Expect the Unexpected

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Vegan chocolates are pretty darn good

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Royal Treasures chocolate collection from Divine Treasures are vegan and gluten-free.

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, it’s hard not to think about chocolates. A lot of people will be giving and getting them.

An admitted chocolate fan, I recently discovered vegan chocolates while hunting for a gift for my daughter-in-law who eats only plant-based food. Before she went vegan she had a passion for chocolate but she was missing it. Turns out most regular chocolate has dairy in it. Many vegan chocolate products, she said, were grossly inferior to the “good stuff.” 

So, the search was on. In Paris last year, I bought her several vegan chocolate bars from Chapon Chocolatier, which specializes in excellent single-origin chocolate, including some vegan varieties. It also has a chocolate mousse bar, serving up your choice in paper cones! America, you need branches of Chapon Chocolatier here, right now. I want to own one.  

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Chocolate Mousse Bar at Chapon Chocolatier in Paris.

Looking for good vegan chocolate in the states, I came across Divine Treasures in Manchester, Connecticut. You can visit their store or order online/. Perfect!

I ordered a box of mixed vegan chocolates which were not only rich and full of dark chocolate goodness, but were pretty darn cute. An added plus is they included a brochure which explained the filling inside each one. Yes! All chocolatiers should do that!

My daughter-in-law swooned over them. Salted caramel, peanut butter, mango, just some of the flavors in the box. Their base is made from high quality organic European dark chocolate. Nuts, real fruits, and liqueurs are also distinctively present. A thumbs up!

So how did  these first-rate vegan chocolates stack up against non-vegan chocolates? Well, that’s up to everyone’s individual taste. I personally rank Divine Treasure’s vegan chocolates in the “good” category.

I am extremely opinionated when it comes to chocolate, so let me explain my own personal Chocolate Ranking System. There are five categories, going from worst to first. 

5. Worst —Fake Chocolate. Palmer’s Easter Bunnies and the like. Made from what is called “compound chocolate” using cocoa and vegetable oil instead of real chocolate. Not worth the calories. So why do they sell so much of this in supermarkets and 7-Elevens? Because it’s cheap. You get what you pay for, and back in the day, adults didn’t care what their kids ate. But times, they be a changing.

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Notice how the label on this bunny says “Chocolaty” rather than chocolate. A tipoff it’s fake.

I’ll also throw white chocolate in here. Technically it’s not chocolate at all. But some grades of white chocolate are better than others, with more cocoa butter in them. So if you want a good one, read the label.

4. Supermarket Chocolate. Candy bars in general, what you give out for Halloween. Sugar is the top ingredient in candy bars. The order of ingredients in a Hershey bar are cane sugar, milk, chocolate, cocoa butter, milk fat, lecithin (soy), and natural flavor. Sugar leads the way. 

3. Fancy Supermarket Chocolate. These are primarily the same caliber as candy bars but gussied up and disguised to look fancier in last-minute gift boxes of Russell Stover’s or Whitman Sampler.s 

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Lindt truffles are full of oil.

For Lindt truffles, the ingredients in order are: Sugar, cocoa butter, coconut oil, milk, cocoa mass, palm kern oil, soya lecithin, barley malt extract, and artificial flavour. Yech, full of oil. Shame on you Lindt. You should be better than that.

There are some very good fancy supermarket chocolates. In particular, Ritter Sport Bars (try the biscuit one) and Trader Joe’s chocolate bars, try the milk chocolate and hazelnut one).

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Ritter Sports bars are German but fortunately are readily available in America and online.

2. Good Chocolate. This chocolate is more crafted, usually handmade with quality ingredients and is better than supermarket grade. You’ll often find good chocolate sold in little boutique stores (deserving of your support). This is where I would place Divine Treasures vegan chocolates.

Other good chocolates I’ve had the pleasure to try are Lake Champlain Chocolates, Vosges, Li-Lac, and Neuhaus. My guilty pleasure is See’s Candies. Handmade, See’s is a fine example of Americana. Easy to order online/.

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See’s Chocolates — delicious Americana.

Godiva chocolates are arguably at the “Good” level, but their quality has dramatically slipped over time. Initially made from fine Belgian chocolate, Godiva is now owned by a Turkish holding company and its chocolates are nowhere near as good as they used to be. Bring back the Raspberry Crowns! 

1. Fine Chocolate. Painstakingly made with the best quality chocolate on earth. Hand crafted from the finest cocoa beans, and high in cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Texture is smooth and creamy, and each piece is meant to be very slowly savored and enjoyed. You will pay the most for these chocolates. But they are the creme de la creme.

On our visit to Paris last year, we were astounded at the number of fine chocolate shops, where bonbons were displayed like jewels. Jacques Genin, Pierre Hermé, Patrick Roger, Chapon Chocolatier are some of the best in Paris, although there are many more.

Fine American chocolatiers include Kee’s Chocolates in New York City, L.A. Burdick, Norman Love and Jacques Torres.

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Chocolate Mice from L.A. Burdick

In Connecticut, we have some outstanding fine chocolatiers. Le Rouge- Handmade Chocolates by Aarti in Westport serves up dazzling chocolates, some with out-of-the-ordinary spice fillings. Fortunately for everyone around the country, they can be ordered online/.

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Dazzling chocolates by Le Rouge- Handmade Chocolates by Aarti from Westport, Connecticut, and available online. 

Bridgewater Chocolates in Brookfield, Connecticut specializes in premium handmade chocolates. Their toffee crunch bars are addictive, but it’s their Chocolate Covered Amarena Cherries that, to me, are amazing. If you like chocolate covered cherries, you simply must try them. They pack a wallop of flavor and are a bargain at $16.95 for a cubed box. Can be ordered online/.

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They may look innocuous, but Bridgewater Chocolate’s Amarena Cherries get my vote as the best chocolate covered cherries in the universe.

At the end of the day, Americans love their chocolate, regular or vegan, at all price points and definitely not only on Valentine’s Day. As Julia Child would say, Bon Appetit!

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