Larry Burdick makes exquisite delicious chocolate pieces at Burdick Chocolate, a small manufacturer at the western edge of New Hampshire, northwest of Keene and 70 miles from Nashua. Burdick does a great job of making a variety of ornate fine chocolates and presenting them well. The pieces in his assortment differ from each other well, so that one is entertained by the changes in flavor, style, and shape. The flavors range from intense chocolate to balanced to strong non-chocolate flavors, and the sweetness ranges from bitter to very sweet. Some flavors are familiar, and some are exotic.
You can’t really make a bad choice at Boise’s The Chocolat Bar. Since 2004, this shop has been using local and organic products to allow the lusciousness of chocolate shine through. The top highlight at this shop is the Nipples of Venus truffle, which features dark chocolate ganache topped with white chocolate and Madagascar vanilla with a tiny dot of white chocolate on top. The barks are also worth traveling to Idaho for, with unique combinations like red chili pistachio and lemon lavender almond.
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.
Christopher Elbow Chocolates is a Kansas City, Missouri, shop that takes the phrase “artisanal chocolates” to the next level. Each and every piece of candy is painted by hand, making these more like tiny, edible pieces of art than an after-dinner treat. The creativity extends beyond looks; these chocolates come in inventive flavors such as rosemary, Japanese yuzu and calamansi lime as well as an ever-rotating list of limited-edition flavors.
Made from high-quality Ecuador cocoa beans, this stunning assortment of twenty brightly colored chocolates combines 70% dark chocolate with five unique flavors – strawberry, mango, ginger, peppermint, and coffee. You bite into the crunchy candy shell, releasing the flavored liquid which combines with the chocolate base. It’s a unique chocolate experience unlike anything else on the market, balancing flavorful candy with high-quality, intense dark chocolate.
Nobody knows for sure how many chocolate shops there are in the U.S. today, at least in part because many of them do double duty as patisseries, ice cream parlors, or gift shops. Suffice to say that there is probably not a city or a town of any size in the country that doesn’t boast at least one purveyor of specialty chocolates, and many places have more. There are at least 80 of them in New York City, for instance, and more than 30 in Los Angeles.
The Tessieris did not set out to make chocolate. In the beginning, like the rest of the Chocolate Valley, they made candy. Their parents owned a business in Pontedera that sold pastry ingredients to bakers. Alessio and Cecilia went off on their own, but they didn’t stray far. They rented a small room in town and began to experiment with what they call pralines and we call filled chocolates. Soon enough, they wanted to move to a higher grade—the highest grade they knew. So the brother and sister, who were still in their 20s, went to visit a chocolate maker they greatly admired.
We saved the biggest for last. Levain’s gourmet cookies push the limits of the definition of cookie. They have been described as “Molten Cookie Dough” for their barely baked middles that ooze with warm, sweet goodness. Weighing in at 6 ounces each they are the size of generous muffin tops. Each flavor is rich, buttery, super-decadent. We had the fun of standing in line to enter the teeny tiny New York store to order one of each flavor—Chocolate Chip Walnut, Oatmeal Raisin, Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip and Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip. I was lucky to have a posse of eager tasters with me. The edges have a slightly crisp cookie texture that gives way to an interior of cookie/cake-y crumb. The cookie’s center is a barely baked oooey goooey celebration of sweet. This is not a cookie for the faint of heart.
There’s a drinking chocolate for everyone at Elbow Chocolates. There is an unadulterated plain dark chocolate for the purists and one with a hint of vanilla for those who want just a little more depth. You'll also find peppermint drinking chocolate and a spiced drinking chocolate with chilies and cinnamon for those who prefer a little spice in their life.
Most chocolate makers know nothing about where their cacao comes from. A former consultant for a well-regarded European chocolate maker told me that until last year, the firm’s cacao buyer had never been to a plantation. Farmers sell to brokers who sell to bigger brokers; by the time the cacao reaches the factory, nobody knows its story. Sometimes this arrangement allows growers to mistreat workers without accountability. It also can allow them to get the same price for unripe, rotting or generally trashy beans—at their worst, these are known as "dogs and cats"—that they get for the good stuff.
I recommend Bridgewater’s assorted chocolates, including the toffees, which you can buy separately. However, their marzipan, truffles, and bars do not impress me the same way, although nothing is particularly wrong with them. The truffles had an airy mousse-like filling. The orange truffle was pleasant, but the hazelnut and raspberry were distant in those truffles. The bars with bits of various fruits, nuts, or other items had a more appealing chocolate flavor than most chocolatiers’ bars. The fruits added a bit to the flavor but were a minority portion. The marzipan was standard.
Created by Austrian chocolatier Joseph Zotter in 1987, Zotter Chocolates offers 365 flavors, produced each day of the year! While we taste-tested an assortment of flavors ranging from the creamy, caramel-filled Coffee Toffee to the not-for-the-faint-of-heart 100% cacao Peru bar, the Goji Berries in Sesame Nougat emerged as the unanimous favorite. This milk chocolate bar is studded with dried goji berries and filled with layers of green tea ganache, homemade nougat and soy and sesame filling. Also worth noting is the colorful and unique artwork that covers each bar designed by Andreas h. Gratze.
Within three weeks, the Tessieris decided that they weren’t going to buy chocolate anymore—they would make it. Cecilia apprenticed with bean-to-bar artisans around Europe. At first they bought cacao from brokers, but by 1997, Alessio had begun hunting it himself, from Ecuador to Madagascar to the Caribbean coast of Venezuela. This last region was especially rich with cacao of the first rank; a lot of money was at stake, and life could get rough. Four years ago, someone tried to murder a cacao buyer who worked with Valrhona, strafing his car with an automatic weapon and leaving him with a half-dozen gunshot wounds.
Godiva has long been known as a company that produces some of the finest artisanal chocolates at very affordable prices. Their classic gold gift box is no exception, in either case, providing chocolate lovers with an assortment of high-quality chocolate textures, each with bold, intense flavors. Most users really enjoyed the taste and presentation of the fine chocolates though the price as a bit high for some. We find the price to be only slightly above average for 19 pieces of artisan chocolate.
Hand-dipped bonbons are a specialty for Alma, one of Portland’s standout chocolate shops, but only its toffees, molded chocolate figures, and chocolate bars are shipped nationwide. Stop in for a taste of owner Sarah Hart’s Thai peanut butter cups and rose caramels — the filling contains just the right amount of salinity to offset the drop of rosewater that’s inside each one. Or, order in advance of the holidays to snag a hazelnut or peanut butter crunch bar, caramel-pecan bar, or mocha almond nibby. Alma ships nationwide. 140 NE 28th Avenue, Portland, OR
If you’re looking for something completely different, consider these luxury champagne truffles from the famous British chocolatier Charbonnel et Walker. A small-batch chocolatier known for serving the Queen of England, they’re famous for specialty products including these milk chocolate truffles made with marc de champagne, a French brandy made from champagne grapes. Their strawberry coating adds a pleasing sweetness that counters the intensity of the brandy-flavored filling.
Candinas Chocolatier is a small manufacturer run by Markus Candinas. His truffle assortment includes two very nice nut pieces, with a very fine crunchy texture and good flavors. The truffles have thin shells and medium-strength flavors. Another piece was sweet and fruity, quite appealing. However, without a chart, you do not know what to expect. The web site also offers no selection of pieces. The marzipan piece I liked seems to be gone. Much of the assortment is plain or mild ganaches or other “just chocolate” pieces that do not interest me. Given that, though, the milk chocolate truffle was spot on, and the flavors are nice.
Since 2008, Original Beans has taken the “bean to bar” idea full circle with their “bar to bean” commitment to plant a seedling for every chocolate bar sold. Details of their Grand Cru Blend No. 1 80 percent organic dark chocolate are kept secret, but they claim to use some of the rarest cacaos from South America and Africa. And with only raw cane sugar added, the bars are also vegan.
One of the oldest candy businesses in the country, Schimpff’s Confectionary in Jeffersonville, Indiana, is half chocolate shop, half museum, which makes it a charming tourist destination on its own. Beyond the collection of candy-making history here, the chocolates are old-fashioned and scrumptious. Don’t leave without picking up some caramel-covered marshmallows, which are called “mojeskas” in this part of the country.
Along with the milk and dark bars, there are bite-sized ChocoPods, drinking chocolates, bonbons and truffles. For a real textural experience, try the vegan-friendly Ooh Ahh Almond bar. It blends dark chocolate and crunchy almonds that have been kettle-cooked in sea salt and sugar. Or heat things up with the Spicy Maya bar that fuses cayenne and pasilla chile with creamy dark chocolate. If you want to get in on the latest Chuao flavor, then you have to try Strawberry Waffle Wild, a mix of crunchy waffle bits, strawberries and milk chocolate.
Famous in New York and internationally as an uncompromising chocolatier, Jaques Torres makes gourmet chocolate chip cookies that are an elegant and rich version of everyone’s favorite cookie. Each cookie measures 5 inches in diameter. Jacques uses his rich, house blend 60% dark chocolate baking discs, which means this cookie skews to the adult tastes, or kids with a discerning palate.
Jacques Torres has every holiday cornered with bonbons and chocolate sculptures that boggle the mind, but it’s his caramelized macadamia nuts enrobed in milk chocolate — tasting something like a deconstructed candy bar — that regularly sell out. A wide range of chocolates are available online; shipping generally takes two to three days. 350 Hudson Street, New York, NY (multiple locations)
Specializing in dark chocolate, Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker is a premier chocolate manufacturer. It executes each step of the manufacturing process itself, all the way from bean to bar, to ensure that its finished chocolate delivers a flavor like no other. The chocolate-makers first find the finest cacao available, then carefully taste and blend beans of different origins to create a unique flavor profile. All the chocolate is made in small batches using artisanal manufacturing methods. In addition to its ready-to-eat bars, Scharffen Berger makes a variety of baking chocolates.
After many years in the high-end restaurant business (Per Se, Le Cirque, Union Square, Postrio) former New Yorker Paul Seyler was ready for a new adventure. In 2007, he and his family headed north to the little town of North Ferrisburgh, Vermont where they got seriously busy and launched Cookie Love. Their recipes reflect their commitment to local ingredients and clean fresh food.
You can't make a list of popular chocolate brands without including Mars. This incredibly famous worldwide brand is responsible for Snickers, Galaxy, Dove, M&M'S, Milky Way, Twix, 3 Musketeers, and Mars bars. Like Nestlé, Mars focuses on candy bars and confectioneries instead of plain chocolate products. But it definitely offers a combination of chocolate, nougat, caramel, or other ingredients that you won't be able to say no to.
Katalin Csiszar and her husband, Zsolt Szabad, began the award-winning Rozsavolgyi in their home in Budapest in 2004. They source beans from Venezuela growers, and roast them very lightly to preserve their true flavors. Only organic cane sugar and a small amount of of cocoa butter goes in before they are formed into intricate patterns meant to mimic fireplace tiles, and wrapped by hand in paper that looks like your chic grandma’s vintage silk scarf. Purists rave about their Criollo and Trincheras bars, but those who like surprises go for inclusions like olives and bread, and flavors of Japanese matcha, and Indian masala spices.
Chocoholic travelers can have an immersive experience in Hershey, Pennsylvania, at Hershey Park. The amusement park, with roller coasters, water rides and candy mascots, also holds two hotels and one campground. Guests can take in shows and concerts, eat thousands of calories thanks to chocolate-themed menus and rich desserts or even get sticky with a "chocolate fondue wrap" at the full-service spa.
Why they're cool: They've been making chocolate since their first store opened in California in 1921, almost 100 years ago (omg)! They also offer over 100 varieties of chocolate for all different occasions like Valentine's Day, game day, gift boxes, and custom mixes! To top it off they offer a variety of yummy lollypops everyone (including me) is obsessed with!
Hailing from France’s Rhône Valley, Valrhona is considered the Rolls Royce of chocolate. Depicting how fine the French taste is, Valrhona has been crafting couvertures since 1922. Valrhona is known for creating a range of unique and recognizable aromatic profiles by perfecting techniques for enhancing the flavor of rare cocoa beans that are directly bought from the plantations in South America, Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean.
The selection at Chocolate is vast, everything from a simple chocolate-dipped fortune cookie for less than a dollar, to a 200+ piece Valentine's assortment of gluten-free chocolates for over $300. We did notice that none of their categories included two of the most popular “candy holidays”, Halloween and Christmas, but Easter chocolates are sold year-round.