Berger (2005), Hershey also bough Joseph Schmidt, a well-known and well-loved truffle maker whose chocolate confections were works of art. The Scharffen Berger chocolate factory tour closed down in 2009, though the Scharffen Berger brand lives. Sadly, Joseph Schmidt stopped production in 2009,
New Faces in Bay Area Premium Chocolate
While many of the first generation artisanal chocolate companies from the Bay Area have been swallowed up by huge corporations, plenty of boutique premium chocolate players continue to thrive. New chocolate makers also join their ranks continually.
One of the most respected, and most expensive, of local premium chocolate artisans is Michael Recchiuti. His Recchiuti Confections chocolates are like one-inch-square works of art — some are even painted! He has a chocolate factory in San Francisco's Dogpatch neighborhood in the southeastern part of town, and he has a successful, high profile shop in the San Francisco Ferry Building. Recchiuti Confections are also sold by Williams-Sonoma, another San Francisco company.
TCHO Chocolates is in some ways trying to fill the gap left by Scharffen Berger. The company is only a few years old, but it has big ambitions. It's recently built a 20,000 square foot factory on Pier 17 along San Francisco's waterfront, and it makes chocolates according to different "flavor profiles" like citrus or nutty — kind of like someone might describe a wine. TCHO was started by a scientist, and it is trying to build up its commercial clientele, which means getting into the kitchen at the country's top restaurants.
Charles Chocolates was located for a while in the East Bay, but Charles Chocolates is building a chocolate factory in San Francisco Centre, the Westfield-owned mall that houses Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom. You will be able to watch them make chocolates there.
Chocolatier Bleu is also from the East Bay, and Chocolatier Bleu is also opening new boutiques in the Bay Area and beyond.
Cocoa Bella has boutiques in San Francisco Centre and also on Union Street in Cow Hollow. These boutiques sell branded treats like toffee and cocoa covered almonds. Cocoa Bella also sells beautiful, delectable single pieces of chocolate that are as much artwork as they are food.
There also are plenty of places to buy delicious chocolate — places you can only find in San Francisco.
In the Financial District, Fog City News on Market Street sells an enormous array of chocolate from around the world. The San Francisco Chocolate Factory in North Beach also has a wide variety of chocolate to appeal to most chocolate lovers.
TCHO has its factory and a small retail shop on Pier 17. Stop in for a hot chocolate!
The Ghirardelli ice cream shop offers a tour, a retail store and to die for ice cream sundaes.
You can watch them make Charles Chocolates on the fourth floor of the mall, and there's also a shop. On the ground floor is CocoaBella.
Try Recchiuti's S'mores or the Fleur de Sel caramels. Yum!
This neighborhood favorite has a hot chocolate bar in back.