Guests of The Hotel Hershey who arrive via the registration lobby need to know that a more exotic space resides just one floor above. The hotel’s Fountain Lobby is an eye-grabbing, Mediterranean-themed gathering spot. It looks much like it did when it opened in the 1930s, based on a hotel Milton Hershey had visited in the Mediterranean. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
Because they’re meant to be gifted, I presented the chocolates in their boxes, but without the brand names showing. We felt that the presentation should be a factor in judging. We had a very strict rule against calling out a brand to the rest of the group if someone recognized the packaging. Luckily, it wasn’t an issue—no one had a clue about what was what during the tasting.
The 36-piece assortment I ordered from William Dean Chocolates contained a broad selection of chocolates and flavors, from the familiar peanut butter or even childhood favorite peanut butter and jelly, to fine lavender or port and plum. The Port and Plum was one of my favorites of the box. The flavors interplayed nicely and had some depth. The Mexican Mango was a very nice mango puree with a little bit of spiceness. The PB Krunch had a strong peanut flavor roasted just right. The WD 64%, a straight chocolate piece, was another of my favorites.

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.)


The cookies are baked and shipped the same day, individually wrapped in a pack of eight. That’s right, 8 cookies = a box of four pounds of freshly-made cookies. City Cakes knows 8 big cookies may be a lot for some, but the individually packaged cookies freeze well and return to their fresh-baked goodness with just a few minutes in a 350 degree oven or a few seconds in the microwave.


Amedei sits just outside Pontedera, where they build those stylish Vespa scooters that make even old Italians look young. Amedei’s factory, a low brick structure, used to be an iron foundry. Alessio and Cecilia met me inside a tasting room, where a table was set with linen tablecloths and silver chargers. Two large jars were prominently displayed; filled with what looked like water, each held a large, red, heart-shaped object. Cecilia wore a severe suit of charcoal gray, a no-nonsense expression, and a red scarf; the factory was cold that day. Alessio’s face was round and rosy, and his rimless eyeglasses made him look more like a graduate student than a chocolate baron.
This South American country may not be the first to come to mind when you think about the world's best chocolate, but it should be. Research suggests that cocoa originated in Ecuador, where it was cultivated and eaten over 5,000 years ago. The most flavorful chocolate produced today comes from aromatic "arriba cacao," from which only 5 percent of the world's chocolate is made. Sixty-three percent of that cacao is grown in Ecuador. One of the country's top three brands, Pacari, continues to collect international awards. Kallari and Republica del Cacao chocolates also have bold Ecuadorian flavors.
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.

It’s no longer difficult to find beautifully decorated chocolates, sea-salted caramels, or delicately scented truffles: Nearly every major city in the U.S. is now home to a shop offering single-origin chocolate bars or bonbons filled with spiked ganache and coated in paint swipes of color. Others use local fruit, fresh herbs, spices, nuts, coffee, tea, or other essences to enhance each chocolate variety, encouraging flavors to dance on the tongue as they melt.
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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.

“Wow,” said Krader, biting into one of the company’s flat, square truffles. “This is definitely the chocolate with the most distinct point of view.” By that, she meant that it had perhaps the most unusual flavor of the bunch, with distinctly fruity notes. “This is from someone who’s redefining what truffles can be,” she said. “The flavorings don't punch you in the face, and it tastes like it was just made.” In other words: advanced chocolatiering. “There’s a sophistication about them,” she said. “Truffle neophytes might want something more general.”


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.
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.
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.
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