The Richart family started making gourmet chocolates and French macarons in Lyon, France in 1925 and has consequently gone on to become one of the world’s best chocolate brands. The chocolatier has gained highly coveted accolades for his work: National Geographic’s Inside Travel named him one of the world’s top chocolatiers, and has been awarded the Ruban Bleu, France’s most prestigious confectioner’s honor, a total of seven times.
For the chocolate purist, or anyone looking for the perfect corporate gift, we think Maison du Chocolat ($60 for 28 pieces) is a great premium choice. The flavors are subtle enough to really let the chocolate shine. The packaging, reminiscent of brown pebbled leather, is understated and innocuous enough to gift for professional reasons. Although these chocolates are incredibly smooth and slightly less sweet than the Michel Cluizel, the overall flavor profile isn’t quite as daring as those in the Recchiuti box and might not provide the same sensory adventure as our main pick. We also think the assortments available online are a little big for a Valentine’s gift (although you can purchase smaller boxes in their stores).
Hand-dipped bonbons are a specialty for Alma, one of Portland’s standout chocolate shops, but only its toffees, molded chocolate figures, and chocolate bars are shipped nationwide. Stop in for a taste of owner Sarah Hart’s Thai peanut butter cups and rose caramels — the filling contains just the right amount of salinity to offset the drop of rosewater that’s inside each one. Or, order in advance of the holidays to snag a hazelnut or peanut butter crunch bar, caramel-pecan bar, or mocha almond nibby. Alma ships nationwide. 140 NE 28th Avenue, Portland, OR
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
Something was also lost in presentation. The uniformity of the pieces made for a bland appearance. An open box showed an array of blocks. The nearly identical undecorated chocolates lacked the attractiveness of of other chocolatiers’ colorful pieces with diverse shapes and decorations. And, while creative effort has clearly gone into zChocolat’s collection, I found the pieces pleasant but not compelling.
John Scharffenberger, already a big name in the wine world, decided in 1997 to try his hand at artisanal chocolate-making. Using a vintage German melangeur — a machine that slowly grinds cacao beans into a chocolate liquor — and personally sampling beans from more than 150 international cacao farms, he and partner Robert Steinberg sought to bring traditional European chocolate craftsmanship to the States, proudly emphasizing cacao content on the bars' labels — a first for American chocolatiers. The San Francisco team also became the first American bean-to-bar manufacturer in 50 years. Now a member of the Hershey family, Scharffen Berger produces a modest but exquisite selection of bars and tasting squares sold at stores like Whole Foods including a crunchy Milk Chocolate Bar with Sea Salted Almonds.
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.
Africans consume less than 4% of chocolate sold globally, but Ivory Coast is looking to change that with their handmade, artisanal chocolates. Known as the leader in the production and exporting of cocoa beans, the country has begun producing their own chocolate as the region continues to stabilize and experience economic growth. One company, Instant Chocolat, was launched in 2015 and has experienced tremendous growth in its first few years. Their chocolate, ranging from pralines to bars, is popular both locally and internationally, particularly with corporate clients like Air France and Citibank.
If you’re looking for something completely different, consider these luxury champagne truffles from the famous British chocolatier Charbonnel et Walker. A small-batch chocolatier known for serving the Queen of England, they’re famous for specialty products including these milk chocolate truffles made with marc de champagne, a French brandy made from champagne grapes. Their strawberry coating adds a pleasing sweetness that counters the intensity of the brandy-flavored filling.
At their Brooklyn, New York, factory, the bearded brothers Rick and Michael Mast create fantastic single-origin dark chocolate bars that are wrapped in custom-printed paper and named after the sources of the cacao beans, such as Papua New Guinea, Moho River, Sambirano Valley, and La Red de Guaconejo. “They’re interesting, and certainly showcase the tangy, tropical, terroir-driven flavors of chocolate,” says F&W’s Kristin Donnelly. mastbrothers.com
Traditionally, giving Chocolate as a gift can be a time consuming process. Driving to the local grocery or chocolate store, searching the limited selection, bringing it home, wrapping up the item, and then getting back in your car again to drive to the local Fed Ex or UPS Store to make the delivery actually happen - it can all be a time-consuming and frustrating challenge for anyone.
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.
The makers were recently crowned the best of the best at the International Chocolate Awards, the biggest and most comprehensive global competition in the world. Soma Chocolatemaker, based in Toronto, was named best chocolate maker in the world for its dark milk chocolate bar made with cocoa beans from Guasare, Venezuela. Omnom Chocolate from Reykjavik, Iceland, took parallel honors for its milk chocolate bar featuring Icelandic milk powder and cocoa from Nicaragua.
La Chatelaine Chocolat Co: Located in, of all places, Bozeman Montana, owners JP Wlady Grochowski and Shannon Hughes Grochowski are most inspired by nature. Says Shannon, “We walk through a small forest each day to work, and feel inspired each time, whether it’s the color of the leaves, deep green of the spruces or the scent of sage, or the local snow-capped Bridger Mountains. We also find a lot of inspiration in France, where we spend each summer with our children and Wlady's maman and cousins.” Top taste was the Absinthe in dark chocolate ganache and the dark and rich Arriba truffle —composed of 72% dark chocolate made from Forestero beans of Arriba origin.
Stuart, Florida, located about 80 miles north of Fort Lauderdale, is already one charming small town to visit. Its highlight, though, is Castronovo Chocolate. This bean-to-bar small-batch chocolate shop has won several gold medals at the International Chocolate Awards for its lemon oil and lemon salt-infused white chocolate, Sierra Nevada 63 percent dark chocolate and Colombia mocha milk chocolate. The service here is attentive and as world-class as the bars themselves.
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
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I brought in 20 judges. This way I could ensure that we had a variety of taste testers with different palettes. I had a few rules and one of them was they couldn’t communicate with each other while tasting the brownies. I studied a phenomenon called “group think” in college and know people can be swayed by other people’s opinions. So it had to be less talking and more eating! They were happy to oblige because I was offering them BROWNIES.
Cecilia asked me to put on a hairnet, a plastic jacket and disposable blue booties, then led me downstairs to the factory. The machines, Swiss, Italian and German models painted ivory, clacked and hammered away, sounding like an orchestra of conga drums. A young guy with tattooed forearms strained to push sweetened cacao paste through a screen with a paddle. For some reason, the floor was painted blood red. The chocolate smell was so strong and pure I could barely think. Somehow I managed to remark to Alessio that these antique machines must limit the quantity of chocolate Amedei can make.
One of our favorite “go-to” spots in Utah for delicious chocolate is V Chocolates. Walk into V Chocolates and you’ll feel an overwhelming sense of simplicity and quality- which undoubtedly translates into their amazing chocolates. Favorites include their chocolate covered salted caramels, chocolate dipped caramel pretzels and chocolate peppermint bark. You can purchase V chocolates at their downtown location (favorite) or at several other vendors in Utah.
This South American country may not be the first to come to mind when you think about the world's best chocolate, but it should be. Research suggests that cocoa originated in Ecuador, where it was cultivated and eaten over 5,000 years ago. The most flavorful chocolate produced today comes from aromatic "arriba cacao," from which only 5 percent of the world's chocolate is made. Sixty-three percent of that cacao is grown in Ecuador. One of the country's top three brands, Pacari, continues to collect international awards. Kallari and Republica del Cacao chocolates also have bold Ecuadorian flavors.
“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.”
Most chocolate makers know nothing about where their cacao comes from. A former consultant for a well-regarded European chocolate maker told me that until last year, the firm’s cacao buyer had never been to a plantation. Farmers sell to brokers who sell to bigger brokers; by the time the cacao reaches the factory, nobody knows its story. Sometimes this arrangement allows growers to mistreat workers without accountability. It also can allow them to get the same price for unripe, rotting or generally trashy beans—at their worst, these are known as "dogs and cats"—that they get for the good stuff.
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
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.
Because they’re meant to be gifted, I presented the chocolates in their boxes, but without the brand names showing. We felt that the presentation should be a factor in judging. We had a very strict rule against calling out a brand to the rest of the group if someone recognized the packaging. Luckily, it wasn’t an issue—no one had a clue about what was what during the tasting.
Run by master chocolatier Jin Caldwerll, Las Vegas’s JinJu Chocolates uses fresh, seasonal and local ingredients to craft their artisan chocolates. Highlights at this Nevada-based mom-and-pop shop include their sea salted caramels (which come in a variety of flavors, including lemon, chipotle cinnamon and espresso) and the Fortunato No. 4 Chocolate Bar, a single-origin Peruvian chocolate that contains multitudes you can only dream of.
Xocolatti’s globally-inspired truffles and slates (very thin versions of chocolate bark ($28) with layers that recall slate rock) come in seven exotic flavors like mango and paprika with white chocolate. “In India, we usually eat fruit with spices on it, and one of the most popular combinations is mangos with paprika on top,” says founder Shaineal Shah. xocolatti.com
We have a constantly changing curated selection of bars and confections from our favorite makers and chocolatiers often including Alma, Akesson, Amano, Amedei, Arete, Askinosie, Batch PDX, Bonnat, Byrne & Carlson, Castronovo, Chocolate Maker’s Studio, Cluizel, Cocanu, Dandelion, Dick Taylor, Domori, Fran’s, Fruition, Grenada Chocolate, Lillie Belle, Marou, Maverick, Only Child, Palette de Bine, Patric, Pump Street, Pralus, Smooth Chocolator, Soma, Ranger, Recchiuti, Ritual, Valrhona, Woodblock, Xocolatl De David.
Chocoholic travelers can have an immersive experience in Hershey, Pennsylvania, at Hershey Park. The amusement park, with roller coasters, water rides and candy mascots, also holds two hotels and one campground. Guests can take in shows and concerts, eat thousands of calories thanks to chocolate-themed menus and rich desserts or even get sticky with a "chocolate fondue wrap" at the full-service spa.
Susanna Yoon used to make the chocolates at Thomas Keller’s three-Michelin-starred Per Se, where each meal ends with a tableside buffet of bonbons. Yoon spun her craft into Stick With Me, a shop in Manhattan’s Nolita neighborhood. Inside a space roughly the size of one of Willy Wonka’s golden tickets, she sells two dozen different types of bonbons, eight different types of soft caramel candies, and a handful of packaged brittles, toffees, nougats, and marshmallows. Each dome-shaped bonbon is a study in flavor pairings: The sunshine-like burst of yuzu against the soft sweetness of a white chocolate shell; nutty black sesame alongside tart passionfruit; or the dual-layered mint chocolate chip, with a flavor that unravels as it melts. 202A Mott Street, New York, NY
The 36-piece assortment I ordered from William Dean Chocolates contained a broad selection of chocolates and flavors, from the familiar peanut butter or even childhood favorite peanut butter and jelly, to fine lavender or port and plum. The Port and Plum was one of my favorites of the box. The flavors interplayed nicely and had some depth. The Mexican Mango was a very nice mango puree with a little bit of spiceness. The PB Krunch had a strong peanut flavor roasted just right. The WD 64%, a straight chocolate piece, was another of my favorites.
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.
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
Nandy’s Candy is a small, family-owned business and a much-beloved Jackson, Mississippi, institution. The shop is perhaps best known for chocolate-covered strawberries, which are dipped by hand as you order them. Other fun confections, such as chocolate-dipped Oreos, chocolate popcorn and fudge, will fulfill your chocolate cravings, no matter what form they take.
The flagship store of this classic American chocolate company opened in 1921 in Los Angeles. Today there are more than 200 locations across the country offering delicious chocolate candies filled with nuts, marzipan and nougat. F&W’s Kate Krader gets nostalgic for See’s Milk Bordeaux ($24.50), candy filled with brown sugar cream and topped with crispy chocolate puffed rice. sees.com
Larry Burdick makes exquisite delicious chocolate pieces at Burdick Chocolate, a small manufacturer at the western edge of New Hampshire, northwest of Keene and 70 miles from Nashua. Burdick does a great job of making a variety of ornate fine chocolates and presenting them well. The pieces in his assortment differ from each other well, so that one is entertained by the changes in flavor, style, and shape. The flavors range from intense chocolate to balanced to strong non-chocolate flavors, and the sweetness ranges from bitter to very sweet. Some flavors are familiar, and some are exotic.