Top-quality chocolate from Africa? Chocolate with coriander and fennel? It all started when Italian chocolatier Valter Bovetti moved to Aubazine, France, in 1994 to debut his trademark chocolate candies shaped as nails and tools. In 2006, Bovetti and five fellow chocolate-makers visited Sao Tome, an African island in the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of Gabon called the "chocolate island," which inspired them to found a fair trade association named Roca Cacao. The organization bought harvesting equipment for twelve plantations and ensured a living wage for their 120 employees. Beans from this, the site of the first cacao plantation in Africa, go into Bovetti's high-quality Single Origin bars. The company crafts an impressive collection of more than 150 different kinds of chocolate bars, boasting ingredients like ginger and lavender petal, or for the truly adventurous, dried tomato and chili. Other savory-sweet products include Apéritif Chocolates featuring chocolate-coated fennel, anise seed, rosemary, coriander and mustard.
In researching and testing for this guide, I was surprised to find that expensive doesn’t always mean high quality. Some of the costly boutique chocolates we tried were clearly made from inferior beans, with flavor that just died on the tongue. The Recchiuti chocolates, on the other hand, are worth the money, with the subtle flavors that come from great cacao.
If you want the bright flavors of California in a box of chocolates, look no further than Sacramento’s Ginger Elizabeth. This shop specializes in bonbons with sunny flavors like eureka lemon and raspberry rose geranium, but the other products are equally decadent and delicious. The shop regularly releases special cakes for the holidays and has some of the best hot chocolate and macarons you could hope to find in the Golden State.”
Elk Candy Company makes fine chocolate and marzipan. I do not think marzipan is very interesting when it is plain or merely coated in chocolate, so it is nice to find a chocolatier that has developed their marzipan further, as Elk Candy Company has done with their flavored marzipan rolls. I like marzipan this way. Elk sells it in slices. Flavors include pistachio, truffle, hazelnut, and orange.
Vosges Chocolate's exotic truffles are made from the finest ingredients offered around the world. Owner/Chocolatier, Katrina Markoff, personally chooses every spice, flower and chocolate that is flown into their Chicago kitchen. Markoff utilizes the original methods of French confectionery artistry which she learned during her training at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.

Pastry chef Kee Ling Tong has been hand-rolling each of her delicate chocolate truffles since 2002. Her tiny storefront in New York City’s Soho neighborhood (and two counters in Midtown) is a must-stop for chocolate lovers, who will savor each piece’s paper-thin shell encasing flavors like black sesame truffle and green tea. Kee’s almond truffle is pure joy: A deeply salted white chocolate ganache is made from cream steeped with toasted almonds; each truffle is then rolled in toasted almonds for crunch. Unfortunately for non-New Yorkers, Kee’s does not ship nationwide. 315 West 39th Street, New York, NY 10018 (multiple locations)
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.
You can’t get fresher honey bon bons than the ones you will find at Mademoiselle Miel. The honey used in these scrumptious confections is gathered from the rooftops of St. Paul, Minnesota, itself. Get your honey bon bons however you like — smoked with scotch, in a seasonal flavor or simply as classic, pure honey — but just get them. Mademoiselle Miel’s commitment to local ingredients extends to all the shop’s products, which also include maple chocolate bars.

The Hershey Story Museum in downtown Hershey tells the story of Milton S. Hershey’s initial struggles with building a business before the chocolate-bar king put it all together. Visitors can browse the extensive educational displays, which feature historical photos and early advertising examples of Hershey’s chocolate products. The museum also offers a tasting bar and the Chocolate Lab, where visitors can craft a bar and learn how cocoa beans are transformed into confections. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY


Committed to quality, the French chocolate-maker Richart guarantees you the most refined chocolates from the most refined ingredients. Richart recipes, developed and tested by the Richart family, have won France’s most prestigious confectioner’s honor, the Ruban Bleu, seven times. Having perfected the art of chocolate making, Richart now focuses on enhanced flavors and distinctive designs and colors. A box of assorted chocolates is visually stunning. If you really want to impress, splurge on the $850 burlwood vault with seven drawers of chocolate — complete with temperature and humidity gauges.

At their Brooklyn, New York, factory, the bearded brothers Rick and Michael Mast create fantastic single-origin dark chocolate bars that are wrapped in custom-printed paper and named after the sources of the cacao beans, such as Papua New Guinea, Moho River, Sambirano Valley, and La Red de Guaconejo. “They’re interesting, and certainly showcase the tangy, tropical, terroir-driven flavors of chocolate,” says F&W’s Kristin Donnelly. mastbrothers.com

Richart has improved over the years and makes a nice presentation in the store and in the box. Their chocolates are nice but are far from worth the extraordinary price. I purchased a 25-piece box mixed with Fruity and Roasted pieces. The prepared boxes in the store were all Fruity, all Roasted, or all Balsamic, so each has a uniform color, unlike my mixture to the right. Other design elements in the store are nice, such as a shelf display using a lot of white with a little bright color, different in each column of boxes.
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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.

The Recchiuti Confections Black Box (16 pieces) was my personal favorite in our 2014 review, and after tasting them again for this year’s update, I immediately remembered why. The assortment contains the best mixture of classic and more exotic flavors, and the bonbons aren’t too sweet. This box also has the most unique selection visually, with chocolates of varying sizes and shapes, and the sleek packaging is more eye-catching than any other box we tried.

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.
Dilettante claims confectionary descendance from Julius Rudolph Franzen, pastry chef to Franz Josef, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. I have only their truffles to judge them by. Unfortunately, I prefer other pieces with a greater variety of components and expression. Truffles are too often an overdose of chocolate and cream. Dilettante may move up on my list when I have more experience with their products, such as their gift box assortment.

Who would think we would be singing the praises of Canadian chocolate? Soma, which began in 2003, describes itself as a place to "eat, drink, and worship chocolate". Visitors can experience their small-batch chocolate-making up close at the micro-factory on the Toronto store's premises. Their menu boasts an impressive display of mind-blowing creativity, like "Sparky" Gianduja pralines laced with Pop Rocks, Gooderham Worts Whiskey truffles and the 8-Year Aged Balsamic Vinegar truffles. Bars are available in rectangle or circle form — Soma's Chocolate Possible Worlds bars come as 200-gram oversized disks, such as the "Ruby Red" bar topped with wild cherries, cranberries, barberries and dusted with Sumac powder. O Canada!
Exactly when and where the first chocolate shops opened in America is uncertain, but early contenders for the honor include The Original Velatis, which set up shop selling caramels (some of them involving chocolate) in 1866 in Silver Spring, Maryland, and Govatos, which went into business in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1894 (both are still going strong; see slideshow).
Since 1997, this confectionery inside the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero has been putting artistic touches on their small batch yet exquisite chocolates, caramels, bars, sauces, fruit/nut mixes, and truffles. Their top-selling Fleur de Sel Caramels are covered in dark chocolate with a well-blended balance of salt and sweetness. For Valentine’s Day, their Hearts in Motion box provides a whole lot of lovin’—burnt caramel truffles embellished with Picasso-esque images. Grand Amour Box holds three layers of popular truffles like Ginger Heart, Piedmont Hazelnut and Force Noir.
Taza chocolate is a breakaway from your run-of-the-mill chocolate bar. The chocolate is round, for starters, and break into slices like a pizza, which is sort of different. The chocolate is also stone-ground, which offers a grittier, grainier feel than more heavily processed chocolate, and reminds you that what your eating came from something of the natural world.
Larry Burdick makes exquisite delicious chocolate pieces at Burdick Chocolate, a small manufacturer at the western edge of New Hampshire, northwest of Keene and 70 miles from Nashua. Burdick does a great job of making a variety of ornate fine chocolates and presenting them well. The pieces in his assortment differ from each other well, so that one is entertained by the changes in flavor, style, and shape. The flavors range from intense chocolate to balanced to strong non-chocolate flavors, and the sweetness ranges from bitter to very sweet. Some flavors are familiar, and some are exotic.
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