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.
Bissinger’s toffee is pretty good. The pieces in their French Collection and Signature Classic assortments were good quality but did not have a lot of flavor for me. For example, I did not taste much blackberry in the Blackberry Caramel, and the Pecan Nut Ball was too sweet with not enough nut flavor. The price is high for Standard chocolates; you can get some nice Fine chocolate at the same price.
The chocolatier, William Dean Brown, plays with a variety of flavors in the assortment. The pieces included Cappuccino, Apple Pie, Hazelnut, Grapefruit and Tarragon, Strawberry Caramel, and more. I regard the Apple Pie highly for execution of its theme; it contained an apple layer and a crumb layer that were faithful to the theme, but the chocolate had a minor role in that piece. Indeed, the amount of chocolate flavor in the assortment varied and was not always the star.
Richart has improved over the years and makes a nice presentation in the store and in the box. Their chocolates are nice but are far from worth the extraordinary price. I purchased a 25-piece box mixed with Fruity and Roasted pieces. The prepared boxes in the store were all Fruity, all Roasted, or all Balsamic, so each has a uniform color, unlike my mixture to the right. Other design elements in the store are nice, such as a shelf display using a lot of white with a little bright color, different in each column of boxes.
Take someone’s taste buds on a trip around the world without buying a single plane ticket. Trader Joe’s chocolate “passport” allows chocolate lovers to sample bars from eight of the world’s best chocolate-producing countries. Each of the bars is single origin—which means the cocoa beans were sourced from that country alone—to ensure that you taste the unique flavors of each region. You’ll taste floral and nutty notes in Papua New Guinea’s bar, while Peru’s is slightly fruity and woody. Every single one is different from the last. Each bar is a little less than two ounces and they range from 60% to 73% cacao.
As with most types of chocolate on the market today, there are many options available when it comes to gourmet chocolate. So many, in fact, that it might be easy for you to become overwhelmed by the finely crafted chocolates and all the decorative, eye-catching gift boxes. If you’re looking for some of the best gourmet chocolates for your next party or you just want to sample some of the finest chocolate out there, our list of the ten best gourmet chocolates can provide you with the variety you need.
Owner Patricia Tsai is a self-taught chocolatier whose background in the business world taught her how to avoid the pitfalls of running a sustainable food business. Since 2012, Tsai has been sourcing cacao from a small farm in Tabasco, Mexico. At Chocovivo, she roasts and grinds those beans into chocolate using a grinder made in Mexico; she also has an ancient Aztec stone grinder, which is fascinating to watch in action. The shop sells a variety of chocolate products, including hot chocolate mix and chocolate sauce, but Tsai’s single-origin and blended bars (flavored with locally sourced coffee, spices, and essences) have attracted a loyal following. Three years ago, Tsai expanded her operation to include hair and skin products made from natural cacao and cocoa butter. Chocovivo ships nationwide. 12469 W Washington Blvd, Los Angeles, CA
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!
Molly is a freelance journalist and social media consultant with degrees in international affairs and public relations. As social media consultant to the Western Balkans over the past four years, Molly divides her time between the American South and Zagreb, Croatia. She has written for OZY, Fodor's Travel, Lonely Planet and Teen Vogue among others while reporting from North America, Europe and the Middle East. Her work can be found at www.mmollyharris.com.
There may be bars with frillier packaging and more envelope-pushing additions, but when it comes to pure, classic chocolate, Bonnat can lay claim to the crown. This family company began in 1884 and was beloved by Jackie Kennedy Onassis who gave bars to White House guests during the holidays. The Juliana bars are made from specially-grown Brazilian cacao beans, fermented, then dried in the sun slowly, over seven days. Back in France, the beans are painstakingly refined and tempered over five days. It’s an intricate process but, as Stephane Bonnat says, “In the Alps, we have time.”
French Broad: This chocolatier opened in Asheville in 2007 and does a nice job of giving the chocolate lover a big truffle for the buck. These were some of the largest truffles we tasted. Their Buddha Collection’s vegan truffle was a favorite (composed of bitter sweet chocolate and coconut cream), lending the truffle a nice exotic edge. The Lavender and honey from the signature collection box—a milk chocolate ganache around a dark chocolate ganache blended with local honey and lavender—was the a delicious riff on lavender. The mole negro—housemade mole in dark chocolate and rolled in sesame seeds—great texture and spice.
The gourmet cookies from San Francisco’s Salty Sweet Bakery are for the cookie-loving kid in you with tastes that are all grown up. You’ll know it from your first bite as the cookie flavors reveal themselves like a chorus line of CanCan dancers on your tongue that finishes with the ephemeral taste of real vanilla and the final flirty curtain call of salt. These sweet but not too sweet cookies tend toward the soft-baked to chewy spectrum. Each are topped with a sprinkle of delicate sea salt flakes.
Launched in 2006, the Seattle-based Theo Chocolate was the first chocolate manufacturer in the US to be both 100 percent organic and fair-trade. (The Fair Trade Certificate goes only to eco-friendly products made by workers who are paid enough to cover their basic needs and reinvest in their operations.) Theo’s conscientious chocolates are delicious: nuanced and intense, like dark, single-origin bars from nations such as Ghana and Madagascar. Founder Joseph Whinney is so passionate about chocolate that he hired a biologist to genetically map Theo’s beans. Not all of Theo’s endeavors are so serious: 3,400 Phinney bars, named for the factory’s street address, come in whimsical flavors like the salty-sweet Bread and Chocolate ($7), featuring dark chocolate mixed with bread crumbs; it’s perfect with afternoon coffee. theochocolate.com
Some of the Fruity pieces were excellent, particularly the Mango Passionfruit ganache. The fruit flavor was nicely bittersweet and strong with a good peak, complemented by slightly bitter chocolate. The Lime ganache, Raspberry ganache, and Red Berry bouquet coulis were also quite good with strong fruit flavors. The Orange Zest coulis was very interesting. I had the sensation of flavor in the upper palate versus on the tongue. The Apricot coulis flopped, though; it was weak and not sweet enough for me.
If you like chocolate bark covered with fresh fruits and nuts, you will go nuts for the chocolate of Paul de Bondt. He was born in Holland and married an Italian, Cecelia. The couple makes international chocolate with flair. Try their lemon lime 64 percent bar made from Madagascar’s finest cacao. Although one can find several outstanding chocolate makers in Tuscany, de Bondt proves noteworthy for his scientific approach to chocolate, offering various percentages of the same cocoa in a series of bars that lets you find just the right nuances for your chocolate preferences. Chocolate and tea shop in Pisa.
The actual Black Dinah shop in Westbrook is tiny and unassuming, but don’t let the small size of the storefront detour you from trying their fresh artisan chocolates. Their truffles and chocolates are picture-perfect and come in stunning flavors such as pear Champagne and brown butter (the latter is painted with a signature Maine lobster). Their sipping chocolate, which is rich and creamy, is also a must-have for those long, cold Maine winter nights.
Review: This Russell Stover box is the classic V-Day chocolate that you've been getting since middle school and it's classic for a reason. The chocolate isn't mind blowing but it's consistently interesting and varied. It definitely has a store-bought quality to it but it's good enough that people will still be happy you got it for them. After all it's chocolate, and if you get someone chocolate and they don't appreciate it, you need to dump them because you don't need that kind of negativity in your life.
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.
François Payard is widely known as a pastry chef, but I was unimpressed by Payard’s chocolates. I enjoyed the Chagall, a praline wafer with excellent structure, good balance, and medium-mild flavors, although it was a bit slow to present flavors. I also liked the Gauguin, in which the cherry and chocolate flavors worked well together, and the Monet, with a strong cinnamon flavor. Most other pieces were okay but unremarkable. The Rodin disappointed because its initial interesting raspberry flavor faded too quickly.
Snickers have continuously been one of the most delightful chocolate bars introduced in the market since 1930 and is one of the bars which provides a huge amount of calorie intake. Initially named Marathon until July of 1990, this chocolate bar by the American Company Mars incorporated consists of caramel and peanuts enroped in milk chocolate. The bar is one of the most preferred chocolate bars in the world with an approximate global sale value of over $2 billion.
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.
If you’re looking for something a little simpler but still well within gourmet chocolate range, we suggest these caramels. Made with an infusion of sea salt, the caramels manage to merge a chewy texture and sweet notes with crunchy and bold sea salt. The salt doesn’t overwhelm the senses and instead provides a way to enhance the base flavors and textures of the caramel for a truly unique gourmet experience. These caramels are made with real butter and salt along with fresh cream for an authentic taste at an affordable price.
It is one of the oldest and most popular chocolatiers in the world. It’s pretty tough to resist oneself in the streets of France with a view of Valrhona store in front of the eyes. Valrhona found its inception in 1922 in France. The founder of the chocolate production company belongs from Rhone Valley. At Valrhona, you can explore a wide array of premium chocolate recipes created with sheer excellence and care by the expert professionals. This is a great place to try some incredibly high-quality chocolates grown in a hygienic environment. When you visit Valrhona, don’t hesitate to pull out few more bucks to experience the world-class chocolates.
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.
"Commence your tasting with the white chocolate, macadamia nut and Cointreau Ambrosia truffle; with your second sip give our milk chocolate Wink of the Rabbit truffle a whirl. Rosé Champagnes are a tad fuller bodied than their golden counterparts and in general, tend to stand up better to darker chocolates. Cheers to an eternal life of wine + chocolate!"
Though this taste test determined which cake we prefer, it’s worth noting that there was one ingredient missing—the frosting! It’s easy to imagine that many of these brands would have tasted sweeter, more moist and flavorful with a dollop of creamy frosting on top…unless, of course, you’re on board with the naked cake trend. Even if you don’t have a five-star boxed mix on hand, delicious icing can go a long way toward improving a so-so cake.
Committed to quality, the French chocolate-maker Richart guarantees you the most refined chocolates from the most refined ingredients. Richart recipes, developed and tested by the Richart family, have won France’s most prestigious confectioner’s honor, the Ruban Bleu, seven times. Having perfected the art of chocolate making, Richart now focuses on enhanced flavors and distinctive designs and colors. A box of assorted chocolates is visually stunning. If you really want to impress, splurge on the $850 burlwood vault with seven drawers of chocolate — complete with temperature and humidity gauges.