At her beautiful Atlanta boutique, owner Kristen Hard refuses to use anything but dark chocolate in her amazing bean-to-bar chocolates and playful desserts, such as a chocolate faux salami flecked with biscotti. To win over milk chocolate lovers, she says she “slowly ratcheted up the cacao percentages, and no one noticed.” Many chocolate artisans spend years training with masters, but Hard is almost completely self-taught. “It used to make me feel insecure,” she says. “But it’s also why I’m unique.” She now spends six weeks abroad each year sourcing beans directly from farmers, creating outstanding bars like one with Venezuelan cacao and raw sugar. cacaoatlanta.com
Chocolatier and pastry chef Marc Aumont has been crafting fine chocolates for decades, taking over his father’s business in France at the age of 16. Today, Aumont makes the desserts at chef Gabriel Kreuther’s restaurant in midtown Manhattan and commandeers the chocolate shop next door. The chocolate room itself is encased in glass so patrons can see each bonbon as it rolls off the enrobing conveyor belt, a mesmerizing process. Aumont is known for his macaron-flavored bonbons, but the whole line, from the addictive macadamia nut toffee to the filled and multi-flavored chocolate bars, is worth sampling. 43 West 42nd Street, New York, NY
Back in 1857, Jean Neuhaus opened a pharmacy in Brussels, Belgium and decided to coat medicines with chocolate to help them go down better. By 1912, Neuhaus' son had created the praline, and in 1915, his wife designed the first box of Neuhaus chocolates. Fast forward to 2018, and Neuhaus chocolates are still considered among the very best. We've tasted Neuhaus chocolate at its shops in NYC, and it's delicious.
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.
Maison du Chocolat’s smallest online offering is a box of 28, which we also think is better to share with a larger group rather than with just one other person. Recchiuti’s offering of 16 chocolates feels more appropriate for sharing between a couple over the course of a few days or a week. And although these chocolates aren’t much more expensive per piece than the Recchiuti, having to buy a bigger box really bumps up the price. You can purchase smaller boxes in Maison du Chocolat stores, but that doesn’t help if you’re not in New York, Paris, or other larger cities where the shops can be found.
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.