Sunday, September 6, 2009
Last month, I was introduced to Susan at the Chocolate Chronicle. Susan is one of the founders of Sôcôla Chocolates, the up-and-coming chocolatier based in Oakland. Just in the past six months, Sôcôla Chocolates has been conspicuously receiving more media attention: in KQED Bay Area Bites; The San Francisco Examiner; The Oakland Tribune; Diablo Magazine; The London Financial Times; and Thanh Nien – one of the Vietnamese National Newspaper to name a few.
After a brief meeting with Susan in San Francisco, I asked her if I could visit their kitchen in Oakland and watch them dip their hands into chocolate to how their creations are made. She responded immediately and I was in Oakland the next day.
Sôcôla is owned by the funny, young, and talented Vietnamese American sisters who grew up in Santa Rosa: Wendy Lieu and Susan Lieu. Wendy, the Sôcôla’s chief Chocolatier is a pastry school graduate, yet predominately a self-taught chocolatier. She has been enjoying cooking since she was nine. Being a first generation Vietnamese American, Wendy has always been excited about making American foods. She has no idea that one day, tasting gourmet chocolate truffles from See’s Candies would alter her perception of chocolate and forged links that eventually became Sôcôla Chocolates. Wendy searched for a recipe, started making them at home and soon she was a famous chocolate maker in their neighborhood.
Susan, the younger sister, is a Harvard graduate and former board member of the Santa Rosa farmers’ market. She assists Wendy in the kitchen and does most of the sales and publicity work. Susan was recently in Vietnam for nine months and taught farmers sustainable farming methods - how to grow cacao as part of her research project.
Considering how intimate Sôcôla’s operation is today, their contribution to the community is highly impressive. That alone is enough to inspire the utmost support from me. Most certainly then, it is not surprising to know that most the ingredients are from local suppliers – i.e., fresh fruits from farmers’ market, butter and cream from Straus Family Creamery. “Quality is a big ingredient and the best ingredient in our chocolate,” Susan said. They use absolutely no preservatives or additives and choose the best quality ingredients while keeping prices relatively reasonable.
The flavors of Sôcôla Chocolates come from all over the world, which is what makes them so special. They have incorporated eastern flavors such as guava, tamarind, green tea, jasmine tea, lychee and durian. Although I haven’t tasted them all as of yet, I did taste four signature line flavors which is half eastern, half western – Give It To Me Guava, Vietnamese Espresso, Guinness Beer, Burnt Baby Burnt.
Give It To Me Guava - sweet, tropical, fresh.
Vietnamese Espresso – perfect combination of coffee and chocolate, rich & creamy just like Ho Chi Min city street coffee.
Guinness Beer – bitter, robust, dark, masculine without the body odor.
Burnt Baby Burnt – bitter, smoky; rich and creamy with a touch of sweetness.
Their western flavors are not just ordinarily western. Each creation leaves a very unique impression wholly different from anything I’ve ever tasted. Because each chocolate has such a fun name, I would suggest visiting their website for each description. There is the W line which is Wendy’s premier line and they can also make customized chocolates to fit your needs.
Sôcôla’s mascot alpaca represents the sense of fun and energy that these two sisters embody. It also symbolizes their chocolate flavors as they all come from different parts of the world. Susan said “Alpaca is so high class that it’s almost untouchable.” “[We] try to bring the attitude of joy while maintaining quality.” High class perhaps, but still very accessible. Try the signature flavors and you’ll agree.
1. Sôcôla Chocolates was tremendously generous in offering me a box of chocolates to giveaway for my blog readers. If you would like to win this box, simply leave a comment on this post by September 26th (to be precise, by 11:59pm Pacific Time) - only available to US residents. Winners will be announced during the September 27th post, so please don’t forget to check back for the results!
2. If you become a fan of Sôcôla Chocolate on the facebook or follow them on twitter, you can find out their next free samples or events near you.
3. Sôcôla Chocolates can be purchased at Alameda Natural Grocery Store (Alameda), Bi-Rite Market (Misson, San Francisco), Whole Foods SoMa (San Francisco), Daily Delectables (Oakland), Pasta Shop - seasonally, from November (4th Street, Berkeley & Rockbridge, Oakland) and directly from their website. As they continue to expand their reputation, they are currently planning on opening a dessert bar in Oakland in next summer.
More photos from visiting Sôcôla Chocolates can be seen at Flickr.