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.
Cacao Art: Made by sisters Susana and Isabel Garcia, who started the business in Venezuela but later moved to Miami (lucky for us). Says Isabel, “We think, as sisters, there is a lot of nostalgia in our chocolates, because we like to recreate the tastes of our shared childhood in Venezuela.” Case in point, the decadent Anís y Papelón truffle (an International Chocolate Awards winner) made from sweet anise and raw cane sugar and inspired by a traditional Venezuelan pastry. The sisters use as many local and organic ingredients as possible and different spices and flavors from their extensive travels in Europe and North and South America.
Most chocolate makers know nothing about where their cacao comes from. A former consultant for a well-regarded European chocolate maker told me that until last year, the firm’s cacao buyer had never been to a plantation. Farmers sell to brokers who sell to bigger brokers; by the time the cacao reaches the factory, nobody knows its story. Sometimes this arrangement allows growers to mistreat workers without accountability. It also can allow them to get the same price for unripe, rotting or generally trashy beans—at their worst, these are known as "dogs and cats"—that they get for the good stuff.
Shugarman’s Little Chocolate Shop is the definition of “off the beaten path.” You won’t find a website for this 420-square-foot shop in Madrid, New Mexico, but if you visit, you’ll find an ever-rotating selection of uniquely flavored chocolates. Mixtures like dark chocolate with pink peppercorns, lavender, lemongrass and merlot salt sound crazy, but chocolatier Harvey Shugarman makes it work.
If you think chocolate all tastes the same around the world, Kyya Chocolate in Springdale, Arkansas, will prove you wrong. This bean-to-bar chocolate shop makes a variety of single-origin dark chocolate treats, allowing customers to taste the subtle differences between offerings from Uganda, Ecuador, Madagascar, and beyond. There’s nothing artificial in this shop, just pure, beautiful flavors.
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.
Candinas Chocolatier is a small manufacturer run by Markus Candinas. His truffle assortment includes two very nice nut pieces, with a very fine crunchy texture and good flavors. The truffles have thin shells and medium-strength flavors. Another piece was sweet and fruity, quite appealing. However, without a chart, you do not know what to expect. The web site also offers no selection of pieces. The marzipan piece I liked seems to be gone. Much of the assortment is plain or mild ganaches or other “just chocolate” pieces that do not interest me. Given that, though, the milk chocolate truffle was spot on, and the flavors are nice.
Founder Colin Gasko is running a small but ambitious operation. Each single-origin chocolate bar at Rogue is sourced from independent farms in Peru, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Trinidad and Tobago, and Honduras. Unlike other fair-trade chocolate purveyors, Rogue pays more than twice the minimum for some of its cacao order to ensure the lasting success of those farms. Thanks to its small production, Rogue doesn’t always have a wide array available to purchase online, but each bar tastes like something special. Three Rivers, MA
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).
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.
Take someone’s taste buds on a trip around the world without buying a single plane ticket. Trader Joe’s chocolate “passport” allows chocolate lovers to sample bars from eight of the world’s best chocolate-producing countries. Each of the bars is single origin—which means the cocoa beans were sourced from that country alone—to ensure that you taste the unique flavors of each region. You’ll taste floral and nutty notes in Papua New Guinea’s bar, while Peru’s is slightly fruity and woody. Every single one is different from the last. Each bar is a little less than two ounces and they range from 60% to 73% cacao.
It is National Chocolate Day, the perfect occasion on which to suggest a line-up of the 15 best chocolate bars in the whole world. This is a personal choice and it is en extremely subjective topic. But as a judge at the International Chocolate Awards and a Grand Jury judge at the Academy of Chocolate awards I have tasted a lot of chocolate - and these are my favourites, in reverse order of my opinion of their deliciousness.