Did you know that here in the East Bay, there are two ultrapremium chocolate factories a stone’s throw from each other that you can view (and sample)? You’ve probably heard of Scharffen Berger in Berkeley by now, and a few blocks away in Emeryville (in the former Andronico’s location), Charles Chocolates opened its retail store in February this past year. This Saturday (June 23) marks the official grand opening of its cafe (1st 25 customers get a free gift!). This evening, I had the honor of attending a behind the scenes tour of the factory floor and a preview of the cafe.
Charles Siegel (“Chuck”), the founder, has been in the chocolate business for twenty years. He started Charles Chocolates about two and a half years ago to “redefine the world of fine chocolate confections…. us[ing] only the finest ingredients , including some of the world’s best chocolates, organic herbs, fruits and nuts as well as organic cream and butter from Straus Dairy”. Unlike Scharffen Berger, Charles Chocolates does not produce its own chocolate from cacao pod to bar, but instead, crafts confections such as truffles, bonbons, fruit gelees and chocolate covered nuts.
Now, Charles Chocolates does not offer a tour to the general public. Instead, Chuck has decided to open up his kitchen for viewing to the general public with the goal of “demystifying chocolate”. Modeled on the open kitchens popularized by restaurants in the nineties, the cafe offers seating in front of a wall of windows so that customers can enjoy their treats while watching the chocolatiers mix, cook, mold, enrobe and decorate their candies. In a few months, the cafe may start offering (non yeasted) breakfast pastries.
That being said, I was lucky enough to go behind the glass and take a closer look at the factory floor. Chuck demonstrated some of the equipment used everyday in the factory.
This table has cold water piped underneath to chill sheets of chocolate, caramel, molten sugar (eek!), etc.
This machine actually tempers the chocolate for you! There was also a really “vacumn super cuisinart” contraption that I was too excited about to take a picture of.
This “guitar cutter” slices ganache, caramel, etc.
The chocolate enrober, straight out of “I Love Lucy”.
As Chuck talked about the business and chocolate making, it was clear that he was very, very passionate about his craft, but still pretty laid back. The company isn’t looking to be avant garde (no bacon/blue cheese truffles here) but instead seeks out high quality ingredients for yummy, approachable treats. One of the most unique offerings is the “chocolate box” – a box of the bonbons inside a decorated all chocolate box!
You can even have the lids customized. BTW, the only white chocolate they use is for the chocolate box lids.
Their top seller is the chocolate covered almonds, and one of their newest products (created by accident), the chocolate caramel almond sticks, is already their number 3 seller. Chuck’s favorite bonbons are the bittersweet chocolate peanut butterflies (because they were so difficult to make without tasting like Reese’s, plus they make the peanut butter themselves) and the pistachio lemon clusters. Their chocolate is kosher, though not certified (an issue with a European supplier). Chuck says that although he tastes every batch of chocolate, he maintains his weight but just tasting. Stress also plays an important factor. “Remember,” he grinned, “chocolate makes you happy, not fat!”
Oh, and through I surreptitiously tried to peek in the corners and behind the shelves and trays, I did not spot a single Oompa Loompa.
6529 Hollis Street
Emeryville, CA 94608
open daily from 11-7