The next time you're sharing chocolate, impress your friends with your knowledge of "conching." Before Sprüngli & Son came onto the scene in 1845, chocolate was mainly enjoyed as a drink. The Swiss pioneers paved the way for future confectioners by crafting some of the world's first chocolate candies. Soon after, the company partnered with Swiss confectioner Rodolphe Lindt, the inventor of the conching method, which is still the cornerstone of chocolate-making today. This hours-long churning process incorporates cocoa butter into the cocoa mass, resulting in smooth "melting chocolate" that's easy to mold. Today, Lindt & Sprüngli offers an overwhelming chocolate bar menu. Our favorites include their Excellence 85 per cent Cocoa Bar and Excellence Intense Orange Bar. We used to have to import Lindt bars from Europe, but these days they are ubiquitous, sold at supermarkets and chain stores.
Ki' Xocolatl, meaning "rich delicious chocolate" in the Mayan and Nahuatl (Aztec) languages, lives up to its name. Belgian owners collaborated with locals to cultivate beans from the heart of the Yucatán Peninsula using ancient techniques. Then artisanal chocolate meets Maya ingredients like baked corn chips, peppers, and almonds, flavored with homegrown spices. Ki' Xocolatl also presents a unique lineup of cocoa-based spa products, including chocolate shampoo, lotions, and soap, all highlighting the natural moisturizing and detoxifying qualities of cacao beans. Save time to sip traditional Mexican hot chocolate made from organic cocoa paste, natural cinnamon, and cane sugar in the art-filled Mérida café at Parque de Santa Lucía. Three retail locations in Mérida.
French Broad Chocolate is a must-try shop located in Asheville, North Carolina. It has chocolates that have won numerous awards at the International Chocolate Awards and Good Food Awards. The confections, which range from single-source bars to vegan lemongrass and ginger truffles, are made with local ingredients and sustainable, wholesome cacao beans.
These chocolates are unusual, to say the least. Richard Donnelly likes to push the chocolate experience by combining its rich tones — he uses Belgian and French chocolate — with ingredients such as lavender, chipotle, saffron, cardamom, and Earl Grey tea. Such innovation helped Donnelly win the Best Artisan award at the prestigious Euro Chocolate Festival in Perugia, Italy, just ten years after he opened his shop. To maintain quality and ensure freshness, Donnelly produces no more than 50 pounds of chocolate a day. If you need a break from the exotic and unusual flavors, try Donnelly’s white chocolate macadamia nut or a honey vanilla caramel.
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.
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.
If you want a truly unique chocolate experience, this American chocolatier with Venezuelan roots has created a flavor assortment with more varieties than any other. Thirty-six mini-bars come in twelve flavors – Firecracker, Honeycomb, Baconluxious Chocolate, Potato Chip, Caramel Apple Crush, Salted Chocolate Crush, Totally Tangy Mango, Cheeky Cheeky Churro, Spicy Maya, Pop Corn Pop, Oeange-a-go-go, Sweet and Salty, Strawberry Waffle Wild, and Cinnamon Cereal Smooch. At just over a dollar a bar, it’s a great way to try a wide range of flavors, but the company also offers an eight-count sampler for those on a budget.
The LA Reader says Milk Jar Cookies are “Possibly the best fresh cookies in town.” Oh yeah? We sent our Los Angeles taster to go see. A half a dozen warm cookies later, he texted in to Eat Gift Love HQ that they were indeed fresh and really good. Well, that’s what we translated from the one word description he actually texted: “Deece!” (We apologize his description is lacking. He’s young and works for cookies. He’s not yet reached the descriptive heights of, say, an Anthony Bourdain. But we are confident in his judgment.)
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).
Since 1997, this confectionery inside the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero has been putting artistic touches on their small batch yet exquisite chocolates, caramels, bars, sauces, fruit/nut mixes, and truffles. Their top-selling Fleur de Sel Caramels are covered in dark chocolate with a well-blended balance of salt and sweetness. For Valentine’s Day, their Hearts in Motion box provides a whole lot of lovin’—burnt caramel truffles embellished with Picasso-esque images. Grand Amour Box holds three layers of popular truffles like Ginger Heart, Piedmont Hazelnut and Force Noir.
Garrison has other novelties, but the toffee was best. The Ultimate Nougat Bar suggested something I would like to see chocolatiers try—remaking classic candy bars with fine ingredients. Unfortunately, the Nougat Bar fell short. It felt too empty of flavor, and the first three ingredients do not impress (dried egg whites, sugar, and potato starch).
When giving chocolate as a gift, it’s really worth purchasing a truly special box of fresh chocolates made from the finest ingredients. Recchiuti chocolates are a step above any confection we’ve tasted. The perfectly balanced chocolate and nuanced fillings, elegant packaging, and beautifully sculpted bonbons make this a particularly special assortment that will please any lucky recipient.
Some of the Fruity pieces were excellent, particularly the Mango Passionfruit ganache. The fruit flavor was nicely bittersweet and strong with a good peak, complemented by slightly bitter chocolate. The Lime ganache, Raspberry ganache, and Red Berry bouquet coulis were also quite good with strong fruit flavors. The Orange Zest coulis was very interesting. I had the sensation of flavor in the upper palate versus on the tongue. The Apricot coulis flopped, though; it was weak and not sweet enough for me.
The 97-year-old chocolatier known for it’s eye-popping displays of bon bons is a favorite of the Belgian royal family. But its high-class tablets, packaged in charming, pastel boxes, are worthy of a taste as well. Perhaps most worthy is Mary's 72 percent dark chocolate bar made with beans from the equatorial (and volcanic) African island of São Tomé. All ten of its fanciful shops are in Belgium except one, which is in Oakwood, Ohio.
Pastry chef Jacques Torres left Manhattan’s Le Cirque in 2000 to open his own chocolate factory. Torres now runs a chocolate empire that includes two production facilities, six NYC outposts and one in Atlantic City. F&W editors Kate Krader and Tina Ujlaki, resident chocolate experts, especially love Torres’s milk chocolate-covered Cheerios ($8.50) and caramel chocolate popcorn, an addictively salty-sweet snack. mrchocolate.com
Why they're cool: Look, normally these guys cost like a $1 each at the check out counter and I always want to grab the whole box but I can't spend $60 on a last minute craving. Have you had this happen to you? Well look no further because once again Amazon is the answer to our problem. This box of 60 Lindt's melt in your mouth truffles will only cost you 20 cents a pop! You're welcome.
My 2005 purchase in San Francisco was slightly underweight. The chocolate felt powdery to me. The Ground Orange Gianduja was good, with orange pervading the piece, and the Hazelnut Gianduja was okay. However, the Marzipan and Honey Crunch were lackluster, and the Buttercrunch Chip was a bit dry. The weight of my 2006 Palo Alto purchase was correct. The White Gianduja was pretty good, medium-strength hazelnut flavor with some crunch.
Richart has improved over the years and makes a nice presentation in the store and in the box. Their chocolates are nice but are far from worth the extraordinary price. I purchased a 25-piece box mixed with Fruity and Roasted pieces. The prepared boxes in the store were all Fruity, all Roasted, or all Balsamic, so each has a uniform color, unlike my mixture to the right. Other design elements in the store are nice, such as a shelf display using a lot of white with a little bright color, different in each column of boxes.
In 2004, Los Angeles chocolatier Valerie Gordon started creating her impeccable, handmade small-batch chocolates and crispy chocolate-covered toffees topped with almonds, fleur du sel or candied fruit. Favorites of F&W’s Tina Ujlaki include the outstanding milk chocolate-dipped nougat and caramel squares. In 2011, Gordon created a line of new tea blends, cookies and petits fours. valerieconfections.com
Committed to quality, the French chocolate-maker Richart guarantees you the most refined chocolates from the most refined ingredients. Richart recipes, developed and tested by the Richart family, have won France’s most prestigious confectioner’s honor, the Ruban Bleu, seven times. Having perfected the art of chocolate making, Richart now focuses on enhanced flavors and distinctive designs and colors. A box of assorted chocolates is visually stunning. If you really want to impress, splurge on the $850 burlwood vault with seven drawers of chocolate — complete with temperature and humidity gauges.