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.
I’ve been a fervent consumer of chocolate my whole life, to the point where I can open up almost any box of assorted bonbons and immediately spot the chewy caramel (it’s usually square). Aside from my personal affinity for bonbons and truffles, I tasted many different brands when they crossed my desk while I was working as a food editor at Martha Stewart. I learned how to quickly spot the difference between inexpensive and high-quality chocolates by looking for a perfect temper, examining ingredients, and, of course, tasting.
French Broad: This chocolatier opened in Asheville in 2007 and does a nice job of giving the chocolate lover a big truffle for the buck. These were some of the largest truffles we tasted. Their Buddha Collection’s vegan truffle was a favorite (composed of bitter sweet chocolate and coconut cream), lending the truffle a nice exotic edge. The Lavender and honey from the signature collection box—a milk chocolate ganache around a dark chocolate ganache blended with local honey and lavender—was the a delicious riff on lavender. The mole negro—housemade mole in dark chocolate and rolled in sesame seeds—great texture and spice.
Our own country is the world’s biggest producer of chocolate. One thing that sets American chocolate apart? The frequent use of peanuts and almonds. There are a number of artisan chocolate shops across the country, but Hershey’s in the country’s largest producer of the candy. And of course, there’s Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania, a popular family destination for both thrill rides and all the chocolate and confections one can handle!
Back in 1857, Jean Neuhaus opened a pharmacy in Brussels, Belgium and decided to coat medicines with chocolate to help them go down better. By 1912, Neuhaus' son had created the praline, and in 1915, his wife designed the first box of Neuhaus chocolates. Fast forward to 2018, and Neuhaus chocolates are still considered among the very best. We've tasted Neuhaus chocolate at its shops in NYC, and it's delicious.
Chocolate with coriander and fennel? It all started in 1994 when Italian chocolatier Valter Bovetti established a factory in Aubazine, France. There he debuted his trademark chocolate candies shaped as nails and tools. In 2006, Bovetti and five fellow chocolate-makers visited Sao Tome, an African island in the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of Gabon. The island was called the “chocolate island,” which inspired them to found a fair trade association named Roca Cacao. The organization bought harvesting equipment for twelve plantations and ensured a living wage for their 120 employees. Beans from the site of the first cacao plantation in Africa, go into Bovetti’s high-quality Single Origin bars.
John Scharffenberger, already a big name in the wine world, decided in 1997 to try his hand at artisanal chocolate-making. Using a vintage German melangeur — a machine that slowly grinds cacao beans into a chocolate liquor — and personally sampling beans from more than 150 international cacao farms, he and partner Robert Steinberg sought to bring traditional European chocolate craftsmanship to the States, proudly emphasizing cacao content on the bars' labels — a first for American chocolatiers. The San Francisco team also became the first American bean-to-bar manufacturer in 50 years. Now a member of the Hershey family, Scharffen Berger produces a modest but exquisite selection of bars and tasting squares sold at stores like Whole Foods including a crunchy Milk Chocolate Bar with Sea Salted Almonds.
Included as one of Oprah's Favorite Things in past years, this bean-to-bar chocolate from acclaimed Chef Thomas Keller and renowned Tuscan olive oil producer Armando Manni is, as Oprah says, "pure chocolate bliss." This set includes one antioxidant-loaded dark chocolate bar, a milk chocolate variety, and two dark-milk chocolate blends. Are you drooling yet?
The Tessieris did not set out to make chocolate. In the beginning, like the rest of the Chocolate Valley, they made candy. Their parents owned a business in Pontedera that sold pastry ingredients to bakers. Alessio and Cecilia went off on their own, but they didn’t stray far. They rented a small room in town and began to experiment with what they call pralines and we call filled chocolates. Soon enough, they wanted to move to a higher grade—the highest grade they knew. So the brother and sister, who were still in their 20s, went to visit a chocolate maker they greatly admired.
Africans consume less than 4% of chocolate sold globally, but Ivory Coast is looking to change that with their handmade, artisanal chocolates. Known as the leader in the production and exporting of cocoa beans, the country has begun producing their own chocolate as the region continues to stabilize and experience economic growth. One company, Instant Chocolat, was launched in 2015 and has experienced tremendous growth in its first few years. Their chocolate, ranging from pralines to bars, is popular both locally and internationally, particularly with corporate clients like Air France and Citibank.
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I discovered this wonderful chocolate brand more than a year ago in one of my Amazon Sweet Surprise boxes and immediately started searching for more. Hands down, this is the best chocolate I’ve ever had, European or American. The flavors in this selection are among my all-time favorites made by Seattle Chocolate. If I could give it 10 stars I would. And so nice to know that a portion of revenue goes to charitable causes. Thanks so much, Seattle Chocolate!
Blink and passers-by could easily miss the Veruca Chocolates cafe and store in Chicago’s sleek Lincoln Park neighborhood. Pediatrician-turned-chocolatier Heather Johnston fills her glass cases with bonbons, caramels, and dipped truffles in a range of flavors every season. The house specialties include a mango and passionfruit-infused ganache bonbon, but don’t miss the almost smoky blackened sugar chocolates, or browned butter bonbons with an addictively nutty flavor. Toasted pumpkin seeds give orange-hued pumpkin caramel truffles a bit of crunch. Veruca ships nationwide. 1332 North Halsted Street, Chicago, IL — Ashok Selvam
Richart has improved over the years and makes a nice presentation in the store and in the box. Their chocolates are nice but are far from worth the extraordinary price. I purchased a 25-piece box mixed with Fruity and Roasted pieces. The prepared boxes in the store were all Fruity, all Roasted, or all Balsamic, so each has a uniform color, unlike my mixture to the right. Other design elements in the store are nice, such as a shelf display using a lot of white with a little bright color, different in each column of boxes.
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.
We reached out to some of the world's best makers to learn more about the chocolates they love. These aren't the kinds of confections you'll find wedged between gum and mints at the check-out counter. They are craft chocolates, known for their attention to quality and celebration of the wide range of flavors found in cocoa beans from different origins.
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.
At Sucré in New Orleans, everything is simultaneously decadent and delicate. The shop’s signature chocolates feature playful flavors like peanut butter and jelly and German chocolate cake. The macarons, which include chocolate, almond and lavender flavors, are famous throughout Louisiana. Of course, the shop’s standout offerings are sold during Carnival,which include a selection of gold, green, and purple chocolates in iconic flavors (creme brulee, Southern pecan praline, and bananas Foster).
Decadent is the first word that comes to mind when describing these Swiss milk chocolate truffles. The inside is filled with rich, smooth chocolate that melts in your mouth — and the outside is covered by a crunchy chocolate shell. You'll get the benefits of both textures in one delicious treat. And talk about value: this 60-count box will keep your gift recipient high on chocolate for weeks.
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.
#3: Great Value (Wal-Mart Generic Brand) Fudge Brownie Mix — the underdog and least expensive brownie mix killed it in the brownie mix challenge, much to the surprise of the judges. One judge even gave it a perfect score and deemed it the favorite. It consistently received a few solid 8’s, a few 9’s, and one 10. It also received a 2 and several 4’s so it wasn’t a favorite across the board. Most reviewers like the soft, chewy texture with flaky top. They enjoyed the fudgy flavor. Some thought it was slightly artificial tasting and wouldn’t eat it again. It scored well enough to nab the #3 spot. What a shocker!
With colorful eye-popping displays of sumptuous chocolate truffles and confections, Sprüngli offers the traditional high-end Swiss chocolate experience. This luxury chocolate shop first opened its doors in 1836, later to build a reputation on its signature macaron, the Luxemburgerli. Chocolate-covered nuts and hot chocolate mixes are offered to take home, in addition to the ultimate grand cru truffles that would send anyone’s eyes rolling back in delight. Rub shoulders with the city’s well-to-do while enjoying a coffee and chocolate cake in the Paradeplatz flagship shop’s second-floor café. Numerous locations in Zurich.
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.
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