February 12, 2019

Where to Find the Tastiest Local Chocolate in SoCal (from KCET)

My latest for KCET delves into the world of SoCal chocolate culture. And since I haven't written much about that here, I thought I would excerpt some photos and writing from my chocolatey research here.

As I write in the article, which appears on, you don't need to travel to Europe or even Hershey, Pennsylvania to get your chocolate fix directly from an authentic chocolate maker. There's plenty right here in Southern California.

For instance, taking a bite of the dark chocolates at Chocovivo – which sources all its cacao beans from a farm in Tabasco, Mexico – is like tasting the nectar of the Mayan gods.

Ranging from 65% to 100% cacao pure bars to blended bars that include Mayan cinnamon and spices, nuts, fruit, sea salt, and spices (like black peppercorn), you can try them all at the tasting counter – your choice of flights of three, six, or all of the varieties available for sale in full-sized bars.

Chocolatier Jean-Michel Carré spent 40-some-odd years as a French chef at his own restaurant in France – and now he brings that haute cuisine sensibility to his chocolate-making at his own shoppe, Chocolats du Cali Bressan, in Carpinteria.

Carré runs the venture with his California-born wife Jill, spending much of his time in the kitchen to focus on creating milk, dark, and white chocolate truffles and bonbons. Each flavor profile is well balanced with the addition of citrus, mint, rum, and more. And while his French roots remain strong – “Cali Bressan” is a tip-of-the-hat to the Bresse area of Provence – Carré also incorporates ingredients from all over the world, like curry and cardamom.

At LA's Letterpress Chocolate right now, you can taste 70% dark chocolates made from beans sourced from various cacao-growing regions around the world—including Ecuador, Ghana, Costa Rica, Belize, the Ucayali region of Peru, and so on.

Soon enough, though, you’ll be able to taste Letterpress chocolate bars made from its own beans, as it has invested in own sustainable cacao farm, Guatemala's Izabal Agroforest.

At the helm of Twenty-Four Blackbirds  in Santa Barbara,is founder Mike Orlando, raised to grow plants, trained as a marine biologist and self-taught machine-tinkerer and candyman. Much of the equipment used in the factory was designed or even built by Orlando, including those for roasting the beans and cracking and winnowing the shells.

In the self-guided tasting section of the boutique, you can serve yourself small portions of dark chocolate whose bean origins range from the Dominican Republic and Belize to Tanzania and Madagascar.

In addition to hand-wrapped bars, also for sale in a glass case are beautifully decorated truffles, each hand-painted with colored cocoa butter, as iridescent and eye-catching as precious gems.

With a factory store located in the Brentwood neighborhood, Compartés has been making chocolate in L.A. since 1950 – but what it offers now under the leadership of upstart owner Jonathan Grahm isn’t your grandmother’s candy bar.

What was once a favorite of Marilyn, Frank, and Elvis has flipped Hollywood glamour on its head – with Grahm mixing in pretzels, scones, doughnuts, brownies, potato chips, and even kale.

Whether you are a newbie nibbler or a confection connoisseur, SoCal’s chocolate shops are constantly looking for ways to surprise, enlighten, and seduce you – one bean at a time.

And these are five of the best places in SoCal to indulge your sweet tooth and embrace the savory side of chocolate in bean, bar, bonbon, and beverage forms.

To read the full article on the KCET website, click here

Related Post:
Photo Essay: Crafting Cacao Under the Influence of a Printing Press
Photo Essay: From Bean to Bar at a Chocolate Factory
Farm to Fork? Bean to Bar? This Is Bean to Brew.
Photo Essay: How Brooklyn Does Bourbon and Chocolate Bars

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