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Inside Steven Alan

A Conversation with Dandelion Chocolate

  • We recently introduced chocolate bars from San Francisco-based Dandelion Chocolate in our shops. Made in small batches with beans from Madagascar, Venezuela, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic, the bars are crafted on site at their factory in the Mission, which also houses a cafe featuring a rotating menu of drinking chocolates and unique desserts that change daily. Our Hayes Valley team caught up with Dandelion Chocolate Maker Alice Nystrom:

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    {Dandelion HQ at 740 Valencia Street in the Mission}

    Where does your name come from?
    We went through a long list of possible names — people names, place names, made-up words, and more. Ultimately, we liked Dandelion because it’s very real. We work straight from the bean, and we keep our ingredients very simple, only cocoa beans and cane sugar. Many chocolate companies aren’t as clear about how their product is made or who makes their chocolate. We wanted our company and our name to be very honest. Also, dandelions have a great childhood nostalgia. We hope our chocolate factory captures some of that same childlike awe.

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    {Alice and Cam in Madagascar}

    How and why did you decide to start making chocolate?
    I met the co-founders of Dandelion Chocolate, Todd Masonis and Cameron Ring, a few years ago. At the time, they worked in a garage, tinkering with beans and machines, figuring out how to make chocolate. I loved getting to learn from what they were doing and I’ve been making chocolate ever since. Because most chocolate machinery and processes are designed for an industrial scale, there’s a lot to learn in order to make chocolate in small batches. I love that challenge and the finished product is a great reward.

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    {Hot cocoa and chocolate tasting. Photo by Molly DeCoudreaux.}

    What kind of beans do you use, and where do you source them?
    We use cocoa beans from around the tropics. Right now, we’re making bars from Madagascar, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela. There aren’t many fine cacao growers, so we found most of our s through a little online research and talking to other chocolate makers. We aim to visit all of the farms that grow our beans. Everyone benefits from this direct connection. We get better beans and we’ll pay the farmer more for the work it takes to grow them. I was lucky enough to trek around the world to Madagascar. I even got to see a lemur!

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    {Alice sorting cocoa pods in Madagascar}

    What is unique or different about the beans from each country of origin?
    Farms and farmers have so much control over a cocoa bean’s flavor. First, there’s the terroir of the beans, just like with coffee or wine. The farm that grows our beans in Madagascar also grows pepper, ylang ylang, vanilla, bananas, and more. Because of this, the beans are packed with flavor. They’re ripe, fruity, and sour. The farmer will harvest the beans, ferment, and dry them before shipment. If these processes are done well, they can develop flavor precursors and release acetic acid from the bean. We’re lucky enough to have a few sources of beautifully grown beans. Once we have great beans, we say that we get out of the way. We process them very lightly and let their flavor shine through in the finished product.

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    {Beans back in SF, waiting to be sorted}

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    {Roasted cocoa nibs in waiting}

    The chocolate is made here in the Mission. Can you tell us a little about the process?
    Our chocolate is made start-to-finish on Valencia Street! We prep, roast, crack, sort, winnow, grind, and temper the bars, then package them in handmade paper. We’ve built, fixed, and overhauled each of our machines. Each step is on display and we encourage guests in our cafe to watch and learn.

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    {The nibs are melted and mixed with raw cane sugar}

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    {A couple of the chocolatiers making the bars. Photo by Molly DeCoudreaux.}

    What should we try at your new cafe space? Do you have a favorite item on the menu?
    Oh! It’s so hard to pick a favorite. I love our pastry chef, Phil Ogiela, and he puts such care into everything he makes. If you come to visit, you should cozy up with a hot chocolate, a few homemade marshmallows, and pick a treat to go with them. My favorite treat today is our spiced angel food cake. But, Phil changes the pastries daily, so your favorite may be something entirely new.

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    {Inside the cafe. Photo by Molly DeCoudreaux.}

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    {Some of the treats prepared by pastry chef, Phil. Photo by Molly DeCoudreaux.}

    Are you working on any new flavors or experimenting with anything at the moment?
    Our chocolate makers are in the process of working with three new beans! One of them will go entirely to our cafe baking, but two will become new bars. Both new bars are from Venezuela, from Patanemo and Ocumare. The Patanemo is nutty and dark, and the Ocumare is more florall. Both are still in the works, but I’m already excited.

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    {The vintage wrapping machine from the 1950s}

    You’ve collaborated with a variety of local food and beverage partners, including a few Mission favorites. What were some of your favorite projects?
    I love this neighborhood. I also love working with our neighbors. We’ve paired chocolate and cheese next door at Mission Cheese, paired beer with the guys from Abbot’s Cellar, and I had the most delicious pork belly and mole, made with our chocolate, by the chefs at Bi-Rite. It’s a tasty corner of the city!

    Many thanks to Alice, Todd, and Cameron! You can find their chocolate bars at any of our shops, and visit their factory/cafe at 740 Valencia Street.

    - Photos courtesy of Dandelion Chocolate

    This entry was posted on Thursday, February 21st, 2013 at 4:49 pm and is filed under Food, In Stock, New Arrivals. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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