Artist Christine Sarioz started working with chocolate years ago, but only opened her first shop this year. Molded chocolates, filled with dense, deep chocolate ganache or pistachio praline, look like elegant miniature children’s building blocks, perhaps in a set designed to honor Brutalist architecture; some are gilded in metallic dust for extra sparkle. Her signature item is a hazelnut praline-filled chocolate bar: Shiny, snappy, and wrapped in gold paper, it’s what Wonka would peddle if he’d gone to design school. 9414 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, CA
Ecuador is home to some of the best cacao beans in the world. Only approximately 5% of cacao in the world is labeled as “Fine Aroma,” and Ecuador produces nearly 63% of it. Until recently, Ecuador focused their efforts on exporting their cacao, but in the last few years, they have turned to producing their own chocolate. One brand, Paraci, has won dozens of international awards in recent years, beating out traditional European chocolate makers.
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.
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.
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.
Photo Credits: All images under fair use for illustrative purposes unless otherwise noted, 25. luxati.com, 24. everydayparisian.com, 23. toakchocolate.com, 22. www.richart-chocolates.com, 21. xfilexplore.com, 20. cocoastore.nyc, 19. mostlyaboutchocolate.com, 18. eclatchocolate.com, 17. wdwmagic.com, 16. wikimedia commons (public domain), 15. tripadvisor.com, 14. mnogolok.info, 13-12. wowreads.com, 11. candyaddict.com, 10. raredelights.com, 9. Mstyslav Chernov, Handmade cigar production, process. Tabacalera de Garcia Factory. Casa de Campo, La Romana, Dominican Republic (8), CC BY-SA 3.0, 8. Oderik, ChocoSP, CC BY-SA 3.0, 7. Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK, Swarovski crystals (2545857954), CC BY 2.0, 6-5. peimag.com, 4. delafee.com, 3. cazhighlights.blogspot.com, 2. delafee.com, 1. luxexpose.com

The Chocolate Dream Box is a treasure at the southern tip of Silicon Valley, not far from Fleur de Cocoa. Chocolatier Holly Westbrook uses mostly classic compositions, such as fruits and nuts, to good effect. I sampled a pound assortment with not a false note in the batch. Along the way, I encountered the Duo with hazelnuts in peak texture and a medium-light but distinct hazelnut flavor. The Exquisite truffle had a good dark chocolate ganache with fruity notes as promised. At 72% cacao, the Black Truffle was not intense chocolate but was rich and pillowy.
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One piece had a very good blend of hazelnut and almond with a fine crunchy texture. The marzipan was very good; Jacky Pédro brought out the flavor well. He must have sense of humor and self-confidence to label one of his products Le Crottin du Pin. To avoid spoiling your appetite, I will not translate the name, but the piece is a cocoa meringue with a chocolate cream filling. It was nice and very unusual and just a bit bitter. I also strayed from chocolate and tried the Patés de Fruits, which were very good.
Garrison Confections’s main attraction is the Seasonal Collection, which features twelve new flavors about every three months. Generally I like new experiences, so that is fine by me, but do not get attached, because your favorite piece will vanish. I tried the collection in April 2007 and was impressed by some pieces, notably the fruit patés. The Pabana was particularly nice, good flavors blended well, including a novel fruit flavor. The 91% was also very nice, unusual for me since I generally like more than chocolate alone. The pieces with alcohol were less appealing to me, as usual. The Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie was a bit piquant with a nice balance. The Coffee Almond Praline started well but finished weakly.
“Wow,” said Krader, biting into one of the company’s flat, square truffles. “This is definitely the chocolate with the most distinct point of view.” By that, she meant that it had perhaps the most unusual flavor of the bunch, with distinctly fruity notes. “This is from someone who’s redefining what truffles can be,” she said. “The flavorings don't punch you in the face, and it tastes like it was just made.” In other words: advanced chocolatiering. “There’s a sophistication about them,” she said. “Truffle neophytes might want something more general.”

This box contains two pieces of a sixteen-chocolate selection, making for a wide range of flavors and textures. Presentation is an important factor when it comes to good gourmet chocolate, and there are no corners cut in that regard with this ultimate collection. Both boxes are packaged in a way that makes them ready for gift-giving or any party occasion and really speaks to the high production standards of this chocolatier. Flavors range from more traditional milk chocolates to toffees and pralines. Most consumers very much enjoy the high-quality taste of these chocolates. Even at their worst, they were described as “pleasantly average.”
Chocolatier Kee Ling Tong opened her flagship store in New York City’s Soho in 2002 as a combination flower and chocolate shop. Today she has three locations, offering superb handmade chocolates in 40 flavors, including F&W’s Tina Ujlaki and Kate Krader favorite, pyramid-shaped Champagne truffles, made with dark chocolate ganache and Champagne. keeschocolates.com
As you can see from our list, finding the right gourmet chocolates need not be complicated or expensive. There are many affordable options for gourmet chocolate that are high in quality and presentation. We’ve chosen selections that will appeal to a wide variety of palates and make up some of the best gourmet chocolates on the market. These chocolates are the perfect gifts for the chocolate enthusiast. You can take a look at our selection of best chocolate gifts for more ideas.
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.
K’s 5-star review: Nama grand mariner and Nama champagne: rich and delicious. Absolutely. Remind me of Burdick's Pave, which are one of my absolute favorites. The Nama are a better value -- more pieces with the benefit of a handy prong to keep all the cocoa dusted pieces from feather off on your fingers. Boxes run $18.00 each as of 4/2014. Potato chips: really didn't click. Tasted greasy and didn't flatter either -- more guilt and less pleasure.
A perfect visual and tasting treat in the beautiful Paris environment can only remind one of the famous Richart chocolate company. The Paris, France located family business serves you with a range of proprietary chocolate recipes including special ingredients that can’t be expected in such a great way anywhere else. The sincere service, a slew of recipe options and the refined taste makes the chocolatier stand tall at the number nine position.
After many years in the high-end restaurant business (Per Se, Le Cirque, Union Square, Postrio) former New Yorker Paul Seyler was ready for a new adventure. In 2007, he and his family headed north to the little town of North Ferrisburgh, Vermont where they got seriously busy and launched Cookie Love. Their recipes reflect their commitment to local ingredients and clean fresh food.
One of the few true bean-to-bar chocolatiers in America, Dandelion also sells macarons, hot chocolate, caramels, and pastries at its San Francisco shop. The single-origin brownies are a popular treat, but the brand’s single-origin chocolate bars, which ship nationwide, have a cult following, and each one feels like a special gift. 740 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA
If you are looking for a local chocolate shop this is THE place!! I am a frequent customer and have never been disappointed with my choice.  If you ask they will give you a print out of all their current truffle flavors so you know what they are made of (especially good if you don't want to be surprised with a white chocolate center like me ).  They also serve gelato, pies, and fantastic chocolate chip cookies. It's a great spot to take a date or just treat yourself to something special! I have tried out the other chocolate shops here in Indy and these guys really do have the BEST chocolate!
In researching and testing for this guide, I was surprised to find that expensive doesn’t always mean high quality. Some of the costly boutique chocolates we tried were clearly made from inferior beans, with flavor that just died on the tongue. The Recchiuti chocolates, on the other hand, are worth the money, with the subtle flavors that come from great cacao.
The selection at Chocolate is vast, everything from a simple chocolate-dipped fortune cookie for less than a dollar, to a 200+ piece Valentine's assortment of gluten-free chocolates for over $300. We did notice that none of their categories included two of the most popular “candy holidays”, Halloween and Christmas, but Easter chocolates are sold year-round.

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.


There is something for everyone on this list of chocolate companies. Whether you prefer indie chocolatiers like La Maison Du Chocolate in New York and Norman Love Confections in Naples, FL; European chocolate makers with a rich history like Teuscher in Zurich, Switzerland; more recently popular brands like Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker in Berkeley, CA, or tried-and-true standbys like Hershey's and Godiva, it's hard to go wrong with any of the chocolate makers on this list. Which company makes your favorite chocolates? 
Over the chocolate shop has an unmistakeable woody, rough powdery texture to it, much like actual cocoa powder, and about the same darkness of it. The hazelnut further adds to this coarse, almost woody feel. The coffee is just noticable enough to amplify the chocolate. This has a certain HEAT to it, like there's the tiniest bit of chili. It also lasts the longest of these four on my skin.
Alexandra Whisnant, a Boston native, trained at Le Cordon Bleu and Ladurée in Paris before she opened her chocolate business. Its name means “spoiled like girls,” so it’s no surprise that Whisnant doesn’t cut any corners while making her delicate treats. She starts a new batch of pralines or infused ganaches at the beginning of each week, and they sell out by week’s end. Flavors vary weekly, with honey-walnut praline, blackberry ganache, chocolate-mint (made from mint from her aunt’s garden), and whiskey-infused truffles just some of the latest confections to come off of Whisnant’s chocolate dipping table. Call for the day’s offerings. Shipping is limited. Somerville, MA
This Brussels, Belgium-based chocolatier has a long-standing reputation as one of Europe’s best chocolate-makers, and this dark chocolate collection is a fantastic way to sample their variety of confections. A twenty-five count box contains a wide assortment of fillings including pralines, ganaches, caramels, and fruit fillings all enrobed in high-quality dark chocolate. Although it’s a Belgian brand, it’s readily available in the US with two-day shipping.
When chocolates are around, the whole world seems beautiful. Chocolate is an ingredient which is loved by all ages and in all the nations. Chocolate can melt the boundaries, bridge the gaps, build relations and jazz up one’s mood during the blues. Chocolate is extracted from the majestic tree – Theobroma cacao which is very rare in the world. The real value of chocolates can be understood by the folklore about the Revolutionary War when the soldiers sometimes used to receive chocolates as their payments. Isn’t it interesting and bizarre? Chocolate has a plethora of stories linked with it.
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.
Chocolate doesn’t get any fresher than Jouvay, perfected by the Grenada Cocoa Farmers Cooperative based at the rural Diamond Chocolate Factory. The idea was to partner with local farmers working right in the ecosystem to grow the best quality beans. While visiting the 18th-century factory inside a converted rum distillery built by French monks, see the cocoa beans drying on trays under the Caribbean sun. Growers employ a centuries-old French tradition of “walking” the beans—turning them gently by walking over the shells, which are later roasted and removed. Inside the small tasting room, sample each chocolate bar flavor, such as ginger and cocoa nibs. Factory and farm in Victoria, Grenada.
I just had to drop you guys a quick email to tell you that YOU ROCK! I'm a huge fan of chocolate. Might say I've got a bit of a problem. I was looking for a service that would offer diversity and quality and I feel like I got really lucky when I found your web site. I've been utterly thrilled with each tasty morsel you've sent me to date. Especially the shipment that had 6 different chocolate bars with different percentages of cocoa in them! Very cool. And very tasty! I know it's a worn out cliché, but keep up the great work!
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.

“Wow,” said Krader, biting into one of the company’s flat, square truffles. “This is definitely the chocolate with the most distinct point of view.” By that, she meant that it had perhaps the most unusual flavor of the bunch, with distinctly fruity notes. “This is from someone who’s redefining what truffles can be,” she said. “The flavorings don't punch you in the face, and it tastes like it was just made.” In other words: advanced chocolatiering. “There’s a sophistication about them,” she said. “Truffle neophytes might want something more general.”
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