For more than 30 years, Seattle-based owner Fran Bigelow has been setting candy trends—she was selling miniature chocolate bars and elegant truffles before they became ubiquitous. Her sweets also have a very high-profile admirer: As a lover of salty-sweet desserts, one of President Obama’s favorite indulgences is Fran’s Smoked Salt Caramels ($12)—buttery caramels coated in milk chocolate and sprinkled with smoked sea salt. franschocolates.com
The Tessieris did not set out to make chocolate. In the beginning, like the rest of the Chocolate Valley, they made candy. Their parents owned a business in Pontedera that sold pastry ingredients to bakers. Alessio and Cecilia went off on their own, but they didn’t stray far. They rented a small room in town and began to experiment with what they call pralines and we call filled chocolates. Soon enough, they wanted to move to a higher grade—the highest grade they knew. So the brother and sister, who were still in their 20s, went to visit a chocolate maker they greatly admired.
Today the Teuscher kitchens in Zurich make more than 100 varieties of chocolates using these original recipes, which have been handed down from father to son. Only the finest and most expensive natural ingredients are used, and absolutely no chemicals, additives, or preservatives are added. The house specialty is a champagne truffle, a blend of fresh cream, butter, and chocolate with a champagne cream center, dusted with confectioner’s sugar. Chocolates are flown to Teuscher stores worldwide weekly.
We reached out to some of the world's best makers to learn more about the chocolates they love. These aren't the kinds of confections you'll find wedged between gum and mints at the check-out counter. They are craft chocolates, known for their attention to quality and celebration of the wide range of flavors found in cocoa beans from different origins.
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.
At $120 a pound, Maison du Chocolat ($60 for 28 pieces) is pretty expensive chocolate, but it’s some of the best we’ve ever tasted. These are bonbons for the chocolate purist because you can still really taste the chocolate in each one. Even in the raspberry ganache, which is so packed with fresh flavor that you could swear you just ate the perfect raspberry, the complexity of the chocolate still comes through. The ganaches are incredibly smooth and the chocolate that comprises the shell is perfectly tempered, giving a very satisfying “snap” on first bite. The flavors, though, are more traditional than our main pick’s. While every chocolate in the Recchiuti box pleasantly surprised us, the Maison chocolates, although excellent, aren’t as adventurous. For a Valentine’s or romantic gift, we feel the Recchiuti make a better choice.
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.
K’s 5-star review: Through a narrow lobby and off the street, Chocolat Moderne is tucked on the 9th floor off the beaten path. Please do not let this discourage your New York chocolate trekking -- it is worth taking the extra step (or, if preferred, elevator ride) to visit. This chocolatier is absolutely stocked with a decadent selection (and I do mean selection and decadent) hosting rack after rack of freshly created bonbons. The lady herself, Joan Coukos, and her hubby were the hands-on reps at the counter, so the charming customer service was stellar. Bonbons are painted in perfectly tempered shell molds (Valrhona has never been in better form) with filled centers that absolutely ooze with a bravado of focused flavors -- from the trending and expected sea salt caramel and liquor-splashed ganaches, to oreintal persuasions such as persimmon peach and shiso lime. Pieces were $2.5-$3.5. Bars $8. Chocolat Moderne has middle man retailers such as D&D and Whole Foods that offer some of their products. However, I would strongly recommend visiting the NY location if it's available to your schedule -- you deserve it!
Owner and chocolatier Katrina Markoff chooses every spice, flower, and chocolate that is flown into the Vosges kitchen to be transformed into fine chocolates. She learned the art of French confectionery at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Further inspired by her global apprenticeships, infusions of rare spices and flowers are combined with premium chocolate in truffles such as Mexican vanilla bean and Argentinean dulce de leche.
Katalin Csiszar and her husband, Zsolt Szabad, began the award-winning Rozsavolgyi in their home in Budapest in 2004. They source beans from Venezuela growers, and roast them very lightly to preserve their true flavors. Only organic cane sugar and a small amount of of cocoa butter goes in before they are formed into intricate patterns meant to mimic fireplace tiles, and wrapped by hand in paper that looks like your chic grandma’s vintage silk scarf. Purists rave about their Criollo and Trincheras bars, but those who like surprises go for inclusions like olives and bread, and flavors of Japanese matcha, and Indian masala spices.
Hotel Chocolat is a UK based company specializing in exclusive chocolates. But, right away their noticeable lack of selection is a huge turn off. With only approximately 10 products to choose from this website is a disappointment. They do offer white, milk and dark chocolate items. But, the only thing that really caught our attention was a beautiful heart shaped chocolate milk and strawberry flavored item. Unfortunately, they were sold out weeks in advance of the holiday and the item cost $55.00.
Subject = FABULOUS! I just received my July shipment, the Royal Palm box of Dark Signature truffles, and have to tell you that they are now my favorite chocolatier! The flavors are in perfect balance, the chocolates are not too sweet (so many dark chocolates have been ruined by over-sweetening). The quality is superb! Thank you for introducing them to me
Take someone’s taste buds on a trip around the world without buying a single plane ticket. Trader Joe’s chocolate “passport” allows chocolate lovers to sample bars from eight of the world’s best chocolate-producing countries. Each of the bars is single origin—which means the cocoa beans were sourced from that country alone—to ensure that you taste the unique flavors of each region. You’ll taste floral and nutty notes in Papua New Guinea’s bar, while Peru’s is slightly fruity and woody. Every single one is different from the last. Each bar is a little less than two ounces and they range from 60% to 73% cacao.