Holiday Chocolate 2019
by Eric Battersby

An Early Start for the 2019 Holiday

‘Tis indeed the most wonderful time of the year, and I must admit I’m very excited for Holiday 2019 to officially get underway! Here we are publishing a new issue right in the thick of the Thanksgiving / Black Friday / Cyber Monday insanity, and once that all calms down, I so look forward to diving more into holiday chocolate.

Truth be told, however, I started snapping photos of On the Chocolate Regular holiday offerings right after Halloween, as that’s when the 2019 stock started flowing into stores! I swear it gets earlier every year… perhaps in 2020 we’ll see holiday chocolate on the shelf in time for Labor Day. 😉

Remember the WHY When It Comes to Giving Chocolate

I know our longtime readers will remember me saying this before, but I think it’s important to remind everyone, as well as raise awareness with our new readers, about the importance of chocolate giving at the holidays.

2019 marks my fourth straight year of amping up chocolate gift-giving, and in doing so, my goal is actually threefold (two of which you may want to copy for yourself as well).

First, my grandma used to give all of us grandkids (and there are a lot of them on that side of the family!) a big Hershey bar for Christmas. Not the little, dollar bill sized bar… no, we’re talking the mini-chocolate brick that you could borderline knock out Santa with if you aimed just right. Outside of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, I didn’t eat much chocolate or chocolate candy as a child (baked goods and ice cream, yes, candy, not so much), but I loved devouring that giant chocolate bar every Christmas.

Now as a much healthier adult with Hershey long in my rearview, I decided to bring back my dearly departed grandmother’s tradition, albeit with a twist.

Which brings me to my second goal in chocolate giving – to give a healthier, more sustainable and ethical chocolate to everyone on my holiday list. Let’s keep it real here — although Hershey continues to gradually increase its brand quality, there’s really no reason in 2019 to give anyone a Hershey bar for Christmas.

With so many better choices out there now, it’s relatively easy to give healthier chocolate at the holidays… which brings me to my final goal in this seasonal chocolate love fest: to start the people I care about, via baby steps, down the path to chocolate connoisseur.

There is no better time to accomplish this task than during the end-of-the-year holiday season, because for at least a few weeks, more newbie-friendly chocolate options spring up, making it much easier for us to gradually introduce loved ones to a very different chocolate experience.

BEHOLD! The favored chocolate bar of yesteryear, the Hershey’s Giant!

Remember, “you don’t know what you don’t know” still wholeheartedly applies to most people on this planet when it comes to chocolate. It’s your job to start the awakening.

Slow and steady of course wins the race here, however. Don’t expect your uncle who eats three Twix bars a week to suddenly fall in love with a LetterPress Ucayali Bar. Although we always encourage picking up absolutely amazing bars like the Ucayali, we also recognize the hard truth that most people still don’t know what chocolate really is, and that’s an obstacle for both the taste buds and the mind.

Since holiday bars tend to be less hardcore than regular bars, often with a bit less cacao content — while also focusing on more comfy, cozy, home-for-the-holidays flavor profiles — they present a softer landing into the world of better chocolate.

Unfortunately, one thing most certainly remains the same year-over-year: holiday chocolate availability still tends to fluctuate wildly from season to season.

While 2018 saw one of the best years on record for the holiday chocolate game, this year we’ve seen quite the dip comparatively. Indeed, my biggest hope for the 2019 season, that Theo would roll out its Egg Nog bar on a larger scale, already came to a screeching halt, as the bar actually appears to have been discontinued. Say it ain’t so, Theo!

Oh, Theo Egg Nog Bar, we never really knew you… (photo by Theo Chocolate)

Still, some promising newcomers (many from Theo!) may bridge the gap, so let’s see what awaits you at your local store. As always, this piece focuses on large distribution chocolate (this is indeed an On the Chocolate Regular article), with specifics based on what’s clearly available, and not available, here in Arizona. That places a focus on the big three healthier store options in this region: Natural Grocers, Sprouts, and Whole Foods.

Now without further ado, let’s dive into the holiday chocolate treats of 2019, hopefully making perfect Christmas (or your holiday of choice) gifts or stocking stuffers. We’ll begin with companies offering new entries this year…

THEO CHOCOLATE
Despite my bitter Egg Nog disappointment starting off the holiday chocolate season, Theo will still shine brightly as those gift-giving deadlines seemingly approach out of nowhere (yes, I’m talking to you, Christmas Eve shoppers… well, and myself).

Why the shine? Because although we lost the Egg Nog bar for 2019, Theo anted up with not one… not two… but three brand new chocolate options! Rejoice! And that brings me to my most anticipated new holiday treat to try this season, Peppermint Cocoa Cups.

Theo Peppermint Cocoa Cups

Not only did Theo bring the goods, they’ve done a better job versus 2018 of distributing those goods to more stores. I’ve already seen these Peppermint Cocoa Cups in multiple places, and they were out nice and early as well. So what do these delicious-looking, minty cups of temptation deliver?
According to Theo’s website, the following —

“Imagine a mug of hot cocoa on a cold day. We re-created this winter classic in a cup of our own. Our cocoa cups combine peppermint dark chocolate and coconut oil in a creamy milk chocolate shell to create a festive treat that will melt in your mouth. Unwrap a new winter classic!”

All organic and with Fair for Life certified chocolate and sugar (that’s the Theo way), these cups contain the following: Cocoa Beans, Cane Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Coconut Oil, Whole Milk Powder, Peppermint Essential Oil, Ground Vanilla Bean.

Each package contains eight (8) cups, and you can also purchase them individually where available (at least on Theo’s website if nowhere else).

Give the #1 anticipated new holiday chocolate of 2019 a try and let us know what you think!

Theo Milk Chocolate Covered Cinnamon Marshmallows

Next up, Theo expands their chocolate covered marshmallow line, venturing well beyond their staple Dark Chocolate Peppermint version, now offering two milk chocolate versions as well. The first of these new varieties, a 45% milk chocolate covered cinnamon version, sounds like a wonderful complement to your favorite holiday beverage.
Per Theo —

“Perfect in a mug of hot chocolate or right from the box, these cinnamon marshmallows are handmade in our confection kitchen and enrobed in creamy 45% milk chocolate.

These bite-sized marshmallow treats have a slight kick of cinnamon that will add the perfect touch of warmth to your holiday celebrations. They make a great stocking stuffer or addition to your next holiday gathering!”

Each marshmallow contains the following: Organic Cane Sugar, Organic Corn Syrup, Water, Organic Cocoa Beans, Organic Cocoa Butter, Organic Milk Powder, Gelatin, Organic Cinnamon, Salt, Organic Ground Vanilla Bean, Organic Cayenne.

These certainly sound delicious, but as a vegetarian, the likely red flag ingredient of gelatin will hold these back from my holiday shopping list. If you’re as yet unfamiliar with gelatin, as Wikipedia notes, it’s “extracted from the skin, bones, and connective tissues of animals such as domesticated cattle, chicken, pigs, and fish.”

Vegan options certainly are available, but we’ll try to reach out to Theo to see if we can confirm. For those of you unconcerned over gelatin, we expect Theo’s Cinnamon Marshmallows to be a big hit during the 2019 holiday.

Theo Milk Chocolate Covered Vanilla Bean Marshmallows

These 45% Milk Chocolate Vanilla Bean Marshmallows serve as Theo’s final new addition to their festive chocolate lineup. Surprisingly, this simple vanilla option actually appeals to me the most out of the three marshmallow varieties. I think it’s the idea of a marshmallow with a true, deep vanilla, courtesy of Theo’s organic ground vanilla bean from Indonesia.
Speaking of ingredients, here’s the full list: Organic Cane Sugar, Organic Corn Syrup, Water, Organic Cocoa Beans, Organic Cocoa Butter, Organic Milk Powder, Gelatin, Salt, Organic Ground Vanilla Bean.

If you’re trying to very slowly introduce some higher quality chocolate to a friend, family member, or signifcant other who tends to keep things super simple (you know, the person who only orders vanilla ice cream and eats plain hot dogs), then of all the holiday options available in 2019, this Theo entry will probably work best. And yes, we expect them to be delicious for everyone.

Theo Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Marshmallows

Last but certainly not least, Theo’s original holiday chocolate marshmallow promises to be the highest quality of the bunch.

Peppermint dreams await… Click to learn more on Theo’s website (photo by Theo Chocolate)

I’d be shocked if you’ve never encountered Theo’s marshmallow mainstay during any recent holiday shopping sprees, as outside of their chocolate bar quartet, these pepperminty, marshmallowy treats tend to be the most ubiquitous in natural grocery stores. I’ve already seen them pretty much everywhere here in 2019.

With the same ingredients as the vanilla bean marshmallows, but the final added and oh-so-important ingredient of Organic Peppermint Essential Oil, these “dreamy peppermint marshmallows are handmade in [Theo’s] confection kitchen and enrobed in rich dark chocolate.”

Are you hungry yet?

Bixby & Co Four Bar Collection

Don’t miss these four top notch bars from award-winning chocolate maker and chocolatier, Bixby & Co. Featuring two single origin bars (one each from Haiti and Belize), a Split Rock Bourbon soaked bar, and a Primo 20 Karat Bar...

Theo’s Nutcracker Brittle Bar (65% Dark Chocolate)

Still the undisputed holiday leader when it comes to both availability and a sense of On the Chocolate Regular tradition, Theo’s four-bar holiday lineup continues to show up almost everywhere.

Remember, however, that the “brittle” here refers to hazelnuts, so make sure you know your audience before sending off a Nutcracker Brittle bar. In 2017, I noted this bar as Theo’s best improvement to their holiday selection, and it is certainly still one of the best choices again this year.

My biggest note from 2017?

“The final two ingredients of Nutcracker Brittle deliver the greatest impact on the tasting experience in my opinion, however, as Theo admirably manages to balance the additions of Pink Himalayan Salt and organic ground vanilla bean.”

It’s definitely a winner for sending to loved ones who adore hazelnut!

Click here to view the Cranberry Orange bar on Theo’s site (photo by Theo Chocolate)

Theo’s Cranberry Orange Bar (55% Dark Chocolate)

With the sad disappearance of the Egg Nog bar from Theo’s lineup, their Cranberry Orange bar once again clocks in as the sweetest of Theo’s holiday chocolate offerings. For fruit-focused chocolate lovers on your list, you’ll likely choose between this bar, Endagered Species Cranberries, Orange & Cinnamon bar, and Chocolove’s Holiday Fruits & Nuts option.

From a pure quality standpoint, Theo wins the battle, but the Chocolove bar will likely appeal to a broader audience (yes, despite coming in third out of the three when it comes to ingredients).

Obviously, do not gift the Cranberry Orange bar to anyone who dislikes the orange-chocolate combo, because the orange flavor clearly dominates this bar (the organic orange oil isn’t shy)!

The best part, however, is that at 55% dark chocolate, you’re right at the sweet spot for easing someone into a better chocolate world, assuming they enjoy the orange and chocolate pairing of course.

Theo’s Peppermint Stick Bar
(70% Dark Chocolate)

Peppermint Stick packs a pepperminty chocolate wallop, and at 70% dark, Theo’s minty entry also scores as the darkest holiday chocolate bar of the season. Beware cacao-ian (yes, I just invented that word right here and now – call it a holiday miracle) overwhelm when giving this bar at the holidays, although anyone on your list who positively adores peppermint will probably enjoy this bar regardless of his or her chocolate palate.

If that’s the case, like I recommend every year, introducing this bar to a quality dark chocolate novice at Christmas time (when peppermint already dominates the flavor landscape) can actually help smooth the dark chocolate landing a bit.

“Think about it… if you’ve been eating candy canes for two days, especially the real ones with a fair amount of peppermint oil and less sugar, how strongly can a Theo Peppermint Stick bar dominate the palate?

So in the very least, consider sharing a bite of your own as a sample.”

Click here to view Peppermint Stick on Theo’s site (photo by Theo Chocolate)

Click here to view GingerBread Spice on Theo’s site (photo by Theo Chocolate)

Theo’s Gingerbread Spice Bar (45% Milk Chocolate)

If ginger floats your holiday boat the most this season, or does for anyone else on your chocolate shopping list, then this bar offers an easy option.

At only 45% milk chocolate, and with cane sugar as the first ingredient, Gingerbread Spice will not overwhelm any chocolate newcomers.

Its lower cacao content, combined with an infusion of organic ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and cardamom, means this true holiday celebration of a bar won’t intimidate any future chocolate connoisseur.

Don’t expect a quick jump from Gingerbread Spice to a 75% dark bar, but it’s certainly a much better start than a five-pound Hershey bar!

For a closer look at the Gingerbread Spice Bar and all of Theo’s holiday offerings, click here to visit their Holiday Shop.
Alter Eco

Holiday Medley Truffles

I readily own up to my own Alter Eco bias. They are easily my favorite On the Chocolate Regular company overall, and for good reason. High quality ingredients, some incredible bars with only a handful of ingredients in each, including single origin bars… a steadfast unrivaled commitment to the environment…. truffles that help transition people away from the  sugary garbage put out by Lindt that dominates big chocolate… there are so many reasons to love Alter Eco.

And all this in spite of the fact that they killed my all-time favorite Alter Eco bar, a Dark Mint bar that now only exists in a 90% cacao form that I just can’t quite enjoy. I forgive you Alter Eco, it’s all good.

Now for the first time, Alter Eco enters the holiday fray… well… sort of. Yes, you will now find this very festive-looking Holiday Medley Truffles box sitting amongst other holiday chocolate fare at the store this year. In fact, here’s a picture I snapped for our December Instagram feed while at a Natural Grocers.

So why the “sort of” qualifier? If you take a close look at what’s actually in the box, you’ll see the following:

  • 3 Salted Caramel Truffles (58% Dark)
  • 3 Dark Sea Salt Truffles (58% Dark)
  • 2 Dark Classic Dark Truffles (58% Dark)
  • 2 Dark Milk Silk Velvet Truffles (39% Dark Milk)

No, those aren’t new holiday varieties, not even one of them, they’re just four of the standard Alter Eco truffle varieties placed into a pretty holiday box. No special holiday wrappers, simply a festive box to encourage holiday purchases, which should make this a great stocking stuffer.

So kudos to Alter Eco for shifting its marketing to reach more people during the holidays (which seems to be working, since the box is already sold out on their website), but just please know what you’re getting here. These aren’t true holiday-themed truffles.

For more, view the Holiday Medley on Alter Eco’s website.

DIVINE CHOCOLATE

Click here to view on Divine’s website

Limited Edition Milk Chocolate with Gingerbread Crisp

Every year I select one difficult to find chocolate bar from this feature to try to hunt down, knowing full well that I’ll likely fail in doing so. Last year I picked two, and did indeed locate one of the rarities, the TCHO Rum Raisin Bar. The other, unsurprisingly, was the Theo Egg Nog Bar. Yes, I fail more often than I succeed on this front!

For 2019, this Limited Edition bar from Divine is my holiday unicorn. Sure, it’s a very low cacao bar, but I’m a sucker for gingerbread bars, and I only eat these low cacao bars during the holiday season (largely because they tend to survive for only one or two sittings, true story).

As of publish time, you can at least score one of these (and the other Limited Edition bar as well), on Divine’s website, so follow your links on the images here if you’d like to try one via that avenue.

This is most definitely a sweet holiday bar, with 16g of sugar per serving, and here are the ingredients: Sugar, cocoa butter, cream powder (milk), cinnamon crisp 10% (sugar, glucose syrup, butter (milk), cinnamon, salt), cocoa mass, whole milk powder, whey powder (milk), gingerbread spice blend, emulsifier: lecithins (sunflower), vanilla.

The usual Divine Chocolate stats are in play as well — Fairtrade, GMO-free, vegetarian, 100% pure cocoa butter, and , of course, coming to you from this wonderful company that is owned by cocoa farmers! Giving a Divine bar for the holidays shares a very meaningful message, so it’s a nice bonus.

Which reminds me, at the end of this article, we’ll share links to all the free versions of our On the Chocolate Regular articles on these companies (we’ve covered nearly all of them at this point), so you can come back here to share each company’s story with any loved one you give any specific chocolate to this season.

Limited Edition Dark Chocolate with Cranberries & Hazelnuts

Divine’s second Limited Edition bar delivers yet another variety of the ever-popular seasonal chocolate and cranberry combination, with this unique bar throwing hazelnuts in the mix as well.

This 68% Dark Chocolate bar offers a much different experience than the Gingerbread Bar, including 6g less of sugar, despite the addition of sugary cranberries.

Here are the ingredients: Cocoa mass, sugar, dried and sweetened chopped cranberries 16% (cranberries, sugar, sunflower oil), chopped hazelnuts 8%, cocoa butter, butterfat (milk), sunflower lecithin (emulsifier), vanilla.

JOIN THE FREE CC CLUB

LITTLE SEcrets

Little Secrets Peppermint Bark Wafers in Dark Chocolate

Known best for offering a much better alternative to those holiday M&Ms you often see out at the Christmas sweets table, Boulder, Colorado-based Little Secrets pushed the envelope a bit earlier this year, launching a chocolate wafers line. Then they went ahead and pushed it further, offering a holiday version of the wafers as well.

Fair trade, Non-GMO (although these particular wafers are not Non-GMO certified yet), no artificial colors… Little Secrets does chocolate candy right, even sustainably sourcing their palm oil. I’ve yet to see these, or the Peppermint Chocolate Pieces below, in a local store yet, but I’d be shocked if they don’t make an appearance, as I see Little Secrets every year at multiple stores.

Here’s the official ingredients list:

Dark Chocolate (Fair Trade Certified Unsweetened Chocolate, Fair Trade Certified Sugar, Fair Trade Certified Cocoa Butter, Soy Lecithin [An Emulsifier], Fair Trade Certified Natural Vanilla Extract), Enriched Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Sugar, Peppermint Oil, Palm Oil*, Soy Lecithin, Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Organic Evaporated Cane Syrup, Red Beet Color, Baking Soda.

Click here, or the image above, to view on Little Secrets website.

Little Secrets Gourmet Chocolate Candy – Peppermint in Dark Chocolate

For Little Secrets’ staple option, remember, if you normally put out M&Ms at the holidays, you’ll feel much better replacing those artificial little drops with this significantly healthier alternative.

On the other hand, although I personally love peppermint (and yes, I love these), mint is of course not everyone’s thing, as tragic as that may be! We suggest picking up one or two of the alternate flavors as well, if you’re serving these as a candy snack during holiday gatherings.

These Peppermint Chocolate Pieces are indeed Non-GMO Verified, use organic peppermint oil, and contain the following ingredients:

Dark Chocolate (Fair Trade Certified Unsweetened Chocolate, Fair Trade Certified Sugar, Fair Trade Certified Cocoa Butter, Soy Lecithin, Fair Trade Certified Natural Vanilla Extract), Sugar, Less Than 1% Coloring (Includes Titanium Dioxide, Vegetable Juice, Turmeric Oleoresin), Tapioca Syrup, Gum Acacia, Organic Peppermint Oil, Carnauba Wax.

If you can’t find them locally, try using the Little Secrets Store Locator, or you can pick them up on Amazon right here (paid link).

Click here, or the image above, to learn more on the Little Secrets website.

TCHO

TCHO Peppermint Mocha

TCHO released a holiday lineup that’s popped up in multiple stores, and features not one, but three, unique bars. You’ll likely spot this Peppermint Mocha bar, as you might expect, the most frequently. For the second straight year, I indulged in TCHO’s Peppermint Mocha bar as my first holiday chocolate of the season, as I’m apparently developing a new tradition here, once again picking up the Peppermint Mocha right after Thanksgiving.

Marketed as milk chocolate with espresso and peppermint, its 45% cacao content is actually a bit deceiving, as it tastes more like a 60-65% bar in my opinion. That’s a very unusual scenario, as although the more cacao the better from a health standpoint of course, it’s rare for a bar to taste darker than its percentage belies.

Last year, this bar’s flavor profile didn’t quite hit the mark for me. Here in 2019, however, mmm mmmmm good! I don’t know if TCHO altered the recipe versus 2018, I just picked up a rare sub-quality bar, or I was just having a bad day last year, but I am thoroughly enjoying the Peppermint Mocha here in holiday 2019.

Indeed, I’m literally tasting a bite right now while I type. I’d classify the TCHO Peppermint Mocha as the epic convergence of TCHO’s illustrious Mokaccino Bar, and a little dark chocolate peppermint infusion. What a pleasant surprise… so loving this bar!

You can pick these up almost anywhere at last check, and you can click here to score one on TCHO’s website. They also offer a discounted 12-bar pack on Amazon right here (paid link).

TCHO Eggnog

Yes, the TCHO Eggnog Bar, illegal in 37 states and all of Mexico, returns for another year. You’ve been warned.

If drinking egg nog during the holidays registers as one of your favorite festive tastes, then you will absolutely adore this bar. By far my guiltiest holiday chocolate pleasure, the white chocolate, vanilla, nutmeg and rum (no alcohol) combination dances across the tongue. I thoroughly enjoy a great egg nog at Christmas, so for me, this bar positively delights.

That said, its cacao content apparently registers so low that TCHO doesn’t even want to tell us what the actual percentage is – although in their defense, cacao does sit atop the bar’s ingredients list. Still, expect more sweetness and clearly a white chocolate experience here, just as TCHO indicates. This bar definitely gives off more of a candy vibe than a chocolate vibe.

Although once again not available on Amazon, you can still pick up the TCHO Eggnog Bar on TCHO’s website, and I’ve seen a fair amount of stock out there locally here in AZ as well.

TCHO Rum Raisin

Rumor has it that TCHO is considering renaming their Rum Raisin Bar to Unicorn Essence and Leprechaun Tears, as it’s nearly impossible for any store to keep this bad boy in stock!

I stumbled upon a full TCHO holiday chocolate display shortly after Halloween, fully stocked with all three bars, but even before Thanksgiving, the Rum Raisin Bar completely vanished. It’s bizarre.

I did indeed finally get to taste a TCHO Rum Raisin just after New Year’s Eve this year — a random Sprouts had one box left in stock, which someone probably buried in the stock room accidentally, or else I don’t how it possibly lasted into the new year. Unfortunately, with the season in the rear view (and since i only had a couple of bites, as I shared the bar with Rene), I don’t remember anything about the bar.

I should’ve bought one the moment I saw them available this year, and I certainly encourage you to do just that if you can find one — assuming a Rum Raisin Bar sounds as good to you as it apparently does to the rest of the known universe.

47% dark milk chocolate with rum and raisins (a slight reduction in cacao percentage versus its 2018 incarnation, which held steady at 53%), with a wrapper suggesting the bar tastes just like rum raisin ice cream, if that’s your thing, you’ll definitely want to track one of these down.

Still available on TCHO’s website as of publish time, click here to view the Rum Raisin Bar over there to try your luck!

eNDANGERED Species CHOCOLATE

ESC Dark Chocolate with Caramel & Spiced Apple

No firmly entrnched as a holiday staple, Endangered Species Chocolate once again returns with its three-bar holiday lineup, including fresh new packaging as well, which comes as quite the surprise, since they just revamped the look of the bars last year!

The more subtle redesign fits gorgeously into store’s holiday chocolate displays, however, so I think it’s a wonderful success.

Now let’s start things off with the Dark Chocolate with Caramel & Spiced Apple bar.

At 60% cacao yet loaded with a sweet filling, these bars will likely work well for almost anyone on your list.

Plus, in addition to the chocolate aspect, ESC will likely appeal to your gift recipients on another level as well, thanks to all the work they do for animals and the planet.

Remember, ESC donates 10% of net profits each year to protect and preserve wildlife.

As I’ve noted before, my favorite part of the Dark Chocolate with Caramel & Spiced Apple bar is actually the extra effort ESC puts in on the ingredients front.

Creating organic caramel for the filling, a bit of a one-off since ESC rarely uses organic ingredients, goes a long way for any health conscious chocolate gift givers. As I noted back in 2017’s holiday chocolate article –

“Non-GMO and fair trade, yes, but organic ‘is not their bag, baby.’ Since the caramel makes this bar the irresistible temptation it is, they were wise to amp up the quality for this key ingredient.

It’s exactly as sweet as Theo’s Gingerbread Spice bar, and its natural flavors (with apple of course in the mix somewhere) plus cinnamon line this bar right up next to Theo’s from a flavor profile standpoint, even with the caramel addition. It does, however, still leave a bit of that frequent ESC aftertaste…

…outside of someone with a serious aversion to holiday spice, you won’t likely go wrong with gifting the Dark Chocolate with Caramel & Spiced Apple.”

Most places that carry Theo’s bars tend to also carry Endangered Species, so finding the Dark Chocolate with Caramel & Spiced Apple bar shouldn’t present too much of an obstacle.

This bar helps raise awareness for polar bears, click here to learn more.

ESC Dark Chocolate with Peppermint Crunch

Although we most definitely love and appreciate ESC, we also recognize that it clearly fits in the On the Chocolate Regular category, securely in the middle between big chocolate and the great bean-to-bar auteurs we know and love.

That said, ESC’s Peppermint Crunch bar continues to deliver one of the highest quality seasonal bars each and every year.

The Peppermint Crunch bar logs fewer ingredients than most other Endangered Species options, and it brings the peppermint-y crunch here via cacao nibs, not a brittle, making it the most appealing of all the holiday bars for any higher brow chocolate lovers.

Of course, you need to tailor this bar to peppermint lovers as well, but if you do, I think they’ll actually prefer this bar over Theo’s Peppermint Stick.

Kudos to ESC for continuing to create Peppermint Crunch for the holidays!

This bar raises awareness for emperor penguins, and you can click here to learn more.

ESC Dark Chocolate w/Cranberries, Orange & Cinnamon

Whereas ESC’s Peppermint Crunch bar stands above Theo, once again their Dark Chocolate w/Cranberries, Orange & Cinnamon falls a bit short of Theo’s Cranberry Orange bar.

As I’ve noted before –

“I think Theo’s bar scores higher here because, when you’re creating a fruit-infused bar where the fruit clearly dominates the flavor profile, with all else equal, quality wins out.

Theo’s organic cranberries (one of the worst fruits to eat in non-organic varieties by the way) likely help slightly, but its use of clearly high quality organic orange oil delivers an outstanding orange-infused bar – and again, this comes from a chocolate lover who’s not a big fan of neither fruit-infused chocolate, nor orange!

Still, ESC’s Dark Chocolate w/Cranberries, Orange and Cinnamon bar tastes fine, and can certainly work as a chocolate stocking stuffer with little hesitation.”

More than any other bars on this list, I’d love to hear your opinion on these cranberry-orange offerings, so please chime in via the Comments below.

This bar raises awareness for the Horned Ram, click here to learn more.

CHOCOLOVE

Chocolove Holiday Fruits and Nuts Bar

Last year I noted that Chocolove’s Holiday bar won me over more than I expected. Although I do occasionally enjoy their Dark Chocolate Ginger bar when I’m in the On the Chocolate Regular mood, I did not expect a Holiday Fruit & Nuts bar to strike my fancy.

As a bonus, with many of the holiday bars registering under 50% cacao content, Chocolove’s 55% dark (not dark milk) presents a better transition to higher end chocolate for newbies than most of the other holiday bars on our list.

This year offers another bonus for Chocolove fans as well — the appearance of the NON-GMO Project Verified label on all three of the company’s holiday offerings.

Last year we noted that Chocolove stood committed to verification for all of its bars, and very much to their credit, they made it happen in 2019. As for the ingredients, here we go:

Dark Chocolate (Cocoa Liquor**, Sugar, Cocoa Butter**, Soy Lecithin, Vanilla), Pecans, Currants (Currants, Sunflower Oil), Dried Cherries (Cherries, Sugar, Rice Flour, Sunflower Oil), Walnuts, Hazelnuts, Orange Peel (Orange Peel, Glucose-Fructose Syrup, Sugar, Citric Acid), Ginger (Ginger, Sugar).

** 100% of the Cocoa in this Product comes from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ Farms.

It’s readily available this season at almost any store that sells Chocolove, and I’ve seen plenty in stock at both Sprouts and Natural Grocers.

You can also click here to view the Chocolove Holiday Fruits & Nuts Bar on the Chocolove website, where they sell it by the case (12 bars).

As a little Chocolove bonus, I’ve included the other two “holiday” options available in stores this year. I put “holiday” in quotes because, much like Alter Eco’s 2019 holiday fare, these two Chocolove bars are no different than their regular, perennial counterparts.

Yes, you can pick up an Almonds & Sea Salt Bar or a Peppermint Bar anytime… the difference lies in the holiday packaging. Here at Christmas time, Chocolove creates special ornamental packaging with a TO: and FROM: at the top of each bar, in an effort to encourage quick and easy gift-giving.

I see what you did there Chocolove.

These two bars were widely available at publish time, so you shouldn’t have much trouble finding them locally. Alternatively, click the images below to view each bar on Chocolove’s website.

Chocolove’s Holiday Fruits & Nuts Bar – 2018 design

BARK THINS
Last and, well, let’s keep it real, least, BarkThins Snacking Chocolate rounds out your middle of the road chocolate gifting options here in 2019.

It’s ironic that I began this article speaking of Hershey, yet here we are shining the spotlight on BarkThins, a snack brand acquired by Hershey themselves not too long ago.

These Limited Edition chocolate treats combine dark chocolate with gingerbread cookies, and like the other BarkThins offerings are Fair Trade and Non-GMO Project Verified to boot.

BarkThins Dark Chocolate Gingerbread

BarkThins Dark Chocolate Peppermint Pretzel

Just beware, BarkThins tend to encourage binging! We’re not dealing with the same chocolate we normally cover here at Chocolate Connoisseur throughout the year.

These are both a bit higher in carbs (with the Peppermint version likely the most “dangerous” if you will, courtesy of the pretzels), making it easier to trigger a carbohydrate snack fest — if you’re prone to that sort of thing (yes, I’m looking in the mirror for this one).

With the power of Hershey behind this brand, you should find few obstacles in your way for picking up a bag of these. Seriously, you can find them at Office Max even.

They’re not one of our choices for slowly transitioning people from low end chocolate to a connoisseur trek, but for the toughest nuts to crack on your shopping lists, BarkThins may actually succeed in doing so where other holiday chocolates fail – especially since it’s darker than what you’ll find with other easy-converting bars.

You can view each one online at BarkThins via these two links (BarkThins Gingerbread and BarkThins Peppermint Pretzel), and click here to pick up the Peppermint Pretzel variety right now via Amazon (paid link).

Photo by Theo Chocolate Click here to view their holiday selections

Alright, that wraps up (pun intended) our 2019 holiday chocolate coverage! I hope you aren’t terribly disappointed by the losses versus 2018 (we lost the Tony’s Chocolonely Mulled Wine Bar, Theo’s Egg Nog of course, and even more), but I’m hopeful that new additions can help offset the losses, especially with Theo’s new Peppermint Cocoa Cups in the mix.

Please let us know what you think if you try any of these yourself, and of course we would absolutely love to hear how any of your chocolate gift-giving adventures go as well.

After all, if we’re going to keep raising the quality of the chocolate we all consume across the globe, it starts with baby steps, and there is no better time to encourage those steps than right here at the holidays. Let us know how you fare.

In the meantime, all of us at Chocolate Connoisseur Magazine wish you a wonderful holiday season, filled with much love and chocolate. We’ll return with more On the Chocolate Regular at some point in 2020!

NOVEMBER 2019 ISSUE PREVIEW