Great Food Tours
Who would ever imagine that it is possible to walk from First and Market to Powell and Market and visit EIGHT chocolates shops along the way?? Great Food Tours did, and they pull it off in a three-hour walking tour. We met up with Kimberly Grimes, our guide, and a group of about 18 tourists at Fog City News near First and Market. Fog City Press is the largest magazine shop in the city, and they’ve managed to put about 200 different artisan chocolates into the shop. Chocolates are from down the street and around the world. We were served a small square of Michel Cluizel 45% milk chocolate. It was so smooth and rounded. Kimberly encouraged us to let the chocolate sit on the tongue and melt to allow its flavor and texture to come through. It was excellent.
The Fog City News folks explained to us that there is a long, rich history of chocolate in San Francisco. Mr. Guittard was the first in 1849, and its fourth generation continues its tradition. Scharfenberger gave birth to artisan chocolate in 1996 AND also started the trend of % chocolate.
Next, believe it or not, we landed at See’s Candies at Sansome and Market. See’s was started in 1921 by Mary See from Ontario, Canada. Mary’s children encouraged her hobby by coaxing her to LA and her first factory. Trivia – I Love Lucy’s iconic chocolate factory episode was based at this LA factory. AND, believe it or not, Warren Buffett’s company, Berkshire Hathaway, bought See’s Candies all the way back in 1972.
See’s employees can eat as much chocolate as they want, but come on, even chocolate can get to overload status!! We were able to sample a caramel, dark chocolate truffle, vanilla nut cream and something walnut. I do love See’s. It has a history within the culture of San Francisco.
Before heading to Spicely, our group split up so that the crowd in the tiny space was easier to manage. SO, while waiting, Kimberly of Great Food Tours told us about how chocolate is made and its best way to store.
Chocolate comes from warm climates as beans in pods. The pods can be cantaloupe to watermelon in size and they’re harvested by machete. When the pods are cut in half, there is 50-70 seeds. Everything is scraped out and allowed to ferment for one week. Then they dry for 5-7 days, and voila – the cocoa bean!! The cocoa nib is inside. The nibs are hydro-compressed and separated into cocoa butter and the nibs themselves. The more cocoa butter, the less cocoa nic content – as in white chocolate has a lot of cocoa butter. The chocolate is mixed with milk and sugar and mixed gently for 2-12 hours depending on the chef. Then comes the molds and solidification.
Chocolate should be stored between 59 and 63 degrees. The best way is to put your chocolate in a paper bag on top of the refrigerator because of its cool surface. There is a 2-3 year shelf life for dark chocolate and 1 1/2-2 years for white chocolate.
There was still some time before entering Spicely, so we walked a few doors down to Daiso, a real-deal Japanese super store. This is THE coolest place and looks oh so Japanese. You can buy all kinds of little knick knacks, like magnet kitchen timers, tiny boxes, kitchen appliances, and all of the stuff is $1.50 unless otherwise marked. This is going to be my go-to place for Christmas shopping! You’ll see a picture of the inside in my gallery.
Our next stop was Spicely near Montgomery and Market. I can’t believe I’ve never noticed this place on the many passes. Spicely is organic and fair trade with offerings of spices, teas and chocolates. They had some wonderful chocolate tastings. We bought the Turmeric tea, known for its antioxidant qualities, lavender vanilla chocolate, cayenne chocolate and Turmeric chocolate.
And nearby Spicely is Bun Mee, and it looked so cool inside, and the menu was so tempting, especially after quite a few chocolates!!
Next was the Ghirardelli Shop at New Montgomery and Market. It is an absolutely beautiful place and new to the area since the Giants won the 2010 World Series. I know this because I was crammed up against that wall during the victory parade, and had it been Ghirardelli’s at the time, I would have been inside and not out!
Ghirardelli was born in Italy and was a childhood apprentice to a candy maker. He soon went to Uruguay and Panama where chocolate is grown, and changed his first name to Domingo. James Flick heard about his chocolate and brought 600 pounds to San Francisco. Mr. Flick finally talked Mr. Ghirardelli into moving to San Francisco in 1849. With gold mining in progress, Ghirardelli opened a mining store in Stockton and a San Francisco hotel. Unfortunately, both burned down in 1851, but good for us, he went back to chocolate making at Ghirardelli Square. The chocolate is now made in San Leandro and is owned by Lindt.
I know this is a long story, but you will be going on line to make your reservation for Great Food Tours once you see how much they have to offer.
Japanese sweets were next at Minamoto Kitchoan very close by Ghiradelli’s. (Can you believe we’re still just a few blocks up from our first stop?) Minamoto Kitchoan is a worldwide provider of sweets, and they specialize in Wagashi, which is a mochi, made from a rice flour that makes the mochi nice and chewy. It could be an acquired taste. The store is absolutely beautiful with so many wonderful offerings. We were given a chocolate mochi, which was sprinkled in chocolate with a chocolate center. These sweets (and savories) will make wonderful gifts.
As the group proceeded up Market, I just had to stop at Lolita’s Fountain for a picture. Emperor Norton gives a tour which includes its history and I intend to check it out!! Lolita was an opera singer at the time of the 1906 earthquake. She dedicated the fountain to the city. It became a popular meeting place. After the earthquake, Lolita came to the square (at the time) and gave a free concert to tens of thousands of SF earthquake survivors.
A detour off Market took us to Teuscher Chocolates at Grant and Sutter. (I just had to show my friends the inside of Hakkasan, pictured in the gallery. You really need to go there for at least a cocktail.) Teuscher chocolates are made in Switzerland. They were the first to make a champagne truffle, and they went over the top with Dom Perignon, and our tasting was excellent. Take a look at the gift baskets and the playful interior of Teuscher’s.
Next came Chocolatier Blue back on Market near Westfield Mall on the opposite side of the street. What a fabulous store and absolutely beautiful chocolates. Chris Blue makes the chocolates, and his fiancee tastes and designs the outer coating. They are a site to behold, very unique. Chocolatier Blue is an expanding company. You’ll be hearing much more about them.
Our final stop was Cocoa Bella, just inside Westfield Mall on the left. Cocoa Bella searches the world for the finest artisan chocolates and displays them by country at their counters. It’s a chain of stores, and their staff is very friendly and helpful. We tasted a rich raspberry dark chocolate ganache, excellent.
A final word. I’ve been getting my tours at coupon sites, like Groupon. The tour for eight tastings and a world of knowledge is normally $50, but right now, you can get the tour for $25. BUT, always remember to tip your host. Kimberly Grove of Great Food Tours is a tremendous and knowledgeable tour guide, worthy of a really good tip for her time and effort.