Zak’s Chocolate is a small-batch chocolate shop located in Scottsdale, Arizona. What makes them so unique? They source all their cocoa beans from a single, ethical source and roast the beans themselves, allowing Zak’s to carefully control the production of their sweets. They then turn the beans into elegantly flavored chocolates, with delicacies such as a blackberry lychee bonbons, a brownie flight and a cacao nib caramel.

A long, long time ago, the Aztecs used to sip something they called Xocolatl as a health tonic. This not-so-sweet beverage derived from cacao seeds (which they believed were a gift from the gods) paved the way for today’s much sweeter version of chocolate. Fast-forward to the late 19th-century and Swiss chocolatiers developed the conching technique to produce the smooth feel of solid chocolate we now know and love.
The love for chocolate does not discriminate. No matter how old you are, where you are from, how much money you have, or what your social status is, chances are there is some kind of chocolate that you can't say no to. There is a reason why chocolate is loved by people around the world -- it actually causes a chemical reaction in the brain that makes you happy.
For this year’s update, I brought in 11 brands, including our 2014 picks. We took the past year’s suggestions from our Wirecutter commenters and input from other Wirecutter staffers. In the end, we tasted Jacques Torres, Neuhaus, Francois Payard, Maison du Chocolat, Tumbador, Leonidas, Fran's, and John and Kira’s against our 2014 picks, Christopher Elbow, Recchiuti, and Michel Cluizel.

Our top pick for cake mix comes with a catch. Williams-Sonoma’s devil’s food costs a whopping $15 per box. (Plus you can only buy it online or in-store.) Don’t get me wrong, this chocolate cake was really, really tasty, but is it worth the money and a trip to the mall? That’s for you to decide. If you’ve got a budding baker in your life or want to put together a nice housewarming gift, we recommend this product 110 percent. But if you’re just looking to make a quick, tasty cake, there are other, more accessible brands that fit the bill…or you could always make something from scratch.
I visited Melt while in transit through London and was only able to sample a few pieces. My favorite was the Crispy Croquant, a hazelnut feuillantine with superb texture, excellent hazelnut flavor, and a nice scent. The Raspberry and Mint marvelously combined those flavors with a soft raspberry ganache and crystallized mint leaves in a white chocolate shell. The Sea Salted Praline and Gianduja Dome were also very good. The Sea Salted Caramel trailed a bit behind. It lost points for falling apart when bitten into and a strong note in the caramel that did not quite harmonize with the rest of the piece for me.
Bridgewater chocolate bars. (Big image.) Take classic chocolates, make them with good chocolate, and upgrade the design and execution a notch, and you have Bridgewater’s assorted chocolates. You can taste the quality and care that goes into these chocolates. I liked the peanut butter pieces quite a bit, as well as the Irish and almond toffees. Not all the pieces moved me, but you should try for yourself.
Stuart, Florida, located about 80 miles north of Fort Lauderdale, is already one charming small town to visit. Its highlight, though, is Castronovo Chocolate. This bean-to-bar small-batch chocolate shop has won several gold medals at the International Chocolate Awards for its lemon oil and lemon salt-infused white chocolate, Sierra Nevada 63 percent dark chocolate and Colombia mocha milk chocolate. The service here is attentive and as world-class as the bars themselves.
To narrow down the chocolates we wanted to try, we read reviews of chocolates in Consumer Reports, polled colleagues and friends in the business, and sought advice from Mark Bitterman, owner of The Meadow. For our first review, we took into account availability and usability of online stores: For example, Kee’s Chocolates from New York City came highly recommended from colleagues and editorial publications, but isn’t available online, and our goal was to find something that is accessible to most people. Overall, we came to a well-edited list of 11 of the most highly rated samples to put in front of a panel of nine friends and food experts for a blind tasting.

In Hawaiian, “manoa” means deep and solid, and those are the flavors you’ll find in the chocolate at bean-to-bar factory Manoa Chocolate Hawaii. All of the beans are grown in Hawaii, making this Kailua shop a true local spot. That commitment to local farm-to-chocolate production continues in their bars’ flavors, which are infused with local coffee, sea salt and lavender.
Thanks to its classic commercial featuring a bunny clucking like a chicken while laying chocolate eggs, Cadbury is most popular during the Easter season. Most of us are familiar with its chocolate eggs and bunnies, but Cadbury makes dozens of different chocolate products that make it one of the most recognized chocolate brands on Earth all year long.
I gave each of them a ranking sheet where they could rank each brownie mix on a scale of 1 – 10 points. I also encouraged them to take notes and describe in detail their takes on the brownies. The brands were left anonymous and each type of brownie mix was given a number so we could track the scores.  I gave them a few descriptive words to help while judging such as moist, chewy, fudgy, cakey, dense, too sweet, spongy, oily, weird aftertaste, fake flavor, lacks flavor, weird aftertaste, etc.  They also had to circle their favorite chocolate brownie mix. The results may surprise you!
To identify the best chocolate shop in each state, 24/7 Wall St. indexed ratings weighted by number of reviews for thousands of chocolate shops nationwide on Yelp and Google. To be considered, a chocolate shop must be in or near a city with a population of at least 100,000 people. In states with few or no cities of this size, chocolate shops in smaller cities were also considered. Ratings are the number of points given by Yelp and Google users out of a possible 5.
For three generations, Damask’s Candies has been delighting New Jersey families in the Woolwich Township area for decades. Though the shop sells a variety of creamy chocolates, chocolate-covered caramels and other confections, Damask’s Candies is best known for the chocolate-covered oyster crackers. These bite-sized treats are the perfect mix of sweet, salty, crunchy and smooth; it’s a wonder more chocolate shops don’t offer these. Damask’s Candies is only open seasonally, so be sure to plan your trip to the Garden State accordingly.

My son, Justin, treated me to a subscription to the Chocolate Club for my birthday this year. His message says it all..."I have often tried to describe you to people...haven't quite figured out how yet, but invariably the description includes chocolate in one of its sumptuous forms!" So, it was with great anticipation that I waited for my first delivery. One morning I was relaxing in my hot tub enjoying a beautiful spring morning, thinking that life couldn't get much better...when suddenly it did! The FedEx delivery man arrived with my chocolates in hand...life is good...and the chocolates are yummy!
Savoring each bite of bold, innovative and flavorful hand-made chocolates is without a doubt the best part of being a member of The Gourmet Chocolate of the Month Club™. Discovering chocolatiers and chocolate creations you’ve never tried before makes that even better. But why stop there? Each month you’ll read all about the origins and histories of each featured chocolate, what kinds of time-honored or innovative processes were used to make them, what creative ingredients were used to make them and most importantly, what to look for when you taste them.
This Australian bean-to-bar chocolate maker uses only the best single-origin cacao beans. Cicada’s expertise marries the notes of red fruit with undertones of sweet caramel that are both natural to the cacao. A little added cocoa butter to increase the smooth factor, a touch of raw sugar, and the enticing magic of the Madagascan bourbon vanilla bean make the best chocolate bar you could possibly find: Their 73 percent bar, sourced from the Somia plantation in the Sambirano Valley of northern Madagascar, is ultimate bliss in the form of a chocolate bar. Cicada plans to open a bigger and better factory and shop soon. Bars sold in Sydney at The Rocks Markets and Bondi farmers markets.
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.
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.
When giving chocolate as a gift, it’s really worth purchasing a truly special box of fresh chocolates made from the finest ingredients. Recchiuti chocolates are a step above any confection we’ve tasted. The perfectly balanced chocolate and nuanced fillings, elegant packaging, and beautifully sculpted bonbons make this a particularly special assortment that will please any lucky recipient.
Cadbury, anyone? It’s hard to pass up a Cadbury egg when they appear in the grocery store, but the brand originated in the United Kingdom and originally sold tea, coffee, and drinking chocolate in the 1820s. The Cadbury brothers supplied Queen Victoria with chocolate in the 1850s and developed the popular Dairy Milk chocolate, famous for having a higher milk content, in 1905. While you can buy Cadbury Eggs and Dairy Milk bars around the world, we think they taste better while walking down a cobblestone street in the U.K.!
At 255 years old, this candy shop on Rue du Faubourg-Montmatre is the oldest in Paris, and luck for everyone who visits, it’s precious façade is historically landmarked and it’s interior lovingly preserved. On the shelves at À La Mère de Famille sit sweets and treats of all kinds, including bars of 100 percent pure origin Venezuelan cocoa. Surprisingly melty and vibrantly aromatic, the plain chocolate is smooth, while the inclusion bars are beautifully strewn by hand with whole hazelnuts, almonds, and tidy little chunks of candied ginger.
Have you ever tasted something that's so good it doesn't seem fair? If you want to share that so-good-it-seems-like-cheating feeling with someone else, hand them a box of these chocolate-stuffed figs. They'll find a surprising amount of rich chocolate both inside and outside of each fig, plus a creamy liqueur filling that provides a little extra kick.
Chocolate Apéritifs au Fromage is chocolate-covered cheese. That was an unusual combination, new to me. The flavors are balanced and modest, but the cheese prevails. The Boîte Gourmande contains plain square wafers of chocolate, Florentins (chocolate cookies, square wafers covered with a honey and nut confection), mendiants (chocolate disks topped with nuts and dried fruit), and chocolate sticks containing candied orange peel. All are good. These are little chocolate delicacies, to be savored. The dried fruit arrived still fresh and full of flavor.
For their new chocolate line, che Thomas Keller and olive oil icon Armando Manni are ratcheting up the intrinsic health benefits of cocoa beans and EVOO. The chocolate is made according to the same "live" principles Manni designed for his cultish oils--a method developed with the University of Florence to minimize heat exposure and retain antioxidants throughout processing. The two tapped former pastry chef Chi Bui (Daniel, Le Bernardin) to perfect the blockbuster bars, which double down on the antioxidant power with a finishing hit of Manni oil. The first release includes three bars, from Madagascar, Peru and Ecuador ($14.95); the latter is our favorite--uniquely floral, with a lush, velvety texture. williams-sonoma.com

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Candy — and especially chocolate — has been associated with Valentine’s Day since the 19th century. English confectioner Richard Cadbury started packaging his chocolates in heart-shaped boxes adorned with Cupids and rosebuds as early as 1861, and by the early 20th century, what had originally been a religious holiday had become fully commercialized. Candy shops (and florists) reaped the benefits.
This cozy shop/café takes an artistic approach to crafting decadent chocolates. Their hand-painted bonbons are a marvel to look at and taste: Black Forest Bacon Bites, Coconut Lime, and Strawberry Balsamic, among others. Truffles also reflect fun names and flavors like Yes, Yes, Yes (layers of white, milk and dark chocolate) and Bite Me (with a brownie ganache). Other fine confections include French macarons, toffees made with Texas pecans, and rich cakes and pastries.
For the chocolate purist, or anyone looking for the perfect corporate gift, we think Maison du Chocolat ($60 for 28 pieces) is a great premium choice. The flavors are subtle enough to really let the chocolate shine. The packaging, reminiscent of brown pebbled leather, is understated and innocuous enough to gift for professional reasons. Although these chocolates are incredibly smooth and slightly less sweet than the Michel Cluizel, the overall flavor profile isn’t quite as daring as those in the Recchiuti box and might not provide the same sensory adventure as our main pick. We also think the assortments available online are a little big for a Valentine’s gift (although you can purchase smaller boxes in their stores).
She walked to the sideboard and pulled down three trays, each arrayed with a different cru. Valrhona was the first to borrow that wine term and apply it to chocolate; Amadei uses it to describe bars made with beans from the same region. Amedei’s Grenada I Cru was quiet and had something about it that reminded me of raspberries. The Jamaica was stronger and made me think of pipe tobacco; so did the Venezuela, but it also had a durable aftertaste of good black coffee. Then Cecilia offered me a tray of the first chocolate she made, called Toscano Black 70 percent. This time, I had trouble picking individual voices out of the choir. I mostly remember the overall sensation of getting all the deliciousness any sane person could want.
At 255 years old, this candy shop on Rue du Faubourg-Montmatre is the oldest in Paris, and luck for everyone who visits, it’s precious façade is historically landmarked and it’s interior lovingly preserved. On the shelves at À La Mère de Famille sit sweets and treats of all kinds, including bars of 100 percent pure origin Venezuelan cocoa. Surprisingly melty and vibrantly aromatic, the plain chocolate is smooth, while the inclusion bars are beautifully strewn by hand with whole hazelnuts, almonds, and tidy little chunks of candied ginger.
And, no surprise, the world winner is also a hit with esteemed makers: "Meeting the wonderful Canadian couple David and Cynthia of Soma Chocolatemaker at the International Chocolate Awards World Championships was a gift," Friis-Holm says. "The rare beans originating from the troubled country of Venezuela that are featured in their Guasare 70% bar make for a very tasty, beautifully executed and worthy world winner."
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.

Chocolat Céleste is a mixed bag; I have enjoyed some pieces but not all (relative to experienced expected for the price), and prices have escalated. I suggest the Grand Cru collection. Although pricey, $139/lb. in 2012, it is a rare opportunity to taste criollo (a type of cacao, from which chocolate is made). I enjoyed the criollo pieces in the collection. They should be approached as a tasting experience: Cleanse your palate with water, smell, taste, let the chocolate dissolve, and take the time to experience it. The collection also has non-criollo pieces that I found a bit flat and dry compared to the criollo.
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