Because Jacques Torres is as serious about technique as he is about fun, it’s possible to walk out of one of his eight New York City stores without a pure, single origin bar of dark chocolate and a bag full of chocolate-covered Cheerios (the idea for which he had when a mother quieted her wailing baby with a handful of the cereal.) His 80 percent Porcelana cocoa bars are unusually sweet and silky for chocolate with such a high cocoa content, but Torres says the qualities of these rare, special beans allow him to ratchet up the cocoa without adding more sugar.
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.’”
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
Larry Burdick makes exquisite delicious chocolate pieces at Burdick Chocolate, a small manufacturer at the western edge of New Hampshire, northwest of Keene and 70 miles from Nashua. Burdick does a great job of making a variety of ornate fine chocolates and presenting them well. The pieces in his assortment differ from each other well, so that one is entertained by the changes in flavor, style, and shape. The flavors range from intense chocolate to balanced to strong non-chocolate flavors, and the sweetness ranges from bitter to very sweet. Some flavors are familiar, and some are exotic.
The most famous Venezuelan cacao of all comes from Chuao. The trees of Chuao are shielded by mountains from all but the warm Caribbean breezes; the soil is naturally irrigated by three cascading rivers. Doutre-Roussel calls the region “one of the jewels of the earth.” Besides the microclimate, Chuao has centuries-old traditions of harvesting and preparing cacao. First it’s fermented to develop the compounds that will later blossom into rich aromatics, then it’s laid out on the parvis in front of the village church to dry slowly in the sun. Because the farmers worked together as a cooperative, Chuao is one of the only places where a chocolate maker could buy, at one stroke, 9 to 10 tons of uniformly excellent cacao. Until recently, that chocolate maker was Valrhona. Today every last kilo of cacao from Chuao goes to Amedei.
The only drawback that we found is that Simply Chocolate's prices are often considerably higher than the competition. For instance, many of the chocolates made by Vosges can be purchased directly from that retailer at a significant savings, even when factoring in Vosges' higher shipping costs. You'll want to shop around a bit, especially if your chocolate purchase includes a brand that may be sold elsewhere for less.
The Good & Evil bar is made with 72 percent Peruvian Nacional Cacao, allegedly the rarest cocoa bean in existence. Master chocolatier Christopher Curtin of Éclat Chocolate chose only the Premier Cru Superieur beans from the first harvest on a remote farm in Peru. Next, the organic Fair Trade beans traveled to Switzerland, where they were processed in an antique conching machine. We enjoyed its rich taste, cocoa nib-crunch and sophisticated aftertaste. Just be warned that the Good & Evil bar is available in very limited quantities, so score some while you can.
You will actually have to visit Amsterdam to sample what may be the best chocolates in the Netherlands. The proprietors of Puccini Bomboni, a delightful cafe and restaurant, hand-make each chocolate on the premises and do not deliver. Exotic combinations of chocolate and spices, concocted from the freshest ingredients, are a specialty. Although the variety isn’t enormous, the quality is truly amazing.
On the other hand, the pieces from Whole Foods Market were not as impressive. The Elizabeth, Antoinette, and Madeleine were good. The Jeanett had a strong mint flavor that overpowered its white chocolate. The Sophie is marzipan with lemon, which is interesting. I wanted more marzipan, but it was good. Not everything worked. The Valentina is a chewy caramel with lavender. Lavender is aromatic, but that was distracting, and it did not contribute a pleasing flavor. The Patricia certainly had chili but was weak on tangerine. These were fine for grocery store chocolates, but lackluster for the price, $51/lb. The box has drawings illustrating the pieces, but I was unable to match several pieces to the drawings.
Dandelion Chocolate bars contain only two ingredients: cocoa beans and cane sugar. For the dark variety-favoring purist, their unadulterated bars are a direct reflection of the quality and unique characteristics of the bean. Constantly on the hunt for the best cacao crop, Masonis and Ring work directly with farmers from around the globe. Dandelion Chocolate also gets top points for presentation. Luxuriously wrapped in gold foil and handmade paper, each of their bars is signed by the chocolatier and printed with its unique origin story.
Anette’s Chocolate Factory has a nice variety of chocolates, more than your usual Standard assortment. Examples include the Peach Cobbler, Roasted Hazelnut Morsel, Mint Truffle, Triple Berry, and Himalayan Salted Caramel. They were a bit hit and miss for me, but I would say their milk or dark Ensemble (12 truffles, 18 others) or Anette’s Assorted (30 others) boxes are a good deal.
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.
The chocolates of Kee’s Chocolates had generally good compositions; the chocolate was combined well with other flavors. The Black Sesame was particularly novel, crunchy sesame seeds with prominent flavor and somewhat subdued chocolate. The flavor of the Smoked Salt was also unusual, an interesting sensation. Others were more ordinary. Unfortunately, I did not find them good enough to justify the price.
The Mint Chocolate Cookie had good flavors, but I did not find the composition as compelling as in the other pieces. It seemed a little incohesive, although the components were good. The Raspberry Rose was not as strong as other pieces but was still excellent. The pieces were in thin shells of white, milk, or dark chocolate. All of the shells contributed good flavors, but I might like a little more of them.
At 255 years old, this candy shop on Rue du Faubourg-Montmatre is the oldest in Paris, and luck for everyone who visits, it’s precious façade is historically landmarked and it’s interior lovingly preserved. On the shelves at À La Mère de Famille sit sweets and treats of all kinds, including bars of 100 percent pure origin Venezuelan cocoa. Surprisingly melty and vibrantly aromatic, the plain chocolate is smooth, while the inclusion bars are beautifully strewn by hand with whole hazelnuts, almonds, and tidy little chunks of candied ginger.
Have you ever tasted something that's so good it doesn't seem fair? If you want to share that so-good-it-seems-like-cheating feeling with someone else, hand them a box of these chocolate-stuffed figs. They'll find a surprising amount of rich chocolate both inside and outside of each fig, plus a creamy liqueur filling that provides a little extra kick.
These Wockenfuss artisan truffles are not just absolutely delicious, they’re also gorgeously crafted. There are 12 truffles in the box, each with unique fillings, made with dark chocolate and milk chocolate. The onyl complaint you’ll have with these gourmet chocolates is that they are so beautifully decorated you’ll find it difficult to actually eat them.
The Pecan Penuche also plays on local products, Georgia pecans. Its flavor makes nice use of pecans but is a little sweeter than I would like. Two pieces make excellent use of spices. The Aztec has a deep chocolate flavor, strong enough to stand up to the blend of six chilies and spices that kick in after a few seconds. In the Cayenne Passion Fruit, the cayenne and passion fruit play nicely with and against each other and with the chocolate. I often find that “hot” spices detract from chocolate, but Hard has blended these well.
A perfect visual and tasting treat in the beautiful Paris environment can only remind one of the famous Richart chocolate company. The Paris, France located family business serves you with a range of proprietary chocolate recipes including special ingredients that can’t be expected in such a great way anywhere else. The sincere service, a slew of recipe options and the refined taste makes the chocolatier stand tall at the number nine position.
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.
MarieBelle’s chocolates have fun designs, but the flavors did almost nothing for me. The Swiss chocolate is a thin shell around the fillings and contributed little to the taste. Good ingredients were used, and the flavors, when I could detect them, were well done. However, even pieces I would expect to have prominent flavors, like the Pineapple or Mandarin, were weak. The Spices piece was good, and the Hazelnut Praline was good except for the slightness of the flavor. I could not recommend these at half the price, let alone the $100/lb. charged.
For more than 30 years, Seattle-based owner Fran Bigelow has been setting candy trends—she was selling miniature chocolate bars and elegant truffles before they became ubiquitous. Her sweets also have a very high-profile admirer: As a lover of salty-sweet desserts, one of President Obama’s favorite indulgences is Fran’s Smoked Salt Caramels ($12)—buttery caramels coated in milk chocolate and sprinkled with smoked sea salt. franschocolates.com
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.