Blink and passers-by could easily miss the Veruca Chocolates cafe and store in Chicago’s sleek Lincoln Park neighborhood. Pediatrician-turned-chocolatier Heather Johnston fills her glass cases with bonbons, caramels, and dipped truffles in a range of flavors every season. The house specialties include a mango and passionfruit-infused ganache bonbon, but don’t miss the almost smoky blackened sugar chocolates, or browned butter bonbons with an addictively nutty flavor. Toasted pumpkin seeds give orange-hued pumpkin caramel truffles a bit of crunch. Veruca ships nationwide. 1332 North Halsted Street, Chicago, IL — Ashok Selvam
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.
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 chocolatier, William Dean Brown, plays with a variety of flavors in the assortment. The pieces included Cappuccino, Apple Pie, Hazelnut, Grapefruit and Tarragon, Strawberry Caramel, and more. I regard the Apple Pie highly for execution of its theme; it contained an apple layer and a crumb layer that were faithful to the theme, but the chocolate had a minor role in that piece. Indeed, the amount of chocolate flavor in the assortment varied and was not always the star.
If you’re looking for a delicious box of high-quality chocolates to give to your one-and-only this Valentine’s Day (or any other holiday, for that matter), the one we like the most is Recchiuti Confections's Black Box (16 pieces). We came to this conclusion after evaluating 11 brands, including our 2014 picks, and taking suggestions from Wirecutter commenters over the past year, as well as fellow Wirecutter staffers.
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.
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.’”
Mexico City maker TA.CHO won gold for its small run of bars made with cocoa from Tabasco, one of the primary regions in Mexico where the pod-shaped fruit is grown. And Fu Wan Chocolate from Taiwan received top accolades for its rough-ground bars made from Taiwanese cocoa. The bars' coarse texture reflects how chocolate was traditionally made in Mesoamerica (where it originated).
As Saint Valentine's Day rose in popularity, people began sending gifts of flowers, love letters, and other trinkets. Liquid chocolate drinks were understandably not convenient to mail to a sweetheart. In 1847, Joseph Fry invented chocolate you could eat by adding extracted cocoa butter back into the drinking cocoa powder, changing forever how we think of chocolate.
All-Around Favorite: Chocolopolis: The defining difference between these chocolates and others we tasted was the utterly complex and rich ganache inside each different truffle. Chocolopolis has one of the largest collections of craft chocolate bars in the world—many of which they incorporate into their truffles. The Champions Box (my favorite) features all of their award-winning truffles. Lacquered and glossy, each truffle delivers serious taste, (think lemon-lavender white chocolate or the Madagascar dark chocolate). The top taste was the Dominican Republic House Blend truffle, made from their proprietary blend of select Dominican Republic couvertures (cacao). Chocolopolis founder Lauren Adler notes, “I’d compare our style of confections to the French tradition, where it’s really about the quality and the flavor of the chocolate.” Her caramel cups dusted with a cluster of sea salt are worth a bite too.
The actual Black Dinah shop in Westbrook is tiny and unassuming, but don’t let the small size of the storefront detour you from trying their fresh artisan chocolates. Their truffles and chocolates are picture-perfect and come in stunning flavors such as pear Champagne and brown butter (the latter is painted with a signature Maine lobster). Their sipping chocolate, which is rich and creamy, is also a must-have for those long, cold Maine winter nights.
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.
Included as one of Oprah's Favorite Things in past years, this bean-to-bar chocolate from acclaimed Chef Thomas Keller and renowned Tuscan olive oil producer Armando Manni is, as Oprah says, "pure chocolate bliss." This set includes one antioxidant-loaded dark chocolate bar, a milk chocolate variety, and two dark-milk chocolate blends. Are you drooling yet?
You can't make a list of popular chocolate brands without including Mars. This incredibly famous worldwide brand is responsible for Snickers, Galaxy, Dove, M&M'S, Milky Way, Twix, 3 Musketeers, and Mars bars. Like Nestlé, Mars focuses on candy bars and confectioneries instead of plain chocolate products. But it definitely offers a combination of chocolate, nougat, caramel, or other ingredients that you won't be able to say no to.
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.
Starting off in 2004 with six flavors of chocolate-dipped toffee, this boutique/factory just outside of downtown L.A. now also produces chocolates, petits fours, preserves, cakes and pastries. Though their line of petits fours rightfully shine with flavors like rose petal, their equally tasty toffees, truffles, mendiants and caramels also make for excellent gifts. Plus, for Valentine’s Day, heart-shaped bittersweet or milk chocolates are available in an assortment of boxes.
Launched in 2006, the Seattle-based Theo Chocolate was the first chocolate manufacturer in the US to be both 100 percent organic and fair-trade. (The Fair Trade Certificate goes only to eco-friendly products made by workers who are paid enough to cover their basic needs and reinvest in their operations.) Theo’s conscientious chocolates are delicious: nuanced and intense, like dark, single-origin bars from nations such as Ghana and Madagascar. Founder Joseph Whinney is so passionate about chocolate that he hired a biologist to genetically map Theo’s beans. Not all of Theo’s endeavors are so serious: 3,400 Phinney bars, named for the factory’s street address, come in whimsical flavors like the salty-sweet Bread and Chocolate ($7), featuring dark chocolate mixed with bread crumbs; it’s perfect with afternoon coffee. theochocolate.com
You can never have too many choices when it comes to chocolate. This Belgian chocolate box provides an amazing assortment of dark, milk, and white chocolate in an elegant gold box with a bow on top. You'll get 19 chocolate pieces that include favorites like 50 percent dark demitasse, chocolate hazelnut praline, praline crescents, and coconut macaroons covered in dark chocolate. If 19 pieces simply aren't enough to satisfy your taste buds, you can trade up for a 140-piece box (or one of the many sizes in between).
Owned by Mondelez international, Cadbury (formerly known as Cadbury’s) is a multinational British confectionary and the second largest confectionary brand in the world after Wrigley’s. Headquartered in Uxbridge, West London, the brand operates in 50 countries around the world and is famous for their Dairy Milk, Creme Egg and Roses selection boxes. The company is the countries most successful exports since 1824.
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.
If you haven’t had the chance yet, make sure to check out our full review on this adorable candy shop located on 15th South and Main downtown. You would not believe the effort and love that is put into each of their hand dipped candies! The ladies at Condie’s make beautiful assortments of chocolates and are also known for their hand dipped fudge and pecan logs.
Famous for its waffles, chocolate, and beer, Belgium is an effortless blend of old and new. Its culture and open-minded attitude are based on the population’s amalgamation of identities. Its capital city, Brussels, serves as the headquarters of NATO and the European Union, making it a hub for government activity and a meeting place for world leaders. Custom university programs to Belgium offer a world of topics to explore. ...Read More
This one absolutely lives up to its name- it’s not sweet but you get the sense of sweet things being concocted in a kitchen- I feel like I’m sitting in a cafe having a dark chocolate scented cigarette. It stays close to the skin and lasts a long time- the tobacco keeps this unisex and I adore it- the drydown on my skin ignores the chocolate and favors the hint of cigar from nearby that was smoked a couple of days ago. Warm, cozy, soft. Great for cold rainy weather and people watching via a cafe window.
One of the few true bean-to-bar chocolatiers in America, Dandelion also sells macarons, hot chocolate, caramels, and pastries at its San Francisco shop. The single-origin brownies are a popular treat, but the brand’s single-origin chocolate bars, which ship nationwide, have a cult following, and each one feels like a special gift. 740 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA
Dilettante claims confectionary descendance from Julius Rudolph Franzen, pastry chef to Franz Josef, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. I have only their truffles to judge them by. Unfortunately, I prefer other pieces with a greater variety of components and expression. Truffles are too often an overdose of chocolate and cream. Dilettante may move up on my list when I have more experience with their products, such as their gift box assortment.
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.
This package of gourmet chocolate is perfect for those who like dark chocolate with a rich and intense flavor. The bonbons contain over seventy percent cacao for a very flavorful experience and everything is certified as fair trade and without any harmful additives. They’re also gluten-free for any dealing with restrictions. We like that each one is individually wrapped, making this product perfect for your next party or gathering. The price for one box of the bonbons is somewhat high for some consumers.
The biggest drawback to Stick With Me Sweets is the price. However, this is an experience I would not want to miss, so I recommend trying a box at whatever size suits you. The web site did not offer options to choose your own pieces (just “surprise me!”, nut free, and gluten free), but you can enter requests in the special instructions section when checking out. The box came with a chart of color drawings that identified most pieces, but a few were hard to match to the drawings, and limited edition pieces may not be in the chart.
The milk-chocolate-covered toffee was very good. I do not think the dark chocolate or white chocolate showcase the toffee as well. Lest my praise and high marks for the Chocolate Dream Box make you giddy, let me note that not everything was perfect. The crunch of the Hazelnut Crunch felt just a bit soft, and the chocolate flavor in the Lion Heart was blunted. And the price is high.
Also known as home to the Little Chocolatiers from former the hit TLC show, Hatch’s is at the top of our list when it comes to the best chocolates in Salt Lake City. The quality of chocolate that you consume here whether it be with a caramel apple, inside some of their homemade ice cream, or melted in a cup of hot cocoa is truly top notch. Some of Hatch Family go-to’s are their chocolate covered Oreos, chocolate covered raspberries, and aztec salted caramels.