In 2004, Los Angeles chocolatier Valerie Gordon started creating her impeccable, handmade small-batch chocolates and crispy chocolate-covered toffees topped with almonds, fleur du sel or candied fruit. Favorites of F&W’s Tina Ujlaki include the outstanding milk chocolate-dipped nougat and caramel squares. In 2011, Gordon created a line of new tea blends, cookies and petits fours. valerieconfections.com
Owner Patricia Tsai is a self-taught chocolatier whose background in the business world taught her how to avoid the pitfalls of running a sustainable food business. Since 2012, Tsai has been sourcing cacao from a small farm in Tabasco, Mexico. At Chocovivo, she roasts and grinds those beans into chocolate using a grinder made in Mexico; she also has an ancient Aztec stone grinder, which is fascinating to watch in action. The shop sells a variety of chocolate products, including hot chocolate mix and chocolate sauce, but Tsai’s single-origin and blended bars (flavored with locally sourced coffee, spices, and essences) have attracted a loyal following. Three years ago, Tsai expanded her operation to include hair and skin products made from natural cacao and cocoa butter. Chocovivo ships nationwide. 12469 W Washington Blvd, Los Angeles, CA
The 97-year-old chocolatier known for it’s eye-popping displays of bon bons is a favorite of the Belgian royal family. But its high-class tablets, packaged in charming, pastel boxes, are worthy of a taste as well. Perhaps most worthy is Mary's 72 percent dark chocolate bar made with beans from the equatorial (and volcanic) African island of São Tomé. All ten of its fanciful shops are in Belgium except one, which is in Oakwood, Ohio.
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.
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).
The phrase dark chocolate sea salt caramels should be a selling point in itself, but these bite-size treats also have something else going for them: they have almost 500 five-star reviews on online. And there’s a reason why. They make other salty-sweet chocolate-caramel combos seem lackluster in comparison. One reviewer said they have a “bold saltiness” that’s “not for the faint of heart” and another said, “My favorite candy ever!” The creamy, rich caramel is cooked to just the right consistency and the smooth chocolate goes perfectly with the visible salt flakes on top.
Made from high-quality Ecuador cocoa beans, this stunning assortment of twenty brightly colored chocolates combines 70% dark chocolate with five unique flavors – strawberry, mango, ginger, peppermint, and coffee. You bite into the crunchy candy shell, releasing the flavored liquid which combines with the chocolate base. It’s a unique chocolate experience unlike anything else on the market, balancing flavorful candy with high-quality, intense dark chocolate.
Elk Candy Company makes fine chocolate and marzipan. I do not think marzipan is very interesting when it is plain or merely coated in chocolate, so it is nice to find a chocolatier that has developed their marzipan further, as Elk Candy Company has done with their flavored marzipan rolls. I like marzipan this way. Elk sells it in slices. Flavors include pistachio, truffle, hazelnut, and orange.
There may be bars with frillier packaging and more envelope-pushing additions, but when it comes to pure, classic chocolate, Bonnat can lay claim to the crown. This family company began in 1884 and was beloved by Jackie Kennedy Onassis who gave bars to White House guests during the holidays. The Juliana bars are made from specially-grown Brazilian cacao beans, fermented, then dried in the sun slowly, over seven days. Back in France, the beans are painstakingly refined and tempered over five days. It’s an intricate process but, as Stephane Bonnat says, “In the Alps, we have time.”
You don’t have to look all that hard to find a world-class chocolatier in New York, but while you’re looking, don’t skip over Stick With Me. Located in the Nolita neighborhood of Manhattan, chocolatier Susanna Yoon is crafting handmade bonbons and caramels that rival desserts served at some of the most expensive restaurants in the country. The bonbons look more like hand-painted marbles and less like chocolates, with playful flavors like speculoos s’more and black and white to match.
The Thai peanut butter cups at Alma Chocolate in Portlandm Oregon, are what make this shop famous, but don’t discount their other offerings. Their bonbons are some of the best in the country and come in beautiful flavors such as fig and marzipan and passion fruit caramel. They also pay homage to chocolate’s Latin roots by making hand-crafted chocolate icons, made with 74 percent single-estate dark chocolate and painted with 23-karat edible gold.
Richart’s Intense Valentine Gourmet Chocolates are $77 for a box of 49 chocolates. The real frustration here is that it's 49, not 50, so those of us with a strong sense of symmetry will have to eat them quickly just to cope. However, they are legitimate French Chocolates, each one having one of seven fancy flavors / aromas - floral, spicy, citrus, balsm, roasted, fruity, or herbal. The box also comes with a dark chocolate plaque for your valentine, so maybe that's piece 50.
This chocolate bar from the popular cafe in Los Feliz, CA, is smooth and has just the right amount of tang. The milk chocolate melts in your mouth and offers a nice surprise with little bits of cream cheese inside. Rich flavors of warm, freshly baked cake are undeniable in the bar. They flavors create a chocolate that is sweet without being saccharine. The Alcove Red Velvet Milk Chocolate, made with 64 percent cacao, is blended with spices and other natural ingredients. The milk chocolate gives the bar a creamy, velvety texture heightened by the taste of cheesecake frosting and chocolate cake. Alcove uses no preservatives or additives and is certified kosher. Other winning flavors include Fleur de Sel, Mimosa, Chipotle Chili, Black Forest and more.
Vosges ($40 for 16 pieces) is famous for round truffles with exotic, unexpected combinations like wasabi with black sesame and even Taleggio cheese with walnuts. Their bacon bar is beloved by many people we talked to, but their assorted chocolates weren’t as well received. Funniest comment: “Cumin?? That’s a mean trick!” Vosges are available in Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas.