{Product Review} Meeting the Minds Behind Socola Chocolatier

May 1st, 2009

Socolachocolatesalon
I got the opportunity to attend the San Francisco International Chocolate Salon about a month ago – a day long festival celebrating all things chocolate. With over 50 chocolatiers and confectioners, many of them local artisans, the variety of truffles, bars, and other chocolatey delights on display was sugar-shock-inducing.
It must have been unique challenge, as well, for all the chocolatiers: chocolate may be the most popular candy around, but when everyone around you is peddling theobroma cacao, you need to make sure your chocolate stands out. 

One of the most memorable chocolatiers for me was Socola Chocolatier, whose eyecatching truffles had a distinctly Asian bent: guava, lychee, tamarind, Vietnamese espresso. While Asian fusion is still a hot-running trend in the culinary world, it takes a deft touch and expertise to take the combination of east and west beyond mere gimmick.  Socola’s chocolates are the genuine article. I knew Socola was special when I kept wanting to reach for another sample; I was thrilled to discover that Socola is a small local company, the brainchild of two sisters, Wendy and Susan Lieu. After speaking to both of them, I had the opportunity to sit down and have a further talk with Susan, the company COO, about this delightful line of truffles.
The Socola Sisters
Photo courtesy of Socola Chocolatier

Talking to Susan makes me feel like I’ve just had a glass of Vietnamese espresso: smart, articulate, and fantastically enthusiastic, she displays an impressive zeal for Socola and life, with a dizzying list of goals, Socola prominently featured among them. For Susan, Socola is not just an entrepreneurial endeavor but a fun adventure with her sister, an opportunity to create outrageously named chocolates, and to share them with their friends. Her excitement and optimism is truly infectious: she’s the perfect spokeswoman for Socola, as well as motivator for anyone needing a little push on their own life goals!

The roots of Socola can be traced back in Susan and Wendy’s family line: their grandfather in Vietnam was a sweetsmaker.  Along with their family, the sisters immigrated to the US when they were children to start a new life. Growing up in Santa Rosa, they were fascinated by the See’s chocolate store across the street from their parents’ store. Wendy, the culinarily-minded of the pair, was inspired to create her own chocolates, using her great-grandmother’s recipes. As word of the chocolates spread, Susan and Wendy decided to band together and start Socola Chocolatier in 2001. Fittingly, Socola is the Vietnamese word for chocolate. In the last eight years, their homegrown venture has blossomed into a successful business.

Socola box
Photo courtesy of Socola Chocolatier

I learned that Wendy is a graduate of Tante Marie’s Professional Pastry Program – it’s always to a thrill to discover fellow alumna! I really love Wendy’s palate and eye for detail; her flavors meld seamlessly with the chocolate, making ultra-flavorful ganaches. The chocolates are perfectly tempered, and beautifully decorated. I loved the sprinkling of gold luster dust on the Guinness truffles, and the red Hawaiian sea salt scattered across the burnt caramel and sea salt chocolates. My favorite, though, would have to be their guava chocolate, which has a sublime guava pate de fruit on top of chocolate ganache. The chocolate is stamped with a winged alpaca, the mascot for Socola. To learn more this eclectic mascot, you can visit the Socola website and learn about her!

Socolasignature
Photo courtesy of Socola Chocolatier

Socola Chocolatier is based in Oakland, and currently is sold at select stores in the East Bay. and online. Soon the chocolates will be available in San Francisco as well. Wendy and Susan have just created a special Mother’s Day Collection, 12 chocolates in six flavors, including Front Porch White Peach, Give It to Me Guava, Luscious Lychee, Matchmaker Matcha, Pretty in Pear, and Tango Tamarind. You can order this collection on their website – the deadline is today, but if you miss it, do try some of their other fantastic selections!

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