Fittingly, the chocolate takes center stage from the onset, not a more familiar dense semi-dark chocolate but rather, almost exactly as another has put it, like milk chocolate cocoa powder, somehow at the very intersection of sweet and dry. It's plenty sweet but not over the top, and the sharpness of the cocoa powder is somehow there. Another similar analogous experience is the smell of a milk chocolate bar when first being unwrapped. A brilliant capture by Sarah.
There are a great number of incredible chocolate shops in Chicago and the rest of Illinois, but Katherine Anne Confections in the Windy City takes our top spot. You won’t find flawless chocolates here, but you’ll find homemade treats done absolutely right; you wish your mama could make candies like these. But just because these chocolates are reminiscent of your own hometown chocolate shop doesn’t mean there aren’t sparks of innovation here. Look no further than the truffles, which include classic flavors like hazelnut and citrus right next to fun flavors such as lemon poppyseed and goat cheese walnut.
Even if you buy this dark chocolate box for no other reason than the collectible red tin container (from legendary Parisian restaurant Maxim's), you won't be disappointed in the quality of this French chocolate — especially if you're a coffee enthusiast. Each individually wrapped candy consists of a gourmet dark chocolate with a heart of coffee candy. Each tin comes with 24 to 26 pieces, and it's an especially perfect gift for Francophiles or lovers of all things Parisian.
Top chocolatiers generally work with couverture (first-rate chocolate containing a high percentage of cocoa butter) to make their creations, versus fresh cocoa beans, although an increasing number now experiment with bean to bar. Some makers even grow their own cacao beans. Direct contact between growers and makers is the best-case scenario for sustainable, or at the very least fair trade, 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.
Dandelion Chocolate bars contain only two ingredients: cocoa beans and cane sugar. For the dark variety-favoring purist, their unadulterated bars are a direct reflection of the quality and unique characteristics of the bean. Constantly on the hunt for the best cacao crop, Masonis and Ring work directly with farmers from around the globe. Dandelion Chocolate also gets top points for presentation. Luxuriously wrapped in gold foil and handmade paper, each of their bars is signed by the chocolatier and printed with its unique origin story.
For the second year in a row, Michel Cluizel ($35 for 15 pieces) made it onto our runner-up list. This assortment makes a safer choice than the Recchiuti if gifting to someone with a less adventurous palate. There are no wildly unique flavor combos, and the chocolates come in more traditional shapes with classic fillings and nutty flavors. The chocolate itself is very smooth and subtle, if a little on the sweet side. The simple French confections are also quite beautiful, reflecting the chocolate maker’s painstaking attention to detail. But we don’t find the flavors in this assortment quite as nuanced as those in our main pick, and the packaging and presentation, although pretty, doesn’t offer the same visual impact.
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.
In addition, it performs very, very well, I dare say exceptionally, even among other similar cold-weather-leaning fragrances in the house that are generally strong, its dark juice selling its strength fairly convincingly. Its boastful projection of a few feet for at least a couple hours followed by a good scent cloud thereafter, suggests high value.
Known for iconic brands like Godiva Chocolatier and home to two of the world's largest chocolate factories, Callebaut and Puratos, Belgium has a rich chocolate history. Flanders, the Flemish region, is often called the "capital of chocolate," though the country at large holds more than 320 chocolate shops. Production began as early as 1635 when Belgium was occupied by the Spanish who introduced the New World product to the country.
The Pistachio Marzipan and Bandol Breeze (apricot pâte de fruit and marzipan) were too weak for my taste, but most of Jacques Torres’ pieces had both good non-chocolate and chocolate flavors. The Golden Espresso was another very good piece. Mom’s Chocolate Peanut Brittle did not quite work for me, but Grandma’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch was excellent, with a great roasted peanuts flavor and complementing chocolate. In spite of my few quibbles I, most of Torres’ pieces are done to near perfection, and I would class Torres with Burdick. Both are near the same quality. Burdick uses a bit more exotic flavors while Torres takes familiar flavors to great heights.
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The Thai peanut butter cups at Alma Chocolate in Portlandm Oregon, are what make this shop famous, but don’t discount their other offerings. Their bonbons are some of the best in the country and come in beautiful flavors such as fig and marzipan and passion fruit caramel. They also pay homage to chocolate’s Latin roots by making hand-crafted chocolate icons, made with 74 percent single-estate dark chocolate and painted with 23-karat edible gold.
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.