For three generations, Damask’s Candies has been delighting New Jersey families in the Woolwich Township area for decades. Though the shop sells a variety of creamy chocolates, chocolate-covered caramels and other confections, Damask’s Candies is best known for the chocolate-covered oyster crackers. These bite-sized treats are the perfect mix of sweet, salty, crunchy and smooth; it’s a wonder more chocolate shops don’t offer these. Damask’s Candies is only open seasonally, so be sure to plan your trip to the Garden State accordingly.
The story of how Amedei eloped with Chuao and sent the wedding pictures to Tain l’Hermitage isn’t exactly a vision of sugar plums, but the chocolate industry has a long history of wars, most of them far more brutal. Steve DeVries, a bean-to-bar chocolate maker from Denver, used to say that the Spanish arrived in Mexico and threatened, “Give us your cacao or we’ll shoot you.” Hunting beans in Mexico, DeVries repeated the remark to an anthropologist. “No, no, no,” the anthropologist said. “Before that, the Aztecs came down and said ’Give us your cacao or we’ll cut your hearts out.’”
And, no surprise, the world winner is also a hit with esteemed makers: "Meeting the wonderful Canadian couple David and Cynthia of Soma Chocolatemaker at the International Chocolate Awards World Championships was a gift," Friis-Holm says. "The rare beans originating from the troubled country of Venezuela that are featured in their Guasare 70% bar make for a very tasty, beautifully executed and worthy world winner."
Troegs Brewing has set the pace of the Hershey craft beer scene since 1997. Founded by brothers John and Chris Trogner, Troegs offers a large selection of lagers, wheat beers, hop-laden ales, Belgian-style ales and seasonal brews. A visit to the tasting room and snack bar is a great way to wrap up a brewery tour, offered daily. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
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.
Lifelong enthusiasts, they grew cacao plants in their apartments and made small batches in their Palo Alto garage. After two years of taste tests, they took their handmade dark chocolate public, opening Dandelion Chocolate in 2012. Located in San Francisco’s eclectic Mission district, their factory turns out 2,500 single-origin 70 percent cacao bars per week. Their releases, which change frequently with the season, source cacao from places as far-flung as Venezuela, Madagascar, and Papua New Guinea.
Here comes the most popular chocolate producer of the world – Teuscher. The 70-year old Zurich-based Chocolatier has been a part of the discussion regarding chocolates multiple times. Teuscher is a well-known and the most loved chocolate producer in the world which is known for its amazing variety and taste of chocolates. The founder of the chocolatier, Dolf Teuscher is known for his global exploration for the best ingredients to create the extraordinary chocolate recipes. At present, Teuscher caters to the chocolate lovers with more than 100 chocolate recipes. From the world-class making to the decoration – Teuscher has everything that makes it top the list.
However, it is the chocolate that counts here. Norman Love falls short. Although the pieces were visually great, quite polished, and perfectly executed, they did not use chocolate well. Perhaps a third had a good chocolate presence. There were quite good non-chocolate flavors, including peanut butter, pistachio, lime, and pumpkin. The Peanut Butter & Jelly was very good but not good enough to justify putting them in an expensive confection.
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.
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).
“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.”
Chocolatier Kee Ling Tong opened her flagship store in New York City’s Soho in 2002 as a combination flower and chocolate shop. Today she has three locations, offering superb handmade chocolates in 40 flavors, including F&W’s Tina Ujlaki and Kate Krader favorite, pyramid-shaped Champagne truffles, made with dark chocolate ganache and Champagne. keeschocolates.com
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Unique flavors like Tarragon Grapefruit, Sesame Nougat, and Star Anise & Pink Peppercorn are part of the mix, as well as safer flavors like Burnt Caramel, Piedmont Hazelnut, and Candied Orange Peel (which is the best chocolate-covered candied orange peel you'll ever have). While unusual flavors can easily become gimmicky and overwhelming, Recchiuti has executed theirs perfectly with subtle, elegant, and rounded blends. This was especially apparent when compared with our previous pick, Christopher Elbow, whose perfume-y flavors almost knock you over.
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).
Once you select a category, it's easy to use the options on the left side of the page to narrow the chocolates down by price or by dietary need, such as nut-free or gluten-free. You'll find those same possibilities under the Dietary Treats heading; for example, if you know you need a list of just the products that are vegan or organic, you'll be able to see them all at once.
Richart’s Intense Valentine Gourmet Chocolates are $77 for a box of 49 chocolates. The real frustration here is that it's 49, not 50, so those of us with a strong sense of symmetry will have to eat them quickly just to cope. However, they are legitimate French Chocolates, each one having one of seven fancy flavors / aromas - floral, spicy, citrus, balsm, roasted, fruity, or herbal. The box also comes with a dark chocolate plaque for your valentine, so maybe that's piece 50.
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Many pieces featured nut pralinés or pastes, and there was significant variety, including hazelnut, almond, pistachio, walnut, and various combinations, some with fruit flavors as well. The 3 was the fruitiest, and the most different from the others in the collection, featuring caramel, passion fruit, coconut, and mango in dark chocolate. The passion fruit dominated, and the chocolate flavor seemed a bit lost.
Since 2008, Original Beans has taken the “bean to bar” idea full circle with their “bar to bean” commitment to plant a seedling for every chocolate bar sold. Details of their Grand Cru Blend No. 1 80 percent organic dark chocolate are kept secret, but they claim to use some of the rarest cacaos from South America and Africa. And with only raw cane sugar added, the bars are also vegan.
Tessa Halstead grew up in the chocolate business: Her father ran a chocolate shop in Dallas a generation ago. Today in Austin, she’s built Chocolaterie Tessa into a community hub. Halstead and her crew produce chocolates on a larger scale than most, and offer single-origin bonbons in addition to assorted flavors that change seasonally. The always-in-season salted caramel is a favorite, but customers also come for the strawberry basil in the summertime and autumn’s cinnamon spice. Nationwide shipping is available. 7425 Burnet Road, Austin, TX
Since 1997, this confectionery inside the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero has been putting artistic touches on their small batch yet exquisite chocolates, caramels, bars, sauces, fruit/nut mixes, and truffles. Their top-selling Fleur de Sel Caramels are covered in dark chocolate with a well-blended balance of salt and sweetness. For Valentine’s Day, their Hearts in Motion box provides a whole lot of lovin’—burnt caramel truffles embellished with Picasso-esque images. Grand Amour Box holds three layers of popular truffles like Ginger Heart, Piedmont Hazelnut and Force Noir.
Traditional Mexican flavors come alive for popular chef and TV personality José Ramón Castillo, a leader in the evolution of Mexican chocolate. Que Bo! uses only organic ingredients sourced from local producers. Vibrant colored truffles matching their star ingredients, such as orange (mango, chili, and salt) or bright pink (guava). The massive, dipped confit figs soaked in molasses, cinnamon, and sugar can be enjoyed in the chocolateria’s hacienda-style courtyard in central Mexico City. Five locations in Mexico City.
Today the Teuscher kitchens in Zurich make more than 100 varieties of chocolates using these original recipes, which have been handed down from father to son. Only the finest and most expensive natural ingredients are used, and absolutely no chemicals, additives, or preservatives are added. The house specialty is a champagne truffle, a blend of fresh cream, butter, and chocolate with a champagne cream center, dusted with confectioner’s sugar. Chocolates are flown to Teuscher stores worldwide weekly.
While these chocolates had dustings of flavors that run the gamut from wild fennel pollen to Hungarian paprika on their outer shell, the insides “taste like a blast of dark, straight-ahead chocolate,” said Krader. She noted that the truffles themselves, while tasty, were not necessarily a go-to for chocolate purists: “They use flavorings as an exclamation mark; I'd recommend these for people who pride themselves on their unconventional fashion stylings."
K’s 5-star review: Beautifully painted, deliciously filled, Norman Love bonbons are crafted to delight. The flavors are astounding and exceptionally executed. The back of the shop can be seen where bustling confectioners are building each morsel with care and quantity. They also have a cafe if you need to chill. The store is located near the airport, it's should be tradition to resource a box when traveling ... If you are looking for exotic flavors, a reward, a gift to wow, or just an excuse to float on the sweet aroma of chocolate, this is the spot. A few favorites I would recommend: keylime, passion fruit, apple ala mode, lemon bar, hot dark chocolate, tahitian caramel, Florida orange, mango, mmm. The bonbon shells are so delicate they serve as an accent to augment the fillings within. Truly brilliant.
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
Varsano’s looks like your average chocolate shop, so I was not expecting much, but their chocolates surprised me. Their uncommon white chocolate peanut butter cup was very nice, and the milk chocolate was good too. Marzipan is a favorite of mine, but only when it is elevated from a plain hard paste to something fluffier and more flavorful, and Varsano’s does that with an excellent chocolate-covered pistachio marzipan. I also liked the chocolate-covered graham cracker. The chocolate they use for covering their pieces is appealing. However, the buttercrunch tasted very weak to me, and the truffles did not impress me in 2006 as they did during my first visit.
Chocolate Visions makes excellent chocolates with nice flavors. I tried The Works Collection and generally enjoyed both the pieces with familiar flavors and those with novel combinations. The Hazelnut Trio had an unusual structure that showcases its familiar flavors well. The spice was distinct in the Tarragon, quite unusual, and worked well with the chocolate.
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.
My husband Evan got me a subscription to your gourmet chocolate of the month club as a gift. It was one of the best gifts I've ever gotten - our whole family looks forward to each month's new arrival of chocolates. We share the pieces, savoring every bite. Each one is better than the last! Our 2 year old son Calder gets so excited whenever he sees the beautiful packaging, he loves to keep the "presents" even long after the chocolates have been devoured. Of course he is even more excited by the "special treats" inside. Thank you for bringing so much joy into our home each month!
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.