Complete Chocolate Lover’s Guide for the San Francisco Bay Area

shattered chocolate

Hardest chocolate of all?

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…but not impossible as some of these examples prove

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I am not a chocolatier/chocolate maker, so I have no idea how much harder it is to make vegan chocolate than traditional. Based on how often entries in the TasteTV vegan chocolate competitions don’t make my cut, I think it must be extremely challenging. The 2022 Best Vegan Chocolate Awards proved to be more of the same. I eliminated a lot more vegan entries than entries in the other competitions this year.

On the other hand, there were some amazing vegan entries this time. So maybe a lot of competent chocolatiers are sleeping on this contest. I’ll focus on the average and above entries here, including one I thought would be terrible and turned out terrific.

SFBA entries

Only one local chocolatier entered the vegan competition this year, and it wasn’t one I think of when thinking of vegan chocolate.

Sonoma Chocolatiers PB Bliss
Sonoma Chocolatiers PB Bliss

Sonoma Chocolatiers

Sonoma Chocolatiers, Sebastopol, has dived into TasteTV competitions big time this year, starting with their appearance at the SF International Chocolate Salon, then the toffee comp, and now this one and the Chocolate Bar comp. The only one they’ve missed is the White Chocolate Awards, but I believe that is only because they only do dark chocolate.

Of their 3 entries, I liked the Peanut Butter Bliss bonbon best. The chocolate was a little bitter and I wanted the piece to taste more peanut buttery; but overall, it was a decent riff on peanut butter cups and I liked the salt at the end.

Sonoma Chocolatiers Peanut Butter Bliss won Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best Texture; and Honorable Mentions for Most Unique, Best Dark Chocolate, Best Flavored Chocolate, and Top Vegan Chocolate. It received 4 stars.

Coconut Almond Butter Bar
Coconut Almond Butter Bar

I didn’t care for their other 2 entries; they were too bitter for me. But I loved the mold for the Coconut Almond Butter Bar. It was so cute and reminded me of quirky 70’s Tokyo architecture with big domes spaced along the top of the bar. It won Bronze for Most Unique and Top Vegan Chocolate; and Honorable Mentions for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best Texture. It received 3.5 stars.

Sonoma Chocolatiers’ chocolates are available at their store, online, and at Oliver’s Market, a Sonoma County supermarket chain.

Excellent

And now on to the entries I thought were the best in this competition.

Amano Artisan Chocolate

Longtime Chocolate Salon vendor and occasional competitor, Amano Artisan Chocolate, Orem, UT, submitted their newest flavored bar this time, and it was a real crowd pleaser.

Amano Melange A Trois bar
Amano Melange A Trois bar

Amano’s Citrus Melange Á Trios is misleadingly named. It is flavored with grapefruit, tangerine, and yuzu oils, but there is a fourth citrus in the bar: Little pieces of orange fruit leather. It might seem like I’m quibbling, but that addition gives the bar an intermittently chewy texture and more flavor.

Interestingly the 3 different citrus infusions were distinct flavors in the bar. The fruit bits gave little bumps of orange, and the last flavor was grapefruit. The bar was well made, not super hard, with a good snap. The chocolate was not bitter and had a good flavor.

I shared the bar with a group of chocolate lovers. Since orange chocolate is widely liked, I figured this was safe. Approvals were loud and across the board. Some even picked up on the distinct citrus flavors. Of course I gave this bar my highest rating.

Amano Chocolate’s Citrus Mélange À Trois dominated the awards, winning Gold for Best Ingredient Combinations, Best Taste, Best Flavored Chocolate, and Top Vegan Chocolate; Silver for Best Dark Chocolate; and Bronze for Best Texture and Most Unique. It received 4.5 stars.

Amano is a bean-to-bar maker that makes single origin and flavored bars. You can order Amano bars online (they have a couple of sampler packs that are good deals). They are also available at some special events (like the SF International Chocolate Salons) and at some stores around the country (like Chocolate Covered). Visit their website and social media accounts for more info.

Codinha Chocolate

New-this-year competitor, Codinha Chocolate, Los Angeles, who came out strong in the 2022 White Chocolate Awards, submitted a delicious vegan “milk chocolate” bar.

Codinha Vegan Fruit and Nut Bar
Codinha Vegan Fruit and Nut Bar

Their Vegan Fruit and Nut Bar was not so much a bar but more like a big square bonbon (1-1/2” square x 3/4” tall). It was pretty, looking like milk chocolate splattered with tiny gold and copper luster dust speckles.

Layered inside the thin shell was a thin jam layer over what looked like peanut butter with bits of fruit mixed in. Instead of peanut butter, it was hazelnut but I’m not complaining. The piece had a good hazelnut and mild berry flavor. The little chewy dried fruit bits and tiny crunchy pieces of nuts gave it an interesting texture, but more impressive was their version of vegan “milk” chocolate. It tasted like a real milk chocolate. I don’t know what was used as a substitute (there was no ingredient list), but it proved that a good vegan milk chocolate is possible. I gave it my highest rating.

Codinha Chocolate’s Vegan Fruit and Nut Bar also did amazingly well in the competition, winning Gold for Best Ingredient Combinations and Top Vegan Chocolate; Silver for Best Taste, Best Texture, and Most Unique; and Bronze for Best Vegan Milk Chocolate and Best Flavored Chocolate. It received 4.5 stars.

You can buy Codinha Chocolate online and at special events around LA.

Coco Jolie

Coco Jolie, Englewood, NJ, who first wowed us in last year’s competition, returned with another amazing entry. Their box of 4 bonbons was beautiful, well made, and delicious. Each bonbon earned my highest rating, even if I wasn’t sure what I was eating because there was no menu.

Coco Jolie bonbons
Coco Jolie bonbons

A blue and yellow painted faceted dome of dark chocolate contained a soft caramel that smelled like passion fruit. I tasted a strong burst of passion fruit, which seemed to be mellowed with mango, before the chocolate took over and the piece ended mostly chocolate.

A gold ochre crescent decorated with a splash of green revealed a milk chocolate ganache inside the thin dark shell. It smelled of hazelnut. The very soft ganache had a little crunch  and good hazelnut flavor, so I’m guessing hazelnut praline. The piece was balanced between the hazelnut and chocolate.

A tall blue dome with pink swirls and speckles was another dark covered piece. The inside ganache had a cookie dough texture and tasted like spice cake or gingerbread. It was not a melty piece, and I liked the tiny crunchy ginger pieces inside. The cookie dough/butter inside was a good mix with the dark chocolate shell.

Coco Jolie purple plaid bonbon
Coco Jolie purple plaid bonbon

The final piece was a pretty purple dome hand painted like a closeup of plaid patterning. Inside the dark shell was a liquid caramel. It tasted like a burnt caramel and caramelized apple. I don’t know what it was, except delicious.

Coco Jolie Chocolate’s Bonbon Collection won Silver for Top Vegan Chocolate; Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations, Best Texture, and Most Unique; and an Honorable Mention for Best Taste. It received 4 stars.

Coco Jolie bars, bonbons, and other chocolate treats are available online and at their shop in Englewood, NJ.

Tandem Chocolates

Competition veteran, Tandem Chocolates, Reno, NV, submitted a single bonbon, but it was gorgeous and delicious.

Tandem Black Forest bonbon
Tandem Black Forest bonbon

The Black Forest bonbon was a metallic red dome swirled with lots of thin gold lines. Inside the thin shell  of dark chocolate was a layer of fruit paste/jam over dark ganache. It had a tangy tart cherry flavor that contrasted well with the smooth dark chocolate ganache and had a slightly boozy undertone. Another vegan piece that got my highest rating.

Tandem Chocolates’ Black Forest Bonbon won Gold for Best Texture; Bronze for Best Taste and Top Vegan Chocolate; and an Honorable Mention for Best Ingredient Combinations. It received 4 stars.

Tandem Chocolates are available online and at their store. Visit their website for more info.

Now for entries that I rated one level below the highest rating but still above average.

Treat Dreams

Veteran competitor and vegan only chocolatier, Treat Dreams, Sydney, AU, submitted 3 entries this time. I gave them all high ratings.

Treat Dreams makes interesting chocolates, and I used to think what was most interesting was that everything they make is vegan but tastes as full flavored as regular chocolate. However their first entry this time was the most confounding, interesting chocolate I’ve had.

The name alone of the limited edition white chocolate bar, Rainbow Unicorn, was enough to make me want to get it over with quickly. In my experience, nothing good comes from unicorn-labeled food.

Treat Dreams Rainbow Unicorn bar
Treat Dreams’ exuberant Rainbow Unicorn bar

The description, Cocoa Puffs + marshmallows + lollies + sprinkles in banana infused white chocolate, gave me pause, but I try to be professional so I kept going. The bar’s appearance didn’t ease my apprehension either: it was jam-packed with sugary candies and covered with multi-color sprinkles. Both Cacaopod and I examined and deciphered the visuals before even trying it. (Are those gummy rainbows?)

It smelled like boardwalk candy — those giant rainbow lollipops — which was the start of a strongly nostalgic experience.

It tasted like… childhood. My initial reaction to the taste was it wasn’t as bad as anticipated. It was sweet but not as sweet as expected, with bright fresh flavors.

It was a very nostalgic mishmash experience, tasting like banana taffy, marshmallows, cereal in milk, and sour candies. By the time we finished evaluating, Cacaopod and I had eaten over half the bar. (Normally one square is plenty for judging purposes.)

It’s not a bar I would ever seek out on my own, but I enjoyed how the flavors brought back all sorts of childhood memories: eating sugary cereals in my pajamas, sneaking JetPuffed marshmallows out of the bag, buying candy at the gas station with the giant flying horse logo on the roof. A fun, unique bar.

Treat Dreams’ Rainbow Unicorn bar won Gold for Most Unique (it certainly deserved it!); Silver for Best Texture and Best Flavored Chocolate; and Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations and Top Vegan Chocolate. It received 3.5 stars.

Treat Dreams Lamington bar
Treat Dreams Lamington bar

Treat Dream’s other entries, a “milk” chocolate bar and molded dark chocolates, were also high quality if more subdued experiences. The limited edition Lamington bar was described as strawberry and coconut in vegan milk chocolate. Coconut was the dominant flavor and texture, while the freeze dried strawberry bits gave bright hits of strawberry in the good, not great vegan milk chocolate. (Treat Dreams uses a combination of rice syrup, almonds, and coconut to substitute for milk in their vegan milk chocolate.)

Treat Dreams’ Lamington bar won Gold for Best Vegan Milk Chocolate; Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations; and Honorable Mentions for Most Unique, Best Flavored Chocolate, and Top Vegan Chocolate. It received 3.5 stars.

Treat Dreams Peppermint Bears
Treat Dreams Peppermint Bears

The Peppermint Bears were better, with good quality dark chocolate shells containing a green cream filling that smelled strongly peppermint. The filling had a slightly sugary texture, and the pieces made me think of an upscale York peppermint patty. Besides better quality ingredients, the inside was semi-liquid not hard like York patties.

Treat Dreams’ Peppermint bears won Bronze for Best Taste, Most Unique, Best Dark Chocolate, and Top Vegan Chocolate; and an Honorable Mention for Best Texture. It received 4 stars.

A 100% vegan chocolatier, Treat Dreams makes quality vegan bars and filled molded chocolates. UPDATE November 2022: Treat Dreams has closed.

Cococo Chocolates

First time entrant, Cococo Chocolates, Calgary, AB, makes their own chocolates using couverture from Belgium. They also make chocolates for other companies. They submitted 3 bonbons that were good flavor wise except the chocolate itself was a little lacking.

Cococo Drunken Cherry
Cococo Drunken Cherry

The Drunken Cherry had cherry hazelnut praline and dark chocolate ganache spiked with whiskey and Benedictine inside a dark chocolate shell that looked a little like a volcano crater on top of a square bonbon. There were 3 layers inside. It smelled boozy and started melting in my hand before I had a chance to put it in my mouth. It tasted initially of hazelnut and chocolate, then a little cherry with a slight burn. Flavors were subtle, mostly hazelnut and chocolate, but the chocolate was only good, not great.

Cococo’s Drunken Cherry won Honorable Mentions for Best Ingredient Combinations and Most Unique. It received 4 stars.

Cococo Vegan Coconut bonbon
Cococo Vegan Coconut bonbon

The Vegan Coconut also lost points for the chocolate. Another dark chocolate piece, the dark and coconut milk ganache was enrobed in dark chocolate and sprinkled with toasted coconut. The ganache had a visible coconut texture. The piece tasted very coconutty, which made up for the middling chocolate flavor. It received 3.5 stars.

Cococo Blackberry Pomegranite Quince bonbon
Cococo Blackberry Pomegranite Quince bonbon

The third piece, black currant pomegranate quince, sounded delicious — black currant jelly layered with dark chocolate pomegranate quince balsamic ganache with a sprinkle of hibiscus sea salt  — but didn’t smell delicious. Luckily it had a good flavor, starting with the tart black currant and pomegranate that mellowed with the quince. The salt was subtle; I have no idea if I tasted hibiscus or not since the similarly tart currant and pomegranate dominated.

Cococo’s Black Currrant Pomegranate Quince won Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations. It received 3.5 stars.

I hope they work on their chocolate because these pieces could move up in my ratings if they improve the chocolate’s flavor.

You can buy Cococo chocolates online and at their stores in western Canada.

Delysia Chocolatier

Competition veteran, Delysia ChocolatierAustin, TX, submitted 3 entries. While I generally prefer their barks to their truffles, this time I liked one of their truffle collections best.

Delysia Chocolatiers Chocolate Decadence collection
Delysia Chocolatiers Chocolate Decadence collection

The 2-piece Decadence Collection was a better than average assortment. Although I don’t like thick shells — and Delysia bonbons probably have the thickest shells I’ve ever seen — it didn’t bother me so much this time.

The Chocolate Atole Truffle had an unusual ingredient: corn meal, along with piloncillo (unprocessed sugar), cinnamon, and vanilla in dark chocolate. The piece smelled cinnamon-y and tasted of chocolate and cinnamon, reminding me a little of Mexican hot chocolate. The corn meal didn’t add a flavor but instead gave a gummy doughy texture to the ganache. It might sound weird, but it tasted good.

The Sea Salt Cranberry Hazelnut Truffle was a bittersweet chocolate piece flavored with pink Himalayan sea salt, roasted hazelnuts, and whole cranberries. The first impression was salt, but the piece was not too salty. It had a good chocolate hazelnut flavor with cranberry in the background.

Delysia Chocolatier Decadence truffle collection won Bronze for Best Texture, Most Unique, and Best Flavored Chocolate; and Honorable Mentions for Best Dark Chocolate and Best Vegan Milk Chocolate. It received 4 stars.

Delysia chocolates are currently only available online and for curbside pickup at their shop in Austin, while the shop is closed due to COVID.

Good

In addition to the excellent and above average entries, there were a couple of other entries that are worth highlighting.

Beth’s Chocolate

Return competitor, Beth’s Chocolate, Newton, MA, submitted a bonbon that featured 2 of my favorite foods.

Beth’s Chocolates entry
Beth’s Chocolates entry

Beth’s Dark Chocolate PB and a little crunch bonbon was well made with a thin even dark chocolate shell. The dark ganache inside smelled peanut buttery and — like its name said — had a small crunch. The chocolate was kinda bitter and it didn’t have enough peanut butter flavor for me to give it my higher ratings, but it was still a worthy competitor.

Beth’s Chocolate PB & Crunch won Honorable Mentions for Best Texture and Best Flavored Chocolate. It received 3.5 stars.

You can order Beth’s Chocolate bars, barks, bonbons, and hot chocolate online (although not during summer months). She also offers chocolate making classes. Visit the website for more info.

Peter Who?

Peter Who?is a new Swiss bean to bar chocolate maker, who submitted their first and so far only bar to the competition.

Peter Who? bar
Peter Who? bar

The Vegan Salted Caramel bar is a 69% dark chocolate bar. It’s not a filled bar as I expected with that name. Instead it was a big thin bar full of tiny crunchy hazelnut toffee bits. It was more bitter than most 70% bars, but that could be a decision based on what they found was the best outcome with the beans they chose to use. Or maybe they just like a more bitter profile.

The bar was very hard — it shattered when we cut pieces to sample and also took some time to start melting when we tasted it. I liked that there were little hits of salt that got more salty as it melted.

Peter Who? Vegan Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate won Gold for Best Dark Chocolate; Bronze for Top Vegan Chocolate; and an Honorable Mention for Best Flavored Chocolate. It received 4 stars.

Peter Who? bars are only available online, and right now they have a special where you can get a substantial discount on their 4 or 6 bar packs.

The rest of the entries I tried didn’t make my cutoff. I don’t think I’m a particularly picky judge, but none of those entries had chocolate I considered tasty. I appreciate that chocolatiers are trying to accommodate people’s dietary requirements, but if they are making something chocolate, the chocolate has to taste good or it’s a non-starter for me. I hope they improve their entries for next time.

Visit the 2022 Best Vegan Chocolate Awards page to see the full list of this year’s winners.

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Published June 27, 2022

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