Unlike many places on this list, Sweenor’s Chocolates is shockingly affordable; a 1-pound box of assorted chocolates will only cost you $23.50. But don’t take their low prices as an indication of low quality! Their versions of classic treats (chocolate-covered raisins, malted milk balls) blow your concession stand snacks out of the water. It’s worth a trip to Cranston, Rhode Island, for this sweet shop.
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.
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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.
Cacao Art: Made by sisters Susana and Isabel Garcia, who started the business in Venezuela but later moved to Miami (lucky for us). Says Isabel, “We think, as sisters, there is a lot of nostalgia in our chocolates, because we like to recreate the tastes of our shared childhood in Venezuela.” Case in point, the decadent Anís y Papelón truffle (an International Chocolate Awards winner) made from sweet anise and raw cane sugar and inspired by a traditional Venezuelan pastry. The sisters use as many local and organic ingredients as possible and different spices and flavors from their extensive travels in Europe and North and South America.
Master chocolatier Christopher Curtin makes incredible salted caramel truffles and bonbons filled with Shiraz-infused ganache at Éclat Chocolate, but his pretzel bar, infused with the flavor of Pennsylvania Dutch pretzels, might be the ultimate salty and sweet chocolate concoction. Shipping options vary, depending upon distance; see order guidelines for details. 24 South High Street, West Chester, PA
“We became convinced it was impossible to become number one in the world buying beans from brokers,” Alessio says. “The broker cannot tell you who grew the beans, or how it was done.” I don’t take Alessio for a weepy humanitarian, and yet he practices enlightened self-interest when it comes to the people who grow his cacao. He has invested in Chuao, agreeing to pay off the farmers’ mounting debts and buying baseball uniforms for the local team. He needs their best work so that he and Cecilia can do their best work.
On the other hand, the pieces from Whole Foods Market were not as impressive. The Elizabeth, Antoinette, and Madeleine were good. The Jeanett had a strong mint flavor that overpowered its white chocolate. The Sophie is marzipan with lemon, which is interesting. I wanted more marzipan, but it was good. Not everything worked. The Valentina is a chewy caramel with lavender. Lavender is aromatic, but that was distracting, and it did not contribute a pleasing flavor. The Patricia certainly had chili but was weak on tangerine. These were fine for grocery store chocolates, but lackluster for the price, $51/lb. The box has drawings illustrating the pieces, but I was unable to match several pieces to the drawings.
The packaging is beautiful and modern, with the logo embossed in tonal black on black. The box itself is pretty sexy and, for some reason, reminded me of a black bustier. Inside, the minimally designed booklet explains the flavors, with black and white illustrations of each chocolate. None of the other assortments are presented in such a cohesive package, and we found the Recchiuti’s key of chocolates much easier to decipher than those included with the other brands.
Those were my favorites of the Bean to Truffle Collection. They are novel enough that I am pleased to have tried them once, but the exceptional price prevents me from recommending the collection. The other pieces in my box were well done but not highlights for me. The Pistachio Marzipan did not present the pistachio or marzipan flavors well, the Nougat Torrone does not feature much chocolate flavor, and the Gianduja seemed very slightly bitter.
At $120 a pound, Maison du Chocolat ($60 for 28 pieces) is pretty expensive chocolate, but it’s some of the best we’ve ever tasted. These are bonbons for the chocolate purist because you can still really taste the chocolate in each one. Even in the raspberry ganache, which is so packed with fresh flavor that you could swear you just ate the perfect raspberry, the complexity of the chocolate still comes through. The ganaches are incredibly smooth and the chocolate that comprises the shell is perfectly tempered, giving a very satisfying “snap” on first bite. The flavors, though, are more traditional than our main pick’s. While every chocolate in the Recchiuti box pleasantly surprised us, the Maison chocolates, although excellent, aren’t as adventurous. For a Valentine’s or romantic gift, we feel the Recchiuti make a better choice.
The story of how Amedei eloped with Chuao and sent the wedding pictures to Tain l’Hermitage isn’t exactly a vision of sugar plums, but the chocolate industry has a long history of wars, most of them far more brutal. Steve DeVries, a bean-to-bar chocolate maker from Denver, used to say that the Spanish arrived in Mexico and threatened, “Give us your cacao or we’ll shoot you.” Hunting beans in Mexico, DeVries repeated the remark to an anthropologist. “No, no, no,” the anthropologist said. “Before that, the Aztecs came down and said ’Give us your cacao or we’ll cut your hearts out.’”
Run by master chocolatier Jin Caldwerll, Las Vegas’s JinJu Chocolates uses fresh, seasonal and local ingredients to craft their artisan chocolates. Highlights at this Nevada-based mom-and-pop shop include their sea salted caramels (which come in a variety of flavors, including lemon, chipotle cinnamon and espresso) and the Fortunato No. 4 Chocolate Bar, a single-origin Peruvian chocolate that contains multitudes you can only dream of.
Kollar Chocolate’s pieces show excellent technique: They have good flavors, the flavors are generally well expressed, the chocolate is good, and the pieces are attractive and physically well crafted. However, I did not get a great sense of depth of flavors or blending of them. By and large, the flavors in each piece seemed distinct from each other and did not combine to form an experience absorbing to the senses.
“Chocolate is my passion,” says Norman Love, who dreamed of making chocolate that was visually stunning as well as delicious. Love and a partner perfected a technique in which the colored designs for each candy are hand-painted or airbrushed into chocolate molds, which are then filled with the finest chocolate imported from Belgium, France, and Switzerland. The pumpkin white chocolate bonbon is almost too gorgeous to eat. Using only the freshest ingredients, his recipes call for pureed raspberries, bananas, ginger, caramel, passionfruit, and hazelnuts, to name a few.
You've seen their chocolates at your local big-box retailer, but did you know you can build your own customized box of chocolates via the Russell Stover website? Although their selection is not gourmet or exotic, shoppers looking for a traditional variety of chocolates will find what they want with Russell Stover, which includes the well-known Whitman brand as well.
I love Milkboy chocolate. It is honestly the best chocolate bar I've ever tasted. I tried it for the first time after I purchased one bar at a specialty food store when I was on vacation. I had to have more, so I searched for it everywhere in my town, but with no luck. I'm so happy I found this online, and I hope they start distributing in more locations soon.