Magazine article Sunset

Raising the Bar. (Innovators)

Magazine article Sunset

Raising the Bar. (Innovators)

Article excerpt

A WINEMAKER AND A DOCTOR CHANGE THE WAY AMERICANS THINK ABOUT CHOCOLATE. "When we started, the chocolate industry was where the coffee industry was 15 years ago," says John Scharffenberger. "Nobody was makikng European-style espresso because the prevailing belief was that Americans did not like strongly flavored products."

His success has proven this to be as untrue for chocolate as it was for coffee. In the five years that Scharffen-berger, a former sparkling wine-maker, and Robert Steinberg, a physician, have been in business, the two have achieved national attention for making a flavorful, high-quality chocolate using small-scale European artisanal methods--nearly unheard of in a country dominated by a handful of large-scale chocolate producers. Still tiny by industry standards, Scharffen Berger's 30 employees produce 400,000 pounds of chocolate annually.

In the beginning, the two figured their heady, dark Chocolate--a blend of eight separately roasted beans selected from around the world for their flavor and acidity--would appeal mostly to chefs and bakers. But one day Scharffenberger went to a farmers' market with about 100 of what he describes as "funny little candy bars" that they'd made by filling their larger molds halfway. He sold out of the bars in an hour.

Five years later, consumers want their dark chocolate smooth and well balanced, and there has been an explosion of interest in the beans that go into it. Last year, for example, Guittard Chocolate Company, the 134-year-old San Francisco Bay Area chocolate manufacturer, introduced an artisanal line of chocolates labeled with the names of cocoa bean varietals. …

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