Before starting Formosa Chocolates five months ago, Kimberly Yang had practiced for six years as a general adult psychiatrist. But Yang found more happiness and satisfaction making confections. “It seems that chocolates bring a smile to people’s faces faster than any antidepressant I have ever prescribed,” she said. So Yang left medicine and began honing her craft in chocolate making.
Chocolate making is a meticulous and exacting craft. In fact, Yang said she was attracted to the science behind it. About a year ago, she took courses at the International Culinary Center in New York, and the more she learned, the more she wanted to know. She delved deeper into her new passion, taking an intensive course with renowned chocolatiers Martin Diez and Melissa Coppel, who are both known for their exquisite and intricate chocolate designs. She then attended a program at Callebaut Chocolate Academy in Belgium, where she learned more about creating and combining flavors, and the art of traditional praline making.
Yang tries to use local ingredients in her products whenever possible, but she says she likes to experiment with flavors from all over the world.
“I love poking around in grocery stores when I am traveling, and often come back with exotic things that I’m not sure how to use. My most recent travels yielded timut peppercorns from Nepal, candied yuzu and sakura honey from Japan, and a speculaas spice blend from Amsterdam,” Yang said.
Yang lives in Emeryville, but the kitchen where she makes Formosa Chocolates is located in Berkeley. Her heritage is Taiwanese-American, which explains the name of her company (Taiwan was formerly known as Formosa, a name coined by Portuguese explorers and used until the end of World War II) and Taiwanese flag logo, but she said her business name has a double meaning. Formosa also means “beautiful” in Portuguese, which aptly describes her bonbons that delight the eyes as much as the tastebuds. There’s even more to like biting into them, from the delicate crunch of the thin shell of chocolate encasing the bonbons to the variety of textures of their fillings — creamy, oozy and sometimes crunchy — within.
Formosa currently offers a variety of flavors in five categories: boozy, fruity, classic, crunchy (both vegan) and caramel. I tried 12 Formosa Chocolate bonbons ($41.60) — packed in a well-presented black box, tied neatly with a black ribbon — and was impressed with the design and technical execution of each.
Some flavors had more punch than others. The Cherry Brandy bonbon, for example, made with Morello cherry pâte de fruit and Luxardo brandy ganache, was almost too subtle in its cherry flavor and I didn’t really detect the brandy at all. But the Lemon Cognac bonbon — a shiny yellow square with a spattering of green speckles, made with Sicilian lemon, cognac and carmelized white chocolate — had a sharpness of alcohol, which contrasted nicely with the creamy citrus filling.
A memorable flavor was the Passionfruit, which was intensely fruity, almost juicy. I also enjoyed the Coconut Crunch; its little bits of hazelnut praline and toasted coconut inside the filling tasted good and added a fun texture to bite into. The Honey Cinnamon, a combination of milk and dark chocolate, Greek honey and Vietnamese cinnamon, was reminiscent of the flavors of baklava. And my favorite, the Banana Caramel, reminded me of banana chocolate cream pie in candy form.
Formosa Chocolates are available online for local pick-up or nationwide mail order. Yang also appears with her chocolates at pop-ups and events, like the upcoming Craft Chocolate Experience (March 6-8) in San Francisco at the Palace of Fine Arts and the International Chocolate Salon (March 21) at the SF County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park.
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