Since last September, Julia Street has been selling chocolates only a scientist could dream up to San Francisco via her pop-up chocolate business, J Street Chocolate. A self-taught chocolatier, she left her food-tech job to follow her obsession with all things fermented. Available online, at any of a myriad of pop-ups, or for delivery, J Street’s experimental chocolates challenge the notions of sustainability and creativity in the world of confections.
Chocolate is one of the few fermented products that’s fermented where it’s grown and harvested. Street pointed this out while she listed the many reasons to love fermentation. She started making chocolate about four years ago while working in tech but quit in 2019 to work at Preserved, a fermentation shop in Oakland. She’s come a long way; customers are giving her online shop a run for its money. But really she just loves making things from scratch. “I’ve always fermented on the side: miso, soy sauce, sourdough bread,” Street said. “I got uber into my fermentation journey.”
J Street Chocolate is her first foray into business ownership, and her first serious go at craft chocolate. Chocolate, unlike restaurants or service workers largely, has done well during COVID. Looking back at its holiday numbers, British chocolatier Hotel Chocolat saw a 150 percent increase in US sales alone. Street is fortunate her love of fermentation allows her to enter a market that is trending upward.
Street has popped up around San Francisco, including at Cafe Alma in the Bayview alongside other neighborhood makers in December. She lives in the neighborhood and has found a real sense of comradery with other entrepreneurs – she popped up at Gratta Wines in December, too, a business she admires in the area. “I love seeing my neighbors and regulars in this small area,” Street said. “It’s so lovely.”
In making her bars, she loves upcycling with other fermenting advocates in the city. Laughing Monk Brewing sends her their spent grain, which she alchemizes into her Piv Snack Bars, a reference to an old family nickname. Her chocolate manages to be classic and avant garde in the same bite. The 68 percent cacao Dominican Republic Reserva Zorzal is creamy, as one would want it to be, without melting too fast and leaving that processed grittiness behind like so many chocolates. At $8, this bar, which also supports a Northern Dominican agroforestry project to maintain wild lands, is a rarity in the San Francisco chocolate market. “Those ethics are important to me,” Street said.
When not popping up in the Bayview or around the city, she can be spotted fulfilling deliveries of her clever chocolates around the Bay. Catching up with neighbors outside their shops is another small delight in her mid-pandemic life. She’s known to dole out bars and chocolate chip cookies, featuring her very own single origin chocolate chips, for those lucky enough to snag them while they’re still warm.
Chocolate, and those ethics Street mentioned, have been more and more on the mind for Bay Area residents in the last few years. Dandelion Chocolate’s successful union drive, amid claims of racism and outrageous working conditions, had chocolate lovers reconsidering their allegiances. Then there’s Topogato, one example of a micro chocolate operation with future-facing flavors and a best-case scenario of a COVID career crisis. Reminding folks that chocolate isn’t just for white people, Carol Gancia of Castro chocolate shop Kokak Chocolates has shown customers what Filipino American identity looks like inside a truffle.
Street and the many chocolate innovators in the Bay are walking the fine line of science, sustainability, and sales as they push the industry further. With Valentine’s Day rearing its head in less than a month, it’s as good a time as ever to learn more about the would-be Willy Wonkas of the Bay Area.