The 2023 Top Chocolate Bar Awards competition sponsored by TasteTV had a wide range of bars — both in ingredients and quality. Since I can’t cover everything I will stick to bars I rated from good to exceptional, i.e. 3–5 stars. And as usual SFBA entries that made my cut are featured first.
Two local contestants submitted bars this time and I recommend them both.
I was surprised to see the Exotic bar by Brigadeiro Sprinkles, SF, in this competition. Surprised because while Brigadeiro Sprinkles has been participating in SF International Chocolate Salons and competitions since 2021, I haven’t seen a bar of theirs before.
I shouldn’t have been surprised though because Zeila Schappelle, Brigadeiro Sprinkles’ head chef and owner, is always producing new and creative twists on confections using Brazilian brigadeiros as inspiration. Brigadeiro filled chocolate bars are her latest creations.
The Exotic used Belgian gold chocolate mixed with cacao nibs and filled with golden colored Dulce de Léché brigadeiro. The shell was thick and the filling was thin.
The bar had a buttery caramel taste, then vanilla and a little citrus tang. The small crunch from nibs added a fun sensation to the otherwise smooth texture. They also added some chocolate flavor. The bar was very flavorful and not too sweet. I rated it 4 stars.
In the competition Brigadeiro Sprinkles’ Exotic Gold Dulce de Léché won Bronze for Best Texture and Honorable Mentions for Most Unique, Best Milk Chocolate Bar, Best Flavored Chocolate Bar, and Best Chocolate Bar. It was rated 3.5 stars.
You can buy Brigadeiro Sprinkles’ bars and other confections online and at special events.
The Oakland Chocolate Company
Veteran SFBA chocolate maker/chocolatier, The Oakland Chocolate Company, submitted their Cacao Nibs Bar which featured an old fashioned “frame” mold on the front (probably for painting or stamping a name inside) and visible cacao nibs on the back.
The 70% Jamaican cacao bar had a super hard snap. It had a chocolatey, fermented taste. It was a little bitter but not bad unless you don’t like your chocolate bitter. The nibs gave it a little nuttiness and added some crunch to the smooth chocolate. I rated it 4 stars.
The Oakland Chocolate Company’s Cacao Nibs Bar won Silver for Best Texture and was rated 3.5 stars in the competition.
The Oakland Chocolate Company bars and confections are available online and in some local shops.
In this competition there were a number of strong contenders — in fact I had more entries I rated above average or exceptional than ones I rated good.
Veteran competitor, Panache Chocolatier, Leawood, KS, submitted 2 of their fancy hand decorated bars and one of them I rated exceptional.
Panache’s Smokehouse Nut Bar blended single origin Columbian cacao with a Belgian dark chocolate couverture into a thin bar covered with a mixture of whole and chopped almonds, spiced peanuts, and pepitas, and drizzled with dark chocolate.
As expected they used quality ingredients resulting in a good chocolate flavor with a small immediate heat and mild smokiness. The peanuts and almonds were distinct and the bar had a good flavor balance of the different elements. The bar had a variety of crunches including the different nuts and caramelized crunchy bits. Positively addictive. I rated it 5 stars the highest rating.
In the competition Panache Chocolatier’s Smokehouse Nut Bar won Gold for Best Chocolate Bar; Silver for Best Taste; Bronze for Best Flavored Chocolate Bar and Best Bar Design & Art; and Honorable Mentions for Best Ingredient Combinations, Best Texture, and Most Unique. It was rated 4.5 stars.
The Sunflower Butter Bar contained the expected ingredients of chocolate, sunflower butter, and sunflower seeds but it also had dried sunflower petals strewn over the bar and the very unexpected strawberry and rhubarb as ingredients.
This bar was similarly shaped to the Smokehouse Nut Bar but it was a filled bar. I loved the salted seeds and chocolate combo. The bar was mostly solid chocolate and inclusions. The thin filling had a slightly sugary texture and fruity flavor that was undefinable and very subtle.
Panache used a good couverture and the bar had a good balance of sunflower, chocolate, and salt. Cacaopod and I liked the sunflower butter. My only quibble was with the filling so I didn’t love it like the Smokehouse Nut Bar. I rated the Sunflower Butter Bar 4 stars.
Panache Chocolatier’s Sunflower Butter Bar won Silver for Best Ingredient Combinations and Most Unique, and Bronze for Best Flavored Chocolate Bar. It was rated 4 stars.
Panache Chocolatier has an online store. You can also visit their store in Leawood.
Sandhill Chocolate Company
New competitor, Sandhill Chocolate Company, Orlando, FL, makes bean to bar chocolate using cacao from 12 different countries. They submitted 3 entries to the bar competition — I recommend 2 of them and the 3rd one I rated good.
The 40% Tanzanian Milk Chocolate was their strongest entry in my opinion. The bar was well made with a medium snap and smooth texture.
The label stated “With Grass-Fed A2 Milk” which means they used a milk that is considered tastier and easier to digest than regular whole milk. I found the bar to be sweet but not a sugary sweet — it had a unique milky sweetness which I liked.
Overall I thought the chocolate tasted like milky caramel and was slightly fruity but not particularly berry, citrus, or raisin. I rated it 5 stars.
In the competition Sandhill Chocolate Company’s 40% Tanzanian Milk Chocolate (Kokoa Kamili) won Gold for Best Milk Chocolate Bar, Bronze for Best Chocolate Bar, and an Honorable Mention for Best Texture. It was rated 4 stars.
I also liked their 80% Ugandan
Dark Orange with Ugandan Vanilla Bean bar. It was a brittle bar — it wouldn’t break along the mold lines, it shattered instead, but I liked the taste.
It was a smooth textured, savory chocolate with orange as a secondary note. While it was somewhat bitter, it was not as bitter as their 75% plain dark which used a different cacao.
I liked the chocolate although it was not a strong chocolatey taste, and instead of orange pieces it used orange oil so it wasn’t strongly orange either. I thought it was a nice orange chocolate flavor but Cacaopod and Chocoloco both thought maybe a 70% cacao would have a better balance with the mild orange. Checking the Sandhill Chocolate website I saw that they have indeed switched to a 70% cacao from Tanzania — whoa — great minds and all. Personally I rated the bar 4 stars and maybe if they try the new 70% version my team will agree.
Sandhill Chocolate Company’s 80% Dark Orange (Semuliki Forest, Uganda) won Gold for Best Flavored Chocolate Bar, Silver for Best Dark Chocolate Bar, and an Honorable Mention for Best Chocolate Bar. It was rated 4.5 stars.
You can buy Sandhill Chocolate bars, candied nuts, and chocolate drinks online, at their factory store, and some FL farmers’ markets.
Another new competitor that also makes bean to bar chocolate, Moka Origins, Honesdale, PA, uses single origin cacao from around the world including from their own farm in Cameroon. And just like Sandhill Chocolate Company, they submitted 3 entries to the bar competition of which I recommend 2 and rated the 3rd one good.
Their 58% Dark Milk bar uses single origin cacao from Ghana. It was an interesting bar with a minty aroma and a hard snap for a milk chocolate. It had a pretty smooth texture and a sweet milk flavor as opposed to sugary sweet. It had coconut and nut overtones and a milky aftertaste. I rated it 4 stars.
In the competition Moka Origins’ Dark Milk 58% won Gold for Best Milk Chocolate Bar and an Honorable Mention for Best Texture. It was rated 4 stars.
Their Cherry 72% Dark Chocolate bar was another top tier entry. It used Tanzania cacao from processor Kokoa Kamili which is usually a sign that the chocolate will be good.
This smooth textured bar was very raisiny tasting and a little bitter. The chewy whole cherries give some cherry flavor but they didn’t dominate the chocolate. I rated it 4 stars.
Moka Origins’ Cherry Dark Chocolate 72% won Gold for Best Dark Chocolate Bar; Bronze for Best Taste and Best Chocolate Bar; and Honorable Mentions for Best Ingredient Combinations, Best Texture, and Best Flavored Chocolate Bar. It was rated 4 stars.
You can buy Moka Origins chocolate online, at Chocolate Covered and other stores nationwide (check their website for locations), and at their factory store near Scranton, PA.
Chocopunto by Mabel
The last entries I put into the top tier were from return competitor, Chocopunto by Mabel, Dominican Republic, who makes bars using local cacao. They first competed in last year’s vegan and bar competitions and I recommended one of their bars. Continuing my own trend this year: Of their 3 entries, I rated 2 above average and one good.
Chocopunto bars have short ingredient lists: Organic cacao solids and butter, and cane sugar. The milk bar also had milk powder. For single origin non-inclusion/non-infused bars that’s how it should be.
It took me a little time to warm up to the 50% Milk Chocolate. The reddish brown colored bar had a medium snap and slightly grainy texture.
It tasted more sweet than milky with a little licorice overtone plus a Hersheys curdled milk chocolate flavor. It was an unusual bar but I think Americans will probably like this since they grew up with that distinct Hersheys flavor — this is kind of a grownup version of that. I went back and forth on whether this was a 3 or 4 star bar but because I felt it was successfully unique I rated it 4 stars.
In the competition Chocopunto by Mabel 50% Milk Chocolate bar won Bronze for Best Milk Chocolate Bar and an Honorable Mention for Best Texture. It was rated 3.5 stars.
I also rated their 85% Dark Chocolate bar highly because I think higher cacao percentages are harder to make palatable and I thought they succeeded. This very dark brown colored bar smelled raisiny but had more of a nutty flavor. It had a smoother texture than their other 2 entries, but this was definitely bitter with an astringent after sensation. I rated it 4 stars.
Chocopunto by Mabel 85% Dark Chocolate bar won Bronze for Best Texture and Best Dark Chocolate Bar and an Honorable Mention for Best Taste. It was rated 4 stars.
It looks like their website is currently under construction but keep checking it to see if they offer international sales online.
Worthy of mention
On the level below the top tier bars were a range of single origin and flavored bars that I thought — while not as strongly as the bars already reviewed — had enough positives to mention.
Sandhill Chocolate Company
Sandhill Chocolate Company’s 3rd entry in the competition was a 75% single origin that used beans from the municipality of Santa Maria Cahabón in Guatemala. It had a medium hard snap and smooth texture.
It had an initial berry fruitiness but then bitterness overpowered the berry flavor. It had a slightly acerbic aftertaste. It was a well made bar but more bitter than I thought a 75% should be. I rated it 3 stars.
In the competition Sandhill Chocolate Company’s 75% Santa Maria Cahabón (Guatemala) won Silver for Best Texture. It was rated 3.5 stars.
Moka Origins’ third entry was a 72% single origin using cacao from Ghana. This dark chocolate bar had a smooth texture and went from smoky to fruity to bitter. I rated it 3 stars.
Moka Origins Ghana Dark Chocolate 72% won Silver for Best Chocolate Bar, and Bronze for Best Texture and Best Dark Chocolate Bar. It was rated 4 stars.
I want to mention Moka Origins’ graphics and packaging. Their logo is a very sweet graphic of 4 cacao beans arranged like petals on a flower. In addition to being featured on the front of the bar’s wrapper, it is also incorporated into the bar’s custom mold along with the logo type.
Their chocolate wrapper contains a LOT of information but it is very well organized onto all areas of the wrapper. I’m not sure which would take longer: reading all the info on the wrapper or eating the bar of chocolate but both would be enjoyable if you are a chocolate nerd like me.
Chocopunto by Mabel
The 3rd entry from Chocopunto by Mabel was a 70% Dark Chocolate bar. It had a crisp snap and smelled raisiny.
It had a different texture from their other bars: It was harder so it didn’t melt as quickly and it was slightly grainy.
It was savory/bitter/fruity tasting but mostly bitter with a drying after sensation. If you usually think 70% isn’t strong/bitter enough, this bar is for you. I rated it 3 stars.
In the competition Chocopunto by Mabel 70% Dark Chocolate bar won Bronze for Best Texture, and Honorable Mentions for Best Dark Chocolate Bar and Best Flavored Chocolate Bar. It was rated 3.5 stars.
Veteran competitor, Stella’s Confectionery, Milwaukee, WI, submitted 2 of their distinctly square bars which were perfectly nice, fine bars but not special enough to make it into my top tier. They still were respectable entries and worth mentioning. They also did well in the competition with one winning a Gold.
The Peanut Butter Melt was a smooth milk chocolate with a fine textured peanut butter filling. It was good but a little too sweet for me. I rated it 3 stars.
In the competition Stella’s Confectionery’s Peanut Butter Melt won Gold for Best Texture, Silver for Best Milk Chocolate Bar, and Bronze for Best Flavored Chocolate Bar. It was rated 4 stars.
The Coffee Noir was a 60% dark chocolate square with a little purple splash across the embossed logo. This was a solid bar with visible coffee grounds mixed in and it had a coffee grounds texture. It had a strong coffee — not espresso — flavor and I liked that distinction. What I didn’t like was having the grounds mixed in — I didn’t like the feel. Otherwise it was a good coffee chocolate and I rated it 3 stars.
Stella’s Confectionery Coffee Noir won Bronze for Best Flavored Chocolate Bar, and Honorable Mentions for Best Texture and Best Dark Chocolate Bar. It was rated 4 stars.
You can order Stella’s chocolate bars and other treats online, and find them at a few stores across the country. Check their website for locations.
New competitor, Kakao Zon, Ecuador, submitted a 63% dark chocolate bar flavored with pineapple. The bar of Ecuadorian cacao had big pieces of dried pineapple liberally scattered over the back side. It smelled really good.
The chewy pineapple had good flavor but the chocolate was more bitter than I expected and it especially contrasted with the bright tart pineapple. The chocolate was a little grainy and sugary sweet. It had an unusual chocolate flavor — fruity but I was not sure what kind of fruit. It was not raisiny, not berry, not citrus — it had a little pineapple flavor from the actual pineapple but I’m still unsure what fruit I would use to describe the actual chocolate flavor. It was somewhat drying at the end but still good overall. I rated it 3 stars. In the competition it was rated 3.5 stars.
You can buy Kakao Zon bars, panned chocolates, nibs, cacao powder, and baking chocolate online. On their website they have an interesting Art & History of Cacao section with short articles about cacao.
The last bar I want to mention was from competition veteran, Delysia Chocolatier, Austin, TX. They submitted 3 entries but only their Cardamom Pistachio Rose dark chocolate bar made my cut this time.
The bar was a shape I haven’t seen from Delysia before: a thick square of chocolate. It was so thick I measured it: 3/8″ thick. It was hard tempered and shattered when we cut off pieces to sample.
It smelled like good chocolate. I didn’t catch a scent of the other flavors at first. It was a mostly solid chocolate bar and I think it needed that ratio because otherwise it would be too much rose and cardamom for me.
Even with a thin filling it still tasted plenty strongly of rose and cardamom. I didn’t taste the pistachios, I think they were there more to give the filling a small grain texture.
If you like rose and cardamom I think you will like this. I rated it 3 stars.
In the competition Delysia Chocolatier’s Cardamom Pistachio Rose Dark Chocolate Bar won Gold for Best Ingredient Combinations, Best Taste, and Most Unique; Bronze for Best Chocolate Bar; and Honorable Mentions for Best Texture and Best Dark Chocolate Bar. It was rated 4 stars.
Delysia chocolates are available online and at their shop in Austin.
View the full list of competition winners on the International Chocolate Salon site.