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.
To narrow down the chocolates we wanted to try, we read reviews of chocolates in Consumer Reports, polled colleagues and friends in the business, and sought advice from Mark Bitterman, owner of The Meadow. For our first review, we took into account availability and usability of online stores: For example, Kee’s Chocolates from New York City came highly recommended from colleagues and editorial publications, but isn’t available online, and our goal was to find something that is accessible to most people. Overall, we came to a well-edited list of 11 of the most highly rated samples to put in front of a panel of nine friends and food experts for a blind tasting.
Olive & Sinclair isn’t just Nashville’s first bean-to-bar chocolate shop, it’s the first such store in all of Tennessee. This small-batch shop does everything in-house, from stone-grinding their cocoa to finishing up the ethically sourced, organic confections. The results are scrumptious, of course, and include signature Tennessee items like bourbon brittle and caramels alongside duck fat caramels that simply melt in your mouth.
This SoHo chocolate shop and store showcases luxurious, single-origin chocolates and confections derived primarily from Criollo cacao beans. Its Signature Ganache Collection features edible works of art, while its rich Hot Chocolate Collection gets a kick from the popularity of its Aztec Hot Chocolate. Cacao Bar, its 15-seat café, offers a sweet respite for patrons to order in coffee, chocolate or a baked goodie.
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Many pieces featured nut pralinés or pastes, and there was significant variety, including hazelnut, almond, pistachio, walnut, and various combinations, some with fruit flavors as well. The 3 was the fruitiest, and the most different from the others in the collection, featuring caramel, passion fruit, coconut, and mango in dark chocolate. The passion fruit dominated, and the chocolate flavor seemed a bit lost.
I was introduced to Alegio Chocolate on a chocolate crawl and bought a selection to taste at home. The Raspberry had a good balance with strong raspberry and good chocolate working together. The Orange was similar but slightly milder. The Santa Domingo is an unusal combination of green olive, licorice, currants, and apricot. Those flavors actually stood to the side a bit to present the chocolate at center stage. The Espresso worked well with a slightly salted caramel. The Habeñero had a little bite to it, while the Honey was of course sweet. Throughout the pieces, distinct chocolate flavors were presented well.