The last time we were checking out at our local produce market the clerk told us they had over ordered some chocolate bars and so they were giving a free bar to anyone who bought $50 or more in groceries. They worried the bars would expire before they were all purchased (they over ordered by a LOT). So we could have our pick from 3 different bars.
Turned out they were from Berkeley based TCHO. And after chatting for a bit the clerk gave us one of each! (It pays to be a regular.)
TCHO converted from conventional chocolate to all vegan last year. They kept their logo and the square packaging (their new slogan is “Chocolate. Fair & Square”) but they otherwise did an entire rebranding — along with dropping all their existing non-vegan products. Goodbye Astronaut Ice Cream Chocolate!
This seems rather extreme. A company that has been around since 2005 got rid of their entire line of products. They didn’t just add a vegan line or recreate their existing products as vegan —they basically chucked it all out and started anew. Whew!
Why the reset?
According to an article in VegNews the drastic change was due to TCHO’s mission to reduce their environmental impact. Eliminating dairy was important to TCHO because it means reduced greenhouse gases (less dairy cows = less methane released into the atmosphere).
While going vegan TCHO also redid their packaging to be all recycled/recyleable/compostable. They even changed the format of the chocolate inside: Instead of a square chocolate bar the packages contain 3 sealed packs containing one mini-bar each.
The cynic in me said they did the 3 bars so they could keep the same size package while putting less product in it à la Toblerone’s noticeable shrinkflation. But no — at least not with the bars I got — they remained the same weight: 2.5 oz. Kudos, THCO 👍🏻
The mini-bars are very practical. I take tap dancing lessons which includes a mile walk to the studio. I can take one of these individually wrapped mini-bars along for an energy boost. Bonus: The mold makes it easy to break into pieces to share with fellow tappers — and if it’s hot enough on my walk to melt it can’t make a mess in my dance bag.
Flavor wheel stays
New formulas, new packaging, new shapes, new molds but TCHO has kept their flavor wheel which is what we remember about TCHO from when we first started writing about chocolate and before TCHO did flavored bars. They would offer samples of their different chocolates and ask you where each one fell on their flavor wheel.
It seems like it’s still relevant for describing their chocolate although they have tweaked it some. Originally one section said Chocolatey, now it says Fudgy.
On the flavor wheel webpage they describe the descriptors and list which country’s beans they use that fit the different flavors. For example, they list Ecuadorian beans under Nutty and Floral; Ghanaian beans under Fudgy and Earthy.
They have 6 regular vegan bar options — they are the ones I’ve been seeing in stores and they are available on TCHO’s website. They also have several special flavors on their website — I don’t know if these small batch/limited editions are all temporary or maybe sneak peeks of future lines but I haven’t seen them anywhere else yet.
Each TCHO mini-bar was segmented into 3 squares and the embossed geometric designs on the bars echoed the designs on the compostable wrappers. The 3 samples we got all had semi-hard breaks and a smooth texture.
We tried the Choco Latté first. It had a 47% cacao shell and its 3 segments were filled with coffee truffle. This flavored “milk” chocolate used oat milk and coffee beans from Oakland’s Blue Bottle Coffee. Like all TCHO bars the ingredients for the Choco Latté bar were organic, non GMO, non soy, fair trade, and kosher.
Side note: While TCHO yeeted their old bars, they didn’t necessarily get rid of their old suppliers. Blue Bottle is a long time partner of TCHO’s and worked with them to create their first flavored bar (back in 2012), the Mokaccino, which was an infused solid milk chocolate bar.
The truffle filled Choco Latté bar had an initial coffee flavor but then it tasted too much like oat milk for me. The 2nd time I tried it tasted more coffee-ish and less oat-y. Maybe I was experiencing some kind of palate fatigue or I was getting used to the combination.
Oat milk is such a distinct flavor to me, if it’s not the featured flavor of the bar I think the maker should use a different, less noticeable plant based milk. But if oat milk is your go-to addition to your coffee, I think you will like this bar. The chocolate itself had a fudgy flavor under the oat milk and coffee flavors.
I liked the Dark Duo much more than the Choco Latté. It combined a shell made of single origin dark chocolate cacao from Ghana with a truffle filling of single origin dark chocolate cacao from Peru. It was a little bitter but very chocolatey overall with a slightly sugary texture.
I thought it was a good combo of fruity chocolates. According to the flavor wheel assignments I should have tasted fudgy and earthy notes from the Ghanaian cacao but this seemed like a fruity chocolate bar so maybe the Peruvian chocolate was just stronger tasting.
Aww Nuts! was a dark chocolate bar filled with almond butter and sea salt. No cacao origin was listed for the chocolate in the shell but the fruity chocolate was bitter and overwhelmed the almond butter.
I don’t know why they chose almond butter because I think peanut butter would be better — it’s more assertive tasting and would stand up to the dark chocolate better. Or maybe they need to change the ratio of nut butter to chocolate — the shell was pretty thick and the filling pretty thin. Or use a vegan milk chocolate couverture.
I liked the small crunchy texture of the nut butter— more crunch than a smooth nut butter texture but less than a crunchy nut butter. Overall Cacaopod and I were disappointed: Aww Nuts! tasted mostly bitter and salty.
The next time we visited the produce market their free chocolate offer was over, but they had a couple of other TCHO vegan bars. So we bought them to try.
I don’t get the name of the first one we tried —Born Fruity — but I liked this bar. It’s a single-origin truffle filled chocolate bar made with cacao from Peru.
The packaging mentions the chocolate’s fruitiness and Peruvian cacao usually has very strong fruit notes. This bar fits its descriptor well. It smelled like raisins and was very fruity tasting — primarily raisin and cherry. It wasn’t bitter and had a smooth texture like the other bars.
We both liked it — it had an agreeable flavor and a good aftertaste. I think it’s the best TCHO bar from this new vegan line.
The Toffee Time bar is the only solid bar in TCHO’s base line. It’s another oat milk chocolate bar and included cashew butter, coconut sugar, cane sugar, rice syrup, sea salt, vanilla beans, and some background stuff like sunflower lecithin.
When I say it was a solid bar I mean it had a solid inside with small toffee bits scattered throughout and coated in a smooth chocolate. The packaging said the toffee pieces were plant based but I don’t know which ingredients went into the toffee. Maybe the cashew butter and some of the sweeteners because the chocolate didn’t taste nutty.
This bar wasn’t too sweet or oat-y. It wasn’t bitter but it was too salty for me. The salt stood out and lingered. The toffee bits gave it a candy bar vibe.
My produce market doesn’t carry the last one of TCHO’s regular vegan bars — maybe because of the name?
I found it at Berkeley Bowl — and noticed they were offering any 2 TCHO bars for $7. On TCHO’s website individual bars are $6 so this is a big deal. Maybe Berkeley Bowl over ordered too?
The Holy Fudge bar is made with Ghanaian dark chocolate. The package said the flavor evokes the taste of crispy brownie edges. I didn’t get that — for me crispy brownie edges means extra chewy chocolate — but the chocolate does taste predominantly fudgy. After trying it Cacaopod said, “Truth in advertising — it’s fudgy.”
It was also bitter. Maybe that’s what they meant by “crispy” — it’s not extremely bitter but it was distinctly bitter which I hadn’t expected.
You can find bars from TCHO’s base line in grocery stores everywhere it seems — but maybe that’s just the Bay Area because I’m still not traveling since COVID so your results may vary.
If you can’t find them in your local grocery store, you can order them online — which is also where you can find their limited edition/small batch bars like Hoppy Hour and Perfect Matcha.