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.
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.
The Chocolaterie is a delightful find in a suburb of Atlanta. They have a variety of truffles with flavors that are both fanciful and familiar. The Cookie Dough Truffle gives a good impression of its namesake and is both enjoyable and playful. As with the Malted Milkshake Truffle, the flavor composition conveys a luxurious feel. These and several other flavors weave multiple flavor sensations without losing them in a blend.
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.
And, no surprise, the world winner is also a hit with esteemed makers: "Meeting the wonderful Canadian couple David and Cynthia of Soma Chocolatemaker at the International Chocolate Awards World Championships was a gift," Friis-Holm says. "The rare beans originating from the troubled country of Venezuela that are featured in their Guasare 70% bar make for a very tasty, beautifully executed and worthy world winner."
Created by Austrian chocolatier Joseph Zotter in 1987, Zotter Chocolates offers 365 flavors, produced each day of the year! While we taste-tested an assortment of flavors ranging from the creamy, caramel-filled Coffee Toffee to the not-for-the-faint-of-heart 100% cacao Peru bar, the Goji Berries in Sesame Nougat emerged as the unanimous favorite. This milk chocolate bar is studded with dried goji berries and filled with layers of green tea ganache, homemade nougat and soy and sesame filling. Also worth noting is the colorful and unique artwork that covers each bar designed by Andreas h. Gratze.
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).
Eeach Valrhona single origin bar bears the name of that bean’s terroir on its label, 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.
The cookies are baked and shipped the same day, individually wrapped in a pack of eight. That’s right, 8 cookies = a box of four pounds of freshly-made cookies. City Cakes knows 8 big cookies may be a lot for some, but the individually packaged cookies freeze well and return to their fresh-baked goodness with just a few minutes in a 350 degree oven or a few seconds in the microwave.
Our final list of the best chocolate shops in every state celebrates every kind of chocolate maker — from the East Coast, where single-source, artisanal chocolates reign supreme, to cozy, kitschy shops in the Midwest, innovative chocolate stores and factories on the West Coast and everything else in between. If you live in the U.S., there’s the perfect chocolate shop for you (and you don’t have to travel too far).
We were struck by the fine presentation of this collection by Ferrero. Every piece of high-quality chocolate comes individually wrapped making them a perfect addition to any party or just a nice treat to go with after dinner wine. The box itself is designed perfectly for gift-giving and the variety of chocolates inside mean that there are tastes and textures to satisfy almost any chocolate enthusiast out there. Each piece of chocolate flawlessly combines a smooth taste with a crisp and crunchy wafer center, with a dash of hazelnuts rounding out the flavors.
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.