SpagNVola husband-and-wife owners Eric and Crisoire Reid oversee entire chocolate process from farm to store, delivering unadulterated chocolate perfection. First they grow cacao at their farm perched on mountain slopes in their homeland of the Dominican Republic. The cacao pods are handpicked, then roasted and refined in their Gaithersburg, Maryland, factory. Take the free tour to learn about the origins of their chocolate and watch the kitchen’s magic. The award-winning 70 percent and 80 percent pure chocolate bars paint the clearest picture of quality, but don’t miss the boxed sets of olive oil truffles or caramel bonbons. Boutique at National Harbor and factory in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
Exactly when and where the first chocolate shops opened in America is uncertain, but early contenders for the honor include The Original Velatis, which set up shop selling caramels (some of them involving chocolate) in 1866 in Silver Spring, Maryland, and Govatos, which went into business in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1894 (both are still going strong; see slideshow).
Donnelly’s chocolates have well-developed chocolate flavors. Many pieces use strong flavors of spices, fruits, or nuts. I recommend identifying each piece before biting into it—the chocolate-banana combination is better when you expect it than when you are surprised. The cardamom piece is similarly better savored when you are prepared to sense the cardamom. (This spice is not used as much as its distinctive flavor and scent warrant. If you are not familiar with it, I recommend smelling and tasting a little separately before trying Donnelly’s cardamom-chocolate combination.)
Christopher Elbow ($35 for 16 pieces) was our top pick for 2014. In a blind tasting, a panel voted it their favorite. In the most recent tasting, the chocolates came across as too sweet and the flavors a little heavy-handed. While they are absolutely beautiful—the chocolates resemble baubles and jewels—they were squeezed out of the top spots by this year’s contenders.
This SoHo chocolate shop and store showcases luxurious, single-origin chocolates and confections derived primarily from Criollo cacao beans. Its Signature Ganache Collection features edible works of art, while its rich Hot Chocolate Collection gets a kick from the popularity of its Aztec Hot Chocolate. Cacao Bar, its 15-seat café, offers a sweet respite for patrons to order in coffee, chocolate or a baked goodie.
With five café locations—including one at their factory—this chocolate company handcrafts signature treats that taste exquisite but also look exceptional. Their assortment of bars pep up traditional milk or dark choices with options like a Milk Chocolate Crispy Orange Brulee Bar, Dark Chocolate Espresso Bean, or even the Dark Chocolate Raspberry and Fennel Bark. The gourmet dark, milk and ivory truffles feature fun sweets like the Strawberry or Raspberry Love Bug and Cookies and Cream Cone. Caramels and toffees are touched with sea salt or vanilla, and gourmet hot cocoa mixes go from simple to spicy. A specialty line of liqueur truffles are derived from Oregon’s finest craft distillers. Plus, their tumbled chocolate balls taste of blueberry, hazelnuts, sea salt caramel and even a German roasted malted wheat berry used in beer making.
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.
If you get a huge box of chocolates and can’t finish them in two weeks, you can store them in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. After that, the flavors of the creams and ganaches can turn stale. When storing chocolates in the refrigerator, take the same steps you would when refrigerating chocolate bars. Be sure to wrap the box very well in plastic wrap, and seal in a zip-top plastic bag. Prior to eating, let the chocolates come to room temperature before unwrapping to avoid any condensation.