Chocolate Crown Champions
Adrian Hatwell discovers which of the nation’s plant-based sweets are on the menu in this year’s NZ Vegan Chocolate Awards.
In late April, the Vegan Society of Aotearoa New Zealand ran the nation’s second annual NZ Vegan Chocolate Awards. Building on the success of the inaugural event, this year’s contest saw over 100 different dairy-free delicacies competing across seven categories. The quality of artisanal entries from all around the country made clear the deliciously formidable state of Aotearoa’s boutique chocolate industry.
Vegan Thai eatery Khu Khu in Auckland’s trendy Ponsonby suburb saw its tables packed with the finest assortment dairy-free chocolate bars and confections New Zealand has to offer. Six judges, experts in their respective food industry fields, filed into the charmingly appointed restaurant to make their way through the smorgasbord of sweets and name the champions.
The judging panel included food journalist and professional chocolate judge Luke Owen Smith, NZ Chef Association president Jasbir Kaur, veteran food industry judge Aaron Pucci, hospitality entrepreneur Chris Kinnell, and international executive chef Volker Maracek. They were joined by special guest judge Floris Niu, founder of the Samoan cacao plantation Ms Sunshine Organic Farms.
This gang of sweet tooth savants nibbled fastidiously through the imposing assortment of treats to crown winners in categories both conventional (Milk Chocolate Bar, Dark Chocolate Bar) and specialised (Bean To Bar, Filled Bon Bons and Truffles). It was fascinating to hear them deep in discussion over elements of texture, aroma, flavour balance, the subtlety of a recipe, or cleanliness of a finish. One bar provided an “intense background” punctuated by “bright flavour” and “a long and lovely finish”. Another evoked feelings of cosy nostalgia, “great to tuck into on a cold day for warm fuzzies”.
After picking a winner and runner up in each category (see the full results at the end of this article), it came time to select the competition’s overall Supreme Award winner. Each judge made their argument it soon became clear they were at an impasse: Half of the panel were adamant the Bean To Bar category winner, Chuncho by Wairarapa’s Lucid Chocolatier, should be champion, while the other half believed the Filled Bon Bons and Truffles category winner, Speculoos by Christchurch’s Mind Your Temper, deserved the win.
Eventually the panel agreed that both were such uniquely different chocolate experiences — Chuncho delivered a complex flavour journey that was fruity, floral, nutty, earthy, with a little spice, while Speculoos offered beautiful presentation, smooth texture, and a delightful biscuit filling — that they would jointly receive the Supreme Award.
Doing due diligence, I sampled what the judges didn’t finish (which was quite a lot, they’re consummate professionals, little nibbles only) and can confirm that both Supreme winners were extraordinary, even to the layman palate. Furthermore, I’d encourage you to seek out any of the chocolatiers on the winners list and support their work — it’s a hard job, but only we can help Aotearoa’s artisanal chocolate industry continue to thrive.
This year’s special guest judge for the NZ Vegan Chocolate Awards was Floris Niu, a fourth generation Samoan cocoa farmer who travelled over from Samoa to attend the event. Floris grew up in New Zealand but returned to her family’s land in Samoa in 2014, where she sought healing and perspective during a difficult period in her life.
“Cocoa was the thing that came into my view at that time,” she says. “I was inspired by the work my ancestors had done on the land, seeing all the different crops they had grown there. It was something I had missed for many years.”
Floris’ parents had put a lot of effort into cultivating cacao, called koko in Samoa, and from this foundation she founded Ms Sunshine Organic Farms, exporting beans to boutique chocolatiers like those in the NZ Vegan Chocolate Awards.
As well as shipping beans, the farm produces its own products under the called Koko Beans brand; roasted cocoa beans coated in various flavours, like chocolate or cinnamon. Floris was kind enough to offer me a sample, and they are divine. Ms Sunshine Organic Farms also offers plant-based agritourism experiences for visitors.
“It’s an experience that brings the focus to the food we are eating and what impact we are having on the planet. We call ourselves planet-conscious, because we are more than organics — we think about the people, we think about the land, the soil, and our entire environment.”
Floris is busy spreading the Ms Sunshine philosophy outside of Samoa as well, working in the Solomon Islands and other Pacific Islands to support women working in the cocoa industry.
As a farmer, Floris found the Vegan chocolate Awards a rewarding way to experience how the simple bean that she farms, ferments, and sends off in sacks can come to life in such diverse and impressive ways.
“Seeing the skill of the chocolate-makers who have taken something that we grow and manipulated it to have all this different flavour singing on your taste buds — these craft chocolate-makers in New Zealand are wonderfully skilled.”
Growing up in New Zealand, she remembers when our chocolate options were mostly limited to the big brands like Cadbury and Whittakers. Coming over for the awards made her appreciate just how far the industry has come.
“It’s wonderful that we have developed this craft chocolate industry where people can bring their creativity and skills from other areas of food and bring it all together around this ingredient, koko.
“The Swiss and the Germans and everyone in Europe think they make the best chocolate — but right here in the Pacific we are growing amazing cacao and making amazing chocolate.”
2023 NZ Vegan Chocolate Award Winners
Supreme Award: Joint Winners
Lucid Chocolatier, Chuncho (Bean To Bar)
Mind Your Temper, Speculoos (Filled Bon Bons and Truffles)
Winner: Honest Chocolate, Caramels Selection — Passionfruit and Kawakawa
Runner Up: Mind Your Temper, Caramel Biscuit
Filled Bon Bons and Truffles
Winner: Mind Your Temper, Speculoos
Runner Up: La Petite Artisan Chocolate, Passionfruit Caramel
Bean to Bar
Winner: Lucid Chocolatier, Chuncho
Runner Up: Foundry Chocolate, Kilombero Valley, Tanzania 70%
Milk Chocolate Bar
Winner: Ao Cacao, 43% Everything Gianduja
Runner Up: Baron Hasselhoff’s, Mistress Tahini
Dark Chocolate Bar
Winner: Trade Aid, Organic 70% Pure Dark
Runner Up: Wellington Chocolate Factory, Vanuatu Dark Chocolate Bar
Flavoured/Inclusions Chocolate Bar
Winner: Shirl & Moss, Hazelnut, Orange & Sea Salt 52% Dark Chocolate Bar
Runner Up: Trade Aid, Organic 55% Dark Passionfruit
Winner: Wellington Chocolate Factory, WCF Drinking Chocolate
Runner Up: La Petite Artisan Chocolate, Mediterranean Drinking Chocolate
The articles we present in our magazine and blog have been written by many authors and are are not necessarily the views and policies of the Vegan Society.
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