The Chocolate Life

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Charles Chocolates founder Chuck Siegel is not new to the chocolate business. In fact, he started his first chocolate business some 20 years ago in the San Francisco Bay area. That business, Attivo Confections, is credited with the creation of the giant chocolate and caramel covered apple and first gourmet s'more, among other reinterpretations of childhood favorites.

In starting Charles Chocolates, Chuck moved away from Attivo's focus and become a prestige artisan confectioner and chocolatier. All Charles Chocolates products are made in small batches using quality ingredients. Importantly, production focuses on freshness and the company strives to ship all products within three days of their date of manufacture.

I received a large box of Charles Chocolates products – seemingly one of almost everything in the catalog. It took quite a while to work my way trough them all even sharing them with colleagues family members and friends.

Product literature claims that no artificial ingredients or preservatives are used to make any of Charles Chocolates' products and a close look at the ingredients labels supports this.

I did notice one incorrect ingredient label. The Teance Tea Collection label omits any mention of chocolate (chocolate liquor, cocoa mass, cocoa liquor, or cocoa beans) in the list of ingredients for the milk chocolate. I am sure that this is an oversight and is easily corrected as the ingredients are on a separate sticky label.

The visual design of much of the packaging is slightly 50s retro making it familiar rather than aggressively modern. A wide variety of transfer designs is used with the most interesting of those being their edible chocolate boxes – the boxes the chocolates come in is made of chocolate and decorated with a huge transfer on the top.

The seasonality of the edible chocolate boxes is reflected in the transfer designs.

In some cases, the attention to detail lavished on the pieces themselves is not reflected in the packaging and does not live up to the brand image or the price of the product. A case in point is the back of the Teance box ($30 for 8oz (20 pieces), $60/lb).

In particular, the labels on this box do not share a common design identity, and the best-by and ingredients labels are clearly afterthoughts and are not in keeping with the image of a prestige chocolatier.

Fit and Finish
The major disappointment with respect to fit and finish of any of Charles Chocolates products was the pates des fruits. Normally, fruit jellies like this are covered in a layer of sugar crystals and I suppose at some point these jellies might have had one. However, the two boxes I got did not appear to have them and the jellies left unappetizing sticky smudge marks all over the tops and bottoms of the boxes. Also, the jellies did not actually fill the boxes – a stock box was used and filled as much as possible rather than picking a box more suited in size to the amount of product being packed. At $16 for a 9oz box (or about $45/lb) and in the context of the overall brand image, I was disappointed.

One aspect of the positioning of the tasting guide on the Teance box was also challenging – I found looking at the list a clumsy procedure when the top of the box was off. I needed to lift it over my head to look at it without spilling the pieces all over. I suppose I could have put the top back on but I would have had do that each time or take all the pieces out of the box first.

Overall on the enrobed pieces, the sides were of uniform thickness and fairly thin. However, sometimes the bottoms were not evenly coated.

Aroma, Taste, and Texture
Upon opening up any box (of chocolates) the primary sense impression was chocolate, a very good sign of a quality product. In some cases, and especially in the Teance Tea Collection, it was possible to distinguish that the centers in the pieces were flavored using different teas simply by smelling them even before they were opened.

Ganaches were uniformly creamy and clean, as were the caramels, with most flavors easily identifiable (the least easy to differentiate were, in my opinion, the pates des fruits which as a group were the least well balanced flavors of the entire collection). The Jasmine tea was a standout with the bitter tannins of the tea quite evident on the tongue making for a complex flavor profile that, in the end, did not overpower the chocolate.

From a texture perspective, the least appealing pieces were the panned almonds and hazelnuts whose coating was too thick and crunchy for the nuts within.

Almost everything Charles Chocolates sells (except for the chocolate bars) is priced well above $40/pound with some items costing as much as $80/lb. This puts the company squarely in the “Prestige” category with a small proportion of items in the “Premium” category ($15-25/lb) and a few items in the “Super Premium” ($65+/lb) category.

One thing that would go a long way toward making getting or gifting Charles Chocolates would be a consistent approach to identifying what you're actually going to be eating. The Teance Tea Collection has a visual guide on the bottom of the box. The regular assortments do not have these guides whether in cardboard or edible chocolate boxes. There is a list of flavors on the bottom of the boxes of the pates des fruits but we are supposed to figure out for ourselves that the flavors are listed in the order that the pieces are packed in the box. To be fair, there is a downloadable tasting guide but I don't know how many people will think to stop what they are eating, go to the site to find the tasting guide, view it and/or print it, before going back to partaking.

In the end, that's really a small criticism and Charles Chocolates is a welcome addition to the growing collection of high-end SF-area chocolatiers that includes Michael Recchiuti, XOX, Richard Donnelley, and others.

Categories:Premium, Prestige, Super-Premium
Rating:Good to Very Good

Company Info
Charles Chocolates Factory Store & Chocolate Bar
6529 Hollis Street
Emeryville, CA 94608
phone: 510.652.4412
toll-free phone number: 888.652.4412
fax: 510.652.4414
Open daily 11am - 7 pm

General Information:

Retail Store:

Occasions and Corporate Gifts:

Wholesale Inquiries:

Tours and Special Events:

Tags: premium, prestige, rating, review, super premium

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