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Treat Dreams’ focus has always been on creating rich, creamy and decadent vegan treats that do not compromise on the dreamy flavours of traditional chocolates and desserts - their taste testing starts with non vegans and if they believe it tastes the same, it goes on the menu! We spoke with Lis Armstrong, founder of Treat Dreams and chief chocolatier behind the delectable creations, about the brand’s impressive journey, the importance of their ingredients and values, and her go-to hot chocolate tips!
As winter is one of our favourite times to whip up something heartwarming (and soul-nourishing) we of course, turned to Lis for inspiration. Enter the Dream Egg Lava Mug Cake recipe. This delicious vegan recipe uses one of our favourite chocolates from the range - the dream egg - and will no doubt impress even the most loyalist of chocolate lovers. It really doesn’t get more dreamy than this.
What was the initial inspiration behind Treat Dreams? And how did you get into chocolate making?
It all started with a craving for a vegan cream egg! I’d been vegan for a couple years and was craving some nostalgic chocolate. I’d been researching recipes to make cream eggs and before I got to making them, my partner surprised me with some! Turns out he’d spent a few nights with a friend veganising a recipe as an Easter surprise. Little did he realise that would be our last relaxed Easter as we’ve been busy making cream eggs for hungry vegans ever since! We’ve improved on their original recipe though ;)
I knew I wanted to make vegan treats that stood up to the test of traditional ones, so formal training followed. I’ve since trained with Chef Yves Scherrer (Le Cordon Bleu and Australian Patisserie Academy), Kirsten Tibballs (Savour School, a chocolate school in Melbourne) and celebrity Chef Melissa Coppell (winner of Chocolatier of the Year and Top 10 Chocolatiers).
We also employ classically trained chocolatiers and pastry chefs interested in using their skills on vegan goodies. With each course and staff member, our vegan chocolates get better, to the point that non vegans agree they’re better than the originals.
How does Treat Dreams differentiate itself from other chocolate and dessert brands?
We’re foodies on a mission to bring fun and decadence to dairy free chocolate! We believe when the taste, mouthfeel and quality is similar to what someone is used to, they’ll be more open to taking the vegan choice. Put simply, great tasting food helps people make great choices for the animals!
We use real couverture chocolate which includes all three parts of the bean (where raw chocolates often leave one out) to create beautifully tempered chocolate with shine, snap and a silky smooth mouthfeel.
And we always love seeing people try our chocolate for the first time and watch the smile take over as the memories hit them!
Where/how do you source your ingredients and how important is quality to you?
The values for our business revolve around being fair to farmers, animals and the planet. In every supplier meeting, our starting position is the chocolate must be fair trade, vegan and delicious. That’s our minimum standard and we won’t compromise on it. It’s why we work with fair trade and organic European chocolate for our creations.
Why fair trade? We believe cacao farmers who grow and harvest the delicious beans deserve fair working conditions and fair prices for their labour and products. Their children deserve to be kids rather than slaves on cacao farms. We all have a choice every day in what we support and we believe that our luxury purchases at home aren't worth the impact they're having on farmers if this is the cost.
For this reason, we’ve worked closely with our suppliers to source high quality chocolate that meets these standards. Good relationships with suppliers make all the difference!
What inspires your unique flavour combinations? We loved the sound of the Easter limited edition vegan pack with pineapple, strawberry and berry bubblegum creams! Are there are new flavours that you’ve been working with that might surprise us?
Thank you! One of the fun things about running a chocolate business is if I like a flavour, I can get the team on it and see it on a shelf. Chances are if I liked it as a kid, we’ve either done it or are working on it!
However, our limited edition Easter flavours came directly from our customers! We created 12 different flavours and ran tasting sessions for customers to decide which ones they’d put into a mixed box. The result was our limited edition pack and it was a hit. There’s a reason they say customers know best!
To date, what have been some of the biggest challenges in building your brand and/or in the industry?
Like many businesses, scaling within our budget is a theme. We remain a 100% founder owned business, with no investors, who hand make and wrap all products locally. There are pros and cons with every approach and managing demand has been a tricky one for us.
It’s the constant balancing act between having the right equipment and team to level up and needing to have the distribution and cash flow ready to take that capacity you build.
Year 1, our first year of Easter eggs was done at home, melting chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of hot water! We sold directly to customers at markets or picking up from our home.
Year 2, we hired our first staff members, supplied our first stockists and made the chocolates out of a small 14kg chocolate ‘wheelie’ machine in a shared commercial kitchen.
Year 3, we produced most of our Easter supply out of that same baby machine and an unused restaurant we took over, before our 40kg beast of a chocolate machine arrived.
Now, finally we moved into our dedicated vegan kitchen facility in Rozelle, Sydney and I left my previous corporate gig for the chocolate world. I can’t wait to see what the future brings!
Winter has kicked-off here is Australia - what’s your go-to treat to warm you up during the cooler months?
Chocolate is perfect for cold months as it won’t melt in your pantry. But of course my winter treats involve melting it anyway!
Belgium style hot chocolate is hard to beat. In Belgium, they melt real chocolate down to create a beautifully thick, rich hot chocolate. Powdered hot chocolate gives you only one part of the cacao bean (the cacao powder) and with real chocolate you get all of it which makes all the difference.
Once you’ve made the base up you can add flavours to it or enjoy it plain. We’ve been serving peppermint hot chocolate at our Rozelle shop and it’s going down a treat on cooler days.
Can you share any special chocolate cooking tips or tricks for all us chocolate lovers?