Partner News: Dandelion Chocolate

There’s a Bean Room for cacao beans at the new Dandelion Chocolate location. Photo:  Anne Fishbein

There’s a Bean Room for cacao beans at the new Dandelion Chocolate location. Photo: Anne Fishbein

A welcome development for chocolate lovers and those in search of a modern day Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory: The bean-to-bar chocolate maker Dandelion Chocolate has moved into cool new digs.

Opened in 2010, the company’s original factory, which we visit on our Mission 18th Street Food Tour, will continue to craft single-origin, small-batch chocolate by hand and serve up their signature hot chocolates and pastries on Valencia Street in San Francisco’s Mission District.

That said, the recently opened expansive factory, located on the corner of 16th and Alabama Streets, is a short walk away, and definitely worth checking out.

At their latest location—which now runs all Dandelion’s guided tours, tastings, and classes—chocoholics are able to witness the production of premium chocolate bars from sorting, roasting, cracking, winnowing, melanging, blocking, tempering, and wrapping. Dandelion Chocolate uses just two ingredients in its 70% chocolate bars: sustainably sourced cacao beans and organic cane sugar.

On the day Edible Excursions visited the factory, we found printed guides written in English, Spanish, and Japanese explaining what’s going on at each stage of the production process. (Dandelion has four locations in Japan, pop-ups in Taipei and Los Angeles, and a retail space at the San Francisco Ferry Building.) Many of the guided warehouse tours are sold out well in advance. No matter, find a perch on the bleacher seats and watch the chocolate makers at work; the exposed brick factory with massive windows and an open floor plan is designed for maximum transparency.

A shiny new chocolate factory for our times. Photo:  Eric Wolfinger

A shiny new chocolate factory for our times. Photo: Eric Wolfinger

And, nearly five years in the making, it’s an impressive re-imagining of this almost 30,000-square-foot building. The former mattress warehouse and printing factory has been repurposed for chocolate making by the architecture firm Gensler, which also designed Facebook HQ in Menlo Park.

Seems apt, for a business co-founded by two former tech types. Todd Masonis and Cameron Ring sold their start-up Plaxo to Comcast in 2008 and have been pretty much pursing their passion project ever since. In true Silicon Valley style, they first started playing with chocolate in a friend’s garage in Mountain View.

On display: A row of machines designed to grind down cacao nibs and sugar so that the ingredients fully integrate and form a silky, chocolate liquid. Photo:  Anne Fishbein

On display: A row of machines designed to grind down cacao nibs and sugar so that the ingredients fully integrate and form a silky, chocolate liquid. Photo: Anne Fishbein

Their latest factory location includes antique equipment, state-of-the-art technology, and the human touch. There’s a large, light-filled classroom where education about chocolate ingredients, sourcing, history, making, and tasting takes place. They even have a small library—complete with library cards—for people who want to immerse themselves in all things chocolate related.

Bloom was designed to resemble a Parisian salon. Photo:  Eric Wolifnger

Bloom was designed to resemble a Parisian salon. Photo: Eric Wolifnger

The new facility is also home to a cafe, featuring Ritual coffee, hot chocolates, and pastries, and a retail nook adjacent to the cafe selling chocolate bars. There’s also a stylish salon called Bloom. On Bloom’s menu chocolate or cocoa nibs can be found in every dish, whether savory or sweet. Bloom offers both a breakfast and afternoon tea during the week. Heads up: Reservations for weekend brunches fill up fast.

The breakfast menu, overseen by executive pastry chef Lisa Vega, formerly of Gary Danko and Bouchon Bakery, features twists on morning classics, including a granola with oats, quinoa, nibs, hazelnuts, and dried cherries; a bruleed brioche with homemade ‘nutella’ spread and cocoa nib infused cream; and breakfast cake: chocolate chip pancake cake, vanilla cream, and chocolate maple sauce. Savory options include a vegetable hash and quiche.

Afternoon service brings riffs on classic French pastries: profiterole, macaron, napoleon, and souffle. There’s also a three-course ice cream tasting including a root beer float, a banana split, and an It’s-It sandwich—all featuring chocolate, of course.

Bloom’s breakfast offerings. Photo:  Eric Wolfinger

Bloom’s breakfast offerings. Photo: Eric Wolfinger

The Bay Area has a long tradition of name brand chocolate makers of note, including Ghirardelli, Guittard, and Scharffen Berger. Dandelion is staking a claim now, with the opening of this facility, as another industry giant. The company’s chocolate is already sold in more than 550 retail locations globally.

When it’s fully up-and-running, the factory will be capable of producing about 10 times as many chocolate bars as it has in the past. Peak Valenica Street production hovered around 300,000 bars a year. The Dandelion crew say they’re committed to improving taste and keeping quality high as they scale up.

For those who’d like to replicate Dandelion deliciousness at home, check out their recent cookbook/primer on DIY chocolate making and sourcing. Edible Excursions guide Karen Solomon, who now works for Dandelion, shares recipes on the company website too. Chocolate hazelnut spread, anyone?

Lisa Rogovin