Wendy Lieu sports a degree in managerial economics from the University of California at Davis.
Younger sister, Susan Lieu, holds a degree in social studies from Harvard University.
Besides brains and aptitude, of course, the two siblings share something more — a passion for entrepreneurship and for all things chocolate.
In 2001, they combined those interests to create Socola Chocolatier in Oakland, a gem of a truffle business, where the confections are hand-made with Scharffen Berger chocolate and Straus Creamery dairy products. Wendy, who also graduated from the pastry program at Tante Marie’s Cooking School, is the chief chocolatier. Susan is chief cheerleader and marketing whiz for their company, the name of which means “chocolate” in Vietnamese.
Sweets have a long history in their family. Their grandfather helped feed his large family by making pastries that were sold every day at the market in Vietnam. And it was her grandmother’s recipes for chocolate confections that Wendy first experimented with before starting Socola.
The two sisters proudly displayed their chocolate wares and handed out samples at this past weekend’s San Francisco International Chocolate Salon. If you missed that, no worries. The chocolates can be ordered online or found at such stores as the Alameda Natural Grocery in Alameda, and Daily Delectables in Oakland. Later this month, Whole Foods in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood also will begin stocking them. A box of one dozen chocolates is $25.
I’ll use my patented scale of 1 to 10 lip-smackers, with 1 being the “Bleh, save your money” far end of the spectrum; 5 being the “I’m not sure I’d buy it, but if it was just there, I might nibble some” middle-of-the-road response; and 10 being the “My gawd, I could die now and never be happier, because this is the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth” supreme ranking.
Socola Chocolatier: The bonbons are inspired by both East and West. They come in some very intriguing flavors, including durian, and ”Notorious H.O.G” (a truffle made with Niman Ranch bacon). They are not always perfectly symmetrical in shape, and some have a rough-hewn look. But that adds to their home-made appeal.
The jewel-like Green Tea is a cube of white chocolate mixed with matcha. It’s creamy and sweet, and just melts in your mouth. In general, I found the chocolate truffles just an iota sweeter than most other dark chocolate ones on the market that tend to have a more pronounced earthy-bitter note. The Vietnamese Coffee truffle has the subtle crunch of Vietnamese coffee grounds sprinkled on top, and a creamy, milky coffee taste. The flavor of bitter hops was fairly subtle in the Guiness truffle. My favorite “Give It To Me Guava” is guava pate de fruit with dark chocolate ganache. I loved the bold tropical fruit flavor with the unexpected slight crunch from the seeds. Rating: 7 lip-smackers.