SpagNVola husband-and-wife owners Eric and Crisoire Reid oversee entire chocolate process from farm to store, delivering unadulterated chocolate perfection. First they grow cacao at their farm perched on mountain slopes in their homeland of the Dominican Republic. The cacao pods are handpicked, then roasted and refined in their Gaithersburg, Maryland, factory. Take the free tour to learn about the origins of their chocolate and watch the kitchen’s magic. The award-winning 70 percent and 80 percent pure chocolate bars paint the clearest picture of quality, but don’t miss the boxed sets of olive oil truffles or caramel bonbons. Boutique at National Harbor and factory in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
The Pecan Penuche also plays on local products, Georgia pecans. Its flavor makes nice use of pecans but is a little sweeter than I would like. Two pieces make excellent use of spices. The Aztec has a deep chocolate flavor, strong enough to stand up to the blend of six chilies and spices that kick in after a few seconds. In the Cayenne Passion Fruit, the cayenne and passion fruit play nicely with and against each other and with the chocolate. I often find that “hot” spices detract from chocolate, but Hard has blended these well.
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.
In 2005, when John Grahm took over this mid-century Los Angeles shop where Marilyn Monroe once purchased her sweets, he fashioned it into an edgy and modern version of Old Hollywood elegance. Partnering with designer Kelly Wearstler, Grahm created a line of stunning bars covered in edible crystal, filled with tortilla chips and cayenne pepper, and flavored with balsamic vinegar. But tradition still rules at Compartés, so everything is handmade and people (not machines) do the packaging.
To take advantage of Chase Sapphire Preferred’s lucrative offer of 3x points on dining on the first Friday of every month, we regularly round up the best in food and drink. To get a jump on your February 14/Valentine’s Day sweets shopping, TPG Contributor Michele Herrmann has put together an assortment of artisan chocolate shops across the U.S. where the candies are just as individual as your Valentine.
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.
Italy is another country with famous chocolate-makers, including Baci Perugina, Guerrero and Cioccolata Venchi. The first chocolate license was granted by the House of Savoy in 1678, and what we now call Nutella was first created in the mid-19th century in Turin. Perugia, however, is the best-known city for chocolate tourism in Italy thanks to Baci, meaning "kisses."
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.
Who would think we would be singing the praises of Canadian chocolate? Soma, which began in 2003, describes itself as a place to "eat, drink, and worship chocolate". Visitors can experience their small-batch chocolate-making up close at the micro-factory on the Toronto store's premises. Their menu boasts an impressive display of mind-blowing creativity, like "Sparky" Gianduja pralines laced with Pop Rocks, Gooderham Worts Whiskey truffles and the 8-Year Aged Balsamic Vinegar truffles. Bars are available in rectangle or circle form — Soma's Chocolate Possible Worlds bars come as 200-gram oversized disks, such as the "Ruby Red" bar topped with wild cherries, cranberries, barberries and dusted with Sumac powder. O Canada!
Taza chocolate is a breakaway from your run-of-the-mill chocolate bar. The chocolate is round, for starters, and break into slices like a pizza, which is sort of different. The chocolate is also stone-ground, which offers a grittier, grainier feel than more heavily processed chocolate, and reminds you that what your eating came from something of the natural world.
In 1991, Alessio and Cecilia made a pilgrimage to Tain l’Hermitage, in the Rhône Valley, for an appointment at Valrhona. The Tessieris were humored for a while, but when they were ready to make a deal, they were sent away with nothing. The French wouldn’t even negotiate. According to Cecilia, they were told that Italy wasn’t evolved enough to appreciate such extraordinary chocolate.
The most famous Venezuelan cacao of all comes from Chuao. The trees of Chuao are shielded by mountains from all but the warm Caribbean breezes; the soil is naturally irrigated by three cascading rivers. Doutre-Roussel calls the region “one of the jewels of the earth.” Besides the microclimate, Chuao has centuries-old traditions of harvesting and preparing cacao. First it’s fermented to develop the compounds that will later blossom into rich aromatics, then it’s laid out on the parvis in front of the village church to dry slowly in the sun. Because the farmers worked together as a cooperative, Chuao is one of the only places where a chocolate maker could buy, at one stroke, 9 to 10 tons of uniformly excellent cacao. Until recently, that chocolate maker was Valrhona. Today every last kilo of cacao from Chuao goes to Amedei.
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.