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    Kokak: The Tiffany of Chocolates

    By David Landis–

    Entrepreneur Carol Gancia introduces high-end luxury chocolates to the Castro

    She’s adorable. Effervescent. Immediately likeable. You can tell she has a good heart. And even better, she has good taste.

    That would be Carol Gancia, the dynamo Filipino-American entrepreneur who has brought artisan chocolates back to the Castro (at 18th and Sanchez) with her quirky and artistic brand, Kokak Chocolates. Those with a memory may recall the days of Joseph Schmidt, whose eponymous chocolate operation ran for years in the ‘hood. But Carol has taken chocolate making and design to a whole new artistic level. The Gay Gourmet likes to call them “the Tiffany of chocolates.”

    Why the name Kokak? “When I started the chocolate shop,” explains Gancia, “I wanted to be different. I like hanging out in chocolate shops. Before I started the business, that’s where I would hang out every weekend. I wanted a brand that was approachable, friendly, and unique. Kokak (which means “ribbit,”—yes, like frogs—in English) has a story. I’m from the Philippines and went to a university there where there was a pond, lily pods, and animal life—that was the picture in my head. I wanted to tell the story of tropical pond life—through chocolates.”

    Why did Gancia decide to locate in the Castro? “My downtown is the Castro; it’s dear to my heart. Growing up in the Philippines, I knew I was a lesbian, but it was a ‘hush-hush’ kind of thing. I couldn’t say it out loud in a way that you can be out and proud in San Francisco. When I moved here, I felt free. The Castro was my neighborhood of choice. I love having a small business and being in touch with the community that serves me.”

    The Gay Gourmet asked Gancia for the San Francisco Bay Times, “How has your Filipino heritage influenced your chocolates?” She replies, “A lot. My main theme is tropical pond life, with the inspiration coming from the Philippines. We have 29 flavors now, but one of our best sellers is kalamansi, a Philippine lime the size of a quarter, with the flavor of orange and lime. I decided to make it into a chocolate truffle. Another popular flavor is our mango lemongrass. Mango is the Philippines’ national fruit and I think that the Philippines has the best mangoes in the world—not fibrous at all, they’re fresh, smooth, and sweet. I made the chocolate more interesting by adding lemongrass. We also serve Cacao Porridge. This is a friendship porridge between the Mexicans and the Filipinos, since both were colonized by the Spanish. When Mexicans visited the Philippines in the 1500s, they brought chocolates. Filipinos made a porridge out of it—a chocolate, sticky rice porridge. We gave it a different twist—condensed milk, coconut, Japanese rice, and chocolate.”

    Kokak’s whimsical differentiators include the unique artistic designs on every chocolate. I asked Gancia: who designs them and what are they made of? “I select all the designs, but I don’t make them from scratch,” Gancia explains. “They’re from different artists. The design is colored cacao butter, a thin layer of which gets printed into plastic sheets. When we’re making the chocolate, we have molded chocolates. We pour wet chocolate on the sheet and when it dries, it adheres to those designs. It’s a 2 to 3-day process. We want it to be strong enough so it doesn’t crack. You wait for the filling to set. Once it’s hard, we unmold it and the design is there. The shelf life is long because it keeps oxygen away. Everything is handmade and everything is made in the shop.”

    The Gay Gourmet can attest to the quality of these one-of-a-kind chocolates. I sampled many different flavors: single origin Ecuador, sea salt caramel, Earl Grey tea, matcha white, and more. But my favorites were those tropical iterations, especially the aforementioned kalamansi, the passion fruit, and the mango lemongrass. Those flavors for me evoke an island paradise. There is a richness and a complexity to Kokak Chocolates that you don’t find with other brands—and a lovely, sweet aftertaste that lingers. In particular, I loved the Cacao Porridge—a blend of chocolate, puffed rice, and coconut that is nothing like anything I’d had before. The flavors balance sweet with texture in a way that tastes luscious and satisfying.

    How does Gancia get that kind of quality? “I use Arriba Nacional cacao from Ecaudor,” says Gancia. “A typical chocolatier wouldn’t choose this because it’s very expensive. I tried different chocolates when I started with a pop-up store and this one ‘blew my mind.’ It was so arresting and I was so drawn to it. I don’t like compromising. My cacao is single origin, which means good quality. It’s also certified Fair Trade, which makes it a traceable source. The people growing and processing the cacao are doing the right things—paying their people well. It’s important that the source has integrity. But I don’t just buy single origin because it’s single origin; it has to be flavorful.”

    How did Gancia survive the pandemic? “During the pandemic, neighbors were so supportive,” Gancia says. “They went on their walks and would stop by and buy chocolates from us and say, ‘We want you to stay open.’ I was very touched by that. A lot of those original customers are still our customers today. Three months after opening, I decided to strengthen our e-commerce presence and do shipping. That was a big game changer. That’s when we started getting more orders—unprecedented orders—and we were shipping all over the country. Things turned around last Christmas.”

    What’s on the horizon for Kokak Chocolates? “For this month, we have introduced a seasonal artisanal chocolate bar (“Freedom 1896 Artist Palette Heirloom”), with the colors of the Philippine flag, to honor Philippine Independence Day (June 12). We have a special ‘Love is Love’ 9-piece Pride box for Pride month (also this month) and we celebrated our first anniversary on June 16.”

    “Ultimately,” summarizes Gancia, “we would like our chocolate to be a sweet instrument to help create and remember happy chocolate moments with loved ones near and far.”

    Bits and Bites

    It’s still the month to celebrate Pride, so here are some foodie-related offerings to whet your appetite: Curio Bar and Restaurant in the Mission has brunch drag shows on June 26th at noon, 1, 2, and 3 pm; The Vault Garden also hosts its popular “Tits Up” drag brunches June 26 at 11 am and 2 pm; New Belgium Brewing San Francisco is introducing a “Love Conquers Ale” beer (a partnership with Samuel Adams), where 100% of the proceeds are donated to GLAAD; and Rooftop bar Charmaine’s (at the Proper Hotel) is celebrating all month long with rainbow cocktails. Each cocktail features a different color throughout the month, including Red (a Mezcal Negroni), Orange (an Aperol Spritz), and Yellow (Blended Scotch, honey, ginger, and lemon). $1 from each cocktail will be donated to The Richmond/Ermet Aid Foundation. Canela in the Castro is offering for $45 Pride Go-Bags, which include: a rainbow French market bag; a 16 oz. celebration sangria; a large bag of Spanish potato chips with paprika, ham, or truffle flavor; and a rainbow candy bag. And Oakland’s Sobre Mesa (whose talented chef, Nelson German, I profiled during his Top Chef season this year) hosts a Pride benefit dinner for Oakland Black Pride featuring Chef German plus a surprise guest chef on June 24 at 6 pm. Wave your Pride flag proudly this year and enjoy the festivities safely!

    One final, non-Pride note: fans of the beloved San Francisco Ferry Plaza’s Farmers Market can now get their produce delivered to their home through a partnership with The Fruit Guys and CUESA, which runs the iconic market on the Embarcadero. The Gay Gourmet can attest that these boxes are fresh and delicious and delivered in a timely fashion.

    Details and links for all of The Gay Gourmet’s tips this month:

    Kokak Chocolates:
    Curio Bar and Restaurant:
    The Vault Garden:
    New Belgium Brewing SF:
    Sobre Mesa:
    Ferry Plaza Farmers Market Delivered:

    David Landis, aka “The Gay Gourmet,” is a foodie, a freelance writer and a PR executive. Follow him on Instagram @GayGourmetSF, on Twitter @david_landis, email him at: or visit him online at:

    Published on June 24, 2021