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.
A long, long time ago, the Aztecs used to sip something they called Xocolatl as a health tonic. This not-so-sweet beverage derived from cacao seeds (which they believed were a gift from the gods) paved the way for today’s much sweeter version of chocolate. Fast-forward to the late 19th-century and Swiss chocolatiers developed the conching technique to produce the smooth feel of solid chocolate we now know and love.
In addition, it performs very, very well, I dare say exceptionally, even among other similar cold-weather-leaning fragrances in the house that are generally strong, its dark juice selling its strength fairly convincingly. Its boastful projection of a few feet for at least a couple hours followed by a good scent cloud thereafter, suggests high value.
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
Stuart, Florida, located about 80 miles north of Fort Lauderdale, is already one charming small town to visit. Its highlight, though, is Castronovo Chocolate. This bean-to-bar small-batch chocolate shop has won several gold medals at the International Chocolate Awards for its lemon oil and lemon salt-infused white chocolate, Sierra Nevada 63 percent dark chocolate and Colombia mocha milk chocolate. The service here is attentive and as world-class as the bars themselves.
In the lofty strata where Tessieri operates, “making chocolate” means that you make the chocolate. You import cacao beans from plantations. You roast them and husk them and grind the cacao nibs into a fine paste. You add sugar and grind some more. Finally you swirl the mixture in open tanks called conches, which smooths the texture while helping to blow off acids and other nasty flavors. It’s complicated, demanding work, and few small companies even attempt it.
Anchorage, Alaska, is known for its stunning views of the aurora borealis, and Sweet Chalet is known for its similarly remarkable aurora bonbons. Each bonbon is hand-painted, so no two are alike in their beauty. The appearance of the aurora bonbons is only half of their appeal; they come in unique flavors ranging from caramelized pear with saffron to raspberry rosewater.
Troegs Brewing has set the pace of the Hershey craft beer scene since 1997. Founded by brothers John and Chris Trogner, Troegs offers a large selection of lagers, wheat beers, hop-laden ales, Belgian-style ales and seasonal brews. A visit to the tasting room and snack bar is a great way to wrap up a brewery tour, offered daily. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
Chocolatier and pastry chef Marc Aumont has been crafting fine chocolates for decades, taking over his father’s business in France at the age of 16. Today, Aumont makes the desserts at chef Gabriel Kreuther’s restaurant in midtown Manhattan and commandeers the chocolate shop next door. The chocolate room itself is encased in glass so patrons can see each bonbon as it rolls off the enrobing conveyor belt, a mesmerizing process. Aumont is known for his macaron-flavored bonbons, but the whole line, from the addictive macadamia nut toffee to the filled and multi-flavored chocolate bars, is worth sampling. 43 West 42nd Street, New York, NY
The flagship store of this classic American chocolate company opened in 1921 in Los Angeles. Today there are more than 200 locations across the country offering delicious chocolate candies filled with nuts, marzipan and nougat. F&W’s Kate Krader gets nostalgic for See’s Milk Bordeaux ($24.50), candy filled with brown sugar cream and topped with crispy chocolate puffed rice. sees.com
“We became convinced it was impossible to become number one in the world buying beans from brokers,” Alessio says. “The broker cannot tell you who grew the beans, or how it was done.” I don’t take Alessio for a weepy humanitarian, and yet he practices enlightened self-interest when it comes to the people who grow his cacao. He has invested in Chuao, agreeing to pay off the farmers’ mounting debts and buying baseball uniforms for the local team. He needs their best work so that he and Cecilia can do their best work.
K’s 5-star review: If your a fan of praline or gianduja (or belgium milk chocolate), this the chocolate shop to stop. A few favorite pieces: Cornet d'Oré, Sapho, Caprice, Pagode, Astrid, Passion Amande, Tentation, Plasir, Bourbon 13, Mephisto, Coeur Praline, Louise, Suzanne, Jean, Adeison, Galerie, Fredric, Prestige, Millenaire, Milk Napoléonette, 1857 ... and more, but those are the ones I can pull off the top of my head. Yeah. They're that memorable. It is a small shop, almost walked right over it if I didn't have a rip-tide radar for Neuhaus. Staff was helpful and readily introduced me to the new chocolate assortments on the wall and chatted with me about the selection in the case. I was able to make a 25ish piece selection for about $44ish and they packed it in a nice sturdy box with a bow (points for presentation and travel-safe arrangements). Compared to other ny shops, the bang for your buck is noticeable: the pieces are three times the size of (let's say) La Maison and a better price. Be prepared to be impressed by the praline, gianduja or creams. Go to Teuscher if you're in the hung-ho for champagne truffles. I have not tried the liquor filled chocolates (though they're on my list). Looking forward to the Easter eggs in the Spring.
Owner and chocolatier Katrina Markoff chooses every spice, flower, and chocolate that is flown into the Vosges kitchen to be transformed into fine chocolates. She learned the art of French confectionery at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Further inspired by her global apprenticeships, infusions of rare spices and flowers are combined with premium chocolate in truffles such as Mexican vanilla bean and Argentinean dulce de leche.
The chocolate in these pieces was subdued. Mostly, I prefer a balance between chocolate and other flavors. In Richart’s pieces, chocolate does not contribute enough for me. Since it was weak, I tasted the chocolate by itself first before biting into a couple of pieces. The chocolate was slightly bitter without a lot of flavor. That is perhaps not unusual for French chocolate (and I prefer Belgian), but, at this price, I want chocolate to knock me over.
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
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.
The Pecan Penuche also plays on local products, Georgia pecans. Its flavor makes nice use of pecans but is a little sweeter than I would like. Two pieces make excellent use of spices. The Aztec has a deep chocolate flavor, strong enough to stand up to the blend of six chilies and spices that kick in after a few seconds. In the Cayenne Passion Fruit, the cayenne and passion fruit play nicely with and against each other and with the chocolate. I often find that “hot” spices detract from chocolate, but Hard has blended these well.
The Chocolate Dream Box is a treasure at the southern tip of Silicon Valley, not far from Fleur de Cocoa. Chocolatier Holly Westbrook uses mostly classic compositions, such as fruits and nuts, to good effect. I sampled a pound assortment with not a false note in the batch. Along the way, I encountered the Duo with hazelnuts in peak texture and a medium-light but distinct hazelnut flavor. The Exquisite truffle had a good dark chocolate ganache with fruity notes as promised. At 72% cacao, the Black Truffle was not intense chocolate but was rich and pillowy.
The chocolatier, William Dean Brown, plays with a variety of flavors in the assortment. The pieces included Cappuccino, Apple Pie, Hazelnut, Grapefruit and Tarragon, Strawberry Caramel, and more. I regard the Apple Pie highly for execution of its theme; it contained an apple layer and a crumb layer that were faithful to the theme, but the chocolate had a minor role in that piece. Indeed, the amount of chocolate flavor in the assortment varied and was not always the star.
These are so delicious! Taste like you'd expect a dark chocolate sea salt caramel to taste, but with just a hint of bourbon flavor. Highly recommend. Shipped without a cold pack in November (high has been in the 70s this week) and they arrived in great shape. Ordered as a gift for someone who was willing to share with me. She was VERY pleased as well.
Along with the milk and dark bars, there are bite-sized ChocoPods, drinking chocolates, bonbons and truffles. For a real textural experience, try the vegan-friendly Ooh Ahh Almond bar. It blends dark chocolate and crunchy almonds that have been kettle-cooked in sea salt and sugar. Or heat things up with the Spicy Maya bar that fuses cayenne and pasilla chile with creamy dark chocolate. If you want to get in on the latest Chuao flavor, then you have to try Strawberry Waffle Wild, a mix of crunchy waffle bits, strawberries and milk chocolate.
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
The love for chocolate does not discriminate. No matter how old you are, where you are from, how much money you have, or what your social status is, chances are there is some kind of chocolate that you can't say no to. There is a reason why chocolate is loved by people around the world -- it actually causes a chemical reaction in the brain that makes you happy.
Erin Andrews started making chocolate nearly a decade ago from a small market stall; now, she presides over a sizable cafe and confectionary that specializes in single-origin chocolate bars. Indi’s chocolate bark and single-origin nibs are also on offer, as are body lotions and oils made from cocoa butter. Indi ships nationwide. 1901 Western Ave. Ste D., Seattle, WA
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
Though this taste test determined which cake we prefer, it’s worth noting that there was one ingredient missing—the frosting! It’s easy to imagine that many of these brands would have tasted sweeter, more moist and flavorful with a dollop of creamy frosting on top…unless, of course, you’re on board with the naked cake trend. Even if you don’t have a five-star boxed mix on hand, delicious icing can go a long way toward improving a so-so cake.
A perfect visual and tasting treat in the beautiful Paris environment can only remind one of the famous Richart chocolate company. The Paris, France located family business serves you with a range of proprietary chocolate recipes including special ingredients that can’t be expected in such a great way anywhere else. The sincere service, a slew of recipe options and the refined taste makes the chocolatier stand tall at the number nine position.
“Wow,” said Krader, biting into one of the company’s flat, square truffles. “This is definitely the chocolate with the most distinct point of view.” By that, she meant that it had perhaps the most unusual flavor of the bunch, with distinctly fruity notes. “This is from someone who’s redefining what truffles can be,” she said. “The flavorings don't punch you in the face, and it tastes like it was just made.” In other words: advanced chocolatiering. “There’s a sophistication about them,” she said. “Truffle neophytes might want something more general.”
As its name suggests, Denver’s The Chocolate Lab combines the worlds of science and chocolate into one culinary experience. You’re not going to find an abundance of sea salt caramels and vanilla creme chocolates here. Instead, you can get handmade truffles with unique flavors such as Humboldt fog cheese, duck fat caramel and bacon, absinthe-fennel and cornflake chili. The Chocolate Lab also features a restaurant with savory favorites like scallops, charred cauliflower and linguine — all infused with chocolate.
French Broad Chocolate is a must-try shop located in Asheville, North Carolina. It has chocolates that have won numerous awards at the International Chocolate Awards and Good Food Awards. The confections, which range from single-source bars to vegan lemongrass and ginger truffles, are made with local ingredients and sustainable, wholesome cacao beans.
The only drawback that we found is that Simply Chocolate's prices are often considerably higher than the competition. For instance, many of the chocolates made by Vosges can be purchased directly from that retailer at a significant savings, even when factoring in Vosges' higher shipping costs. You'll want to shop around a bit, especially if your chocolate purchase includes a brand that may be sold elsewhere for less.
My mother is really difficult to shop for and I never know what to get her. I stumbled across your site over the holidays and decided to give her a 6-month Gift membership and she hasn't stopped talking about it since! She loves the variety and tells me that she's been getting some of the best chocolates she's ever tasted. She likes it so much that I'm pretty sure I know what she's getting for Mother's Day!
Quirky and delicious with a nod to your favorite tastes of childhood best describes the colossal and craggy cookies served up by Milk Bar, the sister bakery to the Momofuku Restaurants. Corn flakes, Lucky Charms, Fruity Pebbles, Cap’n Crunch—all have made appearances in Momofuku Milk Bar cookies. Or maybe you’ll enjoy the chocolate and butterscotch chips, potato chips and pretzels in their famous Compost Cookies. (Here’s the recipe compliments of head baker Christina Tosi if you’re interested.) These are the perfect cookies to order for the kid in all of us.
Cookie Love’s gourmet cookie flavors include the classics like Chocolate Chip and Oatmeal with dried Cranberries, but you’ll also be tempted by Mocha Chocolate Chip, or how about their heartiest cookie named Enduring Love that combines organic coconut with almonds, oatmeal, chocolate chips and dried cranberries. With loyal customers across the country and rave reviews, Vermont Cookie Love is the place to order rich, all natural cookies and frozen cookie dough for lovers of just-out-of-the-oven home baked cookies.
One of the house specialties at Fire & Grain is flatbread. Shown is the prosciutto and fig flatbread, which is covered with green onion aioli, prosciutto, figs and arugula, and drizzled with balsamic reduction and garlic oil. “I’ve been making this dough for more than 35 years, and we’ve perfected it,” says chef Michael Cappelli. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
This package of gourmet chocolate is perfect for those who like dark chocolate with a rich and intense flavor. The bonbons contain over seventy percent cacao for a very flavorful experience and everything is certified as fair trade and without any harmful additives. They’re also gluten-free for any dealing with restrictions. We like that each one is individually wrapped, making this product perfect for your next party or gathering. The price for one box of the bonbons is somewhat high for some consumers.
The Maison du Chocolat packaging, while very sophisticated, is pretty conservative and not as sexy as our top pick. The textured box mimics pebbled brown leather and has the logo stamped on the back. The adjective that comes to mind is “professional”; it looks luxe but understated and reserved. We think this box of chocolate would be great as a corporate gift, or for your mother-in-law.
If you're looking for chocolate as a gift, you'll want to look in the Gifts & Baskets section of the site. You'll find arrangements ranging from less than $10 to over $200. Personalized gift-giving options with Ghirardelli are fairly basic. You can choose from gift cards in four amounts, all with the same brown Ghirardelli-brand design; we would have liked to see cards with different themes for birthdays, wedding gifts, and so forth. You can also make a custom mix, but again, your options are limited: five designs of small tins that hold 15 Ghirardelli squares.
Also known as home to the Little Chocolatiers from former the hit TLC show, Hatch’s is at the top of our list when it comes to the best chocolates in Salt Lake City. The quality of chocolate that you consume here whether it be with a caramel apple, inside some of their homemade ice cream, or melted in a cup of hot cocoa is truly top notch. Some of Hatch Family go-to’s are their chocolate covered Oreos, chocolate covered raspberries, and aztec salted caramels.