Alexandra Whisnant, a Boston native, trained at Le Cordon Bleu and Ladurée in Paris before she opened her chocolate business. Its name means “spoiled like girls,” so it’s no surprise that Whisnant doesn’t cut any corners while making her delicate treats. She starts a new batch of pralines or infused ganaches at the beginning of each week, and they sell out by week’s end. Flavors vary weekly, with honey-walnut praline, blackberry ganache, chocolate-mint (made from mint from her aunt’s garden), and whiskey-infused truffles just some of the latest confections to come off of Whisnant’s chocolate dipping table. Call for the day’s offerings. Shipping is limited. Somerville, MA
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
This is a box of confections for an adventurous chocolate lover. Every piece is memorable. The sesame nougat was the first one we tried and it still sticks out as one of my favorites. It has the perfect texture of chewy caramel, a little crunch from toasted sesame seeds and the snap of perfectly tempered dark chocolate. The Star Anise & Pink Peppercorn starts with the licorice-like star anise and finishes with the pink peppercorn, the flavors unfolding on the tongue like a sensory short story. While I don’t think any of the flavors would be offensive, some people might be scared off by the esoteric flavor combos. (Those palates will be happy with our well-made runner up.)
Top chocolatiers generally work with couverture (first-rate chocolate containing a high percentage of cocoa butter) to make their creations, versus fresh cocoa beans, although an increasing number now experiment with bean to bar. Some makers even grow their own cacao beans. Direct contact between growers and makers is the best-case scenario for sustainable, or at the very least fair trade, chocolate.
Since she was a little girl, F&W’s Kate Krader, a New York City-native, has looked forward to this classic 1923 chocolate shop’s perfect homemade milk chocolate balls, wrapped in colorful foil, and available only during the holidays. “They remind me of my childhood,” says Krader. Another nostalgic favorite is the super-rich old-fashioned fudge that’s made daily. li-lacchocolates.com
“We became convinced it was impossible to become number one in the world buying beans from brokers,” Alessio says. “The broker cannot tell you who grew the beans, or how it was done.” I don’t take Alessio for a weepy humanitarian, and yet he practices enlightened self-interest when it comes to the people who grow his cacao. He has invested in Chuao, agreeing to pay off the farmers’ mounting debts and buying baseball uniforms for the local team. He needs their best work so that he and Cecilia can do their best work.
She walked to the sideboard and pulled down three trays, each arrayed with a different cru. Valrhona was the first to borrow that wine term and apply it to chocolate; Amadei uses it to describe bars made with beans from the same region. Amedei’s Grenada I Cru was quiet and had something about it that reminded me of raspberries. The Jamaica was stronger and made me think of pipe tobacco; so did the Venezuela, but it also had a durable aftertaste of good black coffee. Then Cecilia offered me a tray of the first chocolate she made, called Toscano Black 70 percent. This time, I had trouble picking individual voices out of the choir. I mostly remember the overall sensation of getting all the deliciousness any sane person could want.
The Maison du Chocolat packaging, while very sophisticated, is pretty conservative and not as sexy as our top pick. The textured box mimics pebbled brown leather and has the logo stamped on the back. The adjective that comes to mind is “professional”; it looks luxe but understated and reserved. We think this box of chocolate would be great as a corporate gift, or for your mother-in-law.
If you are looking at this product and reviews, chances are you have already eaten a lot of dark chocolate. If you haven’t, this isn’t a great place to start given the cacoa content is so high (I found this out myself the hard way). I used to eat mainly milk chocolate, which is primarily sugar. I initially tried an 85% dark and despised it. I then worked my way up starting with like a 45%, then 60%, than 72%, then 85%, then 88-100%...which worked a lot better as my taste could adapt to the change (for better or worse [better for me as I need to watch my dietary intake and want the health benefits of dark chocolate], standard commercial milk chocolate is now so overly sweet to me that I cannot eat it.)
Doreen Pendgracs has spent the past seven years scouring the planet in search of the world’s finest chocolate and most memorable chocolate experiences. She is the author of the award-winning book Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate. She is currently researching the second volume, Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate Adventures. Read her writing about the world of chocolate.
Stars with a blast of rich but DRY cocoa powder (the kind used in baking). This fades down into a less powdery and dry cocoa scent, where the vanilla begins to peek through. Unfortunately, the performance of this scent on my skin is fairly weak. It doesn't project off of me at all. Despite the other notes listed, I really only smell the cocoa powder.
Who would think we would be singing the praises of Canadian chocolate? Soma, which began in 2003, describes itself as a place to "eat, drink, and worship chocolate". Visitors can experience their small-batch chocolate-making up close at the micro-factory on the Toronto store's premises. Their menu boasts an impressive display of mind-blowing creativity, like "Sparky" Gianduja pralines laced with Pop Rocks, Gooderham Worts Whiskey truffles and the 8-Year Aged Balsamic Vinegar truffles. Bars are available in rectangle or circle form — Soma's Chocolate Possible Worlds bars come as 200-gram oversized disks, such as the "Ruby Red" bar topped with wild cherries, cranberries, barberries and dusted with Sumac powder. O Canada!
Late last year, I grew curious about an Italian chocolate brand called Amedei. I mean curious in the same sense that sharks are curious about surfers. Amedei, founded in 1990, is the joint project of a 42-year-old Italian named Alessio Tessieri and his younger sister, Cecilia; he buys the cacao and she turns it into dark, glossy bars. In November, a competition in London awarded a gold prize to one of Cecilia’s handiworks, a single-plantation chocolate called Chuao. Two other Amedei products tied for silver.
We saved the biggest for last. Levain’s gourmet cookies push the limits of the definition of cookie. They have been described as “Molten Cookie Dough” for their barely baked middles that ooze with warm, sweet goodness. Weighing in at 6 ounces each they are the size of generous muffin tops. Each flavor is rich, buttery, super-decadent. We had the fun of standing in line to enter the teeny tiny New York store to order one of each flavor—Chocolate Chip Walnut, Oatmeal Raisin, Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip and Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip. I was lucky to have a posse of eager tasters with me. The edges have a slightly crisp cookie texture that gives way to an interior of cookie/cake-y crumb. The cookie’s center is a barely baked oooey goooey celebration of sweet. This is not a cookie for the faint of heart.
Over the chocolate shop has an unmistakeable woody, rough powdery texture to it, much like actual cocoa powder, and about the same darkness of it. The hazelnut further adds to this coarse, almost woody feel. The coffee is just noticable enough to amplify the chocolate. This has a certain HEAT to it, like there's the tiniest bit of chili. It also lasts the longest of these four on my skin.
The Good & Evil bar is made with 72 percent Peruvian Nacional Cacao, allegedly the rarest cocoa bean in existence. Master chocolatier Christopher Curtin of Éclat Chocolate chose only the Premier Cru Superieur beans from the first harvest on a remote farm in Peru. Next, the organic Fair Trade beans traveled to Switzerland, where they were processed in an antique conching machine. We enjoyed its rich taste, cocoa nib-crunch and sophisticated aftertaste. Just be warned that the Good & Evil bar is available in very limited quantities, so score some while you can.
To identify the best chocolate shop in each state, 24/7 Wall St. indexed ratings weighted by number of reviews for thousands of chocolate shops nationwide on Yelp and Google. To be considered, a chocolate shop must be in or near a city with a population of at least 100,000 people. In states with few or no cities of this size, chocolate shops in smaller cities were also considered. Ratings are the number of points given by Yelp and Google users out of a possible 5.
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.