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!
SpagNVola husband-and-wife owners Eric and Crisoire Reid oversee entire chocolate process from farm to store, delivering unadulterated chocolate perfection. First they grow cacao at their farm perched on mountain slopes in their homeland of the Dominican Republic. The cacao pods are handpicked, then roasted and refined in their Gaithersburg, Maryland, factory. Take the free tour to learn about the origins of their chocolate and watch the kitchen’s magic. The award-winning 70 percent and 80 percent pure chocolate bars paint the clearest picture of quality, but don’t miss the boxed sets of olive oil truffles or caramel bonbons. Boutique at National Harbor and factory in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
Katalin Csiszar and her husband, Zsolt Szabad, began the award-winning Rozsavolgyi in their home in Budapest in 2004. They source beans from Venezuela growers, and roast them very lightly to preserve their true flavors. Only organic cane sugar and a small amount of of cocoa butter goes in before they are formed into intricate patterns meant to mimic fireplace tiles, and wrapped by hand in paper that looks like your chic grandma’s vintage silk scarf. Purists rave about their Criollo and Trincheras bars, but those who like surprises go for inclusions like olives and bread, and flavors of Japanese matcha, and Indian masala spices.
Chocolate Museum in Bruges, participate in a workshop in Brussels, and even stay in hotels with chocolate bath products. Walking tours of the many chocolate shops will help shave off a few calories. Schedule a factory tour at select producers such as Le Chocolatier Manon, Cyril Chocolat or Chocolaterie Defoidmont, or take in a chocolate- and praline-making demonstration at one of the shops.
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)
Guittard's Grand Cacao Drinking Chocolate is a combination of chocolate and cocoa. It boasts intense flavor, the red-brown color of Dutch process cocoa, and a toasty aroma. Made at its full strength, the drink is super-rich and so thick it’s nearly syrupy and best consumed in small quantities. You can always use less of the mix if you like and still have a very flavorful hot chocolate.
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.
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.
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.
Susanna Yoon used to make the chocolates at Thomas Keller’s three-Michelin-starred Per Se, where each meal ends with a tableside buffet of bonbons. Yoon spun her craft into Stick With Me, a shop in Manhattan’s Nolita neighborhood. Inside a space roughly the size of one of Willy Wonka’s golden tickets, she sells two dozen different types of bonbons, eight different types of soft caramel candies, and a handful of packaged brittles, toffees, nougats, and marshmallows. Each dome-shaped bonbon is a study in flavor pairings: The sunshine-like burst of yuzu against the soft sweetness of a white chocolate shell; nutty black sesame alongside tart passionfruit; or the dual-layered mint chocolate chip, with a flavor that unravels as it melts. 202A Mott Street, New York, NY
You can't make a list of popular chocolate brands without including Mars. This incredibly famous worldwide brand is responsible for Snickers, Galaxy, Dove, M&M'S, Milky Way, Twix, 3 Musketeers, and Mars bars. Like Nestlé, Mars focuses on candy bars and confectioneries instead of plain chocolate products. But it definitely offers a combination of chocolate, nougat, caramel, or other ingredients that you won't be able to say no to.
Named after Venezuela’s legendary cacao-producing region, Chuao Chocolatier specializes in “fusion chocolate.” Founded in 2002 by Venezuelan master chocolatier and chef Michael Antonorsi, and his brother Richard, Chuao (pronounced chew-wow, as it turns out) aims to dazzle and delight taste buds by pairing ethically sourced chocolate with natural — and oftentimes surprising — ingredients such as chile peppers, popcorn, potato chips, bacon and honeycomb.
The flavors we taste-tested ranged from the creamy, caramel-filled Coffee Toffee to the earthy and bitter 100% cacao Peru bar (not for the faint of heart). Our unanimous favorite emerged as the Goji Berries in Sesame Nougat, a milk chocolate bar studded with dried goji berries and filled with layers of green tea ganache, homemade nougat and soy and sesame filling. In addition to creating their hand-scooped chocolates in-house, Zotter is an independent bean-to-bar producer that prides itself on using organic, fair-trade quality cocoa beans and runs the company entirely on eco-power.
Enter the shop and you are instantly hit by the smell of the chocolate, as you look at a counter full of truffles, behind which there lies a kitchen. The truffles are large, and there are also other chocolate options (such as half orange slices, drops, etc) in boxes to the side. All that I have tasted warent the reviews people give for this temple to cocoa.
Launched in 2006, the Seattle-based Theo Chocolate was the first chocolate manufacturer in the US to be both 100 percent organic and fair-trade. (The Fair Trade Certificate goes only to eco-friendly products made by workers who are paid enough to cover their basic needs and reinvest in their operations.) Theo’s conscientious chocolates are delicious: nuanced and intense, like dark, single-origin bars from nations such as Ghana and Madagascar. Founder Joseph Whinney is so passionate about chocolate that he hired a biologist to genetically map Theo’s beans. Not all of Theo’s endeavors are so serious: 3,400 Phinney bars, named for the factory’s street address, come in whimsical flavors like the salty-sweet Bread and Chocolate ($7), featuring dark chocolate mixed with bread crumbs; it’s perfect with afternoon coffee. theochocolate.com
Kate Weiser’s pieces were very attractive, the flavors wre not bad, and some of the compositions were interesting and appealing. Unfortunately, most of the flavors were too weak. I can only recommend the pieces with stronger flavors, including the Pistachio, Cookie Monster, Ninja Turtle, Key Lime Pie, Peanut Brittle, Cherry Almond, Lavender Apricot, and Salted Caramel. That is a broad enough range (fruit, nut, and other flavors) that most people would find several things to like and can craft an order likely to please themselves. The Pistachio blended its pistachio and hazelnut flavors nicely. The Cookie Monster is a novelty piece rather than traditional flavors but is well executed with its cookie base and vanilla bean ganache. In contrast, the title flavor in another novelty piece, the Sweet Potato, was very weak. Additionally, the chocolate flavor in many pieces is not well represented.
Nothing says gourmet chocolate quite like a box of chocolates from Lindt, particularly anything from their luxury collection. Here you’ll get fourteen high-quality pieces of gourmet chocolate that include everything from milk to white chocolate and some choice pieces like stracciatella and hazelnuts as well. Tastes and textures vary widely as they tend to do with gourmet boxes, but there’s something in here for every chocolate enthusiast. While the price could be a bit more affordable, we still think this is some of the best gourmet chocolate available.
With four boutique locations throughout Seattle, this shop gets its name from Fran Bigelow, a master chocolatier who is renowned for her harmonious blending of textures and flavors. Find silky smooth ganache fillings in dark and milk chocolate truffles or discover tart apricots, plump figs, organic almonds and ginger in fruit and nut box collections. Plus, Fran’s various signature gold bars and gold bites combine indulgence with elegance.
With five café locations—including one at their factory—this chocolate company handcrafts signature treats that taste exquisite but also look exceptional. Their assortment of bars pep up traditional milk or dark choices with options like a Milk Chocolate Crispy Orange Brulee Bar, Dark Chocolate Espresso Bean, or even the Dark Chocolate Raspberry and Fennel Bark. The gourmet dark, milk and ivory truffles feature fun sweets like the Strawberry or Raspberry Love Bug and Cookies and Cream Cone. Caramels and toffees are touched with sea salt or vanilla, and gourmet hot cocoa mixes go from simple to spicy. A specialty line of liqueur truffles are derived from Oregon’s finest craft distillers. Plus, their tumbled chocolate balls taste of blueberry, hazelnuts, sea salt caramel and even a German roasted malted wheat berry used in beer making.
The Pistachio Marzipan and Bandol Breeze (apricot pâte de fruit and marzipan) were too weak for my taste, but most of Jacques Torres’ pieces had both good non-chocolate and chocolate flavors. The Golden Espresso was another very good piece. Mom’s Chocolate Peanut Brittle did not quite work for me, but Grandma’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch was excellent, with a great roasted peanuts flavor and complementing chocolate. In spite of my few quibbles I, most of Torres’ pieces are done to near perfection, and I would class Torres with Burdick. Both are near the same quality. Burdick uses a bit more exotic flavors while Torres takes familiar flavors to great heights.
“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.”