To take advantage of Chase Sapphire Preferred’s lucrative offer of 3x points on dining on the first Friday of every month, we regularly round up the best in food and drink. To get a jump on your February 14/Valentine’s Day sweets shopping, TPG Contributor Michele Herrmann has put together an assortment of artisan chocolate shops across the U.S. where the candies are just as individual as your Valentine.

Hailing from France’s Rhône Valley, Valrhona’s wine country influence is unmistakable. The label on each Valrhona cru (single origin bar) bears the name of that bean’s terroir. It is the most exclusive of these being the Vintage Single Origin bars, sold in limited quantities according to crop yield. Valrhona also suggests wine pairings designed to bring out the “notes” in each chocolate’s complex flavor profile. From chocolate pearls to tasting squares, the brand’s nec-plus-ultra chocolate bar selection is available at specialty grocery stores.
For more than 30 years, Seattle-based owner Fran Bigelow has been setting candy trends—she was selling miniature chocolate bars and elegant truffles before they became ubiquitous. Her sweets also have a very high-profile admirer: As a lover of salty-sweet desserts, one of President Obama’s favorite indulgences is Fran’s Smoked Salt Caramels ($12)—buttery caramels coated in milk chocolate and sprinkled with smoked sea salt. franschocolates.com
There is nothing conventional about Kate Weiser’s chocolate bars. They are painstakingly crafted, yes, but from there Weiser goes rogue, taking the grandest Venezuelan cocoa and adding açaí berries, or, in the ultimate rebellious act, going blonde with a caramel and sesame seed brittle bar. Her riotous, Jackson-Pollock-splatter-painted candy bars and bonbons are beautiful the way a punk rock romance might be—exuberant and irreverent in style and taste.
Although I'm really not a big fan of dark chocolate, I received this as a gift and have to say I'm delighted with it. I love almond and the dark chocolate of this is not bitter or too strong like some sweet dark chocolate bars tends to be. I wish these were sold near me because I would make it a point to pick these up for myself as well as for guests on those nights I don't want to prepare a desert. ...read more

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.

Garrison has other novelties, but the toffee was best. The Ultimate Nougat Bar suggested something I would like to see chocolatiers try—remaking classic candy bars with fine ingredients. Unfortunately, the Nougat Bar fell short. It felt too empty of flavor, and the first three ingredients do not impress (dried egg whites, sugar, and potato starch).
Owner and chocolatier Katrina Markoff chooses every spice, flower, and chocolate that is flown into the Vosges kitchen to be transformed into fine chocolates. She learned the art of French confectionery at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Further inspired by her global apprenticeships, infusions of rare spices and flowers are combined with premium chocolate in truffles such as Mexican vanilla bean and Argentinean dulce de leche.
Master chocolatier Christopher Curtin makes incredible salted caramel truffles and bonbons filled with Shiraz-infused ganache at Éclat Chocolate, but his pretzel bar, infused with the flavor of Pennsylvania Dutch pretzels, might be the ultimate salty and sweet chocolate concoction. Shipping options vary, depending upon distance; see order guidelines for details. 24 South High Street, West Chester, PA
At Sucré in New Orleans, everything is simultaneously decadent and delicate. The shop’s signature chocolates feature playful flavors like peanut butter and jelly and German chocolate cake. The macarons, which include chocolate, almond and lavender flavors, are famous throughout Louisiana. Of course, the shop’s standout offerings are sold during Carnival,which include a selection of gold, green, and purple chocolates in iconic flavors (creme brulee, Southern pecan praline, and bananas Foster).

In addition, boxed chocolates come in several pieces to make sure you have plenty of chocolates at your disposal. Most manufacturers also deliver fast, so you can start enjoying your chocolates only a few days after making the order. Plus boxed chocolates tend to include different varieties of chocolates for optimum satisfaction. To help you identify the best package, we unveil the following guidelines.
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.
Unlike many of the boxed chocolates we've tried, the Recchiuti offer a full sensory experience, which is part of the reason to give boxed chocolates in the first place. The flavors really set this selection apart from the competition. Classic concoctions, such as Burnt Caramel and Piedmont Hazelnut, offer just the right balance of sweet and bitter, while more adventurous flavors, such as Tarragon Grapefruit and Star Anise & Pink Peppercorn, are never overpowering (a problem we've found with most other flavored chocolates). And the black-on-black packaging—sexy, but not over the top or too obvious—looks and feels much more elegant than offerings from every other brand we looked at. Inside, the jewel box holds shapes and textures far more intriguing than the monotonous square candies in most other assortments. Overall, these bonbons are far more well-rounded than others we've tried.
A mural of Milton S. Hershey adorns The Hershey Story Museum, which tells the story of Hershey’s rise to become one of the top chocolatiers in the world. Born on a Pennsylvania farm in 1857, Hershey eventually turned to chocolates and used fresh farm milk to mass-produce milk chocolate, which was until then a luxury confection. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
You can't make a list of popular chocolate brands without including Mars. This incredibly famous worldwide brand is responsible for Snickers, Galaxy, Dove, M&M'S, Milky Way, Twix, 3 Musketeers, and Mars bars. Like Nestlé, Mars focuses on candy bars and confectioneries instead of plain chocolate products. But it definitely offers a combination of chocolate, nougat, caramel, or other ingredients that you won't be able to say no to.

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.
When you step into Jacques Torres Chocolate, you feel as though you’ve stepped into a small European specialty store. Many customers compare the experience to the movie Chocolat. Jacques specializes in fresh, handcrafted chocolates. Eat them there, where cafe tables encourage you to sit, sip hot chocolate, and enjoy a freshly baked pain au chocolat — or take a selection home. Visitors often can see the chocolate goodies being prepared behind large glass windows. There are five Jacques Torres Chocolate shops in the city, plus one in Harrah’s in Atlantic City.
Hershey’s Chocolate World is one of the top attractions in Hershey. Visitors can take a free tour to see how cocoa beans are transformed into Hershey’s chocolate. They also can make their own candy bar, enjoy a chocolate tasting session, tour the town of Hershey via trolley, solve a gooey whodunit in the 4D Chocolate Mystery attraction and shop at one of the largest candy stores around. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
Chocolate Apéritifs au Fromage is chocolate-covered cheese. That was an unusual combination, new to me. The flavors are balanced and modest, but the cheese prevails. The Boîte Gourmande contains plain square wafers of chocolate, Florentins (chocolate cookies, square wafers covered with a honey and nut confection), mendiants (chocolate disks topped with nuts and dried fruit), and chocolate sticks containing candied orange peel. All are good. These are little chocolate delicacies, to be savored. The dried fruit arrived still fresh and full of flavor.
You will actually have to visit Amsterdam to sample what may be the best chocolates in the Netherlands. The proprietors of Puccini Bomboni, a delightful cafe and restaurant, hand-make each chocolate on the premises and do not deliver. Exotic combinations of chocolate and spices, concocted from the freshest ingredients, are a specialty. Although the variety isn’t enormous, the quality is truly amazing.
If you like variety in your box of chocolates, you’ll love Belgian chocolatier Godiva’s classic variety box. This nineteen-count Belgian chocolate selection includes an assortment of dark, milk, and white chocolates with classic fillings including dark chocolate truffle, hazelnut praline, nut crescents, and coconut macaroon. It comes in an elegant gold box with a bow on top, making it easy to open and close and perfect for a gift.
Within three weeks, the Tessieris decided that they weren’t going to buy chocolate anymore—they would make it. Cecilia apprenticed with bean-to-bar artisans around Europe. At first they bought cacao from brokers, but by 1997, Alessio had begun hunting it himself, from Ecuador to Madagascar to the Caribbean coast of Venezuela. This last region was especially rich with cacao of the first rank; a lot of money was at stake, and life could get rough. Four years ago, someone tried to murder a cacao buyer who worked with Valrhona, strafing his car with an automatic weapon and leaving him with a half-dozen gunshot wounds.

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.
One of the house specialties at Fire & Grain is flatbread. Shown is the prosciutto and fig flatbread, which is covered with green onion aioli, prosciutto, figs and arugula, and drizzled with balsamic reduction and garlic oil. “I’ve been making this dough for more than 35 years, and we’ve perfected it,” says chef Michael Cappelli. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
Hotel Chocolat is a UK based company specializing in exclusive chocolates. But, right away their noticeable lack of selection is a huge turn off. With only approximately 10 products to choose from this website is a disappointment. They do offer white, milk and dark chocolate items. But, the only thing that really caught our attention was a beautiful heart shaped chocolate milk and strawberry flavored item. Unfortunately, they were sold out weeks in advance of the holiday and the item cost $55.00.
Neuhaus uses non-GMO ingredients to make its high-end chocolates, and this 25-piece box includes some of the very best milk, dark, and white chocolates the chocolatier has to offer. The box is filled with pralinés, ganaches, caramels, and more so there's something for everyone. Best of all, you can order this box with two-day shipping if you're in a rush.
The Maison du Chocolat packaging, while very sophisticated, is pretty conservative and not as sexy as our top pick. The textured box mimics pebbled brown leather and has the logo stamped on the back. The adjective that comes to mind is “professional”; it looks luxe but understated and reserved. We think this box of chocolate would be great as a corporate gift, or for your mother-in-law.
Theo Chocolate can be found at many higher-end markets but a visit to its shop guarantees a taste of hard-to-find flavors, like a bonbon filled with caramel that’s flavored by the smoky heat of a ghost chile. Theo, which ships its chocolates nationwide, uses only organic and certified fair-trade chocolate for all of its creations. 3400 Phinney Avenue N, Seattle, WA 98103
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