Since 2008, Original Beans has taken the “bean to bar” idea full circle with their “bar to bean” commitment to plant a seedling for every chocolate bar sold. Details of their Grand Cru Blend No. 1 80 percent organic dark chocolate are kept secret, but they claim to use some of the rarest cacaos from South America and Africa. And with only raw cane sugar added, the bars are also vegan.
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.
Nobody knows for sure how many chocolate shops there are in the U.S. today, at least in part because many of them do double duty as patisseries, ice cream parlors, or gift shops. Suffice to say that there is probably not a city or a town of any size in the country that doesn’t boast at least one purveyor of specialty chocolates, and many places have more. There are at least 80 of them in New York City, for instance, and more than 30 in Los Angeles.
The most famous Venezuelan cacao of all comes from Chuao. The trees of Chuao are shielded by mountains from all but the warm Caribbean breezes; the soil is naturally irrigated by three cascading rivers. Doutre-Roussel calls the region “one of the jewels of the earth.” Besides the microclimate, Chuao has centuries-old traditions of harvesting and preparing cacao. First it’s fermented to develop the compounds that will later blossom into rich aromatics, then it’s laid out on the parvis in front of the village church to dry slowly in the sun. Because the farmers worked together as a cooperative, Chuao is one of the only places where a chocolate maker could buy, at one stroke, 9 to 10 tons of uniformly excellent cacao. Until recently, that chocolate maker was Valrhona. Today every last kilo of cacao from Chuao goes to Amedei.
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.
I was introduced to Alegio Chocolate on a chocolate crawl and bought a selection to taste at home. The Raspberry had a good balance with strong raspberry and good chocolate working together. The Orange was similar but slightly milder. The Santa Domingo is an unusal combination of green olive, licorice, currants, and apricot. Those flavors actually stood to the side a bit to present the chocolate at center stage. The Espresso worked well with a slightly salted caramel. The Habeñero had a little bite to it, while the Honey was of course sweet. Throughout the pieces, distinct chocolate flavors were presented well.
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.

Are you a frequent gift-giver? You may want to take a look at the Celebrations Passport: with a yearly fee of $29.99, it includes free shipping from a family of brands that include Cheryl's Cookies, 1-800-Flowers, and Harry & David. Otherwise, expect to pay quite a bit for shipping: for example, on a gift assortment that retails for $139.99, we were given a shipping cost of $18.99. You can see all of the shipping costs by clicking on the blue question mark icon as you begin the ordering process; delivery prices start at $4.99 and go up to 15% of your order total (for orders over $150).
You can't make a list of popular chocolate brands without including Mars. This incredibly famous worldwide brand is responsible for Snickers, Galaxy, Dove, M&M'S, Milky Way, Twix, 3 Musketeers, and Mars bars. Like Nestlé, Mars focuses on candy bars and confectioneries instead of plain chocolate products. But it definitely offers a combination of chocolate, nougat, caramel, or other ingredients that you won't be able to say no to.
If you’re looking for something a little simpler but still well within gourmet chocolate range, we suggest these caramels. Made with an infusion of sea salt, the caramels manage to merge a chewy texture and sweet notes with crunchy and bold sea salt. The salt doesn’t overwhelm the senses and instead provides a way to enhance the base flavors and textures of the caramel for a truly unique gourmet experience. These caramels are made with real butter and salt along with fresh cream for an authentic taste at an affordable price.
Nice little place on Mass Ave with a variety of truffles and other small chocolates, as well as pre-wrapped gift items. Selection is solid and quality is great -- I think it could very well live up to its name, particularly for locally produced candies. If you're in the area and craving to satisfy that sweet tooth, I don't think you'll be disappointed here.
Show your students the Treasures of Italy. Discover Venice and its canals with a local guide. Travel to Verona and visit Juliet's house and its famous balcony. Spend the night in Milan and explore the city with a local guide before traveling on to Florence,  the birthplace of the Renaissance. Travel through Tuscany to explore Assisi. End your journey in Rome where you will visit the Vatican and see St. Peter's and the Sistine Chapel. ...Read More

After many years in the high-end restaurant business (Per Se, Le Cirque, Union Square, Postrio) former New Yorker Paul Seyler was ready for a new adventure. In 2007, he and his family headed north to the little town of North Ferrisburgh, Vermont where they got seriously busy and launched Cookie Love. Their recipes reflect their commitment to local ingredients and clean fresh food.
Woodhouse Chocolate ($50 for 24 pieces), a Napa Valley-based chocolatier, was the number one pick over at Consumer Reports. The chocolates are colored with only natural chocolate colors in shades of brown and white, the assortment nestled in robin’s egg blue crinkle cups and boxes. With one first place and one third place vote, it didn’t make a big impression with the first panel of tasters. The one thing it had going for it, though, was that it didn’t get any last place votes.
#3: Great Value (Wal-Mart Generic Brand) Fudge Brownie Mix — the underdog and least expensive brownie mix killed it in the brownie mix challenge, much to the surprise of the judges.  One judge even gave it a perfect score and deemed it the favorite.  It consistently received a few solid 8’s, a few 9’s, and one 10.  It also received a 2 and several 4’s so it wasn’t a favorite across the board.  Most reviewers like the soft, chewy texture with flaky top. They enjoyed the fudgy flavor. Some thought it was slightly artificial tasting and wouldn’t eat it again. It scored well enough to nab the #3 spot. What a shocker!
Juan enjoys Åkesson's Single Plantation Chocolate, Madagascar, Bejofo Estate, 75%, made with Criollo cocoa (the world's most precious and celebrated variety) grown in northwest Madagascar. "It distinguishes itself with well-defined aromas and flavors. But I especially enjoy the balance of its smooth and creamy texture – that makes it unforgettable."
I love Milkboy chocolate. It is honestly the best chocolate bar I've ever tasted. I tried it for the first time after I purchased one bar at a specialty food store when I was on vacation. I had to have more, so I searched for it everywhere in my town, but with no luck. I'm so happy I found this online, and I hope they start distributing in more locations soon. 
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