All the while, I’d been looking at the red heart-shaped objects that were floating in the two big jars. I kept thinking about the Aztecs. At last I asked Alessio what they were. “Cacao pods,” he said. “In formaldehyde so they do not dry up.” The one off in a corner behind the door was a unique Venezuelan variety called Porcelana. The other, placed on a low table next to all the trays of chocolate, gleamed and glistened like a trophy. That one was Venezuelan too, Alessio said with a smile. It came from Chuao.

Elbow’s pieces are mostly square ganaches or round caramels. Many of the caramels were dominated by a sweet fruit caramel, with chocolate from the crisp shell playing a lesser role. The chocolate was a little stronger in the Fleur de Sel, which was wonderful to bite into. The Bananas Foster is also notable because four flavors, chocolate, banana, caramel, and rum, are each noticeable and distinct, working together but not diminshing each other.

Because they’re meant to be gifted, I presented the chocolates in their boxes, but without the brand names showing. We felt that the presentation should be a factor in judging. We had a very strict rule against calling out a brand to the rest of the group if someone recognized the packaging. Luckily, it wasn’t an issue—no one had a clue about what was what during the tasting.

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.


Blue’s Chocolates (formerly Chocolatier Blue) features fine chocolates of diverse flavors. One of my favorites was the Sweet Potato Casserole, for its novel flavor. The sweet potato flavor was well presented and balanced with the chocolate. The Hazelnut was also excellent. Hazelnut is a traditional flavor in chocolates, but the natural hazelnut flavor shone in this piece without being bitter. Other favorites included 75% Dark, Lemon, Pistachio, Passion Fruit Caramel, Candy Cane, and Pear. The PB Crunch was crunchy and had a nice peanut flavor with a pleasant tang.

This Brussels, Belgium-based chocolatier has a long-standing reputation as one of Europe’s best chocolate-makers, and this dark chocolate collection is a fantastic way to sample their variety of confections. A twenty-five count box contains a wide assortment of fillings including pralines, ganaches, caramels, and fruit fillings all enrobed in high-quality dark chocolate. Although it’s a Belgian brand, it’s readily available in the US with two-day shipping.
Milton S. Hershey opened The Hotel Hershey in 1933, on a hill overlooking his chocolate factory. Its architecture was inspired by a hotel he and his wife, Catherine, had visited in the Mediterranean and includes a Spanish-style patio, a decorative fountain and a unique dining room without corners. It has 276 rooms and has been expanded to include event space. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
Methodology: 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.
If you’re looking for something a little simpler but still well within gourmet chocolate range, we suggest these caramels. Made with an infusion of sea salt, the caramels manage to merge a chewy texture and sweet notes with crunchy and bold sea salt. The salt doesn’t overwhelm the senses and instead provides a way to enhance the base flavors and textures of the caramel for a truly unique gourmet experience. These caramels are made with real butter and salt along with fresh cream for an authentic taste at an affordable price.
Methodology: 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.
This best selling chocolate brand produces a premium, round, chocolate sweet. It consists of flat sheets of Wafer, Nutella, and hazelnuts. About 3.6 billion Ferrero Rocher are sold every year in over 35 countries. This brand has had a major impact in China since China allowed foreign businesses to increase the economy. The gold wrapping gave a luxurious and different appearance which the Chinese associated with wealth, which allowed for its popularity in China over other chocolate brands.
If they're into a colorful assortment of milk, white, and dark chocolate, we've got plenty of eclectic options on this list. Chocolate truffles are always a favorite, as are sought-after British chocolate candy bars and praline cremes from Germany. We had to include chocolate and peanut butter candies from Reese's, and there's even a gluten-free option, too.
In 2004, Los Angeles chocolatier Valerie Gordon started creating her impeccable, handmade small-batch chocolates and crispy chocolate-covered toffees topped with almonds, fleur du sel or candied fruit. Favorites of F&W’s Tina Ujlaki include the outstanding milk chocolate-dipped nougat and caramel squares. In 2011, Gordon created a line of new tea blends, cookies and petits fours. valerieconfections.com
Even today, the chocolate trade looks a lot like it did in colonial days: Raw materials bought at generally low prices in the tropics are shipped to the developed world and turned into a luxury product. Today, three of the largest importers of cacao to America are fighting a lawsuit filed by a human rights group claiming that they buy beans harvested by child slaves, mostly in the nation of Ivory Coast. Several journalists have contended that the extent of slavery in the cacao industry has been overblown, but it’s hardly comforting to hear that the number of slaves who helped make your afternoon snack has been exaggerated. Without doubt, adults and children on some cacao farms, particularly in West Africa, perform demanding, exhausting work for awful pay.
Review: When we first saw this box we didn't really have high expectations but considering this was the only chocolate assortment that was nearly wiped out by our testers, it's safe to say it's a true contender. Like the other Russell Stover on the list, this heart has a lot of variety but unlike its counterpart the chocolates seem to have a little more inspiration and flavor behind them. Overall reactions boiled down to head nods of approval from our tasters so if you're looking for something good that isn't wildly expensive, this is a great way to go.
Theo Chocolate can be found at many higher-end markets but a visit to its shop guarantees a taste of hard-to-find flavors, like a bonbon filled with caramel that’s flavored by the smoky heat of a ghost chile. Theo, which ships its chocolates nationwide, uses only organic and certified fair-trade chocolate for all of its creations. 3400 Phinney Avenue N, Seattle, WA 98103
Shipping fees at Ghirardelli are high. Unless they're running a promotion like the one we saw at the time of our review - $5 standard shipping with the given coupon code - you'll be spending at least $9.95 to send your chocolates via standard shipping. If you need to upgrade to 2-day, it'll cost you at least $19.95. On the other hand, you don't have to worry about the weather affecting your delivery: Ghirardelli automatically sends their chocolates in insulated cartons with iced gel packs when shipping during warm-weather months, at no extra charge.
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Nobody knows for sure how many chocolate shops there are in the U.S. today, at least in part because many of them do double duty as patisseries, ice cream parlors, or gift shops. Suffice to say there is probably not a city or a town of any size in the country that doesn’t boast at least one purveyor of chocolates. There are at least 25 in New York City, for instance, and more than 30 in Los Angeles.
Chocolate is a guilty pleassure made of the mass of roasted cocoa beans and cocoa butter processed with powdered sugar. This sweet is hundreds of years old. The word cocoa derives from the Aztec word "cacahualtl". According to the legend the cocoa was the most beautiful tree in the Aztecs' paradise. They believed the cocoa beans provided wisdom and helped cure diseases. These trees originaly grew in the Amazon and Orinoco basins. The Mayans started to cultivate cocoa more than 2,500 years ago. They used the cream of cocoa to cure wounds and as both stimulant and relaxing medicine. They also created a bitter beverage called "chocolha" with the seeds of cocoa and some local spicies which was only consumed by the nobles. 

Chocolate making in general is often referred to as an art, but at Dancing Lion in Manchester, New Hampshire, they really are making art. They sell stunning chocolate sculptures that almost look like stonework. You’ll also find beautiful and uniquely flavored chocolate bars such as The Blues, a beautiful blue bar with dark chocolate, blueberries and toasted pecans.

The cookies are baked and shipped the same day, individually wrapped in a pack of eight. That’s right, 8 cookies = a box of four pounds of freshly-made cookies. City Cakes knows 8 big cookies may be a lot for some, but the individually packaged cookies freeze well and return to their fresh-baked goodness with just a few minutes in a 350 degree oven or a few seconds in the microwave.
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.
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Chocolat Céleste is a mixed bag; I have enjoyed some pieces but not all (relative to experienced expected for the price), and prices have escalated. I suggest the Grand Cru collection. Although pricey, $139/lb. in 2012, it is a rare opportunity to taste criollo (a type of cacao, from which chocolate is made). I enjoyed the criollo pieces in the collection. They should be approached as a tasting experience: Cleanse your palate with water, smell, taste, let the chocolate dissolve, and take the time to experience it. The collection also has non-criollo pieces that I found a bit flat and dry compared to the criollo.
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