Candy — and especially chocolate — has been associated with Valentine’s Day since the 19th century. English confectioner Richard Cadbury started packaging his chocolates in heart-shaped boxes adorned with Cupids and rosebuds as early as 1861, and by the early 20th century, what had originally been a religious holiday had become fully commercialized. Candy shops (and florists) reaped the benefits.
If you think chocolate all tastes the same around the world, Kyya Chocolate in Springdale, Arkansas, will prove you wrong. This bean-to-bar chocolate shop makes a variety of single-origin dark chocolate treats, allowing customers to taste the subtle differences between offerings from Uganda, Ecuador, Madagascar, and beyond. There’s nothing artificial in this shop, just pure, beautiful flavors.
Some pieces I liked were the dark chocolate Palets d’Or, Le Cocktail (with a blend of nuts, was what fine chocolate should be but not the oustanding piece I expected from Bernachon’s reputation), Le Métis (praline, marzipan, and pistachio, was an unusual melange and interesting), L’Aveline (hazelnut praline, was very good with sharp flavors that were not overpoweringly strong), La Truffe (a very good truffle), Le Chuao Pepitos (strong chocolate), La Nougatine (good caramel), and La Truffette (an orange flavor that blends well with the chocolate).
Since 2008, Original Beans has taken the “bean to bar” idea full circle with their “bar to bean” commitment to plant a seedling for every chocolate bar sold. Details of their Grand Cru Blend No. 1 80 percent organic dark chocolate are kept secret, but they claim to use some of the rarest cacaos from South America and Africa. And with only raw cane sugar added, the bars are also vegan.
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.
Specializing in dark chocolate, Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker is a premier chocolate manufacturer. It executes each step of the manufacturing process itself, all the way from bean to bar, to ensure that its finished chocolate delivers a flavor like no other. The chocolate-makers first find the finest cacao available, then carefully taste and blend beans of different origins to create a unique flavor profile. All the chocolate is made in small batches using artisanal manufacturing methods. In addition to its ready-to-eat bars, Scharffen Berger makes a variety of baking chocolates.
Chocoholic travelers can have an immersive experience in Hershey, Pennsylvania, at Hershey Park. The amusement park, with roller coasters, water rides and candy mascots, also holds two hotels and one campground. Guests can take in shows and concerts, eat thousands of calories thanks to chocolate-themed menus and rich desserts or even get sticky with a "chocolate fondue wrap" at the full-service spa.
I was not satisfied at Pierre Marcolini. The Massepain Pistache was unremarkable. The dark chocolate in the Noisettine Fondant was so strong it almost overpowered the hazelnut. The ingredients and components in the piece were good, but the composition was not great. In the Trianon Fondant, the dark chocolate exterior did overpower the filling, and the wafers were soggy, not crisp.
I rarely recommend chocolates at this price level, and I certainly cannot make Christopher Elbow a regular treat, but I do recommend experiencing these exquisite chocolates. They would also make a superb gift. (Alternatives at this quality but somewhat cheaper are Burdick and Jacques Torres.) While I recommend Elbow’s chocolates, the toffees did not stand out for me.
Assortments include gift boxes, baskets, and samplers, or you could order a chocolate of the month collection for a gift that lasts. Their blue bandana chocolate bars are made from beans sourced directly from the farmers, while the five-star bars are filled with nuts, caramel, fruit, or granola. And that’s just the beginning bars of this chocolate serenade.
You can’t go wrong with anything at Vande Walle’s Candies in Appleton, Wisconsin; the chocolate is so high-quality and delicious that everything is great. This local candy shop is best known for its angelfood candies, with a light, airy center that melts in your mouth. Their truffle chocolate bars, with a classic chocolate outside and smooth, velvety interior, are also a highlight.
The zChocolat collection of chocolates combine with Valencia almonds, Piedmont hazelnuts, quality French butter and cream in the ganaches are world renowned. These are not your typical box of chocolates as you can expect caramels, pralines, Chocamandine, Orangettes, Pistachio-almond marzipan sprinkled with pieces of caramelized pistachios, passion fruit caramel, Venezuelan dark chocolate ganache, Hazelnut praline infused with coffee ganache, gifts catered to Valentine's Day with heart shaped chocolate and more. zChocolat is also unique in that it's made in the purest form, low in sugar, with no preservatives, no coloring, all natural ingredients, no alcohol and 100% pure cocoa butter.
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!
Xocolatti’s globally-inspired truffles and slates (very thin versions of chocolate bark ($28) with layers that recall slate rock) come in seven exotic flavors like mango and paprika with white chocolate. “In India, we usually eat fruit with spices on it, and one of the most popular combinations is mangos with paprika on top,” says founder Shaineal Shah. xocolatti.com
One of the oldest candy businesses in the country, Schimpff’s Confectionary in Jeffersonville, Indiana, is half chocolate shop, half museum, which makes it a charming tourist destination on its own. Beyond the collection of candy-making history here, the chocolates are old-fashioned and scrumptious. Don’t leave without picking up some caramel-covered marshmallows, which are called “mojeskas” in this part of the country.
#1: Ghirardelli Triple Chocolate Brownie Mix — It was neck and neck to the very end. I tallied up the very last judge’s sheet and this Ghirardelli brownie mix won by 1.5 points. Reviewers said it had a melt-in-your-mouth chewy texture and had phenomenal chocolate flavor. They loved the addition of chocolate chips to give authentic richness. The high-quality Ghirardelli chocolate put this brownie mix over the top.
As a professional courtesy, we’ll do the math for you: If you order a dozen of these 4.4 ounce cookies…hold on while we cipher…that’s over three pounds of cookies. Too much? No worries. You can also order the smaller, (but still big!) 2 ounce, 10 cookie assortment in the Sweet Bite Gift Box. We know, that’s still over a pound of cookies, but you or the lucky gift recipient won’t regret it.
“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.
Norman Love Confections: Chef Norman Love’s chocolates always have a tropical high toned fruitiness to them—even his dark selections. We loved his holiday candy cane selection (which comes in a fetching candy cane-shaped box.) The sleek, lustrous very colorful chocolates won big for shock and awe—they also tasted great too. This was one of the most festive and fun collections that we opened.
To identify the best chocolate shop in each state, 24/7 Wall St. indexed ratings weighted by number of reviews for thousands of chocolate shops nationwide on Yelp and Google. To be considered, a chocolate shop must be in or near a city with a population of at least 100,000 people. In states with few or no cities of this size, chocolate shops in smaller cities were also considered. Shops listed for South Dakota and West Virginia had only a small number of reviews, but were the highest-rated shops for their states. Ratings are the number of points given by Yelp and Google users out of a possible 5.
The Quatre Epices was well balanced blend of four spices. Wild Cherry had a nice piquant cherry flavor the first time I tried it but was milder on a later occasion. The Praline Noisette was good with a sharp hazelnut flavor, and the Mocha Cream was good, but some of the other gianduja pieces were mild or weak. The Honey had mild flavors with not much honey shining through. The cinnamon of the Cinnamon Toast was present but stood alone, not partnering well with the chocolate.
Stuart, Florida, located about 80 miles north of Fort Lauderdale, is already one charming small town to visit. Its highlight, though, is Castronovo Chocolate. This bean-to-bar small-batch chocolate shop has won several gold medals at the International Chocolate Awards for its lemon oil and lemon salt-infused white chocolate, Sierra Nevada 63 percent dark chocolate and Colombia mocha milk chocolate. The service here is attentive and as world-class as the bars themselves.
Nobody knows for sure how many chocolate shops there are in the U.S. today, at least in part because many of them do double duty as patisseries, ice cream parlors, or gift shops. Suffice to say there is probably not a city or a town of any size in the country that doesn’t boast at least one purveyor of chocolates. There are at least 25 in New York City, for instance, and more than 30 in Los Angeles.