I love suggesting Vietnamese chocolate as a special local gift for my friends from abroad. You’ve probably heard of Marou Chocolate, praised by The New York Times as the best chocolate ever . But hey, there are also some hidden gem artisan chocolate brands that you shouldn’t miss during your trip to Vietnam.
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Why Vietnamese Chocolate?
Ever thought about why you’d want to bring home chocolate from a developing country when there are plenty of options in North America or Europe?
Well, it all comes down to the main ingredient – cacao beans. Tropical zones, such as Vietnam or West African countries like Ghana, boast the ideal climate for cacao trees. This ensures the production of top-notch quality cacao beans, resulting in the most delicious chocolate.
I’m not claiming Vietnamese chocolate is out to outshine all those famous brands, but there are some pretty compelling reasons to give it a shot:
- Top-notch cacao beans: Vietnam sits right on the “Cacao Belt“, the go-to place for the best cacao beans. The Trinitario beans cultivated here are an 18th-century hybrid, marrying the high-yield Forastero (the bean of choice for Big Chocolate) with the rarer and more nuanced Criollo. Trinitario beans just account for less than 10% of the world’s total cacao production.
- Variety in bean-to-bar and tree-to-bar options: These chocolates set the gold standard for quality, allowing producers to maintain control over the quality of their supply.
- Revamp your souvenir choices! While traditional Vietnamese keepsakes like coffee (check out my guide for the best Vietnamese coffee brands) are classic, chocolate is a tasty and unique gift option for your beloved ones.
- Back the locals: Buying Vietnamese chocolate means supporting local businesses and farmers. It could encourage to the growth of communities and promote a sustainable chocolate industry. The local chocolate business often provide local farmers with better compensation compared to larger chocolate corporations, surpassing even fair trade prices.
Marou, Faiseurs de Chocolat
Founded by two French connoisseurs, Vincent Mourou and Samuel Maruta, Marou was the pioneer in introducing Vietnamese Chocolate to the world. It is also the first Vietnamese Artisan bean-to-bar chocolate brand.
“Bean-to-bar” chocolate means they can create their chocolate from beans they select at the source.
They even earned the Gold Medal at the International Chocolate Award in 2014. Their signature products are a range of six single-origin chocolate bars, each named after one of the six Vietnamese provinces in the Mekong Delta.
The source (terroir) and use of specific cacao varieties allows the chocolate makes to create particularly charismatic flavour profiles for their bars. The cacao beans that define each bar narrate a tale about the soil and season of their origin.
If you find yourself in Vietnam, make sure to visit their flagship stores, Maison Marou , in Saigon, Hanoi, Danang or Hoian. You’re in for a treat—participate in their free chocolate tasting workshops, enjoy a cup of coffee, indulge in French pastries, and immerse yourself in the world of gourmet chocolate.
Stone Hill Chocolate
While I might be a tad biased, Stone Hill easily takes the top spot as my favorite Vietnamese chocolate brand. It’s a family-owned venture with a cacao farm in Đồng Nai, Vietnam, allowing them to create tree-to-bar chocolate – an exceptional standard in the chocolate world, accounting for less than 1% of global chocolate production.
When a product proudly declares “tree-to-bar chocolate,” it signifies that the chocolate maker had complete control over the cacao’s growth and processing.
Since Stone Hill cooperates with small partner farmers to maintain high standards for their chocolate, their “bean-to-bar chocolate” is equally top-notch.
In addition to chocolate, Stone Hill also crafts a range of cacao-based skincare and food products.
Other reasons you can’t miss Stone Hill chocolate if you are a chocolate lover:
- Variety Collection: Boasting over 50 cacao varieties, Stone Hill Farm holds Vietnam’s largest private collection. Some are uniquely flavored, but due to their technical demands, they’re not widely circulated. Stone Hill’s expertise in agriculture and cacao farming allows them to cultivate uncommon Trinitario and Forastero varieties, creating a signature blend found nowhere else.
- Eco-Friendly Cultivation: Embracing pesticide-free agriculture, Stone Hill employs biochar and fertilizer application to ensure sustainable farming practices.
- Traditional Stone Milling: Unlike quick processes, Stone Hill’s traditional stone milling takes days. This meticulous approach preserves subtle and unique flavor notes, allowing the cacao mass to fully express its characteristics.
- Customized Fermentation and Roasting: Stone Hill employs specific fermentation recipes tailored to their unique cacao bean variety composition. Their roasting recipe also considers factors like moisture level, fermentation rate, variety, and bean size. This attention to detail ensures a well-developed flavor profile, avoiding the pitfalls of under-roasting or over-roasting, where taste nuances can be lost or compromised. The thorough fermentation and roasting process is both detailed and flexible, adapting to the beans’ progression.
Alluvia, another Vietnamese chocolate brand from Miền Tây (Mekong Delta), is a two-generation bean-to-bar chocolate company. Cacao trees here are cultivated by local farmers in accordance with international procedures and certified by UTZ.
According to Xuan Ron, the founder, chocolate mastermind and also main man on the fields, the Mekong Delta’s abundance of alluvium is the source of Alluvia’s fruity flavor.
If you find yourself in Saigon, you could take a day-trip tour to their farm in Chợ Gạo, Tiền Giang Province, where you could taste the fresh cacao beans, observe how high-quality chocolate is crafted, and even try your hand at crafting your batch of sweets! It’s an experience that’s truly worthwhile.
Alluvia goes beyond conventional chocolate; they even blend it with local tropical fruits like banana, coconut, pineapple, guava, and mango to craft a diverse range of cacao-based confectioneries.
Founded in late 2015 by Jannie Ha Tran, a Vietnamese woman, and her Belgian partner Marc Vanborren, Belvie Chocolate is a unique blend of Belgian expertise, extensive chocolate knowledge, self-sourced high-quality cocoa beans from Vietnam.
Belvie Chocolate’s mission is to make high-quality tree-to-bar, bean-to-bar Vietnamese chocolate using only cacao beans, cane sugar, and cacao butter from the same origin, with no addition of soy or any other lecithin.
The brand’s goal is to craft chocolate from every terroir in Vietnam since they believe that the distinct soil, terrain, and micro-climate of each region play a crucial role in shaping the flavor and character of the final product.
In 2017, TBROS chocolate was founded by Truong Minh Thang, a master’s student in food science and industrial engineering. He discovered that despite Vietnamese cocoa beans being rated among the top 28 in the world, farmers were still underpaid. Moreover, with a scarcity of fine chocolate brands run by Vietnamese at that time, he and an old friend from high school decided to start on their chocolate business.
Their flagship products, particularly the single-origin bars sourced from Daklak, Bà Rịa, and Tiền Giang provinces, are undoubtedly worth a try.
The Cocoa Project
Honestly, before Marou came onto the scene, I never thought my country could whip up some of the world’s finest chocolate. And I’m certain many Vietnamese, much like me back then, hadn’t quite discovered the secrets of truly enjoying fine chocolate.
While several local brands strive to globalize Vietnamese chocolate, the Cocoa Project has a distinct mission—to foster the chocolate culture among the Vietnamese. They don’t process cocoa beans but leverage premium local chocolate to create delightful treats infused with tropical ingredients.
Their chocolate bar is like a miniature chocolate museum in the heart of Saigon. While chocolate museums aren’t new to me since my time in Europe, I am confident there are still many aspects of Vietnamese chocolate for you to explore and discover.
Being one of the early bean-to-bar chocolatiers in town, Legendary Chocolatier proudly procures its cocoa beans directly from different provinces and farms across Vietnam.
Take a peek at their varied collection, featuring fruit and nut chocolate bars, flower and nut chocolate with those delicate floral notes, and the delightful dragees and truffles. What makes it even more special is their use of local ingredients like kumquat, ginger, lemongrass, cashew, and butterfly pea flower, all contributing to the well-being of Vietnamese farmers.
Víctor Ceano Savall, the proud owner of Savall Chocolatier, comes from a family-owned bakery in Barcelona that dates back to 1892. Carrying forward his family’s rich chocolate-making tradition, Victor has ventured to bring his passion for artisanal chocolate to the vibrant city of Danang, Vietnam.
Growing up, Victor’s family often visited Hoi An for holidays, nurturing his love for the town and its people. Eventually, he made the move to Hoi An, working as a pastry chef for The Nam Hai Hoi An. It was here that he recognized the potential for luxury confectioneries in Hoi An and Danang.
Savall Chocolatier was born with the support of his father, an IT engineer. Since then, they have created an assortment of chocolates and sweets that use local Vietnamese ingredients and have been well-received by the locals.
Apart from chocolate-based confectioneries, his ice cream, sorbet, and candies are absolutely worth trying!
If you’re interested in exploring more about Vietnamese cuisine and gather tips for your Vietnam trip, take a look at my articles!