The scene: a quaint Italian cafe, an espresso, and a piece of Italian chocolate. What’s not to love? The most popular chocolate producer in Italy is Amadei. They buy their cocoa directly from growers, which means they know exactly where the beans came from, and how they were grown. They use that knowledge to produce some of the best chocolates in the world. The Italians also enjoy using chocolate in their pastries, a win for anyone with a sweet tooth.
Fittingly, the chocolate takes center stage from the onset, not a more familiar dense semi-dark chocolate but rather, almost exactly as another has put it, like milk chocolate cocoa powder, somehow at the very intersection of sweet and dry. It's plenty sweet but not over the top, and the sharpness of the cocoa powder is somehow there. Another similar analogous experience is the smell of a milk chocolate bar when first being unwrapped. A brilliant capture by Sarah.
Vosges Chocolate's exotic truffles are made from the finest ingredients offered around the world. Owner/Chocolatier, Katrina Markoff, personally chooses every spice, flower and chocolate that is flown into their Chicago kitchen. Markoff utilizes the original methods of French confectionery artistry which she learned during her training at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.
All-Around Favorite: Chocolopolis: The defining difference between these chocolates and others we tasted was the utterly complex and rich ganache inside each different truffle. Chocolopolis has one of the largest collections of craft chocolate bars in the world—many of which they incorporate into their truffles. The Champions Box (my favorite) features all of their award-winning truffles. Lacquered and glossy, each truffle delivers serious taste, (think lemon-lavender white chocolate or the Madagascar dark chocolate). The top taste was the Dominican Republic House Blend truffle, made from their proprietary blend of select Dominican Republic couvertures (cacao). Chocolopolis founder Lauren Adler notes, “I’d compare our style of confections to the French tradition, where it’s really about the quality and the flavor of the chocolate.” Her caramel cups dusted with a cluster of sea salt are worth a bite too.
The love for chocolate does not discriminate. No matter how old you are, where you are from, how much money you have, or what your social status is, chances are there is some kind of chocolate that you can't say no to. There is a reason why chocolate is loved by people around the world -- it actually causes a chemical reaction in the brain that makes you happy.
The most famous Venezuelan cacao of all comes from Chuao. The trees of Chuao are shielded by mountains from all but the warm Caribbean breezes; the soil is naturally irrigated by three cascading rivers. Doutre-Roussel calls the region “one of the jewels of the earth.” Besides the microclimate, Chuao has centuries-old traditions of harvesting and preparing cacao. First it’s fermented to develop the compounds that will later blossom into rich aromatics, then it’s laid out on the parvis in front of the village church to dry slowly in the sun. Because the farmers worked together as a cooperative, Chuao is one of the only places where a chocolate maker could buy, at one stroke, 9 to 10 tons of uniformly excellent cacao. Until recently, that chocolate maker was Valrhona. Today every last kilo of cacao from Chuao goes to Amedei.
Starting off in 2004 with six flavors of chocolate-dipped toffee, this boutique/factory just outside of downtown L.A. now also produces chocolates, petits fours, preserves, cakes and pastries. Though their line of petits fours rightfully shine with flavors like rose petal, their equally tasty toffees, truffles, mendiants and caramels also make for excellent gifts. Plus, for Valentine’s Day, heart-shaped bittersweet or milk chocolates are available in an assortment of boxes.
Chef Oscar Ortega is making some truly otherworldly chocolates at his Jackson, Wyoming, chocolate shop Atelier Ortega. His truly artisanal chocolates come in classic flavors (Tahitian vanilla, walnut) and inventive varietals (oregano and Earl Grey tea). And if these stunning chocolates don’t do it for you, then consider stopping in to America’s best old-school candy shops.
Co-owners Corey and David Menkes spend more time sourcing their chocolate than molding it, ensuring the beans they use come from farms that practice sustainable agriculture and pay their workers fair wages. Today, their operation produces nearly 3,000 bars each month, from simple, barely sweetened single-origin varieties to subtly flavored sweets, like a bar molded with crisp amaranth. A white chocolate bar cleanly flavored with matcha promises a light caffeine buzz. 2835 South Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles, CA
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.
I haven't had all the chocolate in town. But so far, this lives up to its name! Not since DeBrand's left has there been such a great option for quality chocolate and coffee in the city. I've tried several of the truffles and they have everything to fit whatever taste profile you prefer. From dark and bitter to light and sweet, you'll find a good option. And they have a well-maintained espresso machine to brew fantastic coffee that compliments your dessert. If you're looking for an option in Mass Ave to grab an after-dinner dessert, The Best Chocolate in Town is a great chioce.
Anytime you walk into a chocolate shop and are immediately greeted with a sample of free, homemade fudge, you know you’re in for a good time. That’s what you will find at The Sweet Palace in Philipsburg, Montana. The customer service here is just that good. Beyond huckleberry fudge, you’ll also find homemade truffles, nut bark and creamy chocolates. If chocolate isn’t your thing, The Sweet Palace also sells a bunch of nostalgic candy you forgot existed.
Because Jacques Torres is as serious about technique as he is about fun, it’s possible to walk out of one of his eight New York City stores without a pure, single origin bar of dark chocolate and a bag full of chocolate-covered Cheerios (the idea for which he had when a mother quieted her wailing baby with a handful of the cereal.) His 80 percent Porcelana cocoa bars are unusually sweet and silky for chocolate with such a high cocoa content, but Torres says the qualities of these rare, special beans allow him to ratchet up the cocoa without adding more sugar.
The chocolatier's new cake truffles, created with celebrity baker Duff Goldman, come in four Ace of Cakes–inspired flavors, including Cookie Dough (cookie dough-flavored ganache with a milk chocolate shell topped with dark chocolate chips) ($16) and Goldman's favorite: Butterscotch Walnut Brownie, a ball of caramel and maple walnut cream, surrounded by milk chocolate and molasses. godiva.com
We cut the chocolates into quarters so that more than one person could taste all of the offerings while also trying to avoid palate fatigue. While this may sound like a silly problem, it can be quite frustrating when your taste buds become overstimulated mid-tasting and fail you. To try to limit this, Saltines and club soda were set out to help tasters pace themselves.
It’s no longer difficult to find beautifully decorated chocolates, sea-salted caramels, or delicately scented truffles: Nearly every major city in the U.S. is now home to a shop offering single-origin chocolate bars or bonbons filled with spiked ganache and coated in paint swipes of color. Others use local fruit, fresh herbs, spices, nuts, coffee, tea, or other essences to enhance each chocolate variety, encouraging flavors to dance on the tongue as they melt.
If you want to try a wide assortment of fine European chocolates for little more than the price of a basic Russel Stover box, Merci’s assortment is a great option. This box of twenty small bars comes with six varieties – milk chocolate, coffee and cream, hazelnut almond, hazelnut cream, dark mousse, and praline cream. Each bar is individually wrapped for easy eating, making this offering from the German brand a tasty and affordable option for those just entering the world of high-end European chocolate.
Moonstruck isn’t all about the liquor, though. You’ll find caramels, toffee, bars, and truffles in a wide variety of flavors from espresso to orange. There are also whimsical shapes like black cats, ladybugs, and lambs as well as classic shapes and designs. If that’s not enough, there are a variety of hot chocolate mixes as well to tickle your palate and warm your heart.
We knew there was a word for what the look and taste of the gourmet cookies from 1812 House made us feel, so we got busy Googling and we think we found it: Hiraeth. Hiraeth is a Welch word that is tough to translate but it expresses that feeling of longing and nostalgia that borders on homesickness for a time or place you can no longer return to. That’s the kind of emotional time travel we had when we unboxed our cookies from 1812 House. These are timeless, classic cookies made with real butter and vanilla and handmade in small batches. Eating one is like stepping back in time, a pleasure mixed with nostalgia.
Cadbury, anyone? It’s hard to pass up a Cadbury egg when they appear in the grocery store, but the brand originated in the United Kingdom and originally sold tea, coffee, and drinking chocolate in the 1820s. The Cadbury brothers supplied Queen Victoria with chocolate in the 1850s and developed the popular Dairy Milk chocolate, famous for having a higher milk content, in 1905. While you can buy Cadbury Eggs and Dairy Milk bars around the world, we think they taste better while walking down a cobblestone street in the U.K.!
Zak’s Chocolate is a small-batch chocolate shop located in Scottsdale, Arizona. What makes them so unique? They source all their cocoa beans from a single, ethical source and roast the beans themselves, allowing Zak’s to carefully control the production of their sweets. They then turn the beans into elegantly flavored chocolates, with delicacies such as a blackberry lychee bonbons, a brownie flight and a cacao nib caramel.
Philadelphia Candies Assorted Dark Boxed Chocolates are unique and tasty. They are made with nuts that are dry roasted in-house to give the much-needed freshness. Additionally, the manufacturer makes creams from scratch to give these chocolates a unique taste. Philadelphia Candies Assorted Dark Boxed Chocolates also come in a safety sealed to make sure it is 100-percent safe for consumption. Plus they are USDA/FDA-approved to give you confidence knowing you are buying a safe and quality product. They are pure dark chocolates that arrive in temperature-controlled packaging.
You’ll find the best chocolate shop in Georgia at the Krog Street Market in Atlanta. Xocolatl makes single-origin bean-to-bar chocolates that are sustainably and ethically sourced from Peru, Madagascar, Nicaragua and beyond. Their confections are presented in beautiful, simple paper, but the flavors inside are anything but basic. Xocolatl’s best-selling chocolates include the Kissed Mermaids (dark coconut milk chocolate with vanilla-infused sea salt and crunchy cacao nibs sprinkled) and Go Nuts (dark chocolate with dry-roasted almonds and vanilla-infused sea salt), which are decadent and delightful.
In 1991, Alessio and Cecilia made a pilgrimage to Tain l’Hermitage, in the Rhône Valley, for an appointment at Valrhona. The Tessieris were humored for a while, but when they were ready to make a deal, they were sent away with nothing. The French wouldn’t even negotiate. According to Cecilia, they were told that Italy wasn’t evolved enough to appreciate such extraordinary chocolate.
In 2012, Cluizel opened a second Chocolatrium; in West Berlin, New Jersey. (The only other American outlet is their Manhattan storefront.) Visitors to the European and American Chocolatriums are walked through the chocolate creation process and history of the Cluizel brand. They are offered a sneak peek into the Cluizel workshop, then feast on fanciful bonbons like caramel mushrooms, “cappuccinos” filled with coffee ganache and macarolats — macaroons with different flavored coatings and fillings.
Michel Cluizel ($35 for 15 pieces), another favorite from our 2014 review, performed well against the new competition. Everything we said about it before still stands. It’s a very well-made chocolate, and the flavors are pretty safe. These would be a good choice for a person who likes Godiva and is interested in better quality chocolate, but is not yet ready for unorthodox flavors.
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 that there is probably not a city or a town of any size in the country that doesn’t boast at least one purveyor of specialty chocolates, and many places have more. There are at least 80 of them in New York City, for instance, and more than 30 in Los Angeles.
Spending a little more on this 28-piece assortment of Belgian chocolates will give your loved one plenty of pleasure back in return. Each one-pound package includes buttercreams, truffles, and pralines coated with ivory, milk, and dark chocolate coverings. Plus, it comes pre-wrapped with a beautiful satin bow, so all you have to do is click 'order' and you'll have everything you need for a thoughtful gift.
We saved the biggest for last. Levain’s gourmet cookies push the limits of the definition of cookie. They have been described as “Molten Cookie Dough” for their barely baked middles that ooze with warm, sweet goodness. Weighing in at 6 ounces each they are the size of generous muffin tops. Each flavor is rich, buttery, super-decadent. We had the fun of standing in line to enter the teeny tiny New York store to order one of each flavor—Chocolate Chip Walnut, Oatmeal Raisin, Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip and Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip. I was lucky to have a posse of eager tasters with me. The edges have a slightly crisp cookie texture that gives way to an interior of cookie/cake-y crumb. The cookie’s center is a barely baked oooey goooey celebration of sweet. This is not a cookie for the faint of heart.
Thankfully, with the availability of online chocolate stores, purchasing a delicious and wonderful chocolate gift only requires about 5 minutes of your time. Buying chocolate on the internet provides a quick and efficient way to select from a long list of great options that fit your budget and gift giving needs. Plus, you can do it from the comfort of your own home.
In 1502 Columbus received cocoa beans as an offering from the Aztec society, but it was the conquistador Hernan Cortes who sent the first shipment of cocoa to Spain in 1524. Spanish monks adapted the "chocolha" to the European taste, substituting some of the spicies used in America for honey, sugar and milk. In the Spanish court this beverage was kept as a secret recipe that only monks knew how to prepare.
When I spoke with Eric Case of Valrhona Chocolate, he made a point to differentiate filled chocolates from chocolate bars: “Chocolate and chocolates. Chocolate is something made from a bean, to give to someone that then creates a bonbon, or a confection, or a candy. ‘Chocolates’ are all kinds of things that happen to use chocolate in the ingredients, but they also have marzipan, toffee, nuts, or fruit.” Because of these additions, the shelf life of a quality box of chocolates is (generally) much shorter than that of a bar.
Woodhouse Chocolate has some very nice pieces; you should definitely visit when in St. Helena or even Napa. However, not every piece lives up to their price level, so be selective about your assortment. I found the shifting flavors of orange, cream, marzipan, and chocolate in the Fiori di Sicilia made it a fun experience, although its chocolate is a minor player. I particularly recommend the Pecan Caramel for an excellent pecan flavor, which mixes well with the chocolate, and the Peanut Croquant, again for a good medium-strong peanut flavor that mixes well with chocolate.
It is National Chocolate Day, the perfect occasion on which to suggest a line-up of the 15 best chocolate bars in the whole world. This is a personal choice and it is en extremely subjective topic. But as a judge at the International Chocolate Awards and a Grand Jury judge at the Academy of Chocolate awards I have tasted a lot of chocolate - and these are my favourites, in reverse order of my opinion of their deliciousness.