To take advantage of Chase Sapphire Preferred’s lucrative offer of 3x points on dining on the first Friday of every month, we regularly round up the best in food and drink. To get a jump on your February 14/Valentine’s Day sweets shopping, TPG Contributor Michele Herrmann has put together an assortment of artisan chocolate shops across the U.S. where the candies are just as individual as your Valentine.
Made from high-quality Ecuador cocoa beans, this stunning assortment of twenty brightly colored chocolates combines 70% dark chocolate with five unique flavors – strawberry, mango, ginger, peppermint, and coffee. You bite into the crunchy candy shell, releasing the flavored liquid which combines with the chocolate base. It’s a unique chocolate experience unlike anything else on the market, balancing flavorful candy with high-quality, intense dark chocolate.
You can’t go wrong with anything at Vande Walle’s Candies in Appleton, Wisconsin; the chocolate is so high-quality and delicious that everything is great. This local candy shop is best known for its angelfood candies, with a light, airy center that melts in your mouth. Their truffle chocolate bars, with a classic chocolate outside and smooth, velvety interior, are also a highlight.
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.
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
Jacques Torres’ products are excellent, and there is not much to detract for that. A correspondent recommended the Alizé Heart of Passion, but the nut pieces are my favorites, with the Heart and other fruit pieces second. Most of the nut pieces, such as the Heavenly Hazelnut, had the fine crunchy texture of a praliné. The Cinnamon Praline was also a great nut piece, with hazelnuts. The European Peanut Butter had sort of an airy taste to the peanut butter. The Heart had a nice pop to the passion fruit flavor enveloped by chocolate flavor. The Creamy Raspberry, Fresh Squeezed Lemon, and Love Bug were also excellent fruit pieces.
Photo Credits: All images under fair use for illustrative purposes unless otherwise noted, 25. luxati.com, 24. everydayparisian.com, 23. toakchocolate.com, 22. www.richart-chocolates.com, 21. xfilexplore.com, 20. cocoastore.nyc, 19. mostlyaboutchocolate.com, 18. eclatchocolate.com, 17. wdwmagic.com, 16. wikimedia commons (public domain), 15. tripadvisor.com, 14. mnogolok.info, 13-12. wowreads.com, 11. candyaddict.com, 10. raredelights.com, 9. Mstyslav Chernov, Handmade cigar production, process. Tabacalera de Garcia Factory. Casa de Campo, La Romana, Dominican Republic (8), CC BY-SA 3.0, 8. Oderik, ChocoSP, CC BY-SA 3.0, 7. Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK, Swarovski crystals (2545857954), CC BY 2.0, 6-5. peimag.com, 4. delafee.com, 3. cazhighlights.blogspot.com, 2. delafee.com, 1. luxexpose.com
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.
The truffles are packaged in a row, as in the above image (which unfortunately does not convey the triangular shapes well), in a triangular box. A mild drawback is that the box unfolds and opens flat, which is not convenient for holding the remaining truffles until you can eat them. I recommend trying Telluride once. The price is a bit high, although the reasonable shipping price partly compensates for that.
If you want the bright flavors of California in a box of chocolates, look no further than Sacramento’s Ginger Elizabeth. This shop specializes in bonbons with sunny flavors like eureka lemon and raspberry rose geranium, but the other products are equally decadent and delicious. The shop regularly releases special cakes for the holidays and has some of the best hot chocolate and macarons you could hope to find in the Golden State.”
There’s a drinking chocolate for everyone at Elbow Chocolates. There is an unadulterated plain dark chocolate for the purists and one with a hint of vanilla for those who want just a little more depth. You'll also find peppermint drinking chocolate and a spiced drinking chocolate with chilies and cinnamon for those who prefer a little spice in their life.
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.
It’s no longer difficult to find beautifully decorated chocolates, sea-salted caramels, or delicately scented truffles: Nearly every major city in the U.S. is now home to a shop offering single-origin chocolate bars or bonbons filled with spiked ganache and coated in paint swipes of color. Others use local fruit, fresh herbs, spices, nuts, coffee, tea, or other essences to enhance each chocolate variety, encouraging flavors to dance on the tongue as they melt.
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.
For three generations, Damask’s Candies has been delighting New Jersey families in the Woolwich Township area for decades. Though the shop sells a variety of creamy chocolates, chocolate-covered caramels and other confections, Damask’s Candies is best known for the chocolate-covered oyster crackers. These bite-sized treats are the perfect mix of sweet, salty, crunchy and smooth; it’s a wonder more chocolate shops don’t offer these. Damask’s Candies is only open seasonally, so be sure to plan your trip to the Garden State accordingly.
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.
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.