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

2021 choco bars competition

Heavy competition


So many good finds this time, I can’t complain

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The 2021 Top Chocolate Bar Award competition, sponsored by TasteTV, had some heavy competition. Literally. The box of entries I received to judge weighed at least 8 lbs., and I didn’t receive all the entries this year.

To be clear, I didn’t eat 8 lbs. of chocolate; I just had to sample each entry — but even that took days and pages of notes before I could judge which ones I thought were the best bars of 2021. Lucky for me, there were a lot of good/great entries this year. So much so that I think I can keep to myself my opinions on any entries that didn’t make my cut this time.

Local winners

I like to highlight SFBA chocolatiers in these competitions. There were 3 this time: One which was excellent as expected, one that was not-my-thing but better than expected, and one that was completely unexpected.

Michael's bar back
Michael’s packaging

Michael’s Chocolates3-5 cup chocolatier, now of Oakland, CA, submitted their Sour Cherry Pecan bar. The 64% dark chocolate bar was liberally sprinkled with toasted pecans and dried sour cherries on one side, while the other side was molded into a cubic op-art illusion.

Michael’s bars are packaged in simple clear sleeves so you can easily see the whole bar. I like this kind of packaging for bars that are interesting visually like this. The bar seemed thick enough that even with no back support, probably few of the bars break in shipping. I know I received mine whole.

The Sour Cherry Pecan bar smelled good: chocolatey and nutty. As expected, it had a good chocolate flavor, which hit first, then I experienced the flavor and texture of the crunchy pecans, and finally the chewy sour cherries. An all-around excellent bar.

Of course I had to give this bar a high rating, and it seems the rest of the panel agreed with me. Michael’s Sour Cherry Pecan bar won Gold for Best Texture and Best Chocolate Bar; Silver for Best Taste; Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best Flavored Chocolate Bar; and Honorable Mentions for Best Dark Chocolate Bar and Best Bar Design & Art. It was rated 4.5 stars, the highest rating.

Michael’s Chocolates are available online, at their new shop in Oakland(!), and in some local shops in SFBA (check the website for locations).

Warming up

The not-my-thing local entrant was The Good Chocolate, which uses quality chocolate but sweetens it with non-sugar sweeteners. They submitted 2 bars: their classic Himalayan Salt bar and a new flavor, Coconut Turmeric, AKA the Charlotte McKinney Detox Bar.

Good Chocolate bars
Good Chocolate bars

Based on these 2 bars, I think The Good Chocolate is evolving. I have always thought they used quality ingredients, but I have been turned off by the cooling sensation caused by the the non-sugar blend of erythritol, mesquite powder, and stevia. It blunts the satisfaction of chocolate melting in my mouth. This time, the bars achieved a better balance.

I think The Good Chocolate is using a different, more assertive couverture for the Himalayan Salt 65% bar, because it tasted more chocolatey than cool. There is still have a cooling sensation, but not nearly as strong as before. So it’s either a better chocolate or a better sweetener blend. Either way I think it is closer to what people want from a chocolate bar.

The Coconut Turmeric 65% had a stronger cooling sensation than the Himalayan Salt bar, but again not as strong as in their earlier bars. It smelled good, and the crunchy bits of coconut in it were a nice texture. I preferred the Himalayan Salt bar, but this one did win Honorable Mentions for Best Taste and Best Chocolate Bar. They both rated 3 stars in the competition.

The Good Chocolate is available online, and at grocery stores in SFBA and around the country. Check their website for locations.

All grown up

The big surprise to me was the last SFBA entrant, Endorfin Foods. They started out making minimally processed chocolate bars — not quite raw, but close (unroasted but fermented). I preferred their drinking chocolate over their bars because I didn’t like the bars’ grainy texture and lighter chocolate flavors (roasting adds depth and eases bitterness), and I often felt like they were more about being health food than chocolate.

Endorfin chocolate bars
Endorfin chocolate bars

I don’t know what happened between last year’s Vegan Chocolate competition and this year’s competitions, but Endorfin seems like an entirely different chocolate company. If not for the packaging, I wouldn’t’ve known it was them.

Their 2 entries, Coconut Cream and Turkish Coffee, were smooth — both in texture and flavor. Neither one was grainy or bitter. Did they get better equipment? Are they roasting their beans now? Whatever the changes they made, they made for a noticeable improvement.

The Coconut Cream which uses caramelized coconut milk and Madagascar Bourbon vanilla in 54% cacao, was a good basic bar, not particularly coconutty; I think the coconut is used more as a sweetener than a flavor. It received Honorable Mentions for Best Texture and Best Milk Chocolate Bar, and rated 4 stars.

The Turkish Coffee has always been the best Endorfin bar to me. The coffee gives the 60% cacao bar more depth so it tastes more chocolatey. And now with the smoother texture, I no longer put it in the lesser category of raw/unrefined chocolate. It’s a serious chocolate bar. It received Honorable Mentions for Best Taste, Best Dark Chocolate Bar, and Best Flavored Chocolate Bar; and rated 4 stars.

Endorfin products are available online, and their bars are sold in stores across the country.

And now on to bars of merit from around the world:

Wild Peaks white chocolate bar
Pretty peaks of the Wild Peaks white chocolate bar

Well made bars

What a find! A French chocolatier making amazing bars up in Washington State: First time competitor, Wild Peaks Chocolate, Kirkland, WA, submitted 3 excellent bars: a white, a milk, and a dark. Each bar was a line of filled pyramids in a simple wrapper and cardboard sleeve so you could see the entire bar.

Wild Peaks white chocolate cutaway
A cutaway of the Wild Peaks Black Sesame & Almond Praline white chocolate bar reveals the significant amount of sesame seeds in the filling, and just-right thin coating of chocolate

The Black Sesame & Almond Praline white chocolate bar smelled strongly of roasted sesame seeds, and the salted almond praline filling was studded with black sesame seeds. Both good signs of a potential sesame treat. Everything about the bar was excellent: Good white chocolate and a distinct sesame taste, but also noticeable almond and sea salt so there was an interesting progression and balance of flavors. There was a nice small crunch from the praline. And while sweet, it was not too sweet.

I thought it was delicious, and it dominated the awards, winning Gold for Best Ingredient Combinations, Best Taste, and Best Texture; Silver for Best Flavored Chocolate Bar and Best Chocolate Bar; and Honorable Mention for Best Bar Design & Art. It rated 4.5 stars.

Wild Peaks bars
Wild Peaks range of bars

I feel like their milk chocolate bar was made for me: Peanut Praline and Raspberry Jelly, like a fancy PB&J. It tasted immediately of peanuts, then raspberry, and had a good flavor balance. Chocolate started as a minor note that became a little more pronounced at end. It was not as aromatic as the other Wild Peaks bars, but I think it was a good combination for a milk chocolate bar. It did well in the competition, winning Gold for Best Milk Chocolate Bar, and Honorable Mentions for Best Texture, Best Flavored Chocolate Bar, and Best Chocolate Bar. It rated 4.5 stars.

The Almond & Hazelnut Praline dark chocolate bar was excellent too. It smelled of chocolate and hazelnuts. Like their other bars, the smooth couverture and light crunchy filling were a nice texture combo. The almonds and hazelnuts were a good nutty blend, with each distinct taste and neither one dominating. The chocolate was good, not bitter, but a little fermented tasting. It did well in the competition too, winning Gold for Best Flavored Chocolate Bar; Bronze for Best Texture, Best Dark Chocolate Bar, and Best Chocolate Bar; and Honorable Mention for Best Taste. Like the other Wild Peaks bars, it rated 4.5 stars.

Wild Peaks Chocolate is available online and selected retailers around Washington state. Check their website for locations.

Coco Jolie Persian Pistachio
The eye-popping Persian Paradise bar

Wow factor

First time competitor, Coco Jolie, Englewood, NJ, wowed us with 2 beautiful and tasty bars.

The limited edition Persian Paradise had so many pistachios (both plain and caramelized), dried rose petals, and flakes of sea salt packed on it, I could hardly see the chocolate. The green pistachios and bright rose petals added nice pops of color.

In addition to the visible ingredients, the 65% dark bar was flavored with cardamom and ginger. But none of those flavors dominated, and because the rose flavor came from dried petals, not an extract, it wasn’t strongly floral either. Instead the salt and caramel coated nuts were the high notes so it was more like a pistachio-flavored salted caramel bar with a soft crunchy texture, and the other flavors added some complexity so it was more interesting.

Between the plain pistachios and those covered in sticky caramel, there were enough pistachios for the bar to taste like pistachio. I think the fact the bar was thin helped too. Pistachio is such a mild taste, it gets overwhelmed easily. This mix had a good balance, plus the novel sticky/chewy coating on the nuts seemed like a good match for soft nuts. Along with everything else about this bar, I loved its uniqueness. And so did the rest of the panel: It won Gold for Most Unique and Best Bar Design & Art; plus Silver for Best Ingredient Combinations, Best Texture, Best Flavored Chocolate Bar, and Best Chocolate Bar; and Bronze for Best Taste. It rated 4.5 stars.

Coco Jolie Aloha bar
The Aloha bar’s decorations looked like a lei circling a line of cleavage

Say hello

The other bar continued the paradise theme, though this one evoked a Hawaiian paradise, both with the packaging, bar design, flavors, and name: the Aloha bar. This is a regular bar in the Coco Jolie line, so while you might not be able to try the Persian Paradise bar, you can get this one.

Another pretty bar, this also had a very attractive package printed with bright colored Hawaiian fruits and flowers. Inside, the 65% dark bar had big chunks of soft dried pineapple, mango, and coconut arranged around the top of the bar like a lei. In the middle of the lei, dragged lines of white chocolate seemed most like cleavage to me, based on the surrounding lei of tropical fruit, but maybe I am reading too much into it.

The bar tasted great: mostly chocolate and coconut with mild pineapple and mango flavors, and a coconut texture. It received Silver for Best Bar Design & Art, and Honorable Mentions for Best Texture and Best Flavored Chocolate Bar. It rated 4.5 stars.

Coco Jolie bars are made with organic Fair Trade chocolate and are vegan, gluten free, and certified kosher. Based on these 2 entries, Coco Jolie bars are well made with attractive packaging and bar designs, plus they’re delicious. They would make excellent gifts. Coco Jolie bars, bonbons, and other chocolate treats are available online and at their shop in Englewood, NJ.

Treat Dreams bars
Treat Dreams bars

Bubbly good

We first encountered Treat Dreams, Sydney, AU, in last year’s Vegan Chocolate competition. A 100% vegan chocolatier, they make super cute bars and other chocolates. Their packaging is very appealing with a bubble design on the wrapper and a bar mold of exaggerated big pillow squares, echoing the bubbles on the wrapper.

Return winner

Their Peanut Crunch Vegan Milk Chocolate was a return entry, which I liked a lot the first time around. It was packed with [chopped] peanuts and had a nice crunch. Treat Dream’s vegan chocolate doesn’t seem vegan: it’s so shiny with a little snap, and doesn’t taste coconutty (it contains rice syrup, almond, and coconut as milk substitutes, which helps).

The Peanut Crunch name is accurate: the bars tasted of peanuts, and there was a crispy crunch to the bar that’s harder than a mere roasted peanut crunch. I couldn’t tell from the ingredients list, but maybe the peanuts are caramelized to add that crispy something. It works for me.

While the bar did not sweep the awards like it did in last year’s vegan competition, it did well. It received Silver for Best Milk Chocolate Bar, Bronze for Best Texture, and Honorable Mention for Best Flavored Chocolate Bar; and rated 4 stars. I think it didn’t rank as highly because there were a lot of strong competitors in this contest, including from within their own company (see next entry).

Treat Dreams Aussie Pavlova back
The heavily textured back of the Aussie Pavlova bar

Limited edition winner

The Aussie Pavlova bar was an attractive white chocolate bar with visible bits of marshmallow, strawberry and passion fruit. Described as a vegan take on the classic pavlova dessert, it substitutes white chocolate for the whipped cream and vegan marshmallows for the meringue, and uses freeze dried fruits.

In addition to the chewy passion fruit and strawberry pieces, it contained passion fruit and mango powders to boost the fruit flavors. The combo worked; it had a very bright fruity taste, with distinct tart passion fruit and strawberry flavors. I didn’t taste mango, but I think it was there more in a supporting role to enhance the passion fruit.

In addition to the chewy fruits, it had an unexpected cookie crumb texture (which was like the third bar they submitted) which was a nice twist. My only complaint about the bar was that it was a little too sweet for me, which is often the case with white chocolate. It did very well in the competition, winning Gold for Best Texture; Silver for Most Unique; Bronze for Best Taste; and Honorable Mentions for Best Ingredient Combinations, Best Flavored Chocolate Bar, and Best Chocolate Bar. It rated 4.5 stars.

Treat Dreams Cookies n Cream bar
Cookies n Cream bar’s bubble squares in a square mold

Nostalgia winner

Treat Dreams’ third entry, Cookies + Cream, was a vegan white chocolate bar version of the beloved ice cream flavor. The shiny bar was heavily speckled with cookies, and had a cookie texture. There were lots of cookies that went into making this bar.

The taste was unexpected: initially coconutty, which seemed odd considering their other bars did not have a pronounced coconut taste. Also the cookie tasted like maybe some spices had been added. Instead of a straight-up Oreo cookie flavor, it tasted of cinnamon, reminiscent of Belgian speculoos cookies. No spices were listed in ingredients, so I don’t know if I imagined the spice or there was an accident at the factory or maybe it’s a secret ingredient. It didn’t detract from the flavor, it was just a surprise. The bar was well made like the others, but a bit sweet for me. It received Honorable Mentions for Best Texture and Most Unique; and rated 4 stars.

Treat Dreams makes other flavored vegan bars, plus vegan filled molded chocolates (like the adorable bunnies they entered in this year’s vegan competition). UPDATE November 2022: Treat Dreams has closed.

Fancy treats

Veteran competitor, Panache Chocolatier, Kansas City, MO, submitted 3 fancy-looking bars, which is what I expect from this luxurious brand. I also expect interesting flavors and generous portions, and they did not disappoint.

Panache bars
Panache’s nut bars were very attractive featuring a row of nuts and drizzled with chocolate

The Salt & Pepper Caramel Peanut Bar was my fav: Dark chocolate with a good amount of peanuts. It was salty and peanutty first, then the pepper added a nice twist. The chocolate shell and caramel filling were also good. A very fancy looking peanut coated chocolate bar. It received an Honorable Mention for Best Chocolate Bar, and rated 4 stars.

The Hazelnut & Caramel Macchiato Bar had a more pared down look with its 4 slices of hazelnut among more finely chopped hazelnut bits. The espresso flavored milk chocolate caramel ganache inside the dark chocolate dominated the flavors, so it had a crunch from the nuts, but was not very hazelnutty. It was too sweet for me, I think it would’ve been better with more nuts. It did well in the competition though, winning Silver for Best Flavored Chocolate Bar; Bronze for Best Chocolate Bar; and Honorable Mentions for Best Ingredient Combinations, Best Taste, and Best Texture. It rated 4 stars.

The Spiced Italian Amaretto Bar had a similar look to the other bars with sliced almonds decorating the top. The dark chocolate bar featured a white chocolate filling flavored with Amaretto, Frangelico, almonds, hazelnuts, and cloves. It tasted immediately of Amaretto, then cloves. It was sweet, kinda pumpkin spice-ish, and like the Macchiato bar I thought it needed more nuts. It received an Honorable Mention for Best Texture, and rated 3.5 stars.

Unfortunately, Panache Chocolatier’s website is still under construction, so you have to call or visit them in person if you want to order something.

Chocolate from faraway

There were quite a few straight up, just chocolate bars this time, some single origin, others house-blended couvertures. New-this-year entrant, Nantucket Faraway Chocolate, MA (whose wares I first tried in the toffee competition), submitted a single origin bar in this contest, and it was my fav of the simpler bars.

Nantucket Faraway Ugandan bar
Nantucket Faraway Ugandan bar

Their 70% Uganda, Esco Organic bar contained only 3 ingredients: cacao, cane sugar, and cocoa butter. It had a dark fermented flavor that was a little nutty/savory but also slightly fruity. It was a smooth, well made bar, not bitter, but a little drying at the end. It won Silver for Best Dark Chocolate Bar, and rated 3.5 stars.

Unfortunately, Nantucket Faraway Chocolate does not deliver beyond Nantucket Island yet, but their website says stay tuned for upcoming delivery options.

Simply good

Return competitor, Honduras Chocolate Company, Denver, CO, submitted 3 of their 2-ingredient dark chocolate bars. Their bars contain cacao from Honduras sweetened with cane sugar, and no other ingredients. The 3 bars were 3 different cacao percentages, and the cacao came from different regions in Honduras, I think, because they have different flavor notes.

Honduras bar packages
Honduras Chocolate Company’s flight of bars also includes a 65%

Their highest percentage is the 80%. It’s a savory, nutty chocolate that’s not very bitter. A simple but tasty bar, especially if you like higher percentage bars. It was awarded Bronze for Best Dark Chocolate Bar and an Honorable Mention for Best Chocolate Bar. It rated 4 stars.

The 75% was a little smoky. It had a noticeable fine grain and was grainier than their other bars. The taste was slightly fermented with pleasant chocolatey-ness. It was awarded Gold for Best Dark Chocolate Bar and an Honorable Mention for Best Chocolate Bar. It rated 4 stars.

The 70% was a different flavor again. It was a little smoky and nutty, but fruitier tasting than others, with a hint of tobacco. It was not bitter nor too sweet, just a nice chocolatey flavor. It was my fav of these bars, and was awarded Bronze for Best Dark Chocolate Bar and an Honorable Mention for Best Chocolate Bar. It rated 4 stars.

You can buy Honduras Chocolate Company bars online. They sell them by the case or in flights of 4 bars. They also sell cocoa powder, and sometimes include a free 8 oz. bag of cocoa powder with your order. I can personally attest that it is a good baking chocolate — not because I bake (I don’t), but because Cacaopod has been dealing with our bumper crop of garden zucchini this year by making amazing chocolate zucchini bread with it.

Big bar

Seleuss XOCO 88 bar
Seleuss XOCO 88 bar

Also good was the bar from competition veteran, Seleušs Chocolates, Seattle, WA. Their XOCO 88% was a big bar (3″x4-1/2″ and over 4 oz.) of dark chocolate studded with roasted cacao nibs.

It smelled good, very chocolatey. It was bitter, which is expected in such a high percentage bar, but otherwise had a good taste: a little fermented, a little coconut. It had a nice crunch and a very drying sensation afterwards, described on the package as “a light, buttery tannin finish.” It received Honorable Mentions for Best Dark Chocolate Bar and Best Chocolate Bar, and rated 3.5 stars.

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

Other plain bars

First-time entrant, Mendoá Chocolates, is a Brazilian chocolate maker. They submitted 3 bars, 2 flavored and one plain 70% bar. The packaging was very attractive, both the outside wrapper and the inner sealed pouch. And the bars were a series of squares stamped with the circular Mendoá logo. Their branding is on point.

Mendoa bars
Mendoá Chocolates’ sophisticated packaging

I didn’t care for the flavored bars, but I liked the 70% Classico. It had the smoothest texture of their slightly grainy chocolates. It was an earthly chocolate, not bitter, but a little tannin-y at the end and afterwards. It won Silver for Best Dark Chocolate Bar, and rated 3.5 stars.

Choceur Creamy Milk
Not bad for supermarket chocolate

I’m not sure if they ship retail to the U.S., but their website is very colorful and they have lots of products. Maybe if they keep winning awards in competitions, a U.S. distributor will take them on.

Surprise in the supermarket aisle

The final plain bar I thought had merit was a milk chocolate bar by Choceur, one of the brands distributed by Aldi, the no-frills supermarket chain. Choceur is a Polish candy maker we first encountered in some impossibly sweet Valentine chocolates this year, so I was a little apprehensive.

Their Creamy Milk chocolate bar was actually pretty good supermarket chocolate. It was a well made milk chocolate bar: smooth, soft, sweet but not too much, and extremely balanced, if not a little bland.

It’s a small bar, about half the size of a regular chocolate bar, but it comes in a pack of 5. It was awarded Gold for Best Milk Chocolate Bar, and rated 3 stars.

You can find the Creamy Milk bars and the rest of the Choceur line at Aldi supermarkets and on Amazon.

Super supermarket find

Aldi’s other brand that appears in competitions also submitted a good bar this year. Moser Roth Privat Chocolatiers, a German chocolate maker, makes better than average mass-appeal chocolate bars. Similar to the Choceur Creamy Milk bars, Moser Roth bars come in packs of 5 individually wrapped bars. The Moser Roth bars are smaller; I call them snack sized bars.

This time Moser Roth submitted their Dark Orange Almond bar. It smelled good, very chocolatey, and had visible bits of almond mixed in. The bar had an immediate orange taste, and a nice contrasting texture of smooth chocolate with crunchy almonds. It was sweet, but  it’s a good supermarket chocolate. It received Honorable Mentions for Best Texture and Best Flavored Chocolate Bar, and rated 3.5 stars.

Like the Choceur bars, you can find the Dark Orange Almond bars and the rest of the Moser Roth line at Aldi supermarkets and on Amazon.

Vegan all-star

EHChocolatier, Cambridge, MA, who we first saw in the 2020 Vegan Chocolate competition, submitted a vegan bar to this contest. Their All-Star Almond Bar was a small candy bar, 2″–3″ long, thick and nubby textured, reminding me of a Baby Ruth bar.

It seemed like they were putting their own healthier spin on Baby Ruth bars, substituting dark for milk chocolate and almonds for peanuts. Like a Baby Ruth, it had nougat layered with caramel, covered with nuts and dipped in chocolate.

Delysia Pecan Cayenne bark
Delysia Pecan Cayenne bark

I liked their substitutions mostly, the dark chocolate and roasted almonds were good. And the nougat and caramel were well made. But they added sweet almond extract (marzipan flavoring), and it was too strong. The initial flavor was roasted almond, but it ended with sweet almond taste, which didn’t work for me. Still, it did well in the awards, winning Silver for Best Texture, and Honorable Mentions for Best Flavored Chocolate Bar and Best Chocolate Bar. It rated 4 stars.

You can buy EHChocolatier’s confections online or at their store in Cambridge, MA.

Hot bark

Finally competition regular, Delysia Chocolatier, Austin, TX. submitted some chocolate barks, and I enjoyed the one that packed some heat. The Pecan Cayenne chocolate bark was a dark chocolate slab sprinkled with pecans and cayenne pepper.

The heat came first and kept building as the pecans showed up and finally the chocolate. It was almost too hot for me, but I liked the taste of the couverture more than their usual mix. And their barks are a little thinner now so they are easier to break or bite a piece off.

I think if it had more nuts and bigger pieces, it would be a better bark. Still I am impressed with how Delysia is improving. The Pecan Cayenne chocolate bark received an Honorable Mention for Best Dark Chocolate Bar, and rated 4 stars.

Delysia chocolates are available online only currently, while their shop in Austin is closed due to COVID.

Final note

The bars I reviewed here were all bars I rated 3 stars or higher. To see the complete list of winners and all the bars that rated 3 stars or higher, visit the 2021 Top Chocolate Bar Awards page.

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Published September 24, 2021