The Bittersweet Promises of Gold Rush Immigration

Gold Mountain Salted Caramel

Gold Mountain Salted Caramel Truffles: A Bite-Sized Nod to Chinese American History

When I was scrolling through listings for summer jobs and internships, Jade Chocolates jumped out at me as I read Mindy Fong’s bio on the company’s web page. Mindy frequently cites her grandfather as essential to her success: “For me, it all starts with my grandfather. If he could immigrate here and become a successful businessman, I can become successful in anything I do.” Though her grandfather immigrated to California in 1918 and my grandparents reached American soil in 1963, they share a story, a struggle, and a success–all of which began on Old Gold Mountain.

The Chinese name for San Francisco and its surrounding counties, Old Gold Mountain or Jiu Jin Shan in Mandarin, stems from the gold rush era. Beginning with the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1848, northern California rapidly became a mecca for fortune-seeking migrants, some coming from as far away as China. Rumors of a readily prosperous Gold Mountain reached impoverished Chinese workers. Political turmoil had destroyed the livelihoods of southern Chinese, many of whom became sojourning workers in America with hopes of returning to a life of ease in China, able to support the traditional extended family structure. jiujinshanThousands sailed for America, dreaming of striking it rich in mining country. So many Chinese workers flooded northern California that a mere four years after the first nugget of gold was found, 25,000 Chinese immigrants resided in the state-comprising 10% of the non-Native American population and over 35% of the foreign-born population. However, despite dreams of gold, many of these early immigrants had their hopes dashed by the reality of a rapidly industrializing world and a deeply anti-immigrant environment.

Miners of the California Gold Rush

Miners of the California Gold Rush

In the beginning, mining was done by sheer individual will and labor: land to mine, dirt, water, and a pan were the only necessary tools for the industry. Poor and driven Chinese immigrants matched perfectly with this work. As gold mining developed, it became industrialized, meaning a much higher buy-in price and a need for cheap labor forces rather than independent miners. White miners quickly realized the economic power of the Chinese immigrants, willing or compelled by indentured servitude to work harder for lower wages. First counties passed taxes on foreign miners; this racially-driven taxation is credited with keeping northern California out of bankruptcy in its early years of statehood. These policies were soon followed by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882–the greatest restriction on free immigration this country has ever seen. Legislators relied on racialized depictions of Chinese disease, opiate use, and heathenism to justify Exclusion of this “yellow peril.”

Far from being subdued, as anti-Chinese riots and laws alike intended, many Chinese workers overcame these additional obstacles. Working in the dying mining industry, the transcontinental railroad construction (which thrived due to inhumane, slave-like conditions of Chinese workers among others), and the rapidly growing service industry, Chinese immigrants set down their roots on Old Gold Mountain. These immigrants’ lives tell stories of arriving in a foreign country with little money or shared language, of bitter struggle and hardship in the name of family well-being, of finally tasting sweet success–stories that repeat across generations of Chinese Americans.

1964–May Chen (husband Son Han Chen taking photo) and her four children arriving by ship in San Francisco. The smallest girl is my mother.

1963–Oy Mui Chen (husband San Hon Chen taking photo) and her four children arriving by ship in San Francisco. The smallest girl is my mother.

Mindy’s grandfather arrived in Napa, California at age 16 with twenty dollars and no connections. He worked as a houseboy, filling various odd jobs before becoming an entrepreneur; over his lifetime he owned and ran two restaurants and three liquor stores. My own grandparents moved from a poor village in central China, to Hong Kong, to Houston Texas (by way of San Francisco Bay, as pictured at left). Both our families reached American soil during Exclusion, both filled the service roles allotted to Asian immigrants, and both succeeded in spite of unimaginable obstacles. By tackling Old Gold Mountain, our grandparents gave us both the opportunity to find our own success in the same city where they first began their American lives.

Fast forwarding nearly 100 years since her grandfather arrived in California, in her San Francisco shop, Mindy Fong is paying tribute to her own family as well as the countless other Chinese immigrants who struggled and thrived on Old Gold Mountain. Her carefully crafted “Gold Mountain Salted Caramel Truffles” are not only deliciously salty-sweet, but a playful nod to the deep and often solemn history of immigration that runs through this city: a big task for a small chocolate.

Lucky Peach: A Chinese Symbol of All Things Good

Peach Tree

As a kid, every summer I’d look forward to playtime around the neighborhood.  Riding my bike to the beach, meeting new friends at the playground and endless hours of sitting in front of the television. Those were the days.  But there’s still something I look forward to during the summer as an adult– eating summer peaches. The fuzziness of the skin, the juicy meat of the fruit and especially how the taste lingers on your lips long after you’ve finish eating a peach are my reasons for my love for peach sculpture

When I was growing up, we had two Chinese statues in the house that contained peaches.  One was an over grown peach being carried off by several jovial looking children dressed in mismatched looking loose clothing.   (Maybe these weren’t kids, since they are balding, but I always thought that they were kids when I was growing up).  The other was of an old man with an elongated bald head, an extra long beard with a peach in one hand and a long staff in the other similar to the one pictured below.

Sau, God of Longevity

The Chinese god of longevity, known as Sau, is a symbol of the easy life, smooth living, and victory over strife. Attached to the end of his staff is a gourd, said to hold the elixir of life, or immortality. Sau is usually depicted holding a peach, the divine fruit of the gods.

The peach tree and all it’s components–the wood, fruit, blossoms and petals all carry different symbolic meanings in Chinese culture.  The peach tree symbolizes longevity.  The wood from the tree is said to ward off evil, and ancient warriors crafted weapons from it. The petals of peach blossoms have a history of use by Taoist magicians, and are known to put men into an intense trance of love. The peach tree blossoms during spring and is considered the ideal season for young couples to marry. The peach fruit, similar to the tree as a whole, symbolizes a long and healthy life.  The fruit also bears associations of perpetual vitality. It is said that the Peach plant of immortality, located in the Kun Lun mountains, would produce fruit only once every 3,000 years. When this happened, the Eight Immortals (a legendary group of enlightened ancient beings) would gather and eat of the magic fruit, assuring their immortality.Lucky Peach Truffle

The peach is often depicted in Chinese paintings, sculpture, pottery, clothing and food. To honor such a lucky symbol, we created our Lucky Peach truffle.  A soft flavor of chocolate blended with white peach puree. But the best part of our truffle is that is it available year round. No need to wait for the summer harvest, drop by our shop or if you’re not in the area, our website is just a click away.

Sarah’s Chocolate Memories, our 2015 Summer Intern


My grandparents celebrating the 50 year anniversary of immigrating to the US.

Growing up hapa (of partial Asian or Pacific Islander descent) in San Francisco, many of my earliest memories are of my grandparents’ pristine home, including my first encounters with chocolate. My popo and dede-grandmother and grandfather in Chinese-came to the US in the 60’s, working as live-in help for a wealthy family. Both wonderful cooks, my grandparents’ food quickly became popular among the affluent households of the Houston neighborhood. The dinner parties they catered were coveted events, and my grandfather even began offering cooking lessons to Texan housewives. With my grandparents now living in San Francisco, my childhood was often spent reaching up to their high granite counters to sample the same expertly made traditional dishes my mom grew up with in Texas. I happily munched away on foods with names my American mouth has never quite mastered.

In this house full of plastic-wrapped tv remotes and surfaces so white you’d go snow blind if it weren’t for the dim lighting (to save money on electricity), my mom struggled to keep my toddler messes contained; the biggest challenge was my undying love of chocolate. At the end of every healthy, beautifully prepared feast of Chinese food, I would beg my mom for a jumbo chocolate-covered ice-cream bar. Happily biting into it, I would promptly shatter the chocolate coating,melting it all over my face, hands, hair, and tummy.

This all-American dessert was sharply at odds with the preceding meal. Traditionally, Chinese desserts are practical and only lightly sweetened compared to sugary American treats. My relatives often prefer a bowl of grain-based desert soup or a light fruit pastry. While I now love many Chinese desserts, I was never satisfied with these lighter options as a child; maybe my dad’s upbringing in Mexico was passed on to me. Sunday morning spiced Mexican hot chocolate was a special treat for me and my sister. Wherever my sweet tooth comes from, there is no denying that chocolate has always been my first dessert-love.

Every meal at my popo and dede’s came with a full body clean up. Before I was allowed to leave the table, my mother would preform a “rice check,” picking off the tiny grains of rice I had somehow stuck everywhere, and most importantly, she would wipe chocolate off my grinning face.

It looks like I’ve come full circle. My early years were spent in my grandparent’s jade-decorated home, perpetually a chocolate-coated toddler mess. Now, after my first year away at college, I’m back in San Francisco getting to work with my favorite dessert at Jade Chocolates through the Business Pathways internship program, albeit a bit less messily than my earlier chocolate encounters.

The Ancient and Auspicious Swastika

Earlier this year, I went on a search at a small Indian market in Berkeley for some platters for truffles. From a previous trip there, I remembered there were beautiful copper plates and pots for sale.  To my surprise on my trip back to the market,  I found a copper plate decorated with a Swastika. Seeing the Swastika used for it’s original purpose put a smile on my face. Then, I had a sudden realization that using these platters at the chocolate shop would require a lot of explaining.Indian copper swastika platter

The Swastika symbol has been used for thousands of years (in almost all human civilizations) as a sign for good luck, protection, as a materialization of life, and the changing seasons of the year. Especially common in India, the word itself stems from the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit. The term Swastika, or Svastika, as it’s written in Sanskrit, means “all is well,” or alternatively, “being happy.” The root word, svasti (sv = well; asti = is), is another term implying good fortune, luck, and well-being.

Needless to say, the various symbolic meanings listed above are heavily inconsistent with how the Western world perceives the Swastika. This is because the symbol was adopted by the Nazi Party during World War II, as they held the belief that the symbol was Aryan, and signified racial purity and superiority. The appearance of the symbol was altered by Adolf Hitler, in order to suit the needs of the Nazi movement. This resulted in two basic variations of the Swastika image, to which far different values are attached.


The traditional Swastika is a cross with four arms of equal length, with the end of each arm bent at a right angle (clockwise or counterclockwise). It sometimes features four dots, in the spaces between the arms. But the main feature separating the traditional and Nazi variations is that the traditional Swastika rests flat on one side, never on a single point.

The Nazi Swastika also has four arms bent at right angles, but rests on a single point, like a diamond. So, instead of somewhat resembling a cross, the Nazi variation instead forms a central “X” shape. Nazi representations also seem to feature thicker lines, on the whole.


Hitler’s alterations to the Swastika were made painstakingly, or perhaps even obsessively. Many different drafts of the Nazi Flag are chronicled in his manifesto, Mein Kampf.

Despite it’s complicated history within the past century, the Swastika still is considered sacred in a number of traditions. As stated above, Hindu usage of the Swastika is still prevalent and wide-ranging. In addition to being a traditional emblem of good luck and wellness, it can also represent Brahma, the god of creation. Furthermore, the Swastika can represent rebirth, seasonal change, and the cyclical nature of the universe. The very shape of the Swastika elicits thoughts of circular movement and constancy, representing the turning of the earth on its axis, to the planets’ rotation around the sun, and everything in between.

buddha with swastikaIn a Buddhist  context , the swastika means resignation, or acceptance.  For that reason, the symbol is often present in images of Buddha, on his hands, feet, or chest.  

Within the context of Jainism, the swastika’s four arms represent the four possible outcomes of rebirth: to be a demigod, a human, a non-human animal or plant, or, least desirable, a hell-dweller of any variety. Each of the four arms leads to a different outcome, but all outcomes include some form of reincarnation.

The Thai word for ‘Hello’ is S̄wạs̄dī (sa-wat-dee).  Click here and then click on the ‘listen icon’ to hear the Thai word for hello, which sounds quite similar to ‘Swastika’ when pronounced aloud. Breaking down the meaning of hello in Thai, ‘sa-wat’ means blessings or good fortune and ‘dee’ means [is] good.  

Furthermore, you can see the symbol in art and architecture the world over, and from many different eras. Here are a few examples below:


The swastika is often featured on exteriors of homes and temples in countries like India and Indonesia.


In ancient Greece, a single Swastika was commonly used on pottery.


Swastika-based patterns on the exterior of The Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York.

Swastika Architecture

The Thunderbird Internal Medicine Building, in Glendale Arizona, along with its’ counter-part, The Oakeson Physical Therapy Building. The pair were literally designed with Swastika-based architectural framework.

At the end of my chocolate platter search, I opted not to purchase the swastika platter.  Instead I bought an om platter.  It’s a safer bet not to offend anyone and an auspicious symbol just the same. Even though the platter I found is one of good luck and well-being, the thought of offending a customer or eliciting negative emotions in what should be a happy experience of buying and eating chocolate, cannot be ignored.  A chocolate shop is not a place for a swastika conversation piece, at least not yet. But perhaps this post can foster a bit of healing and education.

A Renaissance of Chocolate in San Francisco

Ever since Ghirardelli opened its’ first location in 1852 and Etienne Guittard who came for the Gold Rush, but found his riches in chocolate in 1868, San Francisco has been an artisan chocolate kind of city. Ghirardelli has since been sold to Lindt Chocolate (a Swiss Based company) and is the kind of chocolate geared towards tourists while Guittard has kept it’s artisan quality and continues to be run by the Guittard family. Within the last ten or so years,  the founding fathers of San Francisco chocolate have new company made up of artisan chocolatiers and small batch chocolate makers. Jade Chocolates is proud to be a part of San Francisco artisan chocolate culture.  Here are a few Chocolatiers and Chocolate Makers around the city who have opened shop in the city.  

Jade Chocolates (4207 Geary Blvd) FullSizeRender (2)

Jade Chocolates specializes in artisan chocolates blended with teas and spices from Asia and the Pacific Islands.  Among our known chocolate bars and truffles, stop into our shop for eleven different flavors of hot chocolate.  Cardamom and Jasmine are the crown favorites, but Thai Red Curry and China Red Pepper are winners too.

sixth courseSixth Course  (1544 15th Street)

Alongside tarts, cakes, and a variety of other irresistible treats, Sixth Course makes one of our favorite things–truffles. And it’s pretty much impossible to choose the wrong truffle with such a wide range of delicately thought-out flavors. For instance, if you’d prefer to eat your drink, try the Champagne Fizz Truffle. Other options in that same category include Raspberry Cosmopolitan, and Whiskey Neat.

Charles Chocolates  (535 Florida Street)charles chocolates

Charles Chocolates offers its customers an opportunity to see production happen at their factory.  On warm days, sit out on their outdoor seating area and enjoy a hot chocolate.  Confection options range widely at Charles Chocolates. They demonstrate creative flare with unique products like their Triple chocolate almonds, and the Orange Twigs (milk chocolate butter truffle with a bit of an orangey twist).

Recchiuti Confections  (Inside of The Ferry Building) / Little Nib (807 22nd St)rechuitti

Recchiuti Co-Founders Michael and Jacky opened up shop in 1997, and have since been growing their world-class confection empire. Some of their recent offerings include Cacao Nib and Fleur de Sel Mendiants, and a Salted Ginger Bar. They also offer a variety of chocolate-involved fruits and nuts, and  Burnt Caramel and Extra-Bitter Chocolate sauces

socolaSôcôla Chocolatier  (535 Folsom Street)

Sôcôla Chocolatier, is run by sisters Susan and Wendy who started their business realized that they could barely keep members of their immediate social circles plied and decided that full-scale production was in order. Stop in next time you’re in the SoMa area, and try a Sriracha Flying Rooster Truffle or the Raspberry Pop Rocks Chocolate Bar.

Dandelion Chocolates  (740 Valencia Street)dandelion

It’s no coincidence that Dandelion Chocolates is a perennial favorite of the city; there are plenty of reasons to like them. The fact that their factory-storefront has an open back of house speaks volumes about their attention to detail, and commitment to quality. Pair one of their hot chocolates with a chocolate based pastry and sit back and people watch in the trendiest part of town.

 Poco Dolce  (2419 3rd St)

Everyone loves a Poco Dolce tile, little bites of sweetness but still on the savory side. Try the Aztec Chili or the Almond Coconut tile.  Get yours at their shop in the Dogpatch.

This is just a small list of chocolate shops in San Francisco, but a great list of shops to put on your chocolate tour of the city.

Celebrating Asian & Pacific Island Heritage Month 2015 with Chocolate Mochi

May is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, and San Francisco is all a bustle. Over the course of the month, there will be gatherings ranging from concerts, to literary discussions, to family festivals centered in food, dance, and community such as the Asian Heritage Street Celebration in the city’s civic center on May 16th. At Jade Chocolates, we’re celebrating the spirit of the month our way, with Mochi Week.

making mochi

mochi cut

What exactly is Mochi? It would be considered a rice-based pastry, except for the fact that it does not require baking. Essentially, rice is cooked and then repeatedly pounded until it reaches a consistency similar to dough. We’re of the opinion that Mochi is pretty tasty, and it’s even better with chocolate. So, from the 12th through the 19th of this month (or while the mochi lasts), Jade Chocolates is your destination for Ganache-filled Mochi. A few flavors on our counter may be lychee rose green tea, tropical banana, lemongrass, chai, blue people oolong, thai basil, etc.  Come visit us at the corner of 6th avenue and Geary, because they’re only available in-shop.

Jade Chocolates’ Shop Grand Opening!

Jade Chocolates has officially opened the doors of our new chocolate and tea shop!  Just shy of our 8th year in business, we’ve finally realized our biggest milestone-a home to call our own.  Our shop is the only place where you can find our entire product line, including products not on our website.

shop interior

Come to our new shop at 4207 Geary Blvd at 6th avenue in San Francisco.

We’d love to personalize your chocolate experience. Ask us anything—what flavors of tea and hot chocolate to try, or what truffle to get for the chocolate lover in your life. We’re here to help.If tea is what you’re looking for, we offer a variety of flavors from The Aroma Tea Shop, and The Tea Smiths of San Francisco. All flavors are available hot, or over ice. And if one cup of tea isn’t enough, we offer it in bulk as well.

shop tea canisters

Try our Tea Aroma Buffet to see and smell the loose leaf teas we offer.

Blue People Oolong (flavored with sweet licorice root) and Tumeric (tumerice, ginger, lemongrass, etc.) has been our most popular flavors.  Peach Momo (white tea sweetly scented with peaches)is still the staff pick. No matter how much tea you need, or what temperature you want it to be, we first recommend exploring our ‘Tea Aroma Buffet.’ Each of the round tins on the buffet contains a different flavor of tea, and you’re welcome to sample each scent. Take your time getting a nose for what you might like. We’d like to ensure that every cup is thoroughly enjoyed, without any guesswork.

On the hot chocolate front, there are quite a few unique flavors to choose from. Jasmine and Cardamom are the two top sellers, and Creamsicle is the reigning favorite with our staff. But let’s itemize the whole list, shall we? Currently, we offer made-to-order hot chocolate in the following flavors: Bittersweet, Mint, Ginger, Turmeric & Black Pepper, Thai Red Curry, Cinnamon, Passion Fruit, and China Red (with a blend of cinnamon, New Mexico Chili, and red peppers). Hot chocolate will never be the same again.

Tea and hot chocolate are only part of what the shop has to offer. For those who are looking to literally sink their teeth into a confection, we have you covered. Tasting Tiles (our take on the French Mendiant) are a great option if you’re just looking for a little something sweet—these squares of delicious chocolate are embedded with things like fruit, nuts, and spices. Tasting Tiles

We also offer a range of truffles. Kalamansi Lime won staff pick. Some other popular flavors are Lychee Rose Green Tea, and Gold Mountain Salted Caramel. Come into the shop to try more original truffles, not available on our website. One of our more recent additions is a Sunflower truffle, filled with sweet and salty sun-butter (the subtle crunch comes from the occasional whole sunflower seed). Also available right now, we have Banana Walnut, Mint Meltaway, and Lilikoi (Passion Fruit).

If you’ve been a fan of Jade Chocolates and haven’t stopped by, we encourage you to come in.   There’s bound to be something you haven’t tried.


4207 Geary Blvd in San Francisco.  Shop hours are Monday through Saturday, 11 am – 6 pm.  Sundays at the  Clement street Farmer’s Market in front of Giorgio’s Pizzeria from 9 am – 2 pm.