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

toffee

Through thick & thin

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I was judge and jury in the month of May

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During the 2022 Top Artisan Toffee Awards competition, I also had jury duty. So during the day I was commuting to the courthouse and focusing on a trial all day; then in the evenings I sampled toffee and recorded my impressions.

The view from the East County Hall of Justice in Dublin
My view from the East County Hall of Justice in Dublin

It was interesting because jury instructions emphasize keeping an open mind and not letting your biases influence your judgement. You should wait until you have heard all the evidence before you form opinions about the trial, and then you have to discuss everything with 11 other people and aim to reach a unanimous verdict.

The toffee competition was very different from a jury trial. I was judging pieces as I went along. I did try to keep an open mind toward each piece, but I didn’t wait until I finished sampling before deciding which pieces I liked and didn’t like. (I decided again that I do not like Old Bay seasoning in toffee. Also toffee doing an impression of a Cinnabon is not a winner.)

Best of all, I didn’t have to convince a jury room of people to see things my way; I just had to record my judgements and submit them. I won’t rehash every vote I cast here; I will keep mostly to highlighting toffee I think you might want to check out.

I’ve included my ratings and the final verdicts by the entire panel on the toffees mentioned here. You can see the entire list of winners on the 2022 Top Artisan Toffee Awards page

Local contenders

There were 3 SFBA entrants this year: one a repeat and 2 longtime vendors/first-time entrants.

Tomo Toffee

Veteran entrant, Tomo Toffee (San Ramon, CA), submitted their classic toffee and an improved fun flavor toffee.

Tomo’s classic Dark Chocolate Toffee
Tomo’s classic Dark Chocolate Toffee

Their classic Dark Chocolate Toffee had big pieces of almond inside the toffee and finely chopped pecans sprinkled over the dark chocolate layer. All those nuts made for a good nutty aroma. The toffee had a great crunchy texture, not sticky or chewy, with a distinct roasted nut taste. Plus the dark chocolate was excellent, holding its own amidst all the nuts. A delicious toffee, I rate it a 5, my highest rating.

Tomo Toffee’s Dark Chocolate Toffee won Silver for Best Taste and Top Toffee; Bronze for Best Texture; and an Honorable Mention for Best Ingredient Combinations. It received 4.5 stars.

S'mores Toffee
S’mores Toffee were a good interpretation of the sweet treat

I’d tried Tomo’s other submission, S’mores Toffee, in a previous competition, but they definitely tweaked it this time. As before it was a milk chocolate toffee covered with roasted marshmallow and graham cracker pieces. But this time the marshmallow and graham cracker flavors were distinct. The previous version tasted like a regular toffee with a little extra chewiness. This time, the marshmallows and graham crackers were just as distinct as the chocolate. It was sweet, but an excellent interpretation of a s’mores treat.  A fun crunchy toffee, I rate it a 4.

The S’mores Toffee won  Silver for Most Unique; Bronze for Best Taste, Best Texture and Top Toffee; and an Honorable Mention for Best Ingredient Combinations. It received 4 stars.

Tomo Toffee is available via their website and at some local stores. Check their website for more info.

R & J Toffee

R & J Toffee, San Jose, is a regular Chocolate Salon vendor, but this is their first time in a TasteTV toffee competition. R & J makes one kind of toffee — dark chocolate with almonds — a thick, buttery, crunchy toffee with big pieces of almond inside the toffee and covered both sides with dark chocolate and chopped almonds.

R & J Toffee
R & J Toffee’s thick classic

Something was off with this entry, though. It wasn’t as buttery as I remembered their toffee, and it had a definite vegetable oil undertaste. To be sure, I compared it with their toffee that I had just bought at the Chocolate Salon last month, and sure enough this sample was not as buttery plus it had a harder crunch than the Salon version. It was disappointing, but I assume it was a one-time thing because I have had their toffee for years and it has always been excellent.

R & J Toffee’s Original Dark Almond Toffee won Bronze for Best Texture. It received 4 stars.

R & J Toffees are available online, in local Whole Foods, Costcos, and some other local stores. They also sell their toffee at special events and festivals. Visit their website to find other locations.

Sonoma Chocolatiers

Sonoma Chocolatiers, Sebastopol, is a longtime local chocolatier, but first time toffee competitor too. Sonoma Chocolatiers uses only dark chocolate in their treats, and their Toffee Rapture was a dark-colored toffee covered with dark chocolate and enough chopped pistachios that it smelled like pistachio.

Toffee Rapture
Lots of lovely green pistachios adorned Sonoma Chocolatiers’ Toffee Rapture

Pistachio is a mild flavor that could get lost in a piece like this: the dominant flavors were the dark chocolate and orange, but I could still taste the pistachio. The orange chocolate was bitter and made for a not sweet toffee, which was unexpected.

Sonoma Chocolatiers’ Toffee Rapture won Honorable Mentions for Best Ingredient Combinations, Best Taste, Most Unique, and Top Toffee. 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 toffees

There were some non-SFBA toffees I rated highly this year. A couple were repeat top-tier toffees, 2 were new to the competition, and one moved up from the lower ranks.

Stella’s Confectionery

I tried toffee from Stella’s Confectionery, Milwaukee, WI, for the first time in last year’s toffee competition and loved the big toffee & chocolate squares packed with inclusions and topped off with a mini chocolate bar. This time they submitted 2 of their toffee squares and a package of more traditional looking toffee pieces.

Stella's Cranberry, Orange & Walnut Toffee
Stella’s Cranberry, Orange & Walnut Toffee was my fav toffee this year

I loved their Cranberry, Orange & Walnut Toffee square. Top notch ingredients — soft dried cranberries, cubes of candied orange, and soft-crunch walnut pieces — were mixed into the crunchy buttery toffee and sprinkled over the dark chocolate layer. It was an excellent combination. Addictive. I rate it a 5.

Stella’s Confectionery Cranberry, Orange and Walnut Toffee won Silver for Best Ingredient Combinations; Bronze for Top Toffee; and Honorable Mentions for Best Taste and Best Texture. It received 4 stars.

Stella's bar on bar
Stella’s includes a mini-bar on the back of their bars

The Door County Cherry & Toasted Almond was just as good with big chewy dried cherries and slivered almonds sprinkled over the dark chocolate square and mixed into the toffee on the other side. I loved the burst of cherry flavor in the nutty chocolate and toffee, and rate it a 5 also.

Stella’s Confectionery Door County Cherry and Toasted Almond Toffee won Silver for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best Taste; Bronze for Top Toffee; and an Honorable Mention for Most Unique. It received 4 stars.

(I didn’t like their 3rd entry as much. The Peanut and Pretzel Toffee had more of a candy taste than an artisan toffee taste, and the mini pretzels and milk chocolate were minuses for me. But the peanuts and crunchy toffee were good, so I still rate it on the plus side. It won Silver for Most Unique; and Honorable Mentions for Best Ingredient Combinations, Best Taste, Best Texture, and Top Toffee. It received 3.5 stars.)

You can order Stella’s toffee treats and chocolate bars online, and find them at a few stores across the country. Check their website for locations.

Fritz Toffee jar
Fritz Toffee’s entry came in a reusable jar

Fritz Toffee

It seems like another returning competitor, Fritz Toffee, IA, listened to my wishes because they returned with a dark chocolate toffee instead of their traditional milk chocolate.

Fritz’s Dark Chocolate Sea Salt toffee was the thickest toffee I’ve had, almost 1/2″ thick in some places including the layer of chocolate. It smelled like roasted almonds, and there were visible almond pieces inside the toffee. It was a crunchy toffee with good chocolate and buttery toffee flavors along with the roasted almond flavor. It tasted mostly chocolatey, ending a little salty with a salty aftertaste. I rate it the highest rating, although cacaopod thought it was too salty.

Fritz Toffee Company’s Dark Chocolate Sea Salt won Gold for Best Taste, Best Texture, and Top Toffee; and an Honorable Mention for Best Ingredient Combinations. It received 4.5 stars.

While you can buy Fritz Toffee on their website, I only saw their original milk chocolate version available. Maybe they are waiting to see how the dark chocolate toffee fares in competitions before adding it to their offerings. Fritz Toffee is also available at some retailers in IA. Check their website for locations.

Caramella Moo

Toffee from first-time entrant, Caramella Moo, Paramus, NJ, was the opposite of thick Fritz Toffee. Their packaging claims it’s “The Original Thin Toffee™” and their 3 submissions were remarkably thinner: 1/8″ layer of toffee topped with another 1/8″ of chocolate. (They were also more conservative in the amounts they submitted. Fritz submitted 12-oz. containers of their toffee, while Caramella Moo submitted from one to 4 pieces of toffee for each of their entries.)

Caramella Moo Coconut Toffee
Caramella Moo’s For the Love of Coconut Toffee

Of their 3 submissions, I liked “For the Love of Coconut” best.  Caramella Moo toffee is chewy, not crunchy, and tended to stick to my teeth. Their coconut toffee was the only one that didn’t, so points for that. I think maybe it was because the coconut was mixed into the toffee layer in addition to being on top. That texture helped keep the toffee out of my teeth.

I liked the coconut texture and flavor, and I thought the chocolate was good  too. I rate it a 4. (I didn’t care for their other 2 submissions. In addition to the stickiness, the Dark Chocolate Roasted Almond Toffee and the P. Nutty Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Toffee had disconcerting vegetal overtones and weren’t flavorful enough.)

The For the Love of Coconut toffee won an Honorable Mention for Best Texture and received 3 stars. (The Dark Chocolate Roasted Almond Toffee and the P. Nutty Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Toffee also received 3 stars.)

Caramella Moo toffee is available online, in some stores, and at local events around NY/NJ. Check their website for more info.

Country Girl Toffee
Country Girl Toffee was one of the many entries using these vacuum sealed bags to keep their toffee fresh

Country Girl Toffee

Another newcomer, Country Girl Toffee, Delta, CO, submitted a classic milk chocolate toffee that I thought was excellent. Their Toffee with Almonds and Milk Chocolate had a dusting of almonds on top and chunks of almond inside a thick toffee like Fritz’s. It had a good crunch, and was tasty and not overly sweet. I was impressed because it was a milk chocolate toffee, which often runs too sweet for me. The milk chocolate was pretty understated. I rate it a 4. I would be interested to try a dark chocolate version if/when they branch out.

Country Girl Toffee’s Milk Chocolate Almond Toffee won Bronze for Best Texture; and Honorable Mentions for Best Taste and Top Toffee. It received 4 stars.

Country Girl Toffee is available online and at some stores in CO. Check their website for more info.

Belle Toffee

Return competitor, Belle Toffee, Kansas City, MO, was in the 2021 competition, but didn’t make my cut. This year they submitted the same 3 flavors, and I think they improved the chocolate they used (that was my main complaint), so they made my list.

I like their concept: Individual chocolate covered squares of toffee. It’s a good solution for hard toffee like theirs; you can pop the bite sized pieces in your mouth instead of trying to bite a piece off and having it shatter around you. Plus the enrobed squares clack like mahjong tiles if you pour them out of the package.

Belle Roasted Hazelnut Espresso Toffee
Belle Roasted Hazelnut Espresso Toffee enrobed in dark chocolate and vacuum sealed to stay super crunchy

Their entry I liked best was the Roasted Hazelnut Espresso Toffee in Dark Chocolate. It smelled like coffee when I opened the bag. It had a distinct hazelnut flavor from small bits of hazelnut in the toffee. It wasn’t really espresso flavored so much as more chocolatey tasting, which was good. I rate it a 4.

Belle Toffee’s Roasted Hazelnut Espresso Toffee in Dark Chocolate won Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best Texture; and an Honorable Mention for Top Toffee. It received 4 stars.

(Their other entries I didn’t like as much. The Bourbon Pecan Toffee in Gold Chocolate smelled good like caramelized nuts, but I didn’t taste bourbon, just roasted pecans. It wasn’t flavorful enough for me, but it did very well in the competition, winning Gold for Most Unique; and Silver for Best Ingredient Combinations, Best Taste, Best Texture, and Top Toffee. It received 4 stars. Belle Toffee Milk Chocolate Almond Toffee had a strong buttery flavor and good almond flavor, but it wasn’t very chocolatey. It received 3.5 stars.)

Belle Toffee is available online and at stores around KS and MO. Check their website for locations.

Solid choices

Rounding out my categories, after local and top-rated entries, are my list of other worthy toffees to check out.

Sweet-A-Licious

Sweet-A-Licious Gourmet Toffee & Nuts, Cameron, CA, had 2 entries I liked. Their thin crunchy/chewy toffees were attractive and had good flavor, but were greasy. I’m not sure why because they have simple ingredient lists, but if they could fix that issue, I would rate their toffees higher.

Sweet-A-Licious Espresso Toffee
Sweet-A-Licious Espresso Almond Toffee was dark like black coffee

I like their Gourmet Almond Toffee Bark  which had sliced almonds on top of a dark chocolate layer and chopped nuts in the toffee. I liked its crunch and flavor. It received 4 stars in the competition.

The Espresso Almond Toffee Bark smelled like espresso. It was a dark toffee with chopped nuts over the top. It had a good distinct coffee flavor and was a little chewy but mostly crunchy. It received 4 stars in the competition.

Sweet-A-Licious doesn’t currently have an online store, but you can order their toffee via email, phone, text, or FB. Visit their website for instructions. Sweet-A-Licious toffee is also available in some stores in their area.

Jensen Toffee Co.

Jensen’s Toasted Coconut
Jensen’s Toasted Coconut toffee for coconut lovers

Jensen Toffee Co., Seattle, WA, was another 2021 competitor, who didn’t make my cut last year but submitted an entry this year that I liked. Their Toasted Coconut was a milk chocolate toffee sprinkled heavily with coconut inside and out. It was a little chewy  and very coconut-y tasting. Almonds were listed in the ingredients, but I didn’t taste them. It was all coconut, milk chocolate, and sweet toffee to me. It received 3.5 stars in the competition

You can order Jensen toffee online.

Crafian Artisanal Toffee

The most delicious smelling toffee this time was from new entrant, Crafian Artisanal Toffee, Chicago, IL. When I opened the vacuum sealed bag of their Dark Chocolate Salted Almond toffee, the chocolate and almond smell was so delicious I couldn’t wait to taste it.

Crafian Dark Salted Toffee
Crafian’s toffee was extra attractive with dark chocolate drizzled over the finished toffee

The toffee was visually appealing too: Thick slabs of toffee coated with dark chocolate on both sides  and studded with big pieces of almond. It was a crunchy toffee, but it was a little too salty for me and the almonds didn’t taste nutty enough for me. Maybe they needed roasting. The toffee was good, just not quite yummy enough for top rating.

Crafian Artisanal Toffee Dark Chocolate Salted Almond toffee won Honorable Mentions for Best Ingredient Combinations and Top Toffee. It received 4 stars.

Crafian is a new business with a soft open of their online store in June 2022. I hope to see their toffee develop. It’s got great potential.

Robinson Soft Brittle

First time toffee competitor, Robinson Soft Brittle, Hayden, ID, was in last year’s Spicy Chocolate competition. I didn’t care for that entry, but I thought their liqueur based toffees this time were pretty good.

The Black Label Nutty Irishman Toffee made with Valrhona’s 35% white couverture smelled boozy, but didn’t taste boozy. It tasted like butterscotch candy. It had a soft crunch and was a little teeth-sticky. It was too sweet for me but I liked the flavor.

Robinson Soft Brittle’s Nutty Irishman Toffee won Gold for Best Ingredient Combinations; Bronze for Best Taste and Top Toffee; and Honorable Mentions for Best Texture and Most Unique. It received 3.5 stars.

White Russian toffee
Robinson’s White Russian toffee was beautiful

The White Russian had pretty swirls of white and milk chocolate on top of the slab of toffee. It also had a soft crunch. I liked the taste, but I wished it had a more pronounced Kahlua flavor. It was good but not distinctive enough to me.

Robinson Soft Brittle’s White Russian Toffee won Honorable Mentions for Best Ingredient Combinations and Most Unique. It received 3.5 stars.

Robinson Soft Brittle is available online and at stores in ID, MO, OR, and WA.

Moser Roth Privat Chocolatiers

Moser Roth mini bars come 5 to a package

The last entry I liked, was from veteran TasteTV competitor, Moser Roth Privat Chocolatiers, the German chocolate maker that supplies Aldi supermarkets with good value chocolate bars. Their Toffee Crunch was a repeat from last year’s competition. It’s a bar with crunchy toffee bits inside sweet milk chocolate. To me, it’s a candy bar, not a chocolate bar, because it’s so sweet. It’s not bad, and I like that the package is actually a set of mini-bars, making it a sweet treat to share. It received 3 stars in the competition.

You can find Moser Roth bars at Aldi supermarkets and on Amazon.

My verdict

I was happy to see so many entries using dark chocolate this year. Toffee is so sweet that having something bitter for balance makes it more enjoyable for me. I also liked how so many entries were in vacuum sealed bags. Moisture is toffee’s enemy, and the bags made for a better toffee crunching experience.

While it was interesting being a judge and juror simultaneously, you know I enjoyed judging toffee more than evaluating evidence in a case. I think jury duty made me a more thoughtful judge this time; but I hope this turns out to be a once in a lifetime coincidence.

And if I get called for jury duty again, I will be sure to pack some chocolate!

Goodbye jury duty!
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Published June 2, 2022

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