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.
Something was also lost in presentation. The uniformity of the pieces made for a bland appearance. An open box showed an array of blocks. The nearly identical undecorated chocolates lacked the attractiveness of of other chocolatiers’ colorful pieces with diverse shapes and decorations. And, while creative effort has clearly gone into zChocolat’s collection, I found the pieces pleasant but not compelling.
Africans consume less than 4% of chocolate sold globally, but Ivory Coast is looking to change that with their handmade, artisanal chocolates. Known as the leader in the production and exporting of cocoa beans, the country has begun producing their own chocolate as the region continues to stabilize and experience economic growth. One company, Instant Chocolat, was launched in 2015 and has experienced tremendous growth in its first few years. Their chocolate, ranging from pralines to bars, is popular both locally and internationally, particularly with corporate clients like Air France and Citibank.

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.
With traditions and recipes based in the Netherlands, Chocolaterie Stam makes some of the most exquisite chocolates in the entire United States, let alone Des Moines, Iowa. You can’t go wrong with any of their bonbons or truffles, which are so rich and decadent that you’ll think you’re truly in Europe. The corn-shaped milk chocolate with a hazelnut praline filling is the perfect nod to Iowa and is just as tasty as it looks.
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.
Top-quality chocolate from Africa? Chocolate with coriander and fennel? It all started when Italian chocolatier Valter Bovetti moved to Aubazine, France, in 1994 to debut his trademark chocolate candies shaped as nails and tools. In 2006, Bovetti and five fellow chocolate-makers visited Sao Tome, an African island in the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of Gabon called the "chocolate island," which inspired them to found a fair trade association named Roca Cacao. The organization bought harvesting equipment for twelve plantations and ensured a living wage for their 120 employees. Beans from this, the site of the first cacao plantation in Africa, go into Bovetti's high-quality Single Origin bars. The company crafts an impressive collection of more than 150 different kinds of chocolate bars, boasting ingredients like ginger and lavender petal, or for the truly adventurous, dried tomato and chili. Other savory-sweet products include Apéritif Chocolates featuring chocolate-coated fennel, anise seed, rosemary, coriander and mustard.

This North End chocolate and nut shop run by two childhood friends features a variety of artisan chocolates by local and national chocolatiers as well as gourmet nut mixes, health bars, and specialty snacks, as well as vegan and gluten-free chocolates. Tasting days give the opportunity to try anything from Pure 7’s dark chocolate peppermint bar to Northlight Baking Co.’s macarons.

The packaging is beautiful and modern, with the logo embossed in tonal black on black. The box itself is pretty sexy and, for some reason, reminded me of a black bustier. Inside, the minimally designed booklet explains the flavors, with black and white illustrations of each chocolate. None of the other assortments are presented in such a cohesive package, and we found the Recchiuti’s key of chocolates much easier to decipher than those included with the other brands.


Late last year, I grew curious about an Italian chocolate brand called Amedei. I mean curious in the same sense that sharks are curious about surfers. Amedei, founded in 1990, is the joint project of a 42-year-old Italian named Alessio Tessieri and his younger sister, Cecilia; he buys the cacao and she turns it into dark, glossy bars. In November, a competition in London awarded a gold prize to one of Cecilia’s handiworks, a single-plantation chocolate called Chuao. Two other Amedei products tied for silver.
For $260, in late 2014, you could've gotten yourself a To’ak 2014 Rain Harvest 50s gram Chocolate Bar. It was Fair-Trade, USDA certified, 81% dark chocolate and came in a box made from Spanish Elm engraved with the specific bar number, as only 574 were made. There was also a 116 page booklet included, so you could read it and remind yourself why you spent $260 on a chocolate bar. The only ingredients, by the way, were cocoa and cane sugar.
“You can tell that this chocolate is top-of-the-line,” Krader said. “It’s a very smooth experience.” She described the flavor as “buttery” and expanded on that theme by describing the experience as feeling like you’re “putting on the most luxurious and cushy chocolate robe.” The petite size of the truffles, however, raised a red flag. “I like a chocolate that takes two bites to finish,” she said. “These are a bit small for my taste, though aesthetically, they’re very pleasing.”
Philadelphia Candies Assorted Dark Boxed Chocolates are unique and tasty. They are made with nuts that are dry roasted in-house to give the much-needed freshness. Additionally, the manufacturer makes creams from scratch to give these chocolates a unique taste. Philadelphia Candies Assorted Dark Boxed Chocolates also come in a safety sealed to make sure it is 100-percent safe for consumption. Plus they are USDA/FDA-approved to give you confidence knowing you are buying a safe and quality product. They are pure dark chocolates that arrive in temperature-controlled packaging.
The Corso was the most novel piece, combining olive oil, salt, and chocolate. I was skeptical, but the olive oil was presented nicely and worked well with the chocolate. My sensations of the Pietra alternated between the chocolate and hazelnut flavors; they were balanced nicely. Generally, Hermé’s pieces had good chocolate and nice flavors, although I did not agree with all of the balances. I did not taste the caramel or salt very much in the Makassar, and the raspberry in the Ispahan could have been stronger.
Among all of the tested chocolates, the Recchiuti come in the most intriguing shapes and designs. No two chocolates are the same. Some have intricate patterns, while others look like little sculptures. This contrasted sharply with the John and Kira’s box, filled with 15 squares of the same shape, size, and texture (a little monotonous for a romantic gift).
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!
K’s 5-star review: If your a fan of praline or gianduja (or belgium milk chocolate), this the chocolate shop to stop. A few favorite pieces: Cornet d'Oré, Sapho, Caprice, Pagode, Astrid, Passion Amande, Tentation, Plasir, Bourbon 13, Mephisto, Coeur Praline, Louise, Suzanne, Jean, Adeison, Galerie, Fredric, Prestige, Millenaire, Milk Napoléonette, 1857 ... and more, but those are the ones I can pull off the top of my head. Yeah. They're that memorable. It is a small shop, almost walked right over it if I didn't have a rip-tide radar for Neuhaus. Staff was helpful and readily introduced me to the new chocolate assortments on the wall and chatted with me about the selection in the case. I was able to make a 25ish piece selection for about $44ish and they packed it in a nice sturdy box with a bow (points for presentation and travel-safe arrangements). Compared to other ny shops, the bang for your buck is noticeable: the pieces are three times the size of (let's say) La Maison and a better price. Be prepared to be impressed by the praline, gianduja or creams. Go to Teuscher if you're in the hung-ho for champagne truffles. I have not tried the liquor filled chocolates (though they're on my list). Looking forward to the Easter eggs in the Spring.

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. 

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