San Francisco is currently going through a chocolate renaissance – new artisan chocolate makers and chocolatiers are popping up at every food festival and in every neighborhood. One of these chocolatiers, though, is actually a Bay Area classic making a welcome return – Charles Chocolates.
I’ve been a big fan of Charles Chocolates ever since he opened his Emeryville store. Fair warning (or you long-time readers with excellent memories might remember) – I even wrote a piece for Edible East Bay on his chocolates so I guess you can say I’m an original fangirl. When Charles Chocolates first opened the chocolate scene was bustling in the Bay Area but focused in a different direction- there were mainly chocolate makers like Guittard, Scharffen Berger, and Ghirardelli, and some small boutiques selling imported chocolates. Today the Bay Area is a chocolate mecca, with the bonus of much of it locally crafted. After a short hiatus from chocolatier-ing, Charles is happily part of the scene again with a new shop and cafe opening in San Francisco.
Charles Siegel welcomes all his new chocolate compatriots. “We’re no where near close to saturation for chocolate here,” he says. What I’ve always admired about Charles is his generosity of spirit and love for his craft. He’ll happily share the chocolate brands he uses in his creations, and he’s genuinely excited at the all the creative chocolate energy swirling through the city. He envisions San Francisco becoming like Paris, where every neighborhood has its local patisserie and chocolate shop, each with their own specialties and each a beloved part of life for the residents.
I finally had a chance to drop by Charles’ new store on Florida Street. Although their outdoor patio space was not finished when I went, it has been fitted out now with picnic tables so visitors can enjoy their hot chocolate outside, or some of the new pastries from their case. In addition to his chocolates, Charles is branching out and also serving up cookies, tarts, mini cakes, and other baked goods from their kitchen. They’ve also paired up with Samovar Teas and will start offering afternoon tea on their patio – starting this weekend. I have to admit one of the things I’m most excited about is that the patio will be dog-friendly. Charles is an avowed dog lover and said he’s made it his mission to get to know all the dogs in his new neighborhood. So the café patio will be equipped with water bowls and Charles’ own doggy treats to entice dog owners to stop by. Chocolate and treats for Fido – can it get any better?
Charles let me take a look around his kitchen space – it’s separated from the retail store and patio by glass so customers will be able to look in and see chocolates being made.
Copper pot goodness! Almost all of Charles Chocolates’ original items will be coming back, but I’m really looking forward to his pâte de fruits.
The tables where much of the chocolate work is done. The pastry team was off when I visited, but it’s easy to imagine them industriously working away, turning out boxes and boxes of chocolates. You can catch a glimpse of the retail portion of the store through the glass walls to the left – I didn’t get any photos as it was constantly filled with customers. Charles Chocolates has just started giving tours of the store as well, so you can learn about chocolate-making while sampling some of Charles’ chocolates at the same time.
Some more equipment Charles is very proud of – the one on the right is a panning machine, or panner, used to evenly coat nuts with a layer of chocolate – you can see the results here.
Chocolate bars ready for labelling. Charles has kept the same wonderful logo from Hatch Design, and worked with them to revamp the packaging for his new products.
Charles has greatly expanded his chocolate bar line, to my delight (and he’s planning still more bars.) One of his new favorites also became my new favorite – the Toffee Coffee bar, a mix of sweet almond toffee and crunchy coffee beans suspended in dark milk chocolate. Totally addictive. I also really liked his Peanut Praline bar, filled with the same peanut praline he uses in his signature Peanut Butterfly chocolates.
Charles is also particularly fond of his new Mendiant Bars: as he tells it, he loved the concept of mendiants (fruit and nut-covered disks of chocolate) but disliked how you could never get all the fruit and nut toppings in one bite. These bars are his improved version of mendiants – bars stuffed full with candied citrus and roasted nuts. Although mendiants are traditionally a holiday sweet, these bars are good any time of the year.
I’m so excited to see Charles Chocolates return to San Francisco with a beautiful new store – welcome back, Chuck!
535 Florida St
San Francisco, CA 94110