Theo Chocolate can be found at many higher-end markets but a visit to its shop guarantees a taste of hard-to-find flavors, like a bonbon filled with caramel that’s flavored by the smoky heat of a ghost chile. Theo, which ships its chocolates nationwide, uses only organic and certified fair-trade chocolate for all of its creations. 3400 Phinney Avenue N, Seattle, WA 98103
Eeach Valrhona single origin bar bears the name of that bean’s terroir on its label, the most exclusive of these being the Vintage Single Origin bars, sold in limited quantities according to crop yield. Valrhona also suggests wine pairings designed to bring out the “notes” in each chocolate’s complex flavor profile. From chocolate pearls to tasting squares, the brand’s nec-plus-ultra chocolate bar selection is available at specialty grocery stores.
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.
The best chocolates in Texas are hand-crafted by Kate Weiser in Dallas at her namesake chocolate shop. These confections are gorgeous. Her bonbons (which come in inventive flavors such as lavender apricot, yuzu,and buttery popcorn) are bright and colorful. Kate Weiser Chocolate is perhaps best known for “Carl the Snowman.” Named as one of Oprah’s favorite things, this hollow dark chocolate snowman is filled with hot cocoa mix and mini marshmallows. It makes the dreamiest hot chocolate you could ever imagine.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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!
We reached out to some of the world's best makers to learn more about the chocolates they love. These aren't the kinds of confections you'll find wedged between gum and mints at the check-out counter. They are craft chocolates, known for their attention to quality and celebration of the wide range of flavors found in cocoa beans from different origins.
One of the few true bean-to-bar chocolatiers in America, Dandelion also sells macarons, hot chocolate, caramels, and pastries at its San Francisco shop. The single-origin brownies are a popular treat, but the brand’s single-origin chocolate bars, which ship nationwide, have a cult following, and each one feels like a special gift. 740 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA
I have liked Chuao in the past but think their products have changed, perhaps to support larger production and distribution. My 2014 order was somewhat disappointing, not up to the $84/lb. price. Ingredients seemed to be good quality, but the flavors were generally not strong, and the chocolate flavors were weak. The honey combined nicely with the nut flavors in Nut & Honeylicious. But the nut flavors, which are often my favorites, were mild in this and other pieces. Among the stronger flavors were the raspberry and strawberry in the Framboise and Strawberry Seduction, but even these were medium strength at best and without strong support from the chocolate.
The Godiva website is organized by seasonal, truffles, gifts, business and more and is easy to navigate. Shoppers may further define their selection by price, type of chocolate, special value, collections and more detailed options to expedite their effort. For those specifically looking for a gift, a number of gift boxes and baskets exist that are organized by occasion. Godiva also allows the gift purchaser to select a ribbon to personalize the box or basket. While many of the selections are priced a little higher than other leading chocolate companies, you know with Godiva your gift is sure to leave an impression.