Lifelong enthusiasts, they grew cacao plants in their apartments and made small batches in their Palo Alto garage. After two years of taste tests, they took their handmade dark chocolate public, opening Dandelion Chocolate in 2012. Located in San Francisco’s eclectic Mission district, their factory turns out 2,500 single-origin 70 percent cacao bars per week. Their releases, which change frequently with the season, source cacao from places as far-flung as Venezuela, Madagascar, and Papua New Guinea.
After debuting his winning pralines at the World Fair in Brussels in 1910, Greek-Cypriot confectioner, Leonidas Kestekides, fell in love with a local Belgian girl. He then opened a tea room in Ghent and after his pralines again won gold at the Ghent World Fair in 1913, Leonidas began expanding his operations. He opened tea houses in Brussels and Blankenberge. His nephew, Basilio, pioneered the storefront “guillotine window.” Today, Leonidas sells chocolates at more than 1,500 storefronts worldwide. But, the prolific brand’s humble beginnings are never too far away. “Democracy in chocolate,” their motto, means that the good stuff isn’t only reserved for the rich. Purists will appreciate his Tablette Noir bar, which features 70 percent cocoa.
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.
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
Chuao Chocolatier: (pronounced chew-wow) This company specializes in textural surprise. The whiz kid behind the firecracker truffle (chipotle caramel fudge with sea salt and popping candy) likes to thread in a secret layer of heat that doesn’t hit until the finish so you get the full-on rich chocolaty pleasure with a spank of fun at the end. The other favorite in this tasting was the Salted Chocolate Crunch with toasted panko breadcrumbs, olive oil ganache and a dusting of sea salt—a truly devilish bit. Owners (and brothers) Michael and Richard Antonorsi. also hail from Venezuela.
However, it is the chocolate that counts here. Norman Love falls short. Although the pieces were visually great, quite polished, and perfectly executed, they did not use chocolate well. Perhaps a third had a good chocolate presence. There were quite good non-chocolate flavors, including peanut butter, pistachio, lime, and pumpkin. The Peanut Butter & Jelly was very good but not good enough to justify putting them in an expensive confection.
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.
The Richart family started making gourmet chocolates and French macarons in Lyon, France in 1925 and has consequently gone on to become one of the world’s best chocolate brands. The chocolatier has gained highly coveted accolades for his work: National Geographic’s Inside Travel named him one of the world’s top chocolatiers, and has been awarded the Ruban Bleu, France’s most prestigious confectioner’s honor, a total of seven times.
For their new chocolate line, che Thomas Keller and olive oil icon Armando Manni are ratcheting up the intrinsic health benefits of cocoa beans and EVOO. The chocolate is made according to the same "live" principles Manni designed for his cultish oils--a method developed with the University of Florence to minimize heat exposure and retain antioxidants throughout processing. The two tapped former pastry chef Chi Bui (Daniel, Le Bernardin) to perfect the blockbuster bars, which double down on the antioxidant power with a finishing hit of Manni oil. The first release includes three bars, from Madagascar, Peru and Ecuador ($14.95); the latter is our favorite--uniquely floral, with a lush, velvety texture. williams-sonoma.com
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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.