Give your special someone the truly sweet gift of tailor-made local chocolates.
Godiva? Been there. Lindt? Done that. Sure, they’re good, but isn’t that same old heart-shaped box of chocolates getting a little, well, old? Toss the stale sweets, because the East Bay is blessed with a bounty of fantastic chocolatiers. Why not get the love of your life something unique, thoughtful, and, best of all, local? You can even show her how well you know her by getting a candy to fit her personality. We sampled gourmet creations from six local confectioners to find the best bites for every kind of chocoholic.
The Edgy Hipster
Vice Chocolates, Oakland
Why? Oakland resident I-Li Chang looks like the lead singer of an underground rock band (which she is), and her gorgeously decorated chocolates have a similarly edgy bent. Try this: Inspired by the tragic opera about an affair between a French diplomat and a Chinese singer, the M. Butterfly shows off subtle Asian-influenced flavors of lemongrass, kaffir lime, and coconut milk mixed in a white chocolate ganache. V-Day special: Sample a variety of Chang’s sexiest flavors, such as the Violent Heart (chipotle caramel), the Vixen (passion fruit with Thai chili), and the Scarlet (strawberry truffle) packaged in a special snakeskin-textured box. vicechocolates.com.
The Tea Lover
The Tea Room, San Leandro
Why? Switzerland native Heinz Rimann ran a tearoom in Southern California before perfecting a method of infusing brewed tea (not just dried leaves) into all-organic chocolate in both truffle and bar form (12 different flavors, including jasmine, chamomile, and Earl Grey). Try this: The Tea Room’s delicate red raspberry rooibos truffle mixes sweet dark chocolate with a slightly sour South African red rooibos tea and dried raspberries. V-Day special: The Tea Room’s heart-shaped lollipops will make the perfect sweet treat on a stick. tea-room.stores.yahoo.net.
Chocolatier Blue, Berkeley and Danville
Why? Christopher Blue trained in the kitchen of five-star Chicago restaurant Charlie Trotter’s and never shies from experimentation (cranberry and jalapeño?), but his flavors appeal to palates from Berkeley (where he’s based) to his native Nebraska (where he recently opened two stores). Try this: The PB&J is a classic combo, and discovering those flavors inside a chocolate truffle will bring an immediate smile to your loved one’s face. V-Day special: Every February, Blue comes up with a risqué series of chocolate flavors just for Valentine’s Day. This year, look for French Toast (with real maple syrup) and, ahem, Sex on the Beach. chocolatierblue.com.
The Foodie Purist
Why? Berkeley resident Peter Brydon uses single-source Venezuelan chocolate and purchases many of his other ingredients from East Bay farmers markets to craft simple, pure flavors such as Meyer lemon zest, cardamom and honey, and tarragon. Try this: Barlovento’s fresh mint truffle gives off a bracing hit of spearmint in every delicious bite. V-Day special: Brydon sells a custom two-story box that includes 18 truffles and, upon request, a “very detailed” solid chocolate mold based on the ancient Hindu sex guide, the Kama Sutra. barloventochocolates.com.
Raffiné Chocolates, San Ramon
Why? A hidden gem tucked away in San Ramon, Raffiné, owned by European-trained Mona Keady, carries a range of spectacular creations (check out the cappuccino ganache), but she’s developed a special niche creating chocolates incorporating wine (often from local wineries) and liqueurs. Try this: The white chocolate truffle filled with aged champagne cognac is deliciously boozy but subtle enough that it won’t give you a hangover. V-Day special: Keady’s adorably delicious Love Turtles made with chocolate, soft caramel, and pecans are a perennial Valentine’s Day favorite. raffinechocolates.com.
The Worldly Sophisticate
Nuubia Chocolat, Pleasanton
Why? French master chocolatier Lionel Clement uses the finest ingredients, techniques, and equipment to craft award-winning chocolates in the classic European tradition. Try this: The espresso and hazelnut almond praline is smooth, balanced, and infused with a deep, rich espresso flavor strong enough to satisfy a Parisian café-goer. V-Day special: Clement will make fist-sized chocolate hearts—hollowed out and filled with smaller heart-shaped chocolates. Also, look for special Valentine’s Day bonbons and an ongoing chocolate-making class led by Clement at Nuubia’s Pleasanton production kitchen. nuubiachocolat.com.