Known for iconic brands like Godiva Chocolatier and home to two of the world's largest chocolate factories, Callebaut and Puratos, Belgium has a rich chocolate history. Flanders, the Flemish region, is often called the "capital of chocolate," though the country at large holds more than 320 chocolate shops. Production began as early as 1635 when Belgium was occupied by the Spanish who introduced the New World product to the country.
All the while, I’d been looking at the red heart-shaped objects that were floating in the two big jars. I kept thinking about the Aztecs. At last I asked Alessio what they were. “Cacao pods,” he said. “In formaldehyde so they do not dry up.” The one off in a corner behind the door was a unique Venezuelan variety called Porcelana. The other, placed on a low table next to all the trays of chocolate, gleamed and glistened like a trophy. That one was Venezuelan too, Alessio said with a smile. It came from Chuao.
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.
Nobody knows for sure how many chocolate shops there are in the U.S. today, at least in part because many of them do double duty as patisseries, ice cream parlors, or gift shops. Suffice to say there is probably not a city or a town of any size in the country that doesn’t boast at least one purveyor of chocolates. There are at least 25 in New York City, for instance, and more than 30 in Los Angeles. 

Rich. Luxurious. Decadent. Those are just a few words one can use to describe SPAGnVOLA. This Gaithersburg, Maryland, shop’s signature bonbons are impeccably decorated and boast a variety of classic and innovative flavors (ginger-plum and rosemary olive oil chocolates sit next to caramels). All of the cocoa beans used in the shop’s confections are from a single family estate in the Dominican Republic, ensuring only the highest quality for the handmade bars, bonbons and truffles.
Not only does dark chocolate reign supreme in the dessert world for its complex bittersweet taste, but it's also ranked as one of the healthiest superfoods because it's loaded with antioxidants. These powerful antioxidants naturally found in dark chocolate can actually help reduce anxiety and depression — particularly when those experiences are related to or triggered by high stress levels. So if you're experiencing the winter blues, consuming antioxidant-rich foods like dark chocolate can be an effective natural remedy.
The O chocolates are more of a novelty, disks with a thin filling. While the flavors are okay, the fillings are too small to contribute much. So I leave these pieces to people who just want chocolate with a little bit of something else. At £42/lb., they do not enjoy the same price attractiveness as the Couture chocolates. I did not try the truffles or salted caramels but suspect you will not go wrong sampling them.

K’s 5-star review: Beautifully painted, deliciously filled, Norman Love bonbons are crafted to delight. The flavors are astounding and exceptionally executed. The back of the shop can be seen where bustling confectioners are building each morsel with care and quantity. They also have a cafe if you need to chill. The store is located near the airport, it's should be tradition to resource a box when traveling ... If you are looking for exotic flavors, a reward, a gift to wow, or just an excuse to float on the sweet aroma of chocolate, this is the spot. A few favorites I would recommend: keylime, passion fruit, apple ala mode, lemon bar, hot dark chocolate, tahitian caramel, Florida orange, mango, mmm. The bonbon shells are so delicate they serve as an accent to augment the fillings within. Truly brilliant.


I enjoy finding artisan chocolatiers when I travel. Chocolat Abeille (French for bee) is a gem in downtown Omaha. Their general assortment includes a variety of beautiful pieces including fruit, tea, and other flavors. Among these, the Caramel Ganache presented its chocolate flavor nicely, while others tended to be stronger in their fruit or other flavors. They are made in small batches and may sell quickly; the pieces that were available varied slightly over several visits in the course of a week. My favorite was a larger special piece (priced to match), the Hazelnut Banana Crisp, with a nice balance between its banana, hazelnut, and chocolate flavors.
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.

I was introduced to Alegio Chocolate on a chocolate crawl and bought a selection to taste at home. The Raspberry had a good balance with strong raspberry and good chocolate working together. The Orange was similar but slightly milder. The Santa Domingo is an unusal combination of green olive, licorice, currants, and apricot. Those flavors actually stood to the side a bit to present the chocolate at center stage. The Espresso worked well with a slightly salted caramel. The Habeñero had a little bite to it, while the Honey was of course sweet. Throughout the pieces, distinct chocolate flavors were presented well.

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