Editor's note: This story was written in 2010 and the chocolate shop mentioned here has since closed. However, the founders have reopened as Mama Ganache Artisan Chocolates. We didn't review the Mama Ganache products, but the information below is a good indication of what you can expect.

For delicious eco-ethical chocolates that will delight vegans and milk chocolate fans alike, visit Sweet Earth Chocolates’ online shop. Here, you’ll find all kinds of organic, fair trade chocolates — from simple dark chocolate bars to nutty caramel turtles to peanut butter cups — almost all available in both milky and vegan versions!

My favorite delicacy is the ultimate vegan peanut butter cups, which balance out a deliciously creamy, salty peanut butter middle with a 65% bittersweet chocolate coat. You get a mouthful of intense natural flavors — free of the mostly-sugary synthetic taste of, say, Reese’s. A 3-ounce bag with five cups costs $7.95.

For the minimalist, the Bittersweet bar with 72% cocoa content delivers a powerful caffeinated punch with a citrus note. That bar’s made with just three ingredients — organic chocolate, sugar, and vanilla — which shows the deliciously complex flavor’s all in the high quality of the organic, fair trade cacao itself.

In fact, Sweet Earth Chocolates does best with simple products than with more complex ones like the Ultimate Turtles — at least when it comes to vegan versions. The vegan turtles I tried — made with dark chocolate, vegan caramel, cashews, and rice crispies — tasted rather bland, with the vegan caramel almost devoid of flavor.

The box of Turtles also had some strange nutrition label issues. The 7-ounce box contained 6 truffles — but gave nutrition facts based on a 1-ounce serving size! I had to whip out a calculator to figure out that each truffle had 176 calories — not worth it for a bland turtle. I’ll have to try the classic milk chocolate with non-vegan caramel to see if the flavors work better. A beribboned gift box of 6 truffles costs $10.95.

Beyond the yummy goodness of the chocolates themselves, Sweet Earth Chocolates was founded on a delicious goal — to promote organic and fair trade practices in West African cocoa farms, where some of the worst forms of child labor are known to be rampant. Tom Neuhaus, who teaches Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and founded Sweet Earth with his sister Joanne Currie in 2004, organizes annual trips to West Africa to help educate people about the plight of cocoa farmers there, to spread awareness, and to promote fair trade. Those trips are part of Project Hope & Fairness — a nonprofit started by Tom that carries out the goals of Sweet Earth Chocolates.

Sweet Earth Chocolates doesn’t actually get its chocolate from West Africa, but from the Dominican Republic, Peru or Costa Rica, “the only countries in the world where there are farmers’ cooperatives that are certified organic and fair trade,” according to the company’s website. “In the meantime, a portion of our profits from our chocolate bars will go to support West African cooperatives in their efforts to become organic.”

Shop Sweet Earth Chocolates on its web store, stop by its retail shop if you visit San Luis Obispo, or find them at some select stores, mostly in Northern California.

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