I enjoy finding artisan chocolatiers when I travel. Chocolat Abeille (French for bee) is a gem in downtown Omaha. Their general assortment includes a variety of beautiful pieces including fruit, tea, and other flavors. Among these, the Caramel Ganache presented its chocolate flavor nicely, while others tended to be stronger in their fruit or other flavors. They are made in small batches and may sell quickly; the pieces that were available varied slightly over several visits in the course of a week. My favorite was a larger special piece (priced to match), the Hazelnut Banana Crisp, with a nice balance between its banana, hazelnut, and chocolate flavors.
The Connoisseur Collection is an assortment of delightful flavors, but it is weak on chocolate. Many of the pieces are very sweet or creamy or fruity but have little or no chocolate flavor. Some do, such as the Aztec with its chocolate flavor that is simultaneously strong and delicate. In spite of the poor representation of chocolate, I would be tempted to recommend the Connoisseur Collection for the other wonderful flavors, including passion fruit, chai tea, orange and pistachio marzipans, and hazelnut. Unfortunately, the product I received weighed 5.5 ounces, much less than the 6.7 ounces claimed. This makes the price $105 per pound, which is hugely overpriced.
I’ve been a fervent consumer of chocolate my whole life, to the point where I can open up almost any box of assorted bonbons and immediately spot the chewy caramel (it’s usually square). Aside from my personal affinity for bonbons and truffles, I tasted many different brands when they crossed my desk while I was working as a food editor at Martha Stewart. I learned how to quickly spot the difference between inexpensive and high-quality chocolates by looking for a perfect temper, examining ingredients, and, of course, tasting.
At this year’s tasting, we again liked Michel Cluizel’s well-executed, classic fillings. This box is sure to please anyone with an affinity for old-style French chocolates. They are the sweetest of our top picks, but they are not as nuanced as those from Recchiuti and lack whimsical flavor combinations (which might be a bonus for some palates). We also found this assortment, dominated by simple squares and circles, less visually exciting than the Recchiuti’s range of unexpected shapes. But for the traditionalist, this box might be just perfect.
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.
The selection at Chocolate is vast, everything from a simple chocolate-dipped fortune cookie for less than a dollar, to a 200+ piece Valentine's assortment of gluten-free chocolates for over $300. We did notice that none of their categories included two of the most popular “candy holidays”, Halloween and Christmas, but Easter chocolates are sold year-round.
Kollar Chocolate’s pieces show excellent technique: They have good flavors, the flavors are generally well expressed, the chocolate is good, and the pieces are attractive and physically well crafted. However, I did not get a great sense of depth of flavors or blending of them. By and large, the flavors in each piece seemed distinct from each other and did not combine to form an experience absorbing to the senses.
Although I'm really not a big fan of dark chocolate, I received this as a gift and have to say I'm delighted with it. I love almond and the dark chocolate of this is not bitter or too strong like some sweet dark chocolate bars tends to be. I wish these were sold near me because I would make it a point to pick these up for myself as well as for guests on those nights I don't want to prepare a desert. ...read more
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.

Ki' Xocolatl, meaning "rich delicious chocolate" in the Mayan and Nahuatl (Aztec) languages, lives up to its name. Belgian owners collaborated with locals to cultivate beans from the heart of the Yucatán Peninsula using ancient techniques. Then artisanal chocolate meets Maya ingredients like baked corn chips, peppers, and almonds, flavored with homegrown spices. Ki' Xocolatl also presents a unique lineup of cocoa-based spa products, including chocolate shampoo, lotions, and soap, all highlighting the natural moisturizing and detoxifying qualities of cacao beans. Save time to sip traditional Mexican hot chocolate made from organic cocoa paste, natural cinnamon, and cane sugar in the art-filled Mérida café at Parque de Santa Lucía. Three retail locations in Mérida.
In 1991, Alessio and Cecilia made a pilgrimage to Tain l’Hermitage, in the Rhône Valley, for an appointment at Valrhona. The Tessieris were humored for a while, but when they were ready to make a deal, they were sent away with nothing. The French wouldn’t even negotiate. According to Cecilia, they were told that Italy wasn’t evolved enough to appreciate such extraordinary chocolate.

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).
Rich. Luxurious. Decadent. Those are just a few words one can use to describe SPAGnVOLA. This Gaithersburg, Maryland, shop’s signature bonbons are impeccably decorated and boast a variety of classic and innovative flavors (ginger-plum and rosemary olive oil chocolates sit next to caramels). All of the cocoa beans used in the shop’s confections are from a single family estate in the Dominican Republic, ensuring only the highest quality for the handmade bars, bonbons and truffles.
Cecilia Tessieri — one of the world’s few female chocolatiers — makes some of the most expensive chocolate in the world. Since opening its doors in 1990, the Tuscany-based brand Amedei has contributed to a $27,000 cupcake in Dubai and a $1,000 sundae at New York’s Serendipity. Tessieri also makes an eclectic line of pralines, and excellent bars such as the Cru Madagascar Extra Dark Chocolate (70 percent) or Chuao Bar (70 percent). We like the limited-edition Porcelana bar, which you can get for around $25.
Considered to be some of the very best chocolate in all of New England, Lake Champlain Chocolate is a Burlington, Vermont, staple that carries wonderfully executed gourmet chocolates. Their hot chocolate is some of the most indulgent and delicious of its kind, and that luxurious texture and flavor of chocolate extends to all their handcrafted treats.
If you think chocolate all tastes the same around the world, Kyya Chocolate in Springdale, Arkansas, will prove you wrong. This bean-to-bar chocolate shop makes a variety of single-origin dark chocolate treats, allowing customers to taste the subtle differences between offerings from Uganda, Ecuador, Madagascar, and beyond. There’s nothing artificial in this shop, just pure, beautiful flavors.
People were surprised when Anthony Bourdain's Good & Evil chocolate bar debuted in 2012 at more than $100 a pound, but Amedei's Venezuelan-sourced Porcelana bar already weighs in at more than $160 per pound. Cecilia Tessieri — one of the world's few female chocolatiers — makes some of the most expensive chocolate in the world. Since opening its doors in 1990, the Tuscany-based brand Amedei has contributed to a $27,000 cupcake in Dubai, as well as a $1,000 sundae at New York's Serendipity. Tessieri also makes an eclectic line of pralines, the filled chocolate bonbons that inspired her to go into business in the first place, and excellent bars such as the Cru Madagascar Extra Dark Chocolate (70 per cent) or Chuao Bar (70 per cent). But her creations are not for the budget-conscious!
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.

Marti Chocolatt: Chocolatier Tonet Tibay was inspired to combine her Philippine heritage with the finesse and sophistication of the French way of making chocolates and confectionery. Her surprising and unexpectedly delightful combinations are at the heart of her chocolates—consider the Kalamansi (zesty Phillipine lime and dark chocolate) is a piquant surprise with a decadent core. We also loved the silky Buko Pandan (a major award-winner) with young coconut bits with pandan leaf infusion in milk chocolate. Marti Chocolatt was awarded Best Chocolatier in America in 2012 and 2013 by International Chocolate Salon.
For those who don't eat animal products (or just prefer to stay away from dairy), these Amore di Mona vegan chocolates make a delicious and thoughtful gift. They're also free from gluten, wheat, soy, and peanuts, and they come in a 24-piece box complete with a bow. Best of all, reviewers say, it's "very high quality chocolate" and they "taste amazing!"
You’ll forget you’re in Provo, Utah, when you walk into Taste, which is simply and elegantly decorated in black, white and gold. Once you’re in the store, you’ll never want to leave. The highlight here is their chocolate and vinegar tastings. At these events, you will try seven of Taste’s eight chocolate bars, sourced from Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela and Madagascar. If you think chocolate all tastes the same, then you’ll definitely think again after a visit to this shop.
With five café locations—including one at their factory—this chocolate company handcrafts signature treats that taste exquisite but also look exceptional. Their assortment of bars pep up traditional milk or dark choices with options like a Milk Chocolate Crispy Orange Brulee Bar, Dark Chocolate Espresso Bean, or even the Dark Chocolate Raspberry and Fennel Bark. The gourmet dark, milk and ivory truffles feature fun sweets like the Strawberry or Raspberry Love Bug and Cookies and Cream Cone. Caramels and toffees are touched with sea salt or vanilla, and gourmet hot cocoa mixes go from simple to spicy. A specialty line of liqueur truffles are derived from Oregon’s finest craft distillers. Plus, their tumbled chocolate balls taste of blueberry, hazelnuts, sea salt caramel and even a German roasted malted wheat berry used in beer making.
Chocolate making in general is often referred to as an art, but at Dancing Lion in Manchester, New Hampshire, they really are making art. They sell stunning chocolate sculptures that almost look like stonework. You’ll also find beautiful and uniquely flavored chocolate bars such as The Blues, a beautiful blue bar with dark chocolate, blueberries and toasted pecans.
We cut the chocolates into quarters so that more than one person could taste all of the offerings while also trying to avoid palate fatigue. While this may sound like a silly problem, it can be quite frustrating when your taste buds become overstimulated mid-tasting and fail you. To try to limit this, Saltines and club soda were set out to help tasters pace themselves.

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