As its name suggests, Denver’s The Chocolate Lab combines the worlds of science and chocolate into one culinary experience. You’re not going to find an abundance of sea salt caramels and vanilla creme chocolates here. Instead, you can get handmade truffles with unique flavors such as Humboldt fog cheese, duck fat caramel and bacon, absinthe-fennel and cornflake chili. The Chocolate Lab also features a restaurant with savory favorites like scallops, charred cauliflower and linguine — all infused with chocolate.
This Australian bean-to-bar chocolate maker uses only the best single-origin cacao beans. Cicada’s expertise marries the notes of red fruit with undertones of sweet caramel that are both natural to the cacao. A little added cocoa butter to increase the smooth factor, a touch of raw sugar, and the enticing magic of the Madagascan bourbon vanilla bean make the best chocolate bar you could possibly find: Their 73 percent bar, sourced from the Somia plantation in the Sambirano Valley of northern Madagascar, is ultimate bliss in the form of a chocolate bar. Cicada plans to open a bigger and better factory and shop soon. Bars sold in Sydney at The Rocks Markets and Bondi farmers markets.
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.
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.
Chubby Chipmunk Hand-Dipped Chocolates is a quirky little chocolate shop that has something for everybody. This Deadwood, South Dakota, shop is known for its handmade truffles, which come in dessert- and drink-inspired flavors such as root beer float, New York cheesecake and Bailey’s Irish Cream. You know you’re getting a real gold nugget too, because each chocolate has to pass personal inspection before being sold.
The Hershey Story Museum in downtown Hershey tells the story of Milton S. Hershey’s initial struggles with building a business before the chocolate-bar king put it all together. Visitors can browse the extensive educational displays, which feature historical photos and early advertising examples of Hershey’s chocolate products. The museum also offers a tasting bar and the Chocolate Lab, where visitors can craft a bar and learn how cocoa beans are transformed into confections. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
“We became convinced it was impossible to become number one in the world buying beans from brokers,” Alessio says. “The broker cannot tell you who grew the beans, or how it was done.” I don’t take Alessio for a weepy humanitarian, and yet he practices enlightened self-interest when it comes to the people who grow his cacao. He has invested in Chuao, agreeing to pay off the farmers’ mounting debts and buying baseball uniforms for the local team. He needs their best work so that he and Cecilia can do their best work.
What’s fun about ordering cookies from Milk Jar is the ability to create a custom box and choose from 15 different flavors that include Banana Split, Birthday Cake, Rocky Road, and White Chocolate Raspberry. Or skip the pressure of choosing and just order the popular assorted box. Order as few as a half dozen ($15) to up to two dozen for online orders ($60). Need more than two dozen? Just give them a call.
I brought in 20 judges. This way I could ensure that we had a variety of taste testers with different palettes. I had a few rules and one of them was they couldn’t communicate with each other while tasting the brownies. I studied a phenomenon called “group think” in college and know people can be swayed by other people’s opinions. So it had to be less talking and more eating! They were happy to oblige because I was offering them BROWNIES.
The O chocolates are more of a novelty, disks with a thin filling. While the flavors are okay, the fillings are too small to contribute much. So I leave these pieces to people who just want chocolate with a little bit of something else. At £42/lb., they do not enjoy the same price attractiveness as the Couture chocolates. I did not try the truffles or salted caramels but suspect you will not go wrong sampling them.
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.
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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.
Famous in New York and internationally as an uncompromising chocolatier, Jaques Torres makes gourmet chocolate chip cookies that are an elegant and rich version of everyone’s favorite cookie. Each cookie measures 5 inches in diameter. Jacques uses his rich, house blend 60% dark chocolate baking discs, which means this cookie skews to the adult tastes, or kids with a discerning palate.
For those who don't eat animal products (or just prefer to stay away from dairy), these Amore di Mona vegan chocolates make a delicious and thoughtful gift. They're also free from gluten, wheat, soy, and peanuts, and they come in a 24-piece box complete with a bow. Best of all, reviewers say, it's "very high quality chocolate" and they "taste amazing!"
One of the house specialties at Fire & Grain is flatbread. Shown is the prosciutto and fig flatbread, which is covered with green onion aioli, prosciutto, figs and arugula, and drizzled with balsamic reduction and garlic oil. “I’ve been making this dough for more than 35 years, and we’ve perfected it,” says chef Michael Cappelli. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
Why they're cool: They've been making chocolate since their first store opened in California in 1921, almost 100 years ago (omg)! They also offer over 100 varieties of chocolate for all different occasions like Valentine's Day, game day, gift boxes, and custom mixes! To top it off they offer a variety of yummy lollypops everyone (including me) is obsessed with!
K’s 5-star review: After several years of being a loyal online consumer to the LA Burdick box selections, it's a treat to visit a store location and indulge in all the rich offerings of a self-seletion case and café. Their chocolates are dainty in size, a few nibbles at most, but they are refined with robust flavors including saffron, chartreuse, scotch, earl grey, lemongrass, honey, pear, and more. They also have charming novelty pieces built of delicate almond slivers (mice, penguins, and seasonal bees, snowman, rabbits ...). The most amazing piece I've had from their case (and arguably from anywhere) is the Pavé Glacé. These are melt-in-your-mouth cubes of ground hazelnuts, saffron, chocolate covered in a layer of powdered cocoa. They could make a scene. So worth it. The service has been quite lovely on my visits, and the café is warm and invitingly arranged with more seats than other shops that might offer similar menus. It would be a great place to trek after a show. It's a lovely cloud of chocolate to curb a long, sharp day. Go float.
Although the site claims that Chocolate is a member of the Better Business Bureau, the BBB website has not given the retailer accreditation; at the time of our review, Chocolate's rating was a B+. Why? There are some complaints that haven't been resolved to the customer's satisfaction; most of them say that there were issues with credit cards being charged for orders that either shipped considerably late or not at all, and that it was difficult to get any response from Chocolate. The “Contact Us” page only offers an online form or an email address, not a phone number for customers to get more direct help.
We knew there was a word for what the look and taste of the gourmet cookies from 1812 House made us feel, so we got busy Googling and we think we found it: Hiraeth. Hiraeth is a Welch word that is tough to translate but it expresses that feeling of longing and nostalgia that borders on homesickness for a time or place you can no longer return to. That’s the kind of emotional time travel we had when we unboxed our cookies from 1812 House. These are timeless, classic cookies made with real butter and vanilla and handmade in small batches. Eating one is like stepping back in time, a pleasure mixed with nostalgia.
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
Christopher Elbow ($35 for 16 pieces) was our top pick for 2014. In a blind tasting, a panel voted it their favorite. In the most recent tasting, the chocolates came across as too sweet and the flavors a little heavy-handed. While they are absolutely beautiful—the chocolates resemble baubles and jewels—they were squeezed out of the top spots by this year’s contenders.
The Godiva website is organized by seasonal, truffles, gifts, business and more and is easy to navigate. Shoppers may further define their selection by price, type of chocolate, special value, collections and more detailed options to expedite their effort. For those specifically looking for a gift, a number of gift boxes and baskets exist that are organized by occasion. Godiva also allows the gift purchaser to select a ribbon to personalize the box or basket. While many of the selections are priced a little higher than other leading chocolate companies, you know with Godiva your gift is sure to leave an impression.
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).
Our final list of the best chocolate shops in every state celebrates every kind of chocolate maker — from the East Coast, where single-source, artisanal chocolates reign supreme, to cozy, kitschy shops in the Midwest, innovative chocolate stores and factories on the West Coast and everything else in between. If you live in the U.S., there’s the perfect chocolate shop for you (and you don’t have to travel too far).
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.
The 97-year-old chocolatier known for it’s eye-popping displays of bon bons is a favorite of the Belgian royal family. But its high-class tablets, packaged in charming, pastel boxes, are worthy of a taste as well. Perhaps most worthy is Mary's 72 percent dark chocolate bar made with beans from the equatorial (and volcanic) African island of São Tomé. All ten of its fanciful shops are in Belgium except one, which is in Oakwood, Ohio.
Something was also lost in presentation. The uniformity of the pieces made for a bland appearance. An open box showed an array of blocks. The nearly identical undecorated chocolates lacked the attractiveness of of other chocolatiers’ colorful pieces with diverse shapes and decorations. And, while creative effort has clearly gone into zChocolat’s collection, I found the pieces pleasant but not compelling.
creations impress both the palate and the eye. As Val, one of the panelists, said: "It's more than candy -- it's art." Thomas was more enamored of the taste, writing, "Who knew it was possible for chocolate to be both bold and delicate at the same time?" For Valentine's Day, Shotts makes a limited collection called Legendary Lovers. With chocolates named after star-crossed lovers like Roman mythology's Dido and Aeneas (strawberry basil and raspberry verbena), the collection is bound to get you in the mood. ($20 for the 12-piece box; garrisonconfections.com, 401-490-2740)
"Commence your tasting with the white chocolate, macadamia nut and Cointreau Ambrosia truffle; with your second sip give our milk chocolate Wink of the Rabbit truffle a whirl. Rosé Champagnes are a tad fuller bodied than their golden counterparts and in general, tend to stand up better to darker chocolates. Cheers to an eternal life of wine + chocolate!"
Owner Alexandra Clark was a student of chocolate economics, so it’s safe to say she knows the business from top to bottom. At Bon Bon Bon, she flavors her bonbons with locally sourced ingredients, uses recyclable packaging (a rare commitment in the industry), and has a crew of internationally trained chocolatiers who call themselves the “Babes Babes Babes.” They put out a massive variety of delightful, open-topped chocolates, including the He Loves Me Not, which is angel tears tea-infused dark chocolate ganache topped with flower petals. The shop ships nationwide. 719 Griswold Street #100, Detroit, MI
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.
To identify the best chocolate shop in each state, 24/7 Wall St. indexed ratings weighted by number of reviews for thousands of chocolate shops nationwide on Yelp and Google. To be considered, a chocolate shop must be in or near a city with a population of at least 100,000 people. In states with few or no cities of this size, chocolate shops in smaller cities were also considered. Ratings are the number of points given by Yelp and Google users out of a possible 5.
In 2005, when John Grahm took over this mid-century Los Angeles shop where Marilyn Monroe once purchased her sweets, he fashioned it into an edgy and modern version of Old Hollywood elegance. Partnering with designer Kelly Wearstler, Grahm created a line of stunning bars covered in edible crystal, filled with tortilla chips and cayenne pepper, and flavored with balsamic vinegar. But tradition still rules at Compartés, so everything is handmade and people (not machines) do the packaging.