Kaija is a lead chocolate maker at the Valencia Factory in San Francisco. In February 2018 she lived in Tokyo for a month as part of the DCJ (Dandelion Chocolate Japan) and DCA (Dandelion Chocolate America) employee exchange program. She loves making chocolate, exploring new places, and, of course, eating good food.
Why does Dandelion have an employee exchange program?
Todd, one of our founders, used to do a lot of exchanges when he was growing up (Mexico, Russia) and he learned so much from those experiences. He wants to offer cross-team learning as well as exposure to different culinary palates and team processes.
What were your first impressions of life in Japan?
I was amazed at how clean and quiet the trains and subway stations were! Traveling around was a treat.
What was hard about your life there?
This is Kaija being much taller than the Dandelion Japan delivery van.
The height difference was my biggest challenge. I’m 5’11, and I felt like a giant by Japanese standards. At work we had to make a few modifications so I could work comfortably.
What else was unexpected?
Communication and transportation were surprisingly easy. People were super nice and helpful and the transportation system was easy to navigate.
How was your job in Japan similar to the work you do as a chocolate maker on Valencia Street?
It was still making chocolate the Dandelion way. It was the same process, values, and team spirit. Everyone puts 110% into their work and everyone loves what they do.
How was the work different?
DCJ works with smaller quantities of cocoa beans at a time than DCA. There is also a different flavor preference for how the chocolate should taste. In the Dandelion Chocolate Japan bars, they like the chocolate to have more sour and fermented notes. We also tend to have different reference points for flavor. For example, when we taste espresso, they often taste tea.
Work life. Kaija makes chocolate with her co-workers in Japan.
What were some highlights of the trip?
Getting to work with the DCJ chocolate makers was such a treat as well as getting to meet other makers at the Craft Chocolate Market, an event hosted by Dandelion that gathers craft chocolate makers from all over the world. We also traveled to Kamakura, Ise, Osaka, and Kyoto and tasted samples from a variety of Japanese confectionaries, bean-to-bar makers, and bakeries. I also saw my first real, growing cacao tree at the Kyoto Botanical Gardens!
Was there a lowlight of the trip?
A few coworkers and I had horse sashimi at an izakaya in Tokyo. Everyone else loved it but it was probably the only thing that I ate in Japan that I didn’t enjoy.
Would you do it again?
Absolutely! It was super inspiring to work with chocolate makers all the way on the other side of the globe. I can’t wait for my next chocolate adventure!
Arigatogozaimashta, Kaija! The Dandelion Kamakura cafe will see you again soon.
Jennifer has handled the public relations for Dandelion since 2013, and she’s an avid drinker of coffee in the cafe. For this piece, she spoke with Voga Coffee’s co-founder and CEO Eli Salomon who, along with Josh Avins, CTO and scientist behind the technology, and Jason Sarley, co-founder and Chief Coffee Officer, are the creators of the Ground Control vacuum coffee machine.
The Ground Control Cyclops coffee brewer behind the counter at the Valencia Street cafe.
If you’ve been in our café on Valencia Street recently, you’ve probably seen a very futuristic-looking machine topped with hand-blown glass bulbs. It’s a new coffee machine called Ground Control® Cyclops from the innovative folks at Oakland-based Voga Coffee. We’re the first café in the world to have this machine, and it just won the Specialty Coffee Association 2018 Best New Product award. We’re thrilled to be serving both brewed coffee and brewed cacao nib coffee with Ritual’s beans.
Why add another machine in our café, and how did we meet the team from Voga? Eli Salomon of Ground Control was testing the machine near our Alabama Street factory, and he asked if he could experiment with brewing some of our cacao nibs. How could we say no? When we finally got to taste our nibs brewed with delicious Ritual coffee, we had an “aha!” moment where we were blown away by the taste. The cacao nib coffee is smooth, nutty, and full-flavored coffee without any kind of bitter aftertaste. Todd, Dandelion’s co-founder and CEO, exclaimed: “How could we not have a machine that brews the most delicious coffee made with our nibs?”
Keep your eye on the Cyclops when you next visit our Valencia café.
Since launching the brewed coffee and the cacao nib brewed coffee at the end of May, 2018, the feedback has been very positive. People love it! Cacao nib coffee makes you less jittery than regular coffee, and it has a more uplifting buzz. Along with the normal caffeine kick, it must be the theobromine from the nibs that helps give your mood a boost.
How does the Cyclops work? Salomon explains, “Traditionally, it’s been impossible to brew cacao nibs, because their high-fat content clogs brewing filters. When we first spoke with Dandelion, our team suggested the possibility of using Ground Control’s high vacuum brewing process to overcome this hurdle that has plagued the chocolate world for hundreds of years. After Voga ran a few brewing experiments, it became clear that our innovative, patented brewing approach was exactly what was needed to coax the delicate, beautiful flavor of Dandelion’s impeccably sourced single-origin cacao. It was through this effort that the world’s first cacao brewer was discovered.”
He adds, “In addition to brewing a delicious cacao-based beverage, Ground Control’s unique multi-stage brewing method extracts multiple layers of flavor from coffee or cacao, resulting in a delicate, multi-dimensional cup. Drinkers of Ground Control brewed beverages have marveled at their smooth, clean cup profile and the significantly pronounced sweetness that soars from the cup. Ground Control’s unique, carefully controlled process not only eliminates harsh bitterness but also presents delicate, nuanced flavors that would otherwise be obscured.”
Currently, we’re offering a Ritual single-origin brewed coffee from Guatemala as well as the cacao nib coffee with our Camino Verde, Ecuador nibs. We look forward to having you come by to try it. Let us know what you think!
Don’t worry; you still get one of our signature shortbread cookies with every cup.
We are so excited to share Dr. Kristy Leissle’s most recent blog post about how the Gola Rainforest bar came to be. Dr. Leissle was the person who introduced Dandelion to the project team, and after Greg visited Sierra Leone in October 2017, we bought the beans and became the first U.S. chocolate maker to make Gola Rainforest bars.
Dr. Leissle is a scholar of cocoa and chocolate. Since 2004, her work has investigated the politics, economics, and cultures of these industries, focusing on West African political economy and trade, the US craft market, and the complex meanings produced and consumed through chocolate marketing and advertising. Her recent book, Cocoa (Cambridge: Polity, 2018) explores cocoa geopolitics and personal politics. Dr. Leissle is Affiliate Faculty in African Studies at the University of Washington. She lives in Accra, Ghana.
As a scholar of cocoa and chocolate, it is not often that I get involved on the trading side. But since early last year, I have been working with the UK-based organization Twin & Twin Trading, whose vision is development through trade, facilitating specialty chocolate market access for cocoa farmer associations in Africa. That means I help farmer groups to promote and sell their cocoa to specialty buyers—who may be paying premium prices for quality, and who may make these farmer groups visible to chocolate shoppers by putting their names on single origin bars.
Apart from Madagascar bars, it is relatively rare in the US to find specialty, single origin chocolate that uses African cocoa, at least compared with bars that use cocoa from Central or South America, or the Caribbean. I started writing about the invisibility of West African cocoa in premium chocolate some years ago; little did I think at the time that I would be part of a team helping to promote the region to specialty buyers.
Gola’s warehouse manager, Vandi, scoops up a handful of cocoa beans to assess them; photo by Kristy Leissle
But one container at a time, that’s what we have been doing, starting with Gola Rainforest cocoa producer organizations in Sierra Leone. With assistance from Twin and other partners, farmers in four chiefdoms on the edge of the Gola Rainforest National Park have organized into three associations to sell their cocoa: Malema chiefdom, Gaura chiefdom, and Tunkia and Koya chiefdoms, which, being a bit smaller than the others, joined together to sell their cocoa. Together, these farmer associations are working to conserve the Gola Rainforest, which is home to many threatened and endemic species, including the elusive pygmy hippo, and to strengthen their cocoa business practices.
Twin and its partners in Sierra Leone have been working for several years with these farmer associations to provide agricultural training, and to support best practices around cocoa harvest, fermentation, drying, and storage. My role has involved building capacity for farmer associations and the Gola staff around marketing, so that they can strategize from an informed position when negotiating with buyers.
Vandi with bags of cocoa at the warehouse awaiting shipment; photo by Kristy Leissle
When I started this work, bags of cocoa were sitting in the Gola warehouse in Kenema. Knowing we had superior quality cocoa and a unique opportunity to launch Sierra Leone onto the specialty cocoa map, we aimed high—the first container, the team agreed, should be pitched to the US craft market. To the best of our knowledge, no craft maker in the US had produced a single origin specialty chocolate bar from Sierra Leone before. As confident as I felt in the cocoa, though, I wasn’t sure if any of them would be willing to consider it. In my work over the past fifteen years, I have found that, apart from a very few exceptions (such as John Kehoe and Gary Guittard at Guittard Chocolate, or the folks at Tcho Chocolate), people are generally dismissive, wary, or simply uninterested in West African cocoa for any kind of premium product.
But some people in the chocolate industry are starting to think—and act—differently when it comes to African origins, and especially West Africa. In our conversations about Gola cocoa, these individuals spoke with humility, recognizing that they had a lot to learn about West Africa’s vast cocoa farming systems, and they were eager to begin. Among them were Greg D’Alesandre, who sources for Dandelion Chocolate, and Gino Dalla Gasperina, who founded Meridian Cacao Company. I had a lot to learn from them, too—and all of us had something to learn from the people growing the cocoa and the Gola staff who work with those farmers. Greg and Gino decided to visit Sierra Leone, to see the farms, learn about the trainings, and discuss priorities and visions with the Gola team, as buyers and sellers of cocoa.
Photo with Greg (Dandelion Chocolate), Gino (Meridian Cacao), and the Gola team, on the wall at the Gola Rainforest Lalehun research center, where we held the season review last week; photo by Kristy Leissle
And then Greg made the decision to buy the cocoa, which meant Dandelion would make the first ever Gola Rainforest Chocolate bar! Will you forgive me for saying how very proud I am, how even now I have tears and goosebumps, remembering the collective effort it took, and from my gratitude to everyone for working with such dedication and tirelessness, such faith in Gola cocoa? So many people gave this their all, from the cocoa farmers through the Gola buying officers, the agricultural extension team at Jula Consultancy, the trading team at Twin, and right up to Ron Sweetser at Dandelion, who developed the profile for the bar—and, by doing so with enormous care and love, showed everyone just what Sierra Leone Gola Rainforest cocoa can do as a single origin craft chocolate bar.
I will leave it to others to give their assessment of the chocolate, as my own (five star) review of the (most profoundly chocolate) bar (I have ever tasted) will necessarily sound biased at this point. But if you are one of those people who likes chocolate, I do think the Gola Rainforest bar might be one that pleases you (so much that you buy out all the stock in your local shop and eat it for breakfast and create fashion accessories out of the wrappers).
Greg and the team at Dandelion took the first opportunity to share the chocolate with the women and men who had grown the cocoa. The three Gola Rainforest cocoa farmer associations held their season review last week, and I traveled to Sierra Leone to participate. Part of the work was to celebrate the successes of last season, and part of it was to strategize for the coming season. For this, I led a session on chocolate markets, outlining the different categories of chocolate and what advantages and disadvantages there would be to selling into each value chain.
Presenting to Gola cocoa farmer associations, while business manager Yambasu translates into Mende; photo by Felicity Butler
We talked too about the relationship between Gola and Dandelion, and with other potential buyers, and what they had discussed with Greg and Gino when they visited. I showed maps to chart the journey the Gola cocoa had taken once it left Sierra Leone, and photos of Dandelion’s Valencia Street factory, so that the farmers could see where it was manufactured into chocolate.
Showing where the Gola Rainforest bar is for sale at Dandelion’s Valencia Street factory; photo by Felicity Butler
Photos showing farmers their chocolate bar on sale at Dandelion’s Valencia Street shop; photo by Kristy Leissle
Admiring the Dandelion Chocolate bar wrapper, which says “Gola Rainforest, Sierra Leone”; photo by Felicity Butler
Staff members had taken turns translating my talk into Mende. But when I said that theirs was the first specialty chocolate bar from Sierra Leone in the US craft market, no translation was needed—the cheers and smiles were immediate!
Celebrating Gola’s success at the season review meeting; photo by Björn Horvath
Dandelion Gola Rainforest Chocolate! Photo by Felicity Butler
Aminata, Supervisor of Cocoa Extension Team & Gender Coordinator for Gola, shares Dandelion’s Gola chocolate with her colleague Janneh; photo by Felicity Butler
Mohamed Fofanah, Managing Director of Jula Consultancy, tastes Dandelion chocolate; photo by Björn Horvath
So much of my teaching, research, and writing has been about the negative stereotypes that persist about Africa, and how these damage or undermine so many possibilities for real, material change. Superior cocoa grows in Sierra Leone, and farmers work hard to cultivate and process it. It is not easy to swim against the tide of negative stories about Sierra Leone and indeed all of West Africa. But this is necessary work.
Do the people who work so hard every day to grow excellent cocoa, and who buy and haul and store it, who steward it until it sails away on a container ship—do they not deserve to have their experiences, their labor, their cocoa recognized and esteemed? We all want to be seen, and for our work to be valued.
I think that even more than when they tasted the chocolate, when the farmers, buying officers, and agricultural extension staff saw the words “Gola Rainforest, Sierra Leone” on the Dandelion bar wrapper, they felt what they had achieved. I saw people’s faces light up with pride. I hope that there is more of the same to come.
Madame Jebbe, Women’s Leader of the Gaura Cocoa Farmers’ Association; photo by Felicity Butler
It is my privilege and joy to work with the farmers and association executives in Gaura, Malema, Tunkia, and Koya chiefdoms; with the staff (especially Björn Horvath and Katie Sims in Kenema) at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which has worked for decades to conserve and protect the Gola Rainforest and whose idea it was to start a cocoa business in the forest edge communities in the first place; my excellent colleagues at Twin & Twin Trading (especially Hannah Davis, who managed Twin’s contributions from the start, and Deborah Bickler, who kept us all going); Gino at Meridian Cacao, who has been generously helping to build capacity and cocoa expertise for both Twin and Gola; and, of course, Greg and the team at Dandelion Chocolate. Thank you for bringing Gola Rainforest Chocolate into the world.
Team members from Twin & Gola, looking forward to the future of Gola Rainforest Cocoa! Photo by Kristy Leissle
While I don’t typically start a post with an apology, this post is aimed at chocolate makers and professionals in the Chocolate and Cacao community. I apologize if this post causes any sort of undue disappointment to others who don’t work in chocolate and enjoy reading our blog!
One of the things we enjoy the most about making chocolate is the amazing community of people who share our passion. From June 26th – 29th this year a number of chocolate makers will be once again hosting our annual Chocolate Maker Summer Camp (a.k.a. The Funconference)! We do this once a year as an opportunity for people who work in chocolate and cacao from all over the world to come together for a few days of relaxation on a lake in upstate New York. Camp is held for 4 days and 3 nights at the Berskshire Hills Eisenberg Camp. There will be activities (including swimming, archery, and campfires) as well as plenty of time to chat with others in the community. As a bit of incentive I’ve included some photos from last year and if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact email@example.com.
NOTE: We are sorry to say that summer camp is only open to industry members (chocolate makers, cacao producers, etc).
We’re constantly experimenting with new flavors and formats in our pastry kitchen, and every few months, we like to roll out a new, seasonal menu.
We keep some pastries on our menu year round—the s’more, the brownie flight, the chocolate chip cookie—but when the season’s first figs or persimmons or oranges come to market, our kitchen team just can’t help but do those flavors justice.
Meet the newest additions to our menu! (Spoiler alert: the winter citrus is almost too delicious right now.)
Salted Caramel Éclair
This season, we swapped out our earl grey éclair for a salted caramel rendition. With salty, caramelized cream inside and a rich, chocolatey Camino Verde glaze on top, it’s our new, delicious take on a classic.
Creamsicle Panna Cotta
Winter citrus, meet chocolate. This season’s version of our panna cotta is infused with nibs from Camino Verde, Ecuador and topped with chocolate orange streusel and citrus. Infusing nibs in cream creates a panna cotta that tastes like chocolate but looks like white cream, and when we mix that with blood orange? It’s a luxuriously rich and delicious creamsicle.
Chocolate Bostock with Roasted Apples
Our almond-laced, Camino Verde custard-filled bostock gets dressed up with roasted apples just in time for the chilly weather. We recommend it with a hot chocolate and a warm, cozy sweater.
Lime Macadamia Tart
Last but not least, a chocolatey, zested zinger. Meet our newest tart: a little bit tropical, a little bit tart, and a whole lot of delicious.
We’re almost at the end of our nine-day pop up in New York City, and…WOW. We are just so humbled.
Day in and day out, our tiny little corner café in Chelsea has been flooded with such warmth and enthusiasm, and we can barely keep the s’mores in stock! Chef Lisa and her team have doubled down in their little commissary kitchen, rolling out impossible numbers of cookies and tarts and brownies and more. We’ve made more hot chocolate this week than we thought we ever could, and we’ve been teaching chocolate making classes to the best and most welcoming crowds.
We have a few more classes and book events before we hit the road back to California on December 3rd, so come see us before then! The full list of events is here.
12 Nights of Chocolate is an annual fundraising event where we invite the best chefs in the city (and beyond) to take over our space and create an experience, and there’s only one rule: use our chocolate, and run with it.
This is our fifth year and we couldn’t be more excited to announce the amazing line-up of chefs – 15 Michelin stars – not that we’re counting! Every evening is so unique, creative and different from the next: State Bird Provisions will be cooking from their just-released book; the ultimate ice-cream social with Salt & Straw, Revival and Smitten; Manresa Bread, Neighbor Bakehouse and Jane The Bakery are teaming up for “Bakery Night”; Toothache Magazine celebrate their forthcoming issue with Nick Muncy, Shawn Gawle, Kim Alter (Nightbird), Val Cantu (Californios), Rupert & Carrie Blease (Lord Stanley) – an all-star line-up.
The dates are December 4th through 15th and most evenings will take place in a beautiful loft space on the second floor of our upcoming chocolate factory on 16th and Alabama, and others at our Valencia cafe. As in years past, all proceeds will go to the SF-Marin Food Bank, for whom last year’s event raised over 65,000 meals.
A donation bin will be located inside our cafe for the duration of the event. Stop by to drop off cans and non-perishable food anytime during the holiday series.
We still have tickets left for our book launch party on November 14th at The Archery! Our book hits shelves that day, and we’re really excited to share it with you and celebrate. We’ll have cocoa nib-infused beer from Almanac Beer, Co., smoked brisket from Central Kitchen and bites from The Cheese School, cocktails from Workhorse Rye, and of course, a decadent spread of cakes and more from our own Lisa Vega and her team. We’ll be signing books, too. Hope to see you there!
Our 2016 Sourcing Report is here! In it, you’ll find profiles of every origin we purchased cocoa beans from in 2016, details about how they get to us, information about how much we purchased and how much paid, as well as updates from our factories.
We write an annual sourcing report because we believe that transparency is good for everyone. Historically, it’s been difficult for consumers to get a clear view of the supply chain and the conditions surrounding cacao production, and for producers, it’s similarly opaque. As a craft chocolate maker, we are part of a small but growing set of companies that seeks to shift focus to the bean. We strive to make chocolate whose origins are distinct, clear, and sustainable, and we hope this report helps to connect our producers and their practices with each other and anyone interested in learning about where chocolate comes from.
Now, you might be saying, “2016? That was, like, a really long time ago.” And you’re right! This year, we were a little caught up writing this other thing, which meant the sourcing report took us a little longer than expected this time around. But it’s here, and we hope you enjoy it!