Savoring each bite of bold, innovative and flavorful hand-made chocolates is without a doubt the best part of being a member of The Gourmet Chocolate of the Month Club™. Discovering chocolatiers and chocolate creations you’ve never tried before makes that even better. But why stop there? Each month you’ll read all about the origins and histories of each featured chocolate, what kinds of time-honored or innovative processes were used to make them, what creative ingredients were used to make them and most importantly, what to look for when you taste them.
The Richart family started making gourmet chocolates and French macarons in Lyon, France in 1925 and has consequently gone on to become one of the world’s best chocolate brands. The chocolatier has gained highly coveted accolades for his work: National Geographic’s Inside Travel named him one of the world’s top chocolatiers, and has been awarded the Ruban Bleu, France’s most prestigious confectioner’s honor, a total of seven times.
For more than 30 years, Seattle-based owner Fran Bigelow has been setting candy trends—she was selling miniature chocolate bars and elegant truffles before they became ubiquitous. Her sweets also have a very high-profile admirer: As a lover of salty-sweet desserts, one of President Obama’s favorite indulgences is Fran’s Smoked Salt Caramels ($12)—buttery caramels coated in milk chocolate and sprinkled with smoked sea salt. franschocolates.com
This South American country may not be the first to come to mind when you think about the world's best chocolate, but it should be. Research suggests that cocoa originated in Ecuador, where it was cultivated and eaten over 5,000 years ago. The most flavorful chocolate produced today comes from aromatic "arriba cacao," from which only 5 percent of the world's chocolate is made. Sixty-three percent of that cacao is grown in Ecuador. One of the country's top three brands, Pacari, continues to collect international awards. Kallari and Republica del Cacao chocolates also have bold Ecuadorian flavors.
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.
At her beautiful Atlanta boutique, owner Kristen Hard refuses to use anything but dark chocolate in her amazing bean-to-bar chocolates and playful desserts, such as a chocolate faux salami flecked with biscotti. To win over milk chocolate lovers, she says she “slowly ratcheted up the cacao percentages, and no one noticed.” Many chocolate artisans spend years training with masters, but Hard is almost completely self-taught. “It used to make me feel insecure,” she says. “But it’s also why I’m unique.” She now spends six weeks abroad each year sourcing beans directly from farmers, creating outstanding bars like one with Venezuelan cacao and raw sugar. cacaoatlanta.com
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And, no surprise, the world winner is also a hit with esteemed makers: "Meeting the wonderful Canadian couple David and Cynthia of Soma Chocolatemaker at the International Chocolate Awards World Championships was a gift," Friis-Holm says. "The rare beans originating from the troubled country of Venezuela that are featured in their Guasare 70% bar make for a very tasty, beautifully executed and worthy world winner."


This winter, put down that sad can of powdered hot cocoa and embrace the wonder of drinking chocolate—small pieces of real chocolate that you melt in hot milk or water. The result is a richer, denser cup of hot chocolate that will definitely warm you up on a chilly night. This 55% dark drinking chocolate from Theo Chocolate is the perfect introduction to the joys of homemade hot chocolate. It’s single origin (from the Democratic Republic of Congo), organic and certified fair trade, which means you can be sure that producers and farmers are being paid fairly and using sustainable practices. Gift a box to your eco-warrior friend for a cozy night of Netflix bingeing.
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.
If you still want a classic chocolate chip cookie, the Salty Sweet version uses thin slabs of chocolate that layer throughout giving each bite the perfect dough to chocolate ratio. But don’t stop there. We loved the Oatmeal Raisin cookies (“Best I’ve ever had” said one taster), the Dark Chocolate cookies (“Deeply chocolate without being too sweet’) and the Spicy Cinnamon cookies which absolutely live up to the name. Gluten-Free and Vegan cookie options are available too, and they are just as delicious as the classic versions.
The beginning of Godiva chocolates traces back to a 1920s chocolate- and sweet-making workshop owned and operated by the Draps family in Brussels, Belgium. Their “pralines,” typical Belgian filled chocolates, were sold in the large, highly fashionable shops. At the age of 14, Joseph Draps went into the family business. Over the years, he developed both his ability and creative talent as a master chocolate-maker as well as his business sense. He decided to create a prestige range of chocolates and to give it an evocative name. He chose “Godiva” and marketed his chocolates in instantly recognizable gold boxes. In recognition of its excellence, Godiva has been rewarded with an appointment as supplier to the Court of Belgium. Godiva continues to be an innovator in gourmet chocolate.
Ferrero Rocher is perhaps one of the most famous and popular choclate makers in the world with the confectionary produced by the Italian chocolatier Ferrero SpA. The chocolates were first introduced in Europe back in 1982 by Michael Ferrero and is world famous for its truffle bars of milk chocolate and generous hazelnut helpings. The balls consist of whole roasted hazelnuts within a thin wafer shell covered in the best quality milk chocolates and topped off with chopped hazelnuts.
K’s 4-star review: Champagne Truffles are amazing. When you shop in the store, they have "mini" truffles which are even better. I absolutely recommend these as a highlight of a trek along 5th Ave (among other distractions). Other chocolates from the case weren't as impressive (or disappointing: the triple-layer gianduja was dry and crumbled apart in the bag). Oh, and don't expect that the chocolate will be packaged nicely with a self-selected assortment: you get a clear plastic baggy like you just bought bulk dime store candy. Otherwise, staff was courteous and helpful. So, yay! I'm a fan of one piece! Rather generous rating for one piece ... ah well.
The Swiss came up with the idea to add cocoa butter and the method to do it which gave chocolate a much nicer texture. The Belgians invented the praline, the chocolate truffles and many different exotic fillings. There are several differences between Swiss and Belgian chocolates. The beans for Belgian chocolate come mainly from Africa. The Swiss acquire them from both Africa and Latin America. Texture, storage and the use of milk in chocolate are other distinctive features of these great chocolates. The Swiss chocolate has usually a smoother texture and would rather avoid using artificial emulsifiers. Swiss tend to produce milk chocolate, and in general they contain more sugar and less cocoa than Belgian chocolates, which are often dark. Belgian chocolatiers have a competitive advantage when it comes to pralines.

One of the few true bean-to-bar chocolatiers in America, Dandelion also sells macarons, hot chocolate, caramels, and pastries at its San Francisco shop. The single-origin brownies are a popular treat, but the brand’s single-origin chocolate bars, which ship nationwide, have a cult following, and each one feels like a special gift. 740 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA
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.
This cozy chocolate lounge and boutique schedules yummy events like a Chocolate & Bubbles Happy Hour and an upcoming “50 Shades of Chocolate” five-course dinner. Its Chocolate Boutique holds innovative fun finds like Chocolate Enrobed Bacon and Chocolate Mood Tubes (with five different cacao percentages). Solid bars such as their signature Some More (aka s’mores) and Strawberry Jammin’ with popping rocks are designed to provide a sensory experience. Stylish single pieces give a boost with bites like goji berry, linzer, banana ginger or cinnamon toffee.
A mural of Milton S. Hershey adorns The Hershey Story Museum, which tells the story of Hershey’s rise to become one of the top chocolatiers in the world. Born on a Pennsylvania farm in 1857, Hershey eventually turned to chocolates and used fresh farm milk to mass-produce milk chocolate, which was until then a luxury confection. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
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!

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People love chocolate. People love bacon. Vosges founder Katrina Markoff decided to marry the two, and Mo's Bacon Candy Bars were born. Choco-bacon pancake mix, truffles and caramel toffees soon followed, putting the Chicago-based company on the map. The pioneer in experimental chocolate who trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris combines our favorite candy with curry for her Naga bar, and ginger, wasabi and black sesame seeds for the Black Pearl Bar. You can find her whimsical recipes at boutiques in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York City and Chicago.
Hailing from France’s Rhône Valley, Valrhona’s wine country influence is unmistakable. The label on each Valrhona cru (single origin bar) bears the name of that bean’s terroir. It is the most exclusive of these being the Vintage Single Origin bars, sold in limited quantities according to crop yield. Valrhona also suggests wine pairings designed to bring out the “notes” in each chocolate’s complex flavor profile. From chocolate pearls to tasting squares, the brand’s nec-plus-ultra chocolate bar selection is available at specialty grocery stores.
Shuddering at the thought of using a mix? We don’t blame you. Like blue jeans and coffee beans, the options seem endless, and making the wrong choice invariably leads to disappointment. Some mixes result in dry or bland cakes, while others can pass pretty easily for homemade. With a team of cake-loving Taste of Home staffers, we compared five of the most popular cake mix brands in a blind taste test.

Alexandra Whisnant, a Boston native, trained at Le Cordon Bleu and Ladurée in Paris before she opened her chocolate business. Its name means “spoiled like girls,” so it’s no surprise that Whisnant doesn’t cut any corners while making her delicate treats. She starts a new batch of pralines or infused ganaches at the beginning of each week, and they sell out by week’s end. Flavors vary weekly, with honey-walnut praline, blackberry ganache, chocolate-mint (made from mint from her aunt’s garden), and whiskey-infused truffles just some of the latest confections to come off of Whisnant’s chocolate dipping table. Call for the day’s offerings. Shipping is limited. Somerville, MA
A British Chocolate bar, Mars chocolate bars were first manufactured in England back in 1932 and was advertised as being made with the chocolate couverture by famous chocolate producing company ‘ Cadbury’. The Mars bars have high nutritional values packing in 2.2g of Protein, 8.5g of Fat and 35.3 g of carbs. These chocolates are basically generous helping of nougat and caramel richly covered in milk chocolate and wrapped in a trademark black wrapper with red-gold edged lettering.
K’s 5-star review: Nama grand mariner and Nama champagne: rich and delicious. Absolutely. Remind me of Burdick's Pave, which are one of my absolute favorites. The Nama are a better value -- more pieces with the benefit of a handy prong to keep all the cocoa dusted pieces from feather off on your fingers. Boxes run $18.00 each as of 4/2014. Potato chips: really didn't click. Tasted greasy and didn't flatter either -- more guilt and less pleasure.

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


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.
“Chocolate is my passion,” says Norman Love, who dreamed of making chocolate that was visually stunning as well as delicious. Love and a partner perfected a technique in which the colored designs for each candy are hand-painted or airbrushed into chocolate molds, which are then filled with the finest chocolate imported from Belgium, France, and Switzerland. The pumpkin white chocolate bonbon is almost too gorgeous to eat. Using only the freshest ingredients, his recipes call for pureed raspberries, bananas, ginger, caramel, passionfruit, and hazelnuts, to name a few.
Varsano’s looks like your average chocolate shop, so I was not expecting much, but their chocolates surprised me. Their uncommon white chocolate peanut butter cup was very nice, and the milk chocolate was good too. Marzipan is a favorite of mine, but only when it is elevated from a plain hard paste to something fluffier and more flavorful, and Varsano’s does that with an excellent chocolate-covered pistachio marzipan. I also liked the chocolate-covered graham cracker. The chocolate they use for covering their pieces is appealing. However, the buttercrunch tasted very weak to me, and the truffles did not impress me in 2006 as they did during my first visit.
These chocolates are unusual, to say the least. Richard Donnelly likes to push the chocolate experience by combining its rich tones — he uses Belgian and French chocolate — with ingredients such as lavender, chipotle, saffron, cardamom, and Earl Grey tea. Such innovation helped Donnelly win the Best Artisan award at the prestigious Euro Chocolate Festival in Perugia, Italy, just ten years after he opened his shop. To maintain quality and ensure freshness, Donnelly produces no more than 50 pounds of chocolate a day. If you need a break from the exotic and unusual flavors, try Donnelly’s white chocolate macadamia nut or a honey vanilla caramel.
Varsano’s looks like your average chocolate shop, so I was not expecting much, but their chocolates surprised me. Their uncommon white chocolate peanut butter cup was very nice, and the milk chocolate was good too. Marzipan is a favorite of mine, but only when it is elevated from a plain hard paste to something fluffier and more flavorful, and Varsano’s does that with an excellent chocolate-covered pistachio marzipan. I also liked the chocolate-covered graham cracker. The chocolate they use for covering their pieces is appealing. However, the buttercrunch tasted very weak to me, and the truffles did not impress me in 2006 as they did during my first visit.
We were also impressed with the boxes the chocolates are delivered in. The beautiful boxes are made of wood or other materials and can be engraved upon request - for a small fee. You may place your own picture or logo on the engraving as you prefer. This allows your gift to be even more personal, impressive and appreciated. The product may even been wrapped and will be placed in a draw string cotton pouch. Include a personal gift message if you like and you may ask to ship the gift now or later as needed.
This cozy shop/café takes an artistic approach to crafting decadent chocolates. Their hand-painted bonbons are a marvel to look at and taste: Black Forest Bacon Bites, Coconut Lime, and Strawberry Balsamic, among others. Truffles also reflect fun names and flavors like Yes, Yes, Yes (layers of white, milk and dark chocolate) and Bite Me (with a brownie ganache). Other fine confections include French macarons, toffees made with Texas pecans, and rich cakes and pastries.
The best chocolates in Texas are hand-crafted by Kate Weiser in Dallas at her namesake chocolate shop. These confections are gorgeous. Her bonbons (which come in inventive flavors such as lavender apricot, yuzu,and buttery popcorn) are bright and colorful. Kate Weiser Chocolate is perhaps best known for “Carl the Snowman.” Named as one of Oprah’s favorite things, this hollow dark chocolate snowman is filled with hot cocoa mix and mini marshmallows. It makes the dreamiest hot chocolate you could ever imagine.
Toblerone is one of the most famous chocolate brands in the world and one of the top Swiss chocolate producing companies in the world.Owned by the famous US confectionary Modelez International Inc., Toblerone chocolates, distinctively known for their triangular prism shape had started being produced in Bern. Toblerones, famously known for their nougat-rich chocolate contents have got a variety of flavours and variants like Snowtops, Plain chocolate, white chocolate etc.

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
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