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.’”
This cozy chocolate lounge and boutique schedules yummy events like a Chocolate & Bubbles Happy Hour and an upcoming “50 Shades of Chocolate” five-course dinner. Its Chocolate Boutique holds innovative fun finds like Chocolate Enrobed Bacon and Chocolate Mood Tubes (with five different cacao percentages). Solid bars such as their signature Some More (aka s’mores) and Strawberry Jammin’ with popping rocks are designed to provide a sensory experience. Stylish single pieces give a boost with bites like goji berry, linzer, banana ginger or cinnamon toffee.
In addition, it performs very, very well, I dare say exceptionally, even among other similar cold-weather-leaning fragrances in the house that are generally strong, its dark juice selling its strength fairly convincingly. Its boastful projection of a few feet for at least a couple hours followed by a good scent cloud thereafter, suggests high value.
All the while, I’d been looking at the red heart-shaped objects that were floating in the two big jars. I kept thinking about the Aztecs. At last I asked Alessio what they were. “Cacao pods,” he said. “In formaldehyde so they do not dry up.” The one off in a corner behind the door was a unique Venezuelan variety called Porcelana. The other, placed on a low table next to all the trays of chocolate, gleamed and glistened like a trophy. That one was Venezuelan too, Alessio said with a smile. It came from Chuao.
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.
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.
K’s 5-star review: If your a fan of praline or gianduja (or belgium milk chocolate), this the chocolate shop to stop. A few favorite pieces: Cornet d'Oré, Sapho, Caprice, Pagode, Astrid, Passion Amande, Tentation, Plasir, Bourbon 13, Mephisto, Coeur Praline, Louise, Suzanne, Jean, Adeison, Galerie, Fredric, Prestige, Millenaire, Milk Napoléonette, 1857 ... and more, but those are the ones I can pull off the top of my head. Yeah. They're that memorable. It is a small shop, almost walked right over it if I didn't have a rip-tide radar for Neuhaus. Staff was helpful and readily introduced me to the new chocolate assortments on the wall and chatted with me about the selection in the case. I was able to make a 25ish piece selection for about $44ish and they packed it in a nice sturdy box with a bow (points for presentation and travel-safe arrangements). Compared to other ny shops, the bang for your buck is noticeable: the pieces are three times the size of (let's say) La Maison and a better price. Be prepared to be impressed by the praline, gianduja or creams. Go to Teuscher if you're in the hung-ho for champagne truffles. I have not tried the liquor filled chocolates (though they're on my list). Looking forward to the Easter eggs in the Spring.
The second question had an easy answer: Chocosphere, World Wide Chocolate and other very handy Web sites for people who care about cacao content. A carton from Chocosphere containing just over a half pound of Amedei bars and squares ran me $50, with shipping. The next day, the whole box was gone. In my defense, I’ve seen engagement rings that came in bigger boxes. I knew that I wanted more, but at $100 a pound it would be cheaper to fly to Italy and go to the factory myself, which is what I did. This might make me the first traveler in history who went to Tuscany to save money on a candy bar.
Why buy your chocolates online from a brand that's available in most big-box stores? Besides being able to access a greater variety of chocolates - especially during times of the year that stores may run out, such as Valentine's Day and Mother's Day - Russell Stover's site offers a free Rewards Club. You can earn rewards points that are redeemable both online and at Russell Stover store locations; in addition, you'll hear about new products and get the opportunity to try them sooner than the average chocolate connoisseur. The easiest place to sign up for the Rewards Club Loyalty Program is by using the links at the bottom of the Russell Stover website.
Truly the BEST toffee you will ever have- thick slabs of chocolate with sweet and buttery toffee sandwiched between. Garden Gate hand dips their toffee just 2 months out of the year. Their once ice cream shop turned to toffee and chocolate establishment works solely off of word of mouth and repeat customers, year after year. Stop by Garden Gate on 9th and 9th for a taste of their toffee. You won’t regret it!
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.
One piece had a very good blend of hazelnut and almond with a fine crunchy texture. The marzipan was very good; Jacky Pédro brought out the flavor well. He must have sense of humor and self-confidence to label one of his products Le Crottin du Pin. To avoid spoiling your appetite, I will not translate the name, but the piece is a cocoa meringue with a chocolate cream filling. It was nice and very unusual and just a bit bitter. I also strayed from chocolate and tried the Patés de Fruits, which were very good.
At this year’s tasting, we again liked Michel Cluizel’s well-executed, classic fillings. This box is sure to please anyone with an affinity for old-style French chocolates. They are the sweetest of our top picks, but they are not as nuanced as those from Recchiuti and lack whimsical flavor combinations (which might be a bonus for some palates). We also found this assortment, dominated by simple squares and circles, less visually exciting than the Recchiuti’s range of unexpected shapes. But for the traditionalist, this box might be just perfect.
We walked buy this store in New York City and subsequently ordered the hot chocolate on a stick variety pack. They come in three favors (white, milk and dark chocolate) and taste great! We love good chocolate (vahalrona, Godiva, Jacque Torres, etc.). These are very tasty, fun to use, and unique. Kids especially enjoyed creating their own chocolate drink. We also emailed the company for rush delivery and they were excellent in responding and following up. Highly recommend!
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.
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.
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).
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.