Cecilia asked me to put on a hairnet, a plastic jacket and disposable blue booties, then led me downstairs to the factory. The machines, Swiss, Italian and German models painted ivory, clacked and hammered away, sounding like an orchestra of conga drums. A young guy with tattooed forearms strained to push sweetened cacao paste through a screen with a paddle. For some reason, the floor was painted blood red. The chocolate smell was so strong and pure I could barely think. Somehow I managed to remark to Alessio that these antique machines must limit the quantity of chocolate Amedei can make.
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.
You can’t really make a bad choice at Boise’s The Chocolat Bar. Since 2004, this shop has been using local and organic products to allow the lusciousness of chocolate shine through. The top highlight at this shop is the Nipples of Venus truffle, which features dark chocolate ganache topped with white chocolate and Madagascar vanilla with a tiny dot of white chocolate on top. The barks are also worth traveling to Idaho for, with unique combinations like red chili pistachio and lemon lavender almond.
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.
Planète Chocolat sells most of their chocolates in prepared boxes, so I could not pick out my preferences. Some pieces, mostly truffles, are available separately. The pieces in the box I got had textured tops that I could not match up with the diagram, so I could not tell what was what. Planète Chocolat’s chocolates look fancy, but that does not make them taste fancy, and I would rather pay for taste than looks.
Sweet Girl Cookies will make you feel like a kid again, that is, if you’re like me and always tried (and still try) to choose the biggest cookie on the cookie plate. These gourmet cookies are generously big—4.4 ounces, and they cry out to be enjoyed with a big glass of milk or cup of coffee for dunking. Each cookie tends toward a dense cake-like rather than chewy texture, and each flavor is packed with chips. The middle of these cookies (even their “smaller” 2 ounce cookies) is one inch thick. We measured.
Cake specializes in elegant gourmet cookies that would be right at home on the cover of a Martha Stewart magazine. The cookies and brownies are individually packaged so they remain ultra fresh. Topping it off is the lovely packaging that’s sure to impress anyone lucky enough to receive a gift from Cake. Thanks to its elegance we vote this as an ideal gift to send as a thank you, a client gift, or any occasion where a touch of tea room fanciness is in order.
Chef Oscar Ortega is making some truly otherworldly chocolates at his Jackson, Wyoming, chocolate shop Atelier Ortega. His truly artisanal chocolates come in classic flavors (Tahitian vanilla, walnut) and inventive varietals (oregano and Earl Grey tea). And if these stunning chocolates don’t do it for you, then consider stopping in to America’s best old-school candy shops.
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
Vosges’ truffles are mild. This works well in the Woolloomooloo, which delivers a macadamia flavor that is pervasive without being strong. However, the other pieces are generally too mild for my taste. You might expect the curry in the Naga or the wasabi in the Black Pearl to be prominent, but they are weak. The flavors are present, but you have to work at tasting them.
If you are looking for something premium in Belgium’s chocolate market, Godiva can be your pick. Delicious, hygienic and high-quality preservatives added for a great longevity. If you can eat the chocolate recipes at Godiva fresh inside the store, nothing can happen better to you in Belgium. The chocolatier is many years old located in Brussels, Belgium. The chocolate producer supplies its premium quality chocolate recipes to various parts of the world. Godiva is a familiar name in the global chocolate arena. The journey started in 1920, over a century back and its unique recipes and world-class service added thousands of customers to its list and made it one of the top 10 best chocolatiers in the world. You may have to pay a bit higher price for the chocolates but you won’t come out of the store with regret in your heart.
The Quatre Epices was well balanced blend of four spices. Wild Cherry had a nice piquant cherry flavor the first time I tried it but was milder on a later occasion. The Praline Noisette was good with a sharp hazelnut flavor, and the Mocha Cream was good, but some of the other gianduja pieces were mild or weak. The Honey had mild flavors with not much honey shining through. The cinnamon of the Cinnamon Toast was present but stood alone, not partnering well with the chocolate.
Krader appeared genuinely surprised after biting into Teuscher’s hefty, dark-chocolate truffle. "It’s very dense,” she said. “A powerhouse.” Krader didn’t take to the truffle— “not my favorite,” she said—but acknowledged that many people would. “I think this is for people who go big, who want the triple-decker burger—the highest pile of truffles on their pasta,” she said.
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
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.
Blue’s Chocolates (formerly Chocolatier Blue) features fine chocolates of diverse flavors. One of my favorites was the Sweet Potato Casserole, for its novel flavor. The sweet potato flavor was well presented and balanced with the chocolate. The Hazelnut was also excellent. Hazelnut is a traditional flavor in chocolates, but the natural hazelnut flavor shone in this piece without being bitter. Other favorites included 75% Dark, Lemon, Pistachio, Passion Fruit Caramel, Candy Cane, and Pear. The PB Crunch was crunchy and had a nice peanut flavor with a pleasant tang.
Sometimes, the best chocolate shops around the country have been in business for generations, descended from old-style candy-making facilities. Sometimes they’re no more than a few years old, started by artisanal chocolatiers, some with formal training and others with little more than a love for chocolate and a desire to learn. Sometimes they’re even local branches of large chains.
Truly the BEST toffee you will ever have- thick slabs of chocolate with sweet and buttery toffee sandwiched between. Garden Gate hand dips their toffee just 2 months out of the year. Their once ice cream shop turned to toffee and chocolate establishment works solely off of word of mouth and repeat customers, year after year. Stop by Garden Gate on 9th and 9th for a taste of their toffee. You won’t regret it!
The Peanut Crunch started with a good light crunch and revealed distinct but light toasted peanut flavor. That was my favorite, and I also enjoyed the Apricot Cream, Marshmallow Cream, and Tart Cherry. I would prefer stronger chocolate flavors in Anette’s chocolates. The Dansk Bar sounded promising with “chocolate truffle layered over marzipan and vanilla caramel,” but I was disappointed. The flavors were not brought out well, and the texture was firmer than I expected. I also found the Triple Berry Cream too sweet to enjoy the fruit and chocolate flavors, so I recommend you select your favorite pieces from the case if you are in the store.
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.
Because they’re meant to be gifted, I presented the chocolates in their boxes, but without the brand names showing. We felt that the presentation should be a factor in judging. We had a very strict rule against calling out a brand to the rest of the group if someone recognized the packaging. Luckily, it wasn’t an issue—no one had a clue about what was what during the tasting.
The Thai peanut butter cups at Alma Chocolate in Portlandm Oregon, are what make this shop famous, but don’t discount their other offerings. Their bonbons are some of the best in the country and come in beautiful flavors such as fig and marzipan and passion fruit caramel. They also pay homage to chocolate’s Latin roots by making hand-crafted chocolate icons, made with 74 percent single-estate dark chocolate and painted with 23-karat edible gold.
At 255 years old, this candy shop on Rue du Faubourg-Montmatre is the oldest in Paris, and luck for everyone who visits, it’s precious façade is historically landmarked and it’s interior lovingly preserved. On the shelves at À La Mère de Famille sit sweets and treats of all kinds, including bars of 100 percent pure origin Venezuelan cocoa. Surprisingly melty and vibrantly aromatic, the plain chocolate is smooth, while the inclusion bars are beautifully strewn by hand with whole hazelnuts, almonds, and tidy little chunks of candied ginger.
This SoHo chocolate shop and store showcases luxurious, single-origin chocolates and confections derived primarily from Criollo cacao beans. Its Signature Ganache Collection features edible works of art, while its rich Hot Chocolate Collection gets a kick from the popularity of its Aztec Hot Chocolate. Cacao Bar, its 15-seat café, offers a sweet respite for patrons to order in coffee, chocolate or a baked goodie.
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?
Eeach Valrhona single origin bar bears the name of that bean’s terroir on its label, 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.
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.
Pastry chef and chocolatier Valerie Gordon does it all, from pastries and historical cakes to petit fours dipped in white chocolate and delicate toffee coated in dark chocolate. Her almond fleur de sel toffee is a favorite. Valerie Confections ships many of its sweets anywhere within the continental U.S. 3360 West 1st Street, Los Angeles, CA (multiple locations)
Belgian chocolate is perhaps one of the most popular European chocolates in the world. Donckels Belgian chocolate truffles truly highlight this, with their fine Belgian truffles, dusted with cocoa powder. They have a soft, creamy texture. The high-quality chocolate more than makes up for the relatively high price. One small issue with these truffles is transport. In some instance, the truffles were not cooled properly during the transport, causign the truffles to fuse together. It makes them less than ideal if you’re looking for gourmet chocolates to gift. But the chocolate is just as delicious, even if the truffles lose their shape.
You will actually have to visit Amsterdam to sample what may be the best chocolates in the Netherlands. The proprietors of Puccini Bomboni, a delightful cafe and restaurant, hand-make each chocolate on the premises and do not deliver. Exotic combinations of chocolate and spices, concocted from the freshest ingredients, are a specialty. Although the variety isn’t enormous, the quality is truly amazing.
Molly is a freelance journalist and social media consultant with degrees in international affairs and public relations. As social media consultant to the Western Balkans over the past four years, Molly divides her time between the American South and Zagreb, Croatia. She has written for OZY, Fodor's Travel, Lonely Planet and Teen Vogue among others while reporting from North America, Europe and the Middle East. Her work can be found at www.mmollyharris.com.
Juan enjoys Åkesson's Single Plantation Chocolate, Madagascar, Bejofo Estate, 75%, made with Criollo cocoa (the world's most precious and celebrated variety) grown in northwest Madagascar. "It distinguishes itself with well-defined aromas and flavors. But I especially enjoy the balance of its smooth and creamy texture – that makes it unforgettable."
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
Thankfully, with the availability of online chocolate stores, purchasing a delicious and wonderful chocolate gift only requires about 5 minutes of your time. Buying chocolate on the internet provides a quick and efficient way to select from a long list of great options that fit your budget and gift giving needs. Plus, you can do it from the comfort of your own home.
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.