This line of chocolates began with an international love affair. After debuting his winning pralines at the World Fair in Brussels in 1910, Greek-American Leonidas Kestekides fell in love with a local Belgian girl and opened a tea room in Ghent.  After his pralines again won gold at the Ghent World Fair in 1913, Leonidas began selling chocolates from his storefront "guillotine window," then expanded his operation to tea houses in Brussels and Blankenberge. Today Leonidas sells chocolates at over 1,500 storefronts worldwide, but the prolific brand's humble beginnings are never too far away — "democracy in chocolate" is their motto, meaning that the good stuff isn't only reserved for the rich. Purists will appreciate his Tablette Noir bar, which features 70 per cent cocoa.
The Tessieris did not set out to make chocolate. In the beginning, like the rest of the Chocolate Valley, they made candy. Their parents owned a business in Pontedera that sold pastry ingredients to bakers. Alessio and Cecilia went off on their own, but they didn’t stray far. They rented a small room in town and began to experiment with what they call pralines and we call filled chocolates. Soon enough, they wanted to move to a higher grade—the highest grade they knew. So the brother and sister, who were still in their 20s, went to visit a chocolate maker they greatly admired.
You could spend eternity staring at the stunning chocolates at Christophe Artisan Chocolatier-Patissier in Charleston, South Carolina. The luxurious treats here are all hand-painted, resulting in bold morsels that are some of the prettiest little things you’ll ever lay eyes on. But, of course, you’ll want to eat these chocolates in addition to looking at them. Flavors range from the standard (praline, raspberry) to the subtle (Earl Grey, lavender caramel) to the extraordinary (bleu cheese).
People love chocolate. People love bacon. Vosges founder Katrina Markoff decided to marry the two, and Mo's Bacon Candy Bars were born. Choco-bacon pancake mix, truffles and caramel toffees soon followed, putting the Chicago-based company on the map. The pioneer in experimental chocolate who trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris combines our favorite candy with curry for her Naga bar, and ginger, wasabi and black sesame seeds for the Black Pearl Bar. You can find her whimsical recipes at boutiques in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York City and Chicago.
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)
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!
Donnelly’s chocolates have well-developed chocolate flavors. Many pieces use strong flavors of spices, fruits, or nuts. I recommend identifying each piece before biting into it—the chocolate-banana combination is better when you expect it than when you are surprised. The cardamom piece is similarly better savored when you are prepared to sense the cardamom. (This spice is not used as much as its distinctive flavor and scent warrant. If you are not familiar with it, I recommend smelling and tasting a little separately before trying Donnelly’s cardamom-chocolate combination.)
Candinas Chocolatier is a small manufacturer run by Markus Candinas. His truffle assortment includes two very nice nut pieces, with a very fine crunchy texture and good flavors. The truffles have thin shells and medium-strength flavors. Another piece was sweet and fruity, quite appealing. However, without a chart, you do not know what to expect. The web site also offers no selection of pieces. The marzipan piece I liked seems to be gone. Much of the assortment is plain or mild ganaches or other “just chocolate” pieces that do not interest me. Given that, though, the milk chocolate truffle was spot on, and the flavors are nice.
The praline/hazelnut mix starts to emerge in the background quickly after application. Hazelnut alone is more familiar, and I like to think I would've pointed it out without knowing about it ahead of time, but the addition of praline makes for a more nuanced and alien blend, albeit very desirable and certainly not taking much away from the cocoa-dominance of the fragrance.

For over 90 years, Esther Price Candies has been making the milkiest, most scrumptious chocolates in Ohio. Based out of Dayton, this local chain’s chocolate-covered caramels are their most popular product, but no trip to one of their seven locations across the state would be complete without picking up a box of their Buckeyes — it’s the most iconic dessert in Ohio, after all.
In addition to the informational articles below, you’ll find reviews of products that we think are the best gourmet chocolate (and make the best chocolate gifts for people who know good chocolate). You can find more chocolate gift ideas in the Gift-Finder section. If you have suggestions, comments, or want to tell us about your favorite chocolates, we’d love to hear from you. 

Theo Chocolate can be found at many higher-end markets but a visit to its shop guarantees a taste of hard-to-find flavors, like a bonbon filled with caramel that’s flavored by the smoky heat of a ghost chile. Theo, which ships its chocolates nationwide, uses only organic and certified fair-trade chocolate for all of its creations. 3400 Phinney Avenue N, Seattle, WA 98103
K’s 5-star review: Through a narrow lobby and off the street, Chocolat Moderne is tucked on the 9th floor off the beaten path. Please do not let this discourage your New York chocolate trekking -- it is worth taking the extra step (or, if preferred, elevator ride) to visit. This chocolatier is absolutely stocked with a decadent selection (and I do mean selection and decadent) hosting rack after rack of freshly created bonbons. The lady herself, Joan Coukos, and her hubby were the hands-on reps at the counter, so the charming customer service was stellar. Bonbons are painted in perfectly tempered shell molds (Valrhona has never been in better form) with filled centers that absolutely ooze with a bravado of focused flavors -- from the trending and expected sea salt caramel and liquor-splashed ganaches, to oreintal persuasions such as persimmon peach and shiso lime. Pieces were $2.5-$3.5. Bars $8. Chocolat Moderne has middle man retailers such as D&D and Whole Foods that offer some of their products. However, I would strongly recommend visiting the NY location if it's available to your schedule -- you deserve it!
Visiting the Republica del Cacao should be on every chocoholic's bucket list! The youngest company among our selections, the Republica del Cacao is an Ecuadorian chocolate firm founded in 2004. The brand arose out of an effort to preserve the indigenous Arriba cacao plants grown predominantly on family farms in the Manabí, Los Ríos and El Oro regions of Ecuador. Republica del Cacao's claim to fame is their single-origin dark chocolate bar, made with nothing but cacao, sugar and cocoa butter, allowing the complex flavors of each region's chocolate to speak for themselves. The company has also branched out into beverages like hot cocoa, coffee and chocolate- and coffee-flavored liqueurs.

If you’re looking for something completely different, consider these luxury champagne truffles from the famous British chocolatier Charbonnel et Walker. A small-batch chocolatier known for serving the Queen of England, they’re famous for specialty products including these milk chocolate truffles made with marc de champagne, a French brandy made from champagne grapes. Their strawberry coating adds a pleasing sweetness that counters the intensity of the brandy-flavored filling. 

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
Belgian chocolate is perhaps one of the most popular European chocolates in the world. Donckels Belgian chocolate truffles truly highlight this, with their fine Belgian truffles, dusted with cocoa powder. They have a soft, creamy texture. The high-quality chocolate more than makes up for the relatively high price. One small issue with these truffles is transport. In some instance, the truffles were not cooled properly during the transport, causign the truffles to fuse together. It makes them less than ideal if you’re looking for gourmet chocolates to gift. But the chocolate is just as delicious, even if the truffles lose their shape.
The award-winning Almond Roll Ups, $33, a soft-baked cookie rolled in sliced almonds that wraps around a marzipan center, was a unanimous favorite. Or try the soft butter cookies that sandwich fruit fillings of strawberry, peach, apricot or raspberry, $33. Gluten-free options are available too like the Hazelnut Cookie, and their award-winning dark chocolate dipped Hazelnut Cookie, $38.

High-quality chocolate, made from the best cacao beans, is the first step. Next is the filling. When a confectioner makes the conscious decision to make high-quality chocolates, they forgo preservatives and artificial flavors and use natural fruit, nuts, butters, spices and herbs. The end result is something that isn’t as shelf stable as Russell Stover or other drugstore candies. Preservatives in those drugstore offerings affect the flavor of the chocolates. When you pit the long-life brands to more perishable high-end chocolates in a blind taste test, the differences are glaringly clear.


Top chocolatiers generally work with couverture (first-rate chocolate containing a high percentage of cocoa butter) to make their creations, versus fresh cocoa beans, although an increasing number now experiment with bean to bar. Some makers even grow their own cacao beans. Direct contact between growers and makers is the best-case scenario for sustainable, or at the very least fair trade, chocolate.
With traditions and recipes based in the Netherlands, Chocolaterie Stam makes some of the most exquisite chocolates in the entire United States, let alone Des Moines, Iowa. You can’t go wrong with any of their bonbons or truffles, which are so rich and decadent that you’ll think you’re truly in Europe. The corn-shaped milk chocolate with a hazelnut praline filling is the perfect nod to Iowa and is just as tasty as it looks.
At her beautiful Atlanta boutique, owner Kristen Hard refuses to use anything but dark chocolate in her amazing bean-to-bar chocolates and playful desserts, such as a chocolate faux salami flecked with biscotti. To win over milk chocolate lovers, she says she “slowly ratcheted up the cacao percentages, and no one noticed.” Many chocolate artisans spend years training with masters, but Hard is almost completely self-taught. “It used to make me feel insecure,” she says. “But it’s also why I’m unique.” She now spends six weeks abroad each year sourcing beans directly from farmers, creating outstanding bars like one with Venezuelan cacao and raw sugar. cacaoatlanta.com

Among all of the tested chocolates, the Recchiuti come in the most intriguing shapes and designs. No two chocolates are the same. Some have intricate patterns, while others look like little sculptures. This contrasted sharply with the John and Kira’s box, filled with 15 squares of the same shape, size, and texture (a little monotonous for a romantic gift).
Was going to send some truffles to my friend but ended up changing my mind cause I was worried they'd melt in shipping. So... I got to eat them myself! Lol! Loved that they had different size gift boxes AND they highlight the chocolates you select so you know what they are! How thoughtful and useful! I hate playing guessing games of what am I eating to possibly be disappointed. The chocolates are so yummy and I love the various flavors. It's pricey but well worth an occasional treat. The employees are sure friendly too. Definitely stop in for a treat.

Tessa Halstead grew up in the chocolate business: Her father ran a chocolate shop in Dallas a generation ago. Today in Austin, she’s built Chocolaterie Tessa into a community hub. Halstead and her crew produce chocolates on a larger scale than most, and offer single-origin bonbons in addition to assorted flavors that change seasonally. The always-in-season salted caramel is a favorite, but customers also come for the strawberry basil in the summertime and autumn’s cinnamon spice. Nationwide shipping is available. 7425 Burnet Road, Austin, TX
Ginger Elizabeth Hahn has produced molded and flavored chocolates since 2007. Today, her shop specializes in bonbons in California-inspired flavors like Eureka lemon, raspberry rose geranium, brown butter, buttermilk lime, and olive oil sea salt. Macarons, chocolate bars, and ice cream are also on offer, though only the chocolates ship coast-to-coast. Orders are shipped the day after they’re received, with the exception of Thursday through Saturday orders, which ship the following Monday. 1801 L St. Suite 60, Sacramento, CA

B.T. McElrath Chocolatier was an artisan chocolatier in Minnesota but has become a part of Annie B’s. (I have not done a new review since the change.) McElrath’s truffle assortment was excellent, with balanced and moderately strong flavors. In most pieces, the flavors remained distinct, working together without losing their own identities. B.T.’s Signature Dark Chocolate Truffle had a full chocolate flavor without any bitterness and without being very sweet. Other flavors include caramel; passion fruit; lavender and pepper; chile and lime, lime, coconut, and ginger; cinnamon and star anise. All were well done. I would ask for a different and stronger caramel flavor, but that is a quibble of personal preference. 

Maison du Chocolat’s smallest online offering is a box of 28, which we also think is better to share with a larger group rather than with just one other person. Recchiuti’s offering of 16 chocolates feels more appropriate for sharing between a couple over the course of a few days or a week. And although these chocolates aren’t much more expensive per piece than the Recchiuti, having to buy a bigger box really bumps up the price. You can purchase smaller boxes in Maison du Chocolat stores, but that doesn’t help if you’re not in New York, Paris, or other larger cities where the shops can be found.
Cookie Love’s gourmet cookie flavors include the classics like Chocolate Chip and Oatmeal with dried Cranberries, but you’ll also be tempted by Mocha Chocolate Chip, or how about their heartiest cookie named Enduring Love that combines organic coconut with almonds, oatmeal, chocolate chips and dried cranberries. With loyal customers across the country and rave reviews, Vermont Cookie Love is the place to order rich, all natural cookies and frozen cookie dough for lovers of just-out-of-the-oven home baked cookies.
Anette’s Chocolate Factory has a nice variety of chocolates, more than your usual Standard assortment. Examples include the Peach Cobbler, Roasted Hazelnut Morsel, Mint Truffle, Triple Berry, and Himalayan Salted Caramel. They were a bit hit and miss for me, but I would say their milk or dark Ensemble (12 truffles, 18 others) or Anette’s Assorted (30 others) boxes are a good deal.
At her beautiful Atlanta boutique, owner Kristen Hard refuses to use anything but dark chocolate in her amazing bean-to-bar chocolates and playful desserts, such as a chocolate faux salami flecked with biscotti. To win over milk chocolate lovers, she says she “slowly ratcheted up the cacao percentages, and no one noticed.” Many chocolate artisans spend years training with masters, but Hard is almost completely self-taught. “It used to make me feel insecure,” she says. “But it’s also why I’m unique.” She now spends six weeks abroad each year sourcing beans directly from farmers, creating outstanding bars like one with Venezuelan cacao and raw sugar. cacaoatlanta.com
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.

American consumers are expected to spend an astonishing $1.8 billion-plus on candy for the holiday this year, and about 75% of that will be on chocolate. Mass-market confectioners like Russell Stover, in business since 1923, will account for most of the sales. (The company, which also owns the Whitman’s brand, is the largest boxed-candy manufacturer in America.) Most smaller chocolate shops prepare special Valentine’s Day assortments and/or other chocolate-related gifts, though, and these tend to offer greater variety and utilize better-quality chocolate.
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