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Indulge in Love

How a San Francisco LGBTQ+ Chocolatier Infuses Heart and Soul into Artisanal Chocolate

Carol Gancia of Kokak Chocolates
Carol Gancia, founder and head chocolatier of Kokak Chocolates

Carol Gancia is the heart and soul of San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ chocolate enthusiasts, offering some of the most delicious artisanal chocolates. She is an immigrant, an LGBTQ+ member, an award-winning founder, and the head chocolatier at Kokak Chocolates. As the owner and master chocolatier of her shop in the city’s Castro district, she has built a reputation for creating confections that are as beautiful as they are delicious.

Her single-origin heirloom chocolates have been attracting chocolate lovers from all over the world, who can’t get enough of her unique and delicious creations.

But what sets Carol apart is her deep commitment to inclusivity, social responsibility, and spreading love through her chocolates.

Carol and the Cacao Beanstalk

As a trained chocolatier, you would think that Carol must’ve learned about the rare “Naciónal” cacao during her training. However, that’s far from the truth. After her training ended, she came across this highly coveted chocolate variety at a local booth at an event. The moment she tried it, she fell in love. 

The single-origin heirloom “Naciónal” chocolate variety, sustainably farmed and sourced in Ecuador, is known for its complex balance, fruity and floral tones, and lack of bitterness. Protected by the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund, Gancia has been incorporating it into her creations ever since.

This passion for premium chocolates, though, wasn’t newly found. It goes back to her Asian roots, where she grew up surrounded by a family of chocoholics. Thanks to her uncle’s international business travels, she was exposed to all things chocolate under the sun—be it unusually good flavor pairings or the quality of the sweet treat.

Given her history of working as a TV show producer on KQED’s French culinary show, where she worked after immigrating to San Francisco, she learned to appreciate the art of food presentation and quality.

Gancia trained with renowned chocolatier Melissa Coppel in Las Vegas and veteran pastry chef Stacy Radin at the Californian International Culinary Center to hone her skills. Being mentored by female leaders in a male-dominated industry empowered her as an entrepreneur.

The Beginning of Kokak Chocolates

Carol yearned to create something that reflected her identity and honored her heritage.

In June 2020, she started Kokak Chocolates, bringing together her Filipino culture, her LGBTQ+ identity, and her culinary training. With chocolates, she aimed to bring the tropical flavors of the Philippines to the Bay Area.

 “Kokak” means “ribbit” in Filipino, reflecting her Asian roots. Carol wanted her shop’s name to be different, more of a conversation starter. The name comes from her memory of a pond with frogs and lilypads at her university back in the Philippines.

This mental image has also inspired a chocolate bar at Kokak with a frog and a lilypad.

Kokak Chocolates
Kokak Chocolates

Rainbow color splattered on a chocolate bar by Kokak Chocolates

Infusing Love into Her Chocolates

Gancia believes “every flavor has a story, and chocolates are memories.”

She shares that, with Kokak, it makes her happy seeing the messages people write for their loved ones on their gifts.

Carol loves the process and creativity of making the chocolates.

“Chocolate makes me happy.”- Carol Gancia.

At Kokak, she works with her team to make the chocolate-eating experience memorable for them. She focuses on detailing each creation’s flavors, textures, and design.

She wants to connect with her customers by engaging all their senses. She wants to inspire people to experience freedom and explore creativity through her chocolates.

Sometimes running the business can be difficult, shares Carol. It was especially tough during the pandemic, but special moments at the shop always helped her get back to her purpose.

She shares one such incident during Pride month. A mother had written a message for her child on a chocolate gift box saying, “Son, I love you just the way you are. Love, Mom”

These moments keep her going, recognizing the love she spreads through the chocolates.

Peeking in Through Kokak’s Window

One question that Carol gets asked the most about the Naciónal is: “How is it different from all other chocolates? She describes it as the “chocolatiest chocolate” and says that this rare chocolate variety is in its richest form.

Kokak features 50 unique chocolate flavors, including 30 seasonal flavors throughout the year. Some of their best ones are kalamansi (Philippine lime), guava, mango lemongrass, apple pie, and coconut pie. As Carol takes inspiration from her Asian roots, some flavors have a personal story behind them.

The Kalamansi reminds Carol of her country, of hot days in Manila when she drank the Philippine lime juice to cool down, while the mango lemongrass truffle is a tribute to the national fruit of her country.

Kokak’s Artist Palette Heirloom 70% Dark Chocolate Bar
Kokak’s Artist Palette Heirloom 70% Dark Chocolate Bar
Love is Love Chocolate truffle box by Kokak Chocolates
Love is Love Chocolate truffle box by Kokak Chocolates

Kokak’s Artist Palette Heirloom 70% Dark Chocolate Bar is a bestselling chocolate bar because of its unconventional design and the Naciónal chocolate flavor. It is like an artist’s palette for your flavor palette. One of Carol’s most popular creations is the Pride Collection. Every year she creates a new series for Pride Month. This year, she is launching the Rainbow Love Collection for June Pride.

These series celebrate the unity in the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community. It features assorted flavors in Pride flag designs, each chocolate representing a different aspect of LGBTQ+ culture. From the vibrant energy of a Pride parade to the quiet moments of reflection that come with being part of a marginalized community, each piece is as delicious as it is visually stunning.

Kokak’s newest creations showcase the Spring Brunch Box—Chocolate Orange Cookies, and a Cacao Porridge called Champorado in the Philippines, a Christmas season essential.

Located in the heart of San Francisco’s Castro District, all of Carol’s truffles and bars are handcrafted in the Castro shop. One can even see the chocolatiers in action at the shop.

Carol’s Message for Pride

As an immigrant, a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, and a true chocolate lover, Carol Gancia inspires people to be brave and wants to empower them to be who they are through her chocolates.

For her, authenticity has been the most important in this journey. It has helped her create a memorable brand, leading to making genuine connections with strangers.

She believes that you can’t sell to everyone anyway, so why not be your true self and truly connect?

You can find Kokak Chocolates at 3901 18th Street, San Francisco, California, or you can get her chocolates delivered across the USA through her website at KokakChocolates.com.

Pride parade
Pride parade

TROORA MAGAZINE | MAY 2023
WRITTEN BY MRUDAVI PUNEKAR
PHOTOS COURTESY OF KOKAK CHOCOLATES | NORBU GYACHUNG | MARGAUX BELLOTT | THOMAS SMITH | STUDIO BANAA

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