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

spicy 2020 feature

Hot little numbers


Some entries were packing heat this year

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TasteTV’s Top Spicy Chocolate Awards for 2020 was a smaller than usual competition, due to COVID I assume.  But there were still some excellent entries, and only a couple of duds, so it was a winner for me! I’ll highlight the ones to look for — and the ones to look out for.

Spicy as in flavorful

The only SFBA entrant was CocoTutti 3-5 cup chocolatier, but it was a worthy entry. The La Kama (Moroccan Spices) with Lime was one of CocoTutti’s CocoQuintet bars, 5 snap-apart bonbons. It was a pretty bar with green & yellow splashed on the dark chocolate pillows that were filled with yellow-green tinted white chocolate ganache.

La Kama bar
The La Kama with Lime bar is like a small box of bonbons in a bar

It was a little perfumy and had an immediate lime hit from CocoTutti’s house-made lime marmalade with a slight buzzy bite from pisco liquor. It continued to be very limey with the spices coming underneath, tempering the brightness of the lime.

I’m not sure what all the spices were. Maybe cinnamon, tumeric, and ginger, with a little heat from pepper. It was difficult for me to pull out specific spice notes, but overall, it seemed similar to Indian spice mixes. The spices worked more as a blend than individual spices for me adding a savory dimension; and while the bar had some heat, it was not hot.

It also had a good dark chocolate flavor from the shell that lingered with the lime as the spices faded.

The La Kama (Moroccan Spices) with Lime did exceptionally well in the competition, winning Gold for Best Ingredient Combination, Best Texture,Best Dark Chocolate, Best Flavored Chocolate, and Top Spicy Chocolate; Silver for Best Taste; and Bronze for Most Unique. It rated 4 stars, the highest in the competition.

You can find CocoTutti chocolates online. You can also arrange to pick up chocolate at her kitchen in Brisbane.

Blanco Picoso Truffle
Blanco Picoso Truffle

Hot & hotter

Competition veteran, Panache Chocolatier, from Kansas City, MO, had 2 entries: one that was hot, and another even hotter.

I loved their Blanco Picoso Truffle. It smelled like apple liquor, and was very attractive with a blonde ganache inside a white chocolate shell speckled with spices. The first taste was sweet but not too sweet, then the heat came, followed by a fruity/apple flavor. The heat lingered but it wasn’t too hot.

The Blanco Picoso Truffle won Gold for Best Texture; Silver for Best Taste; and Bronze for Best Ingredient Combination, Most Unique, Best Flavored Chocolate, Best Milk Chocolate (hmmm), and Top Spicy Chocolate. It rated 3.5 stars.

Spiced Ruby Caramel Truffle
Spiced Ruby Caramel Truffle

Their Spiced Ruby Caramel Truffle used ruby chocolate for the outer shell and the inside ganache. It had a slightly grainy texture, and tasted generally fruity at first — ruby chocolate has strong berry overtones naturally — then the sugary/buttery caramel taste appeared, and finally the heat.

This one was hot and got hotter as the rest of the flavors faded. And it ended too hot for me.

The Spiced Ruby Caramel Truffle won Silver for Best Taste; Bronze for Best Texture; and Honorable Mention for Best Ingredient Combination, Most Unique, Best Flavored Chocolate, and Best Dark Chocolate (again, hmmm). It rated 4 stars, the highest in the competition.

Panache Chocolatier’s website is currently under construction, so if you want to order something, they ask that you call or visit their shop. Check their website for details, however as I wrote this review, there was no address listed. Maybe everybody in Kansas City already knows the location.

The big chili

Dark Chili bar
I love that this oversized, 4″x9″ bar is actually 5 minibars, perfect for sharing and snacking

We first encountered Moser Roth Privat Chocolatiers, a German chocolate maker, in the 2020 chocolate bar competition. We liked their big bars even though they are made for Aldi, a discount grocery store chain that I found such a grim shopping experience I never thought I would visit them again. These oversized bars are actually 5 individually wrapped minibars of above average quality for a mass market chocolate bar. They are making me reconsider Aldi.

Their entry here, the Dark Chili bar, was similar. No cacao percentage listed, and the origin is vague: “South American.”  It had the same attractive packaging and logo mold as the previous bars, with a nice snap and smooth texture.

The initial and dominant taste was chocolate. It wasn’t a fruity chocolate; it tasted more like fudge. The chili flavor came next, and it tasted distinctly chili — it wasn’t just a hot sensation — which was a pleasant surprise.

It did get hot, but not very hot. And even though it is named Dark Chili, it was not bitter, so it wasn’t very dark. It was sweeter than I expect for a dark chocolate, but not too sweet. I could tell they were aiming hard for the mainstream chocolate consumer with this balance, and I think they succeeded.

The Dark Chili bar won a Gold for Best Dark Chocolate; Silver for Best Flavored Chocolate and Top Spicy Chocolate; Bronze for Best Taste; and an Honorable Mention for Best Ingredient Combination. It rated 3 stars.

If you shop at Aldi, I can recommend their house chocolate bars. I have liked all the ones I have tried. They are not artisan chocolate, nor do they aim to stretch the consumer’s chocolate appreciation, but they are above average grocery store chocolate. You can also find Moser Roth Privat Chocolatiers bars on Amazon.

Seleuss spicy truffle
No mistaking this for anything other than a spicy truffle

Hot seconds

There were several other entrants that I didn’t love as much as the first ones, but still had their good qualities and were worthy competitors.

Competition veteran, Seleušs Chocolates, Seattle, WA, had a nice spicy fruit bonbon entry. Their Raspberry Chipotle truffle had raspberry colored white ganache in a dark chocolate shell with pepper flakes and seeds on top. While the shell was a little thick, it smelled great with a strong raspberry aroma. That translated to a nice initial raspberry chocolate taste before the chili hit. It got hotter as it melted and ended chocolatey and hot with a lingering heat.

The Raspberry Chipotle truffle received Silver for Best Ingredient Combination, Most Unique, Best Dark Chocolate, and Best Flavored Chocolate; Bronze for Best Texture and Top Spicy Chocolate; and Honorable Mention for Best Taste. It rated 4 stars, the highest in the competition.

Seleušs Chocolates are not currently available online, and their stores are closed due to COVID. Check their website for updates.

FPS Winter Spice bar
For Pete’s Sake’s Winter Spice bar was a good use of pumpkin pie spices

Veteran competitor, For Pete’s Sake, had a nice Winter Spice Milk Chocolate bar. It was 46% cacao flavored with pumpkin pie spices, and it smelled like it too. It had a soft break, and an immediate pumpkin pie spice flavor leaning strongly on the nutmeg. It was a little grainy, maybe from all the added spices. It was a good milk chocolate, with the spice flavors lingering long afterwards. There would be no mistaking this bar for anything other than pumpkin pie spice.

The Winter Spice Milk Chocolate bar won Gold for Best Taste and Best Milk Chocolate; Silver for Best Ingredient Combination; Bronze for Best Flavored Chocolate; and Honorable Mention for Best Texture, Best Dark Chocolate (hmmm), and Top Spicy Chocolate. It rated 3.5 stars.

If you love pumpkin pie spice flavored food and drink, this is the bar for you. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you where to find For Pete’s Sake chocolate, because they have no contact info on their packaging  and zero internet presence.

Banyan Tree Hot n Fuzzy
Banyan Tree Hot & Fuzzy

The entry from return competitor Banyan Tree Chocolate was interesting. Hot & Fuzzy Peach Balsamic Reduction and Peperoncino Olive Oil in Milk Chocolate — made with full cream milk AND cream — was a pretty, shiny orange/red half dome. Inside was a layer of ganache with a liquid layer on top.

The balsamic reduction gave it a sour vinegar smell. Thankfully it tasted better than it smelled: a little sour, a little peachy, with hot being the strongest experience in a good milk chocolate.

Hot & Fuzzy Peach Balsamic Reduction and Peperoncino Olive Oil in Milk Chocolate won Gold for Best Taste and Most Unique; Silver for Best Texture, Best Milk Chocolate, Best Flavored Chocolate, and Top Spicy Chocolate; and Honorable Mention for Best Ingredient Combination. It rated 4 stars, the highest in the competition.

You can buy Banyan Tree’s chocolate treats online or at their café in Sarasota, FL.

Banyan Tree Hot n Fuzzy
Hot Chocolat’s pretty piece

New competitor Hot Chocolat from Seattle, WA, submitted a very attractive piece to the judging. The red blending into orange bands on their Mango Habañero Caramel looked like a sunset. On top of that, it had a nice chocolate themed image of cacao pods embossed on top.

It had a thick bottom and was a little too sweet for me. Inside was a hot, grainy, semi-liquid caramel with a cinnamon-y Mexican hot chocolate undertone. I would’ve liked more mango flavor, but I liked the hot chocolate aspect and it had a nice lingering warmth.

The Mango Habañero Caramel won Gold for Best Ingredient Combination; Silver for Best Taste and Best Texture; Bronze for Best Flavored Chocolate; and Honorable Mention for Best Dark Chocolate and Top Spicy Chocolate. It rated 3.5 stars.

You can buy Hot Chocolat bonbons online, and they offer curbside pickup at their kitchen by appointment.


CCF Mango Spice bar
Eye-catching Spicy Mango bar

Finally, I feel like it is my duty to warn you about a couple of bars that were in the competition. Calgary ChocoSweeats Factorie is a repeat competitor who has a different approach to chocolate. They seem to be taking traditional Indian cuisine and adding chocolate to it.

Interesting in concept, but so far I am not impressed with their execution. Their Potato Bomb bar adds potato chips and a list of spices longer than a CVS receipt to a sweet couverture. A slight exaggeration, but here’s the list of spices on the label: Kashmiri red chilies, black salt, coriander seeds, cumin, tumeric, black pepper, iodised salt, dried ginger, mustard, fennel seeds, garlic, cassia [cinnamon], fenugreek leaves, black cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, green cardamom, mace, asafoetida, dried mango, cucumis pubescens, mint leaves, yellow chilies, pomegranate seeds, tamarind, and carom seeds.

I had to look up a few of those spices; the most memorable one had to be asafoetida, which in English is sometimes called “devil’s dung” on account of how it smells like rotten garlic(!). I’m glad I didn’t know that before I tried it because I might have just skipped this bar, which would be a dereliction of my duty as a judge.

The only good thing about the experience for me was the bar’s crunchy texture; but then potato chip & too-many-spices flavors appeared in a too sweet chocolate with extra chili hitting later, making it too hot on top of the unworkable chocolate/spice mix. I think this is the worst combo I’ve ever tried, and that includes previous experiences like smoked-cigar caramel chocolate and collard-greens-and-cornbread chocolate.

Other judges liked it better than I did. It received Silver for Most Unique; Bronze for Best Ingredient Combination, Best Texture, and Best Dark Chocolate; and Honorable Mention for Best Flavored Chocolate and Top Spicy Chocolate. It rated 3.5 stars.

Their Spicy Mango bar with big slices of dried mango and candy coated fennel seeds sprinkled over the top was only marginally better. They exercised some restraint with the spices: only Rajasthani red chilies, fennel seeds, cumin, and black pepper in the mix. It smelled like curry, and tasted like a curry dish with chocolate and sugar added. It was not as sweet as the Potato Bomb, but it was still yucky. I can’t help but wonder if the chocolatiers at Calgary ChocoSweeats Factorie even like chocolate.

However, it did win some awards in the competition: Silver for Best Ingredient Combination and Most Unique; and Bronze for Best Taste, Best Dark Chocolate, and Top Spicy Chocolate. It rated 3.5 stars.

If you want to try these or other unusual combinations, you can buy Calgary ChocoSweeats Factorie bars and other confections online, and arrange local pickup in Calgary, Aberta, Canada.

Put a pin in it

A couple of my favs in this competition can be found online: artisan chocolatier CocoTutti’s La Kama (Moroccan Spices) with Lime, and decent grocery store chocolate Moser Roth Privat Chocolatiers’ Dark Chili (on Amazon).  Panache and a couple of my second tier recommendations seem to be struggling to get product out to a wider market. It’s a shame COVID is messing up chocolate outlets as much as it has, but hopefully things will get better in 2021 and it will be easier to find any of these chocolates that intrigue you.

You can see the full list of winners of the Top Spicy Chocolate Awards for 2020 on the TasteTV site.

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Published December 4, 2020