The idea seems simple – take a bag of cocoa beans and turn it into chocolate. But at Dandelion Chocolate’s factory and cafe in the Mission District, the process from start to finish is a time-consuming one, filled with tons of TLC.
The company was founded by Todd Masonis and Cameron Ring, who formerly worked in the tech sector. “It really is all about our love of chocolate,” Masonis said. “We started in a garage with some cocoa beans and now, we’ve turned this garage on Valencia into our own intimate space where we can celebrate chocolate.”
The spot, located on one the most bustling culinary sections of Valencia Street, serves not only as a factory, but also as a retail shop and cafe. The cafe menu features different versions of hot chocolate, European-style drinking chocolate, iced chocolate and cacao fruit smoothies, along with daily pastries made in-house. Guests can also purchase Dandelion’s current bars, along with confections from other local chocolatiers.
Masonis said he and Ring didn’t want to make just any-old chocolate bar. “Really, it all starts with the beans. We try to find the best and most unique cocoa beans that we can, sourcing them from Venezuela, Africa and Madagascar. We do multiple tests to make sure the flavor works.” Unlike many of the mass producers of chocolate, Dandelion uses the same formula for each bar – 70% beans and 30% sugar, really focusing on bars that highlight the cocoa beans that are being used.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of the business is that now, visitors can stop in and grab a hot chocolate, all while watching the amazing process with their own eyes. “All told, it takes about a week to go from cocoa bean to chocolate bar. We start with the beans, sorting the good from the bad. Then we roast them in our modified coffee roaster. We crack and sort the beans, separating the shells from the nibs,” Masonis said. “From there, we use a process called winnowing. We have a device that has a fan and vacuum. The cocoa nibs fall down as they’re lighter than the shells. We grind the nibs in a peanut grinder and then they go through the process of melanging, where they are crushed together and we also add sugar to the nibs. This usually takes about three days. After that, we heat and cool the chocolate before finally wrapping it in foil.”
The staff at Dandelion is very well-versed on the chocolate-making process and Masonis said the space allows for an educational aspect as well; in fact, they are offering classes with the first Chocolate 101 class in the new space being held on Thursday, February 28.
Dandelion Chocolate is located at 740 Valencia Street in San Francisco. Hours are Wednesday to Sunday from 11:00-6:00.