The Brownie Taste Test was around the corner, so the first thing I needed to do was to purchase the brownie mixes. I went to four stores,  ensuring that I was getting a good feel for what was readily available at grocery stores around the country. I didn’t want to get specific kinds that some people couldn’t find in their local market. I wanted to test the most popular and recognizable brands.
Zak’s Chocolate is a small-batch chocolate shop located in Scottsdale, Arizona. What makes them so unique? They source all their cocoa beans from a single, ethical source and roast the beans themselves, allowing Zak’s to carefully control the production of their sweets. They then turn the beans into elegantly flavored chocolates, with delicacies such as a blackberry lychee bonbons, a brownie flight and a cacao nib caramel.
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.
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).
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.

Pastry chef Kee Ling Tong has been hand-rolling each of her delicate chocolate truffles since 2002. Her tiny storefront in New York City’s Soho neighborhood (and two counters in Midtown) is a must-stop for chocolate lovers, who will savor each piece’s paper-thin shell encasing flavors like black sesame truffle and green tea. Kee’s almond truffle is pure joy: A deeply salted white chocolate ganache is made from cream steeped with toasted almonds; each truffle is then rolled in toasted almonds for crunch. Unfortunately for non-New Yorkers, Kee’s does not ship nationwide. 315 West 39th Street, New York, NY 10018 (multiple locations)


The Swiss came up with the idea to add cocoa butter and the method to do it which gave chocolate a much nicer texture. The Belgians invented the praline, the chocolate truffles and many different exotic fillings. There are several differences between Swiss and Belgian chocolates. The beans for Belgian chocolate come mainly from Africa. The Swiss acquire them from both Africa and Latin America. Texture, storage and the use of milk in chocolate are other distinctive features of these great chocolates. The Swiss chocolate has usually a smoother texture and would rather avoid using artificial emulsifiers. Swiss tend to produce milk chocolate, and in general they contain more sugar and less cocoa than Belgian chocolates, which are often dark. Belgian chocolatiers have a competitive advantage when it comes to pralines.
This Italian chocolatier specializes in hazelnut-flavored chocolate pralines, combining a hazelnut chocolate cream and a whole hazelnut with a crisp chocolate shell in either milk or dark chocolate. It’s a decadent chocolate experience, but with a complexity and mild bitterness from the hazelnut that makes it a more adult experience. Perfect for nut lovers.

Within three weeks, the Tessieris decided that they weren’t going to buy chocolate anymore—they would make it. Cecilia apprenticed with bean-to-bar artisans around Europe. At first they bought cacao from brokers, but by 1997, Alessio had begun hunting it himself, from Ecuador to Madagascar to the Caribbean coast of Venezuela. This last region was especially rich with cacao of the first rank; a lot of money was at stake, and life could get rough. Four years ago, someone tried to murder a cacao buyer who worked with Valrhona, strafing his car with an automatic weapon and leaving him with a half-dozen gunshot wounds.

We all know that Belgium is famous for its chocolates and Guylian is the standout confectioner in Belgium. Founded by Guy Foubert in 1958, Guylian is perhaps the most famous in the world for their production of Chocolate Sea shells praline with an assortment of fillings inside. The company was acquired by Lotte Confectionary in 2008 for $164 million but still continues to produce chocolates under the Guylian brand name. Usually a luxury chocolate band selling products in gift boxes , the company specialises in wrapped chocolates chocolate bars and napolitans.
If you want to try a wide assortment of fine European chocolates for little more than the price of a basic Russel Stover box, Merci’s assortment is a great option. This box of twenty small bars comes with six varieties – milk chocolate, coffee and cream, hazelnut almond, hazelnut cream, dark mousse, and praline cream. Each bar is individually wrapped for easy eating, making this offering from the German brand a tasty and affordable option for those just entering the world of high-end European chocolate.
This box of 32 chocolates contains a different sort of treat – Turkish Delight, the chewy Middle Eastern confection. Made from an intense chew flavored with brown sugar and filled with pistachios, they’re covered in intense dark chocolate. This is an ideal choice for anyone who isn’t into overly sweet chocolates, as the intense dark chocolate pairs well with the mildly sweet Turkish Delight.

If you get a huge box of chocolates and can’t finish them in two weeks, you can store them in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. After that, the flavors of the creams and ganaches can turn stale. When storing chocolates in the refrigerator, take the same steps you would when refrigerating chocolate bars. Be sure to wrap the box very well in plastic wrap, and seal in a zip-top plastic bag. Prior to eating, let the chocolates come to room temperature before unwrapping to avoid any condensation.
If you want to try a wide assortment of fine European chocolates for little more than the price of a basic Russel Stover box, Merci’s assortment is a great option. This box of twenty small bars comes with six varieties – milk chocolate, coffee and cream, hazelnut almond, hazelnut cream, dark mousse, and praline cream. Each bar is individually wrapped for easy eating, making this offering from the German brand a tasty and affordable option for those just entering the world of high-end European chocolate.
Let’s be honest, all chocolate is good, but the true artisans make chocolate that transcends good---taking us into the realm of speechless. The chocolates featured in this story were tasted, debated over, and tasted again. If they delivered on impact, richness and the element of surprise, they made the cut. One final note, almost every chocolatier made a spicy chocolate offering—and only one, Chuao, pulled it off in a delicate, surprising (not punishing) way. Heat in a chocolate truffle can border on cruel sometimes. It was also nice to see that bacon and chocolate have parted ways--as we did not receive any pork-inspired truffles this year. Otherwise, it was a very nice showing. Happy indulging.
Cadbury, anyone? It’s hard to pass up a Cadbury egg when they appear in the grocery store, but the brand originated in the United Kingdom and originally sold tea, coffee, and drinking chocolate in the 1820s. The Cadbury brothers supplied Queen Victoria with chocolate in the 1850s and developed the popular Dairy Milk chocolate, famous for having a higher milk content, in 1905. While you can buy Cadbury Eggs and Dairy Milk bars around the world, we think they taste better while walking down a cobblestone street in the U.K.!
The gourmet cookies from San Francisco’s Salty Sweet Bakery are for the cookie-loving kid in you with tastes that are all grown up. You’ll know it from your first bite as the cookie flavors reveal themselves like a chorus line of CanCan dancers on your tongue that finishes with the ephemeral taste of real vanilla and the final flirty curtain call of salt. These sweet but not too sweet cookies tend toward the soft-baked to chewy spectrum. Each are topped with a sprinkle of delicate sea salt flakes.
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.
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.
Valrhona has been creating exceptional gourmet chocolate since 1922, with cocoa beans purchased directly from premier plantations in South America, the Caribbean, and Pacific regions. The chocolate, made in the French style, comes in a variety of bars. Valrhona was one of the first chocolatiers to describe its chocolate like wine, labeling creations as grand cru, single origins, single estate, and vintage chocolate from bean to bar. In 2008, it introduced spicy, salty Xocopili.
Planète Chocolat sells most of their chocolates in prepared boxes, so I could not pick out my preferences. Some pieces, mostly truffles, are available separately. The pieces in the box I got had textured tops that I could not match up with the diagram, so I could not tell what was what. Planète Chocolat’s chocolates look fancy, but that does not make them taste fancy, and I would rather pay for taste than looks.
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. 
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