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.
The chocolatier's new cake truffles, created with celebrity baker Duff Goldman, come in four Ace of Cakes–inspired flavors, including Cookie Dough (cookie dough-flavored ganache with a milk chocolate shell topped with dark chocolate chips) ($16) and Goldman's favorite: Butterscotch Walnut Brownie, a ball of caramel and maple walnut cream, surrounded by milk chocolate and molasses. godiva.com
At 255 years old, this candy shop on Rue du Faubourg-Montmatre is the oldest in Paris, and luck for everyone who visits, it’s precious façade is historically landmarked and it’s interior lovingly preserved. On the shelves at À La Mère de Famille sit sweets and treats of all kinds, including bars of 100 percent pure origin Venezuelan cocoa. Surprisingly melty and vibrantly aromatic, the plain chocolate is smooth, while the inclusion bars are beautifully strewn by hand with whole hazelnuts, almonds, and tidy little chunks of candied ginger.
Maison du Chocolat’s smallest online offering is a box of 28, which we also think is better to share with a larger group rather than with just one other person. Recchiuti’s offering of 16 chocolates feels more appropriate for sharing between a couple over the course of a few days or a week. And although these chocolates aren’t much more expensive per piece than the Recchiuti, having to buy a bigger box really bumps up the price. You can purchase smaller boxes in Maison du Chocolat stores, but that doesn’t help if you’re not in New York, Paris, or other larger cities where the shops can be found.
There is a reason why Russell Stover 10 Ounce French Chocolate Mints are regarded as among the best boxed chocolates. First, they arrive in a 10-ounce box, meaning you will get plenty of chocolates for maximum satisfaction. Second, these mints are sweet, cool, and worth savoring. They also come in complimentary seasonal gift wrap, and this makes them a great gift idea. Moreover, these chocolate mints ship fast, so you won’t have to hold your appetite any longer. They are made in the United States and arguably the most delicious chocolate you have ever tasted.
The Quatre Epices was well balanced blend of four spices. Wild Cherry had a nice piquant cherry flavor the first time I tried it but was milder on a later occasion. The Praline Noisette was good with a sharp hazelnut flavor, and the Mocha Cream was good, but some of the other gianduja pieces were mild or weak. The Honey had mild flavors with not much honey shining through. The cinnamon of the Cinnamon Toast was present but stood alone, not partnering well with the chocolate.
Lifelong enthusiasts, they grew cacao plants in their apartments and made small batches in their Palo Alto garage. After two years of taste tests, they took their handmade dark chocolate public, opening Dandelion Chocolate in 2012. Located in San Francisco’s eclectic Mission district, their factory turns out 2,500 single-origin 70 percent cacao bars per week. Their releases, which change frequently with the season, source cacao from places as far-flung as Venezuela, Madagascar, and Papua New Guinea.
Cadbury, anyone? It’s hard to pass up a Cadbury egg when they appear in the grocery store, but the brand originated in the United Kingdom and originally sold tea, coffee, and drinking chocolate in the 1820s. The Cadbury brothers supplied Queen Victoria with chocolate in the 1850s and developed the popular Dairy Milk chocolate, famous for having a higher milk content, in 1905. While you can buy Cadbury Eggs and Dairy Milk bars around the world, we think they taste better while walking down a cobblestone street in the U.K.!
Each set includes three bars: a Birthday Cake Batter Truffle Bar, a Thanks-olate Truffle Bar and a Here’s to You Truffle Bar. The cake batter bar has a white center mixed with colorful confetti pieces that’s coated in milk chocolate. It tastes like yellow cake with vanilla frosting. The Thanks-olate bar is milk chocolate mixed with toffee pieces and sea salt. The Here’s to You bar is dark chocolate mixed with popping candy that explodes as you eat it.
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.
Unlike many places on this list, Sweenor’s Chocolates is shockingly affordable; a 1-pound box of assorted chocolates will only cost you $23.50. But don’t take their low prices as an indication of low quality! Their versions of classic treats (chocolate-covered raisins, malted milk balls) blow your concession stand snacks out of the water. It’s worth a trip to Cranston, Rhode Island, for this sweet shop.
Founder Colin Gasko is running a small but ambitious operation. Each single-origin chocolate bar at Rogue is sourced from independent farms in Peru, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Trinidad and Tobago, and Honduras. Unlike other fair-trade chocolate purveyors, Rogue pays more than twice the minimum for some of its cacao order to ensure the lasting success of those farms. Thanks to its small production, Rogue doesn’t always have a wide array available to purchase online, but each bar tastes like something special. Three Rivers, MA
We have five words for you: Caramel Crunch Chocolate Chip Cookie. We know you may be shopping for classic chocolate chip cookies, but trust us when we tell you this is your even-better-than-chocolate-chip-cookie alternative. Why? Because this gourmet cookie starts with a chocolate chip cookie batter and then adds crunchy toffee/caramel/salty chunks that takes this cookie to the next level of craveability.
Tessa Halstead grew up in the chocolate business: Her father ran a chocolate shop in Dallas a generation ago. Today in Austin, she’s built Chocolaterie Tessa into a community hub. Halstead and her crew produce chocolates on a larger scale than most, and offer single-origin bonbons in addition to assorted flavors that change seasonally. The always-in-season salted caramel is a favorite, but customers also come for the strawberry basil in the summertime and autumn’s cinnamon spice. Nationwide shipping is available. 7425 Burnet Road, Austin, TX
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
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
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.
The story of how Amedei eloped with Chuao and sent the wedding pictures to Tain l’Hermitage isn’t exactly a vision of sugar plums, but the chocolate industry has a long history of wars, most of them far more brutal. Steve DeVries, a bean-to-bar chocolate maker from Denver, used to say that the Spanish arrived in Mexico and threatened, “Give us your cacao or we’ll shoot you.” Hunting beans in Mexico, DeVries repeated the remark to an anthropologist. “No, no, no,” the anthropologist said. “Before that, the Aztecs came down and said ’Give us your cacao or we’ll cut your hearts out.’”
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.
There are a great number of incredible chocolate shops in Chicago and the rest of Illinois, but Katherine Anne Confections in the Windy City takes our top spot. You won’t find flawless chocolates here, but you’ll find homemade treats done absolutely right; you wish your mama could make candies like these. But just because these chocolates are reminiscent of your own hometown chocolate shop doesn’t mean there aren’t sparks of innovation here. Look no further than the truffles, which include classic flavors like hazelnut and citrus right next to fun flavors such as lemon poppyseed and goat cheese walnut.
With traditions and recipes based in the Netherlands, Chocolaterie Stam makes some of the most exquisite chocolates in the entire United States, let alone Des Moines, Iowa. You can’t go wrong with any of their bonbons or truffles, which are so rich and decadent that you’ll think you’re truly in Europe. The corn-shaped milk chocolate with a hazelnut praline filling is the perfect nod to Iowa and is just as tasty as it looks.
We cut the chocolates into quarters so that more than one person could taste all of the offerings while also trying to avoid palate fatigue. While this may sound like a silly problem, it can be quite frustrating when your taste buds become overstimulated mid-tasting and fail you. To try to limit this, Saltines and club soda were set out to help tasters pace themselves.
“We became convinced it was impossible to become number one in the world buying beans from brokers,” Alessio says. “The broker cannot tell you who grew the beans, or how it was done.” I don’t take Alessio for a weepy humanitarian, and yet he practices enlightened self-interest when it comes to the people who grow his cacao. He has invested in Chuao, agreeing to pay off the farmers’ mounting debts and buying baseball uniforms for the local team. He needs their best work so that he and Cecilia can do their best work.
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