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So much of chocolate making history begins in Lyon, France and Scharffen Berger is no exception.

The Dark Chocolate Bakery uses Scharffen Berger’s professional 70% and 99% bittersweet baking chocolate. Scharffen Berger’s exceptional, artisan chocolate with its rich and pure complexity, offers upfront notes of ripe raspberry and cherry that melts smoothly into rounder date and cinnamon flavors.

The Scharffenberger name comes from co-founder John Scharffenberger and his retired physician named Dr. Robert Steinberg.

In 1989, Steinberg was diagnosed with cancer and given a 50% chance of dying within ten years of the diagnosis.[1] Steinberg promptly sold his practice and began exploring other career options.[1] he read through a 600 page chocolate cookbook at the urging of a friend, which sparked Steinberg’s interest in chocolate making.[1] He began traveling to study the process of chocolate making which led him to Lyon, France where Steinberg toured the Bernachon chocolate company in 1993. He soon composed a letter in French asking Bernachon for an internship and was granted a brief two weeks with the small company.[1]

Steinberg returned from his internship in France and soon ran into John Scharffenberger, his former patient and neighbor.[1] Scharffenberger, a winemaker and businessman, was selling his winery, Scharffenberger Cellars (today under the new management of Maisons Marques & Domaines), and was exploring potential new business opportunities.[1] Steinberg offered Scharffenberger a piece of French chocolate which he happened to have in his pocket. “Robert had this chunk of chocolate in his pocket that I think he’d been carrying for months. But it tasted better than anything I’d ever had,” Scharffenberger later recalled in a 1998 interview with People Magazine.[1]

Scharffenberger and Steinberg soon partnered together to begin making chocolate. They began creating their first experimental batches of chocolate in Steinberg’s own home kitchen using over 30 varieties of cacao beans.[1] Their basic chocolate making instruments included a mortar and pestle, coffee grinder and a hair dryer to keep the chocolate viscous.[1]

They decided to name their new company Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker because Scharffenberger’s name was already a known brand in the marketplace due to his winemaking.[1]

By 1997 they made the first batch in a small South San Francisco factory using vintage German equipment[1] and basic ingredients including Venezuelan Criollo beans and whole Tahitian vanilla. The company relocated to a new facility at a historic factory complex in Berkeley, California, within four years,[1] where it is still headquartered. Today, Scharffen Berger makes about a half million pounds (200 tonnes) of chocolate a year.

The phrase “from bean to bar” refers to the fact that the company selects its cacao beans from specific growers around the world and then performs every step to transform those beans into chocolate bars itself: from roasting, to conching, to tempering and molding. Scharffen Berger was the first American chocolate maker to prominently feature a chocolate bar’s cacao content on the label,[1] the higher the number the darker and more bitter the chocolate bar. Cacao content on labels is now common in the industry.

Scharffen Berger imports its beans from a range of cacao-growing countries and regions, including Venezuela, Ghana, Madagascar, the Caribbean, and Indonesia. Each bean variety is individually roasted and melanged in small batches, then blended with large-crystal cane sugar and whole bean Tahitian and Bourbon vanillas before being conched into liquid chocolate. Manufacturing takes about 40 hours.

On July 25, 2005, Scharffen Berger announced that it was being bought by The Hershey Company[2] On 2005 August 15, Hershey announced the completion of the acquisition [3]. Hershey purchased Scharffen Berger for about five times the company’s annual revenue, which was approximately $10 million a year at the time of the 2005 acquisition.[1] The same year Hershey’s also bought another San Francisco company, Joseph Schmidt Confections, and combined the two smaller companies into a wholly owned subsidiary, Artisan Confections Company.[4] In 2006 Hershey’s purchased Dagoba, an Ashland, Oregon-based manufacturer of organic chocolate. Hershey’s subsequently began manufacturing its new artisan brands in a factory in Robinson, Illinois and in early 2009 announced plans to close both Bay Area factories, lay off approximately 150 local employees, and transfer remaining production to Illinois, effectively keeping the company alive in name only.[4]

NOTE: Since Hershey has taken over and the small mom and pop feel of the Scharffen Berger brand has changed, the actual production process has much improved with Hershey’s acquisition with up-to-date equipment actually IMPROVING it’s quality!

Scharffen Berger founder Robert Steinberg died on September 17, 2008 in San Francisco, California.[5]

[1] Nelson, Valerie J. (2008-09-28). “Robert Steinberg dies at 61; founded chocolatier Scharffen Berger”. Los Angeles Times. http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-steinberg28-2008sep28,0,2673362.story. Retrieved 2008-12-13.

[2]The Hershey Company (2005-07-25). “The Hershey Company to Acquire Scharffen Berger, Entering Premium Chocolate Segment”. Press release. http://www.thehersheycompany.com/news/release.asp?releaseID=734521. Retrieved 2006-12-19.

[3]The Hershey Company (2005-08-15). “The Hershey Company Acquires Joseph Schmidt Confections and Completes Scharffen Berger Acquisition, Extending Reach Into Premium Chocolate Segment”. Press release. http://www.thehersheycompany.com/news/release.asp?releaseID=743393. Retrieved 2006-12-19.

[4] Victoria Colliver (2009-01-27). “Scharffen Berger, Schmidt plants to be closed”. San Francisco Chronicle. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/01/27/BU2F15I9DV.DTL.

[4] Carolyn Jones (2008-09-23). “Physician, chocolatier Robert Steinberg dies”. San Francisco Chronicle. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/09/23/BARP132SR3.DTL&tsp=1.

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