Traditionally, giving Chocolate as a gift can be a time consuming process. Driving to the local grocery or chocolate store, searching the limited selection, bringing it home, wrapping up the item, and then getting back in your car again to drive to the local Fed Ex or UPS Store to make the delivery actually happen - it can all be a time-consuming and frustrating challenge for anyone.
Since 2008, Original Beans has taken the “bean to bar” idea full circle with their “bar to bean” commitment to plant a seedling for every chocolate bar sold. Details of their Grand Cru Blend No. 1 80 percent organic dark chocolate are kept secret, but they claim to use some of the rarest cacaos from South America and Africa. And with only raw cane sugar added, the bars are also vegan.
Chocolate Apéritifs au Fromage is chocolate-covered cheese. That was an unusual combination, new to me. The flavors are balanced and modest, but the cheese prevails. The Boîte Gourmande contains plain square wafers of chocolate, Florentins (chocolate cookies, square wafers covered with a honey and nut confection), mendiants (chocolate disks topped with nuts and dried fruit), and chocolate sticks containing candied orange peel. All are good. These are little chocolate delicacies, to be savored. The dried fruit arrived still fresh and full of flavor.
“Birthday cake” is a difficult flavor to convey in a chocolate, but Anna Shea nailed it. The Candied Bacon Caramel also presented the bacon flavor better than other bacon-chocolate attempts I have experienced, but there were still some chewy bits in it that I feel detract from fine chocolate. Other pieces that were excellent without compromise include the Aged Balsamic Caramel, the Haiku (green tea ganache), and Krystle’s Banana Foster.
Chocolate is based in Newport Beach, California and features artisanal, handmade chocolates from independent shops throughout the United States and Canada. The retailer seeks to promote small businesses, especially because their team of chocolate enthusiasts believes that the best sweets come from the smaller shops, not the big-name brands commonly known in the chocolate world.
Even if you haven’t been to Switzerland, you’ve probably had Swiss chocolate. Lindt is the most popular Swiss chocolate brand, and can be purchased around the world. What’s especially interesting about the production of Swiss chocolate is that although Switzerland’s climate isn’t conducive to growing cacao plants, they found a way to produce chocolate all the same. It’s also the Swiss who can claim the most chocolate consumption per capita – the average Swiss eats more than 10 kilos of chocolate per year!
There are a great number of incredible chocolate shops in Chicago and the rest of Illinois, but Katherine Anne Confections in the Windy City takes our top spot. You won’t find flawless chocolates here, but you’ll find homemade treats done absolutely right; you wish your mama could make candies like these. But just because these chocolates are reminiscent of your own hometown chocolate shop doesn’t mean there aren’t sparks of innovation here. Look no further than the truffles, which include classic flavors like hazelnut and citrus right next to fun flavors such as lemon poppyseed and goat cheese walnut.
Chocolate doesn’t get any fresher than Jouvay, perfected by the Grenada Cocoa Farmers Cooperative based at the rural Diamond Chocolate Factory. The idea was to partner with local farmers working right in the ecosystem to grow the best quality beans. While visiting the 18th-century factory inside a converted rum distillery built by French monks, see the cocoa beans drying on trays under the Caribbean sun. Growers employ a centuries-old French tradition of “walking” the beans—turning them gently by walking over the shells, which are later roasted and removed. Inside the small tasting room, sample each chocolate bar flavor, such as ginger and cocoa nibs. Factory and farm in Victoria, Grenada.
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.
Connecticut is apparently so well known for its chocolate shops that it has a bona fide tour route for sweet confections called the Connecticut Chocolate Trail. So how does Bridgewater Chocolate in West Hartford stand apart from the crowd? Its stunning packaging, for one. But the chocolate tortels, truffles and dark chocolate-covered cherries on a milk chocolate heart are luxurious and rich.