Monday, April 16, 2007

Designer Chocolates in Emeryville

I’m finally getting around to blogging about my visit to Charles Chocolates’ fairly new retail store in Emeryville. I know, I thought the same thing. Emeryville? Home of Pixar and Kodak Gallery (formerly known as Ofoto)?

After my urban hike to find the store (I caught a bus to the Emeryville Public Market and then had to walk a few blocks across the railroad tracks to Hollis Street), I found that Charles Chocolates wasn’t surrounded by much other than a new Starbucks at the corner and a lot of new condo lofts. I hope the people who live in these condos eat chocolates often because I don’t think the location of the retail store will garner much foot traffic.

Turns out, the retail store opened in new leased space adjacent to the longtime Charles Chocolates factory. So it was simply an opportunity for Charles Chocolates to expand and put a retail face to its growing popularity. (BTW, I find it funny that the chocolates are branded as Charles Chocolates “SF” giving the impression that they’re made in San Francisco. It should be Charles Chocolates “EM.”)

Charles Chocolates is the brainchild of Charles (Chuck) Siegel, who started his love for chocolates with Attivo Confections. His whole thing is hand-made chocolates with no artificial ingredients or preservatives. (In fact, all the boxes have an “eat by” date.) For most people familiar with Charles Chocolates, you’ve probably seen the bars sold at Whole Foods Market. For the rest of their hand-made chocolate products, they were mostly available only online and just recently at Cocoa Bella at the San Francisco Westfield Centre.

The store has a whimsical, fresh feel to it. It’s not very big, but (at least for now) they’re very generous with the samplings. A long talked about café was supposed to open this month with a view of the chocolate factory, but when I visited the space, the café looked like it may be another two to three months before it opens.

That’s OK. Because it’s still worth the trip to check out the many chocolates. Here are some photos from my visit:
On two walls on opposite ends of the tiny store, you’ll find a variety of chocolate products. When I was there, I saw several products that were co-branded with companies like Teance and Miette. Of course, they were beautifully wrapped. One of the cool products was an edible chocolate box. Talk about chocolate overload!
At the center of the store as you enter is a large counter of individual chocolates that you can assemble to create your own box. Like I said earlier, since the store is new they’re very friendly and are willing to let you try any of the flavors. (Of course, don’t expect to go crazy. They generally let you try between two to three flavors. I tried lavender honey and a lychee tea chocolate.)
More samples. This was a plate of chocolate with nuts, but I didn’t try it so I can’t tell you what it is. It’s not featured on the Web site either, so your guess is as good as mines.
Chocolate powdered nuts and the widely available chocolate bars. One of the new chocolate nuts is a triple chocolate hazelnut. Mmmm.
Many of the tea-infused chocolates come with these cool designs on top that looks almost like Chinese calligraphy. I have to say, I didn’t feel like the tea-infused chocolates had a distinctive tea taste. (And you know how much I love tea.) The chocolate did have a deeper, richer flavor, but I wasn’t able to taste any essence of a particular tea flavor like Earl Grey or the lychee I tried.
So I ended up leaving with this tiny 3 oz. box of chocolates that has a sampling of 9 different chocolates. It’s sold for $14, which is the same price point as what you may find at Recchiuti. The sampling box doesn’t come with a guide of what you’re eating, so I had to guess based on what I saw on the Web. Of the 9 I tried, these were my favorites:

Bittersweet Peanut Butterfly—Charles has two butterflies and this one has a nice rich flavor with a nutty praline taste. Made me feel like I was in the south for some reason.

Raspberry Heart—Fresh raspberry ganache in a bittersweet gold heart. Pretty and tasty! The cream was smooth and sweet. It was a sublime experience.

Caramelized Almond Cluster—This can be very addictive. I think it's the strong nutty flavor. It's actual more a almond cluster coated with chocolate than really a chocolate candy. Whatever the dual identity, I could eat this with a movie.

Mojito heart—Hands down, the best chocolate I’ve tasted in a long time for it’s freshness and originality. It’s a chocolate heart filled with fresh mint and lime ganache with a hint of Jamaican rum. It had this sweet tart flavoring that was such a fresh combination with the chocolate. I could buy a whole box of this. (And I just might.)

Charles Chocolates, 6529 Hollis Street (at 65th Street), Emeryville
PH: 510.652.4412; open daily, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.


Eric said...

Row after row of delicious chocolates! They look very tantalizing.

Anonymous said...

do u they have a glass cover over their chocolates? Owner said it's coming, but from the pictures it doesn't look like it.

Chef Ben said...

That's so funny that you posted this question about the glass because I was just thinking about cleanliness when I was looking at the photos again. It didn't occur to me while I was there, I was just so amazed at all the pretty chocolates. But no, there were no glass when I was there. I guess everything's taking awhile to get done. To me, all those things are cosmetic. As long as the core business is good, and the chocolates are quality chocolates.

Anonymous said...

I was there last Sunday and they had a beautiful curved glass (or maybe acrylic) cover over the display case - I bought two of the "chocolate boxes", boxes of confections where the box is made entirely of chocolate, so other than a few yummy samples, I didn't get anything from the case.