Even today, the chocolate trade looks a lot like it did in colonial days: Raw materials bought at generally low prices in the tropics are shipped to the developed world and turned into a luxury product. Today, three of the largest importers of cacao to America are fighting a lawsuit filed by a human rights group claiming that they buy beans harvested by child slaves, mostly in the nation of Ivory Coast. Several journalists have contended that the extent of slavery in the cacao industry has been overblown, but it’s hardly comforting to hear that the number of slaves who helped make your afternoon snack has been exaggerated. Without doubt, adults and children on some cacao farms, particularly in West Africa, perform demanding, exhausting work for awful pay.
Artist Christine Sarioz started working with chocolate years ago, but only opened her first shop this year. Molded chocolates, filled with dense, deep chocolate ganache or pistachio praline, look like elegant miniature children’s building blocks, perhaps in a set designed to honor Brutalist architecture; some are gilded in metallic dust for extra sparkle. Her signature item is a hazelnut praline-filled chocolate bar: Shiny, snappy, and wrapped in gold paper, it’s what Wonka would peddle if he’d gone to design school. 9414 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, CA
This is a box of confections for an adventurous chocolate lover. Every piece is memorable. The sesame nougat was the first one we tried and it still sticks out as one of my favorites. It has the perfect texture of chewy caramel, a little crunch from toasted sesame seeds and the snap of perfectly tempered dark chocolate. The Star Anise & Pink Peppercorn starts with the licorice-like star anise and finishes with the pink peppercorn, the flavors unfolding on the tongue like a sensory short story. While I don’t think any of the flavors would be offensive, some people might be scared off by the esoteric flavor combos. (Those palates will be happy with our well-made runner up.)
NEW! Ceretto Barolo + Exotic Truffle Collection. For those who appreciate and collect Italian wines. Embark on a guided wine and chocolate tasting through the Langhe region of Piemonte home to Barolo, Barbaresco and the white truffle. Ceretto 2014 Barolo Red Wine is paired with our signature 9 piece Exotic Truffle Collection and nestled in a purple gift box. This is a classic Barolo - light garnet in color with Barolo's quintessential aromas of roses, tart cherries, and hints of truffles. Ceretto's Barolo DOCG is extraordinarily approachable, and it will continue to reward the patient wine drinker as it evolves over the course of several years. Included are guided tasting notes with which you can unlock the stories of each truffle parfum and discover the chocolate and wine pairing experience.
French Broad Chocolate is a must-try shop located in Asheville, North Carolina. It has chocolates that have won numerous awards at the International Chocolate Awards and Good Food Awards. The confections, which range from single-source bars to vegan lemongrass and ginger truffles, are made with local ingredients and sustainable, wholesome cacao beans.
The phrase dark chocolate sea salt caramels should be a selling point in itself, but these bite-size treats also have something else going for them: they have almost 500 five-star reviews on online. And there’s a reason why. They make other salty-sweet chocolate-caramel combos seem lackluster in comparison. One reviewer said they have a “bold saltiness” that’s “not for the faint of heart” and another said, “My favorite candy ever!” The creamy, rich caramel is cooked to just the right consistency and the smooth chocolate goes perfectly with the visible salt flakes on top.
Pastry chef and chocolatier Kate Weiser hasn’t been making chocolates for that long, but has already won wide acclaim. Though Weiser offers an array of gorgeous, hand-painted chocolate bonbons, her candy bars are the real draw. Bars in flavors like milk n’ cookies (milk stout ganache layered with Biscoff gianduja and sea-salted chocolate chip cookies) and passion praline (passion fruit cream and crunchy hazelnut gianduja) show Weiser’s skill in marrying flavor and texture. Chocolates ship nationally from November through May. Two-day and overnight shipping is available. 3011 Gulden Lane #115, Dallas, TX
At their Brooklyn, New York, factory, the bearded brothers Rick and Michael Mast create fantastic single-origin dark chocolate bars that are wrapped in custom-printed paper and named after the sources of the cacao beans, such as Papua New Guinea, Moho River, Sambirano Valley, and La Red de Guaconejo. “They’re interesting, and certainly showcase the tangy, tropical, terroir-driven flavors of chocolate,” says F&W’s Kristin Donnelly. mastbrothers.com
Connecticut is apparently so well known for its chocolate shops that it has a bona fide tour route for sweet confections called the Connecticut Chocolate Trail. So how does Bridgewater Chocolate in West Hartford stand apart from the crowd? Its stunning packaging, for one. But the chocolate tortels, truffles and dark chocolate-covered cherries on a milk chocolate heart are luxurious and rich.
Take someone’s taste buds on a trip around the world without buying a single plane ticket. Trader Joe’s chocolate “passport” allows chocolate lovers to sample bars from eight of the world’s best chocolate-producing countries. Each of the bars is single origin—which means the cocoa beans were sourced from that country alone—to ensure that you taste the unique flavors of each region. You’ll taste floral and nutty notes in Papua New Guinea’s bar, while Peru’s is slightly fruity and woody. Every single one is different from the last. Each bar is a little less than two ounces and they range from 60% to 73% cacao.