The next time you're sharing chocolate, impress your friends with your knowledge of "conching." Before Sprüngli & Son came onto the scene in 1845, chocolate was mainly enjoyed as a drink. The Swiss pioneers paved the way for future confectioners by crafting some of the world's first chocolate candies. Soon after, the company partnered with Swiss confectioner Rodolphe Lindt, the inventor of the conching method, which is still the cornerstone of chocolate-making today. This hours-long churning process incorporates cocoa butter into the cocoa mass, resulting in smooth "melting chocolate" that's easy to mold. Today, Lindt & Sprüngli offers an overwhelming chocolate bar menu. Our favorites include their Excellence 85 per cent Cocoa Bar and Excellence Intense Orange Bar. We used to have to import Lindt bars from Europe, but these days they are ubiquitous, sold at supermarkets and chain stores.
There is nothing conventional about Kate Weiser’s chocolate bars. They are painstakingly crafted, yes, but from there Weiser goes rogue, taking the grandest Venezuelan cocoa and adding açaí berries, or, in the ultimate rebellious act, going blonde with a caramel and sesame seed brittle bar. Her riotous, Jackson-Pollock-splatter-painted candy bars and bonbons are beautiful the way a punk rock romance might be—exuberant and irreverent in style and taste.
Pastry chef and chocolatier Valerie Gordon does it all, from pastries and historical cakes to petit fours dipped in white chocolate and delicate toffee coated in dark chocolate. Her almond fleur de sel toffee is a favorite. Valerie Confections ships many of its sweets anywhere within the continental U.S. 3360 West 1st Street, Los Angeles, CA (multiple locations)
American consumers are expected to spend an astonishing $1.8 billion-plus on candy for the holiday this year, and about 75% of that will be on chocolate. Mass-market confectioners like Russell Stover, in business since 1923, will account for most of the sales. (The company, which also owns the Whitman’s brand, is the largest boxed-candy manufacturer in America.) Most smaller chocolate shops prepare special Valentine’s Day assortments and/or other chocolate-related gifts, though, and these tend to offer greater variety and utilize better-quality chocolate.
The Chocolate Dream Box is a treasure at the southern tip of Silicon Valley, not far from Fleur de Cocoa. Chocolatier Holly Westbrook uses mostly classic compositions, such as fruits and nuts, to good effect. I sampled a pound assortment with not a false note in the batch. Along the way, I encountered the Duo with hazelnuts in peak texture and a medium-light but distinct hazelnut flavor. The Exquisite truffle had a good dark chocolate ganache with fruity notes as promised. At 72% cacao, the Black Truffle was not intense chocolate but was rich and pillowy.
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Christopher Elbow ($35 for 16 pieces) was our top pick for 2014. In a blind tasting, a panel voted it their favorite. In the most recent tasting, the chocolates came across as too sweet and the flavors a little heavy-handed. While they are absolutely beautiful—the chocolates resemble baubles and jewels—they were squeezed out of the top spots by this year’s contenders.
All the while, I’d been looking at the red heart-shaped objects that were floating in the two big jars. I kept thinking about the Aztecs. At last I asked Alessio what they were. “Cacao pods,” he said. “In formaldehyde so they do not dry up.” The one off in a corner behind the door was a unique Venezuelan variety called Porcelana. The other, placed on a low table next to all the trays of chocolate, gleamed and glistened like a trophy. That one was Venezuelan too, Alessio said with a smile. It came from Chuao.
Doreen Pendgracs has spent the past seven years scouring the planet in search of the world’s finest chocolate and most memorable chocolate experiences. She is the author of the award-winning book Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate. She is currently researching the second volume, Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate Adventures. Read her writing about the world of chocolate.
I was trying to think of something to give my parents for their anniversary that was different since they seem to have everything. I came across the Chocolate of the Month Club and after looking through their website, I decided to give it a try for a couple of months. When they received their gift announcement, they were thrilled and couldn’t wait for their shipment to arrive. When they got their first shipment they immediately called me and sent me pictures. After my two month gift to them was over, they called customer service right away to keep it going on their own and it hasn’t stopped since, that was three years ago! I couldn’t have gotten them a better gift!

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.
MarieBelle’s chocolates have fun designs, but the flavors did almost nothing for me. The Swiss chocolate is a thin shell around the fillings and contributed little to the taste. Good ingredients were used, and the flavors, when I could detect them, were well done. However, even pieces I would expect to have prominent flavors, like the Pineapple or Mandarin, were weak. The Spices piece was good, and the Hazelnut Praline was good except for the slightness of the flavor. I could not recommend these at half the price, let alone the $100/lb. charged.
Chocolate contributes more than $700 million to the Ecuadorian economy. A single 1.8 ounce bar of the finest chocolate divided into 12 squares will set customers back more than $250. For the adventurous chocoholics who want to see chocolate production from seed to bar, the Cacao Route offers the opportunity to visit cacao farms and eventually eat chocolate in a number of dishes as well as sweet and bitter bars. Cacao Route tours take place near the Pacific coast, with options to tour the Organic Cacao Museum, horseback ride along the path and visit plantations and packing facilities, as well as in the Amazon, which features spa treatments at the Papallacta
If you’re looking for something a little simpler but still well within gourmet chocolate range, we suggest these caramels. Made with an infusion of sea salt, the caramels manage to merge a chewy texture and sweet notes with crunchy and bold sea salt. The salt doesn’t overwhelm the senses and instead provides a way to enhance the base flavors and textures of the caramel for a truly unique gourmet experience. These caramels are made with real butter and salt along with fresh cream for an authentic taste at an affordable price.
One piece had a very good blend of hazelnut and almond with a fine crunchy texture. The marzipan was very good; Jacky Pédro brought out the flavor well. He must have sense of humor and self-confidence to label one of his products Le Crottin du Pin. To avoid spoiling your appetite, I will not translate the name, but the piece is a cocoa meringue with a chocolate cream filling. It was nice and very unusual and just a bit bitter. I also strayed from chocolate and tried the Patés de Fruits, which were very good.
Inspired by chef Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain, the Good & Evil Chocolate Bar is made with 72 % Peruvian Nacional Cacao, said to be the world’s rarest cocoa bean. Crafted by master chocolatier Christopher Curtin of Éclat Chocolate, the bar is made exclusively with Premier Cru Superieur beans from the first harvest on a remote farm in Peru. We enjoyed its rich taste and cocoa nib-crunch. Available in limited quantities from Williams Sonoma.
I was trying to think of something to give my parents for their anniversary that was different since they seem to have everything. I came across the Chocolate of the Month Club and after looking through their website, I decided to give it a try for a couple of months. When they received their gift announcement, they were thrilled and couldn’t wait for their shipment to arrive. When they got their first shipment they immediately called me and sent me pictures. After my two month gift to them was over, they called customer service right away to keep it going on their own and it hasn’t stopped since, that was three years ago! I couldn’t have gotten them a better gift!
Cookie Love’s gourmet cookie flavors include the classics like Chocolate Chip and Oatmeal with dried Cranberries, but you’ll also be tempted by Mocha Chocolate Chip, or how about their heartiest cookie named Enduring Love that combines organic coconut with almonds, oatmeal, chocolate chips and dried cranberries. With loyal customers across the country and rave reviews, Vermont Cookie Love is the place to order rich, all natural cookies and frozen cookie dough for lovers of just-out-of-the-oven home baked cookies.
MarieBelle’s chocolates have fun designs, but the flavors did almost nothing for me. The Swiss chocolate is a thin shell around the fillings and contributed little to the taste. Good ingredients were used, and the flavors, when I could detect them, were well done. However, even pieces I would expect to have prominent flavors, like the Pineapple or Mandarin, were weak. The Spices piece was good, and the Hazelnut Praline was good except for the slightness of the flavor. I could not recommend these at half the price, let alone the $100/lb. charged.
Bernachon is famous for quality, but it was disappointing to me. Bernachon’s chocolate, which they make from raw cacao beans, is very good, and their pieces that are mostly chocolate are very good. However, some of their other pieces flopped for me. One such was the Créole, which has marzipan with rum-flavored currants. I did not like its composition at all. The pralines with liqueur also did nothing for me. (Eat them whole. The liqueur will spill when you bite into them.)

#3: Great Value (Wal-Mart Generic Brand) Fudge Brownie Mix — the underdog and least expensive brownie mix killed it in the brownie mix challenge, much to the surprise of the judges.  One judge even gave it a perfect score and deemed it the favorite.  It consistently received a few solid 8’s, a few 9’s, and one 10.  It also received a 2 and several 4’s so it wasn’t a favorite across the board.  Most reviewers like the soft, chewy texture with flaky top. They enjoyed the fudgy flavor. Some thought it was slightly artificial tasting and wouldn’t eat it again. It scored well enough to nab the #3 spot. What a shocker!

Chocolate doesn’t get any fresher than Jouvay, perfected by the Grenada Cocoa Farmers Cooperative based at the rural Diamond Chocolate Factory. The idea was to partner with local farmers working right in the ecosystem to grow the best quality beans. While visiting the 18th-century factory inside a converted rum distillery built by French monks, see the cocoa beans drying on trays under the Caribbean sun. Growers employ a centuries-old French tradition of “walking” the beans—turning them gently by walking over the shells, which are later roasted and removed. Inside the small tasting room, sample each chocolate bar flavor, such as ginger and cocoa nibs. Factory and farm in Victoria, Grenada.

For more than 30 years, Seattle-based owner Fran Bigelow has been setting candy trends—she was selling miniature chocolate bars and elegant truffles before they became ubiquitous. Her sweets also have a very high-profile admirer: As a lover of salty-sweet desserts, one of President Obama’s favorite indulgences is Fran’s Smoked Salt Caramels ($12)—buttery caramels coated in milk chocolate and sprinkled with smoked sea salt. franschocolates.com
Juan enjoys Åkesson's Single Plantation Chocolate, Madagascar, Bejofo Estate, 75%, made with Criollo cocoa (the world's most precious and celebrated variety) grown in northwest Madagascar. "It distinguishes itself with well-defined aromas and flavors. But I especially enjoy the balance of its smooth and creamy texture – that makes it unforgettable."
Founder Colin Gasko is running a small but ambitious operation. Each single-origin chocolate bar at Rogue is sourced from independent farms in Peru, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Trinidad and Tobago, and Honduras. Unlike other fair-trade chocolate purveyors, Rogue pays more than twice the minimum for some of its cacao order to ensure the lasting success of those farms. Thanks to its small production, Rogue doesn’t always have a wide array available to purchase online, but each bar tastes like something special. Three Rivers, MA

Nothing says gourmet chocolate quite like a box of chocolates from Lindt, particularly anything from their luxury collection. Here you’ll get fourteen high-quality pieces of gourmet chocolate that include everything from milk to white chocolate and some choice pieces like stracciatella and hazelnuts as well. Tastes and textures vary widely as they tend to do with gourmet boxes, but there’s something in here for every chocolate enthusiast. While the price could be a bit more affordable, we still think this is some of the best gourmet chocolate available.
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.
What kinds of chocolates can you get at Russell Stover? While you won't find anything overly exotic or gourmet, you'll find an appealing selection of just about everything else. Whether you want milk or dark chocolate, sampler or single-flavor boxes, or you'd like to build your own gift box, the website makes it easy for you to find it. Use the search box, or simply click on the brand you prefer (Russell Stover or Whitman's) at the top of the page, where you'll get a dropdown menu of the available product categories. In addition to chocolates, you'll also find gift baskets (with or without plush animals), hard candies and jelly beans, brittle and chocolate bars, and an outlet for clearance items at a discount.
Not only does dark chocolate reign supreme in the dessert world for its complex bittersweet taste, but it's also ranked as one of the healthiest superfoods because it's loaded with antioxidants. These powerful antioxidants naturally found in dark chocolate can actually help reduce anxiety and depression — particularly when those experiences are related to or triggered by high stress levels. So if you're experiencing the winter blues, consuming antioxidant-rich foods like dark chocolate can be an effective natural remedy.
French Broad Chocolate is a must-try shop located in Asheville, North Carolina. It has chocolates that have won numerous awards at the International Chocolate Awards and Good Food Awards. The confections, which range from single-source bars to vegan lemongrass and ginger truffles, are made with local ingredients and sustainable, wholesome cacao beans.
Are you a frequent gift-giver? You may want to take a look at the Celebrations Passport: with a yearly fee of $29.99, it includes free shipping from a family of brands that include Cheryl's Cookies, 1-800-Flowers, and Harry & David. Otherwise, expect to pay quite a bit for shipping: for example, on a gift assortment that retails for $139.99, we were given a shipping cost of $18.99. You can see all of the shipping costs by clicking on the blue question mark icon as you begin the ordering process; delivery prices start at $4.99 and go up to 15% of your order total (for orders over $150).
Zabar’s is as New York as it gets. Whether you’re celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas or New Years, Zabar’s bagels, deli meats, and pastries will put you in a New York state of mind. The Black and Whites are particularly fun to eat. Do you eat one side first then the other, or take an equal bite of both sides down the middle? I haven’t decided yet, so I’ll keep practicing.
Valrhona, the Rolls Royce of chocolate, has been crafting couvertures (chocolates with high cocoa content) since 1922. Hailing from France's Rhône Valley, Valrhona's wine country influence is unmistakable. The label on each Valrhona cru (single origin bar) bears the name of that bean's terroir, 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.
There’s a drinking chocolate for everyone at Elbow Chocolates. There is an unadulterated plain dark chocolate for the purists and one with a hint of vanilla for those who want just a little more depth. You'll also find peppermint drinking chocolate and a spiced drinking chocolate with chilies and cinnamon for those who prefer a little spice in their life.
First time there we tried a few chocolate candies. We started eating them as soon as we left the shop and could not stop! They were so good, we kept walking and eating and didn't pay attention to where we were going. In Venice that can really get you lost! After finding our way back to the shop we bought more candy. This time enough to get us through the rest of the trip.
Krader’s conclusions are based on her own, explicitly biased preferences. “I have a sweet tooth, so I don’t always like the bitter chocolates that go up to astronomically high cocoa amounts,” she said. “Sometimes chocolate can be too intensely chocolate.” The truffles were graded on taste, aesthetic, and overall presentation. Check out her findings below, listed from good to incredible.
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.
There may be bars with frillier packaging and more envelope-pushing additions, but when it comes to pure, classic chocolate, Bonnat can lay claim to the crown. This family company began in 1884 and was beloved by Jackie Kennedy Onassis who gave bars to White House guests during the holidays. The Juliana bars are made from specially-grown Brazilian cacao beans, fermented, then dried in the sun slowly, over seven days. Back in France, the beans are painstakingly refined and tempered over five days. It’s an intricate process but, as Stephane Bonnat says, “In the Alps, we have time.”

If you are either passionate about chocolate or just like trying new and different chocolates, this is definitely the way to go. My wife is a self-proclaimed “Chocaholic” and for years I would have to scour the depths of malls or online searching to find her new chocolates, until I bought her this gift one year. Monthly you receive top quality chocolates from around the world and enjoy learning about the different chocolatiers, ingredients, etc. The fun for us is not just the chocolate (which is always amazing), but discovering new producers and ingredient combinations. It’s a great program that has even turned this non sweet-tooth person into someone who can truly appreciate the incredible variety and nuances of fine chocolate (ok, maybe even a “chocaholic”). And thankfully I no longer have search, someone else has done that for me and I can truthfully say that I trust their judgment on what is a fine chocolate way better than my previous guess work.
Hand-dipped bonbons are a specialty for Alma, one of Portland’s standout chocolate shops, but only its toffees, molded chocolate figures, and chocolate bars are shipped nationwide. Stop in for a taste of owner Sarah Hart’s Thai peanut butter cups and rose caramels — the filling contains just the right amount of salinity to offset the drop of rosewater that’s inside each one. Or, order in advance of the holidays to snag a hazelnut or peanut butter crunch bar, caramel-pecan bar, or mocha almond nibby. Alma ships nationwide. 140 NE 28th Avenue, Portland, OR
Hédiard was my favorite of the fine chocolate stores I visited in my first trip to Paris. (It was later bested by Côte de France and Chocolat Michel Cluizel.) The tea (Thé) piece is good and brings out the chocolate flavor well. A hazelnut piece has good texture and a nice taste that develops after a moment. The flavors are strong but not overpowering, and the flavors in the assortment I bought were distinct from each other.

By and large, the truffles are nice. In the Class 5, the chocolate led, and the raspberry was a good partner. The Black Diamond made good use of chocolate. The Rocky Top had a mild pleasant coffee flavor. The Powder Day was a good firm white chocolate. Mostly the strengths were medium, although the hazelnut was weak in the milk chocolate Mud Season.


Do you agree with the Best Brownie Mix winner? I would love to hear your favorites. What brownie mix do you stand by? I have to admit that I have always loved Ghirardelli and Betty Crocker Triple Chunk so I wasn’t too surprised. The beauty of it is that I had 20 willing judges who didn’t confer with each other. There were definitely clear-cut winners.
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.
These Wockenfuss artisan truffles are not just absolutely delicious, they’re also gorgeously crafted. There are 12 truffles in the box, each with unique fillings, made with dark chocolate and milk chocolate. The onyl complaint you’ll have with these gourmet chocolates is that they are so beautifully decorated you’ll find it difficult to actually eat them.
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.

Her methodology was simple: Krader tasted elite dark chocolate ganache truffles from companies that can ship across the U.S.; most also ship globally. Crucially, in an effort to make reasoned, head-to-head comparisons, each of the truffles Krader tasted was unadorned— where at all possible, there were no infusions, no nuts, no extra flavors. This is pure chocolate vs. chocolate.

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.
Taza Chocolate tries to maintain Mexican traditions when crafting its products. Each disc is made from stone ground organic cacao beans to create a bold, rustic chocolate disc. Taza means “cup” in Spanish and the company encourages customers to use the discs to make classic Mexican hot chocolate, which usually has a hint of spice in the mix. The discs in this box each represent their own unique flavor and spice combinations. There are six choices—cinnamon, cacao puro, vanilla, guajillo chili, salted almond and coffee—that chocolate enthusiasts can use in sauces, drinks or desserts.
The Maison du Chocolat packaging, while very sophisticated, is pretty conservative and not as sexy as our top pick. The textured box mimics pebbled brown leather and has the logo stamped on the back. The adjective that comes to mind is “professional”; it looks luxe but understated and reserved. We think this box of chocolate would be great as a corporate gift, or for your mother-in-law.
Susanna Yoon used to make the chocolates at Thomas Keller’s three-Michelin-starred Per Se, where each meal ends with a tableside buffet of bonbons. Yoon spun her craft into Stick With Me, a shop in Manhattan’s Nolita neighborhood. Inside a space roughly the size of one of Willy Wonka’s golden tickets, she sells two dozen different types of bonbons, eight different types of soft caramel candies, and a handful of packaged brittles, toffees, nougats, and marshmallows. Each dome-shaped bonbon is a study in flavor pairings: The sunshine-like burst of yuzu against the soft sweetness of a white chocolate shell; nutty black sesame alongside tart passionfruit; or the dual-layered mint chocolate chip, with a flavor that unravels as it melts. 202A Mott Street, New York, NY
Owner Patricia Tsai is a self-taught chocolatier whose background in the business world taught her how to avoid the pitfalls of running a sustainable food business. Since 2012, Tsai has been sourcing cacao from a small farm in Tabasco, Mexico. At Chocovivo, she roasts and grinds those beans into chocolate using a grinder made in Mexico; she also has an ancient Aztec stone grinder, which is fascinating to watch in action. The shop sells a variety of chocolate products, including hot chocolate mix and chocolate sauce, but Tsai’s single-origin and blended bars (flavored with locally sourced coffee, spices, and essences) have attracted a loyal following. Three years ago, Tsai expanded her operation to include hair and skin products made from natural cacao and cocoa butter. Chocovivo ships nationwide. 12469 W Washington Blvd, Los Angeles, CA
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