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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker (Berkeley)

Edit 29 January, 2009: Hershey's announced that they were going to close the Scharffen Berger factory down in West Berkeley, fire their workers, and move production to a plant in Illinois. It looks like they've already shut down the factory tour, as a visit to that website just redirects to Hershey's homepage. Get your California-made Scharffen Berger chocolates while you still can!

As a small kid growing up in America, I only knew two chocolates: Hershey's and Nestle. Both were milk chocolate, and both were (to me) just okay. Early on, I found that I preferred the Hershey's "Special Dark" brand of chocolate candy, just because of that slight bitter tang. Ever since then, I've always gone for dark chocolate over milk.

Annie is an avowed chocoholic. She introduced me to fine, European-style milk chocolates such as Lindt and Cadbury (the ones that are actually made in Europe, not the American-made ones). Those were good, but I still preferred dark.

Today we went to the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker factory in Berkeley to take their factory tour. (If you've not heard of Scharffen Berger before, they are a very popular maker of "artisanal" chocolates, specializing in dark chocolate.) Unlike the "Willy Wonka" factory, you don't need to have a golden ticket to get in. Just make a reservation online, and show up 10 minutes before your scheduled start time. It's totally free!

Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker (Berkeley)

Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker (Berkeley)

You walk in the store and are immediately enveloped in the sweet smell of chocolate. Just take a moment to breathe it in. Then browse the shelves for all manner of dark chocolate: truffles, bars, and blocks. Legally, dark chocolate is defined as containing 35% or more cacao. Scharffen Berger's chocolates start at 41% and go all the way up to 99%!

Scharffen Berger Dark Chocolates

Scharffen Berger Dark Chocolates

The tour is actually mostly a lecture held in a room next to the factory. Our host took us on a trip through the company's fascinating history, a detour into the wilds of what defines and composes chocolate, and a discussion of how chocolate is processed from the bean to the bar.

Roasted Chocolate Bean

Roasted Chocolate Bean

They source their beans from around the world and actually blend the beans to get the desired flavor. Much like blending grapes to make a good wine. They use vanilla from Madagascar, sugar from Hawaii, and only cocoa butter to make up the rest of the chocolate. This is significant because Scharffen Berger's parent company, candy giant Hershey's has begun using vegetable oil and shortening in place of cocoa butter in some of their chocolate candy products.

Yes, that's right, Hershey's owns Scharffen Berger, along with two other artisanal chocolate makers, Dagoba Chocolates and Joseph Schmidt, as part of their foray into higher-end chocolates. Fortunately, aside from a few safety improvements in the factory, nothing else has changed. Scharffen Berger is still committed to small-batch, high-quality dark chocolate.

So, after a very educational lecture, we are instructed to put on our hairnets and ear protection, and ushered into the factory. It is a cavernous brick building, cramped with vintage European chocolate manufacturing equipment such as this cacao bean roaster:

Cacao Bean Roaster at Scharffen Berger

Cacao Bean Roaster at Scharffen Berger

After the beans are roasted, they are put into the winnower where the roasted beans are cracked and the nibs at the heart of the bean are extracted. From there, they go into the melangeur to be crushed by these huge granite wheels:

Scharffen Berger Melangeur

 Scharffen Berger Melangeur

From there they spend many hours in the conching machine where the ground-up nibs are mixed with sugar and vanilla and refined into a smooth liquid. Next, the liquid is tempered so that the cocoa butter fats form a crystal structure that solidifies and stabilizes the chocolate. After that, the chocolate goes to the molding machine to form bars.

Scharffen Berger Chocolate Bars

 Scharffen Berger Chocolate Bars

The actual walk through the factory is quite fast. Before you know it, you are shown the door and find yourself back in the store, ready to buy some of their chocolate. The staff are eager to give you a taste of any of their bar chocolate. We came home with a 10th Anniversary bar (incredibly smooth), a mocha bar (kick your heart into overdrive), a nibby bar (studded with crunchy cocoa nibs) and an 82% extra dark (oh yeah, baby!).

Scharffen Berger Chocolate Bars

 Scharffen Berger Chocolate Bars

Annie also picked up a couple bags of dark chocolate baking chunks.


We'll be working on some recipes, incorporating Scharffen Berger dark chocolate, in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

Aloha, Nate

Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker
914 Heinz Ave
Berkeley, CA 94710

Monday through Saturday - 10 am to 6 pm
Sunday - 10 am to 5 pm

Hungry for more chocolate? Click below:

Getting Buzzed at the Fabulous Food Festival

Racetrack Cake


Jun said...

Loving it. What a great trip that must be.

I have never heard of the name, I will start to look around. Especially the baking chunks. It would be great in chunky chocolate chip cookies

Borneoboy said...

I love chocolate ! This is a really nice post. Great pics !

chou said...

I agree--dark chocolate is the best!!!

Debbie said...

Great post. So bummed though... we visited California this summer and I didn't know about this place.

Oh well... next time.


Robert said...

Love the choco and the tour, did you eat at their cafe? I just brewed a oatmeal choco stout with their 99% chocolate

Mrs. L said...

Sometimes I'm amazed at all the places that are so close to me but I never think to visit.

CUMI & CIKI said...

chocolate can mend a broken heart!! better than any other aphrodisiac as well.. ahem

Jenster said...

I love dark chocolate and Scharffen Berger Chocolate is a winner.

If you're ever in Seattle, please consider taking a tour of Theo Chocolate in Fremont (, which makes the most delicious organic, free-trade chocolate. A friend of mine took the tour and not only learned a lot about the process but got to sample a TON of great chocolate (always a benefit).

I'm looking forward to your chocolate recipes!

Satria Sudeki said...

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Chocolate Cake
, I hope the article on my blog will be usefull for you… and we can share each other. thank you… ;-)

Peppercorn Press said...

I've tried their chocolate before... yumm. How fun to tour the factory. Thanks for sharing.

Sam said...

Wow, that looks like fun! I wish we had Scharffen Berger here in the UK :(

Michelle said...

Visiting a chocolate maker is something I still want to do. Thanks for giving me a taster. ;-)

Chandani said...

Thanks for dropping by at my blog:) visit to a chocolate factory sounds so wonderful!! I am also a fan of dark chocolate, loved watching your pics...

Bellini Valli said...

I'd feel like Willy Wonka visiting the chocolate factory.

Nate-n-Annie said...

@Jun - chunky chocolate chip cookies do sound yummy!

@Borneoboy - thanks!

@chou - milk chocolate just can't compare. And white chocolate? *shudder*

@Debbie - yes, next time. There's so much to see in California. We've been here 8 years and we've barely scratched the surface.

@robert - no, we didn't eat at the cafe. Bummer.

So, are we going to get to try some of your beer?

@Mrs. L - You and us both. Like I said...we've barely scratched the surface.

@Cumi & Ciki - ;-)

@Jenster - one of these days when we get up to Seattle, we'll look you up!

@Satria - thanks!

@Peppercorn Press - you're welcome!

@Sam - oh, there must be lots of good chocolate factories over there. They may not be as open to showing the public their process though...

@Michelle - it is an eye-opening experience. Fun and educational at the same time. These are the best learning experiences, IMO.

@chandani - thanks!

@Bellini Valli - No Oompah Loompahs, though ;-)

Amanda (Two Boos Who Eat) said...

I need to get over there to try some of that! I love factory tours.

Varsha Vipins said...

Cadbury's r my favvvv..:)

Rianne said...

Great post! Thanks for sharing your chocolate tour. I can just imagine the intoxicating smell in that place. I used to love milk chocolate as a kid, but now I prefer dark chocolate too.

Nate-n-Annie said...

@Amanda - the tour was a lot of fun!

@Varsha - we can't get real Cadbury's here in the States (at least, not that I've seen)

@Rianne - you're welcome!

Shana said...

Thank you for the great post on the Scharffen Beger tour, I took the tour for the first time this past month and loved it.

Great images of the factory as well!


Nate-n-Annie said...

Shana - that tour sure was fun, huh? Glad you liked our article. Thanks for stopping by our blog!

Colleen Brown said...

Thanks for the informative post! Hope to get to that side of the country some day.

Bread and Jam said...

This makes me so sad. Scharffen Berger is my absolute favorite brand of chocolate. Is Hershey going to keep the same recipe for the brand I hope?

Nate-n-Annie said...

@Bread and Jam - I wouldn't bet on Hershey's keeping to the same high quality standards as the original Scharffen Berger. They are interested in cutting costs, making profits, and other big corporate behavior. But the good news is that Scharffen Berger's legacy has spawned dozens of local artisan chocolatiers who are deserving of our patronage.