Even today, the chocolate trade looks a lot like it did in colonial days: Raw materials bought at generally low prices in the tropics are shipped to the developed world and turned into a luxury product. Today, three of the largest importers of cacao to America are fighting a lawsuit filed by a human rights group claiming that they buy beans harvested by child slaves, mostly in the nation of Ivory Coast. Several journalists have contended that the extent of slavery in the cacao industry has been overblown, but it’s hardly comforting to hear that the number of slaves who helped make your afternoon snack has been exaggerated. Without doubt, adults and children on some cacao farms, particularly in West Africa, perform demanding, exhausting work for awful pay.
Quirky and delicious with a nod to your favorite tastes of childhood best describes the colossal and craggy cookies served up by Milk Bar, the sister bakery to the Momofuku Restaurants. Corn flakes, Lucky Charms, Fruity Pebbles, Cap’n Crunch—all have made appearances in Momofuku Milk Bar cookies. Or maybe you’ll enjoy the chocolate and butterscotch chips, potato chips and pretzels in their famous Compost Cookies. (Here’s the recipe compliments of head baker Christina Tosi if you’re interested.) These are the perfect cookies to order for the kid in all of us.
Chocoholic travelers can have an immersive experience in Hershey, Pennsylvania, at Hershey Park. The amusement park, with roller coasters, water rides and candy mascots, also holds two hotels and one campground. Guests can take in shows and concerts, eat thousands of calories thanks to chocolate-themed menus and rich desserts or even get sticky with a "chocolate fondue wrap" at the full-service spa.
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.
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.
Belgian chocolate is perhaps one of the most popular European chocolates in the world. Donckels Belgian chocolate truffles truly highlight this, with their fine Belgian truffles, dusted with cocoa powder. They have a soft, creamy texture. The high-quality chocolate more than makes up for the relatively high price. One small issue with these truffles is transport. In some instance, the truffles were not cooled properly during the transport, causign the truffles to fuse together. It makes them less than ideal if you’re looking for gourmet chocolates to gift. But the chocolate is just as delicious, even if the truffles lose their shape.
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Nandy’s Candy is a small, family-owned business and a much-beloved Jackson, Mississippi, institution. The shop is perhaps best known for chocolate-covered strawberries, which are dipped by hand as you order them. Other fun confections, such as chocolate-dipped Oreos, chocolate popcorn and fudge, will fulfill your chocolate cravings, no matter what form they take.
“You can tell that this chocolate is top-of-the-line,” Krader said. “It’s a very smooth experience.” She described the flavor as “buttery” and expanded on that theme by describing the experience as feeling like you’re “putting on the most luxurious and cushy chocolate robe.” The petite size of the truffles, however, raised a red flag. “I like a chocolate that takes two bites to finish,” she said. “These are a bit small for my taste, though aesthetically, they’re very pleasing.”
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.
I haven't had all the chocolate in town. But so far, this lives up to its name! Not since DeBrand's left has there been such a great option for quality chocolate and coffee in the city. I've tried several of the truffles and they have everything to fit whatever taste profile you prefer. From dark and bitter to light and sweet, you'll find a good option. And they have a well-maintained espresso machine to brew fantastic coffee that compliments your dessert. If you're looking for an option in Mass Ave to grab an after-dinner dessert, The Best Chocolate in Town is a great chioce.
François Payard is widely known as a pastry chef, but I was unimpressed by Payard’s chocolates. I enjoyed the Chagall, a praline wafer with excellent structure, good balance, and medium-mild flavors, although it was a bit slow to present flavors. I also liked the Gauguin, in which the cherry and chocolate flavors worked well together, and the Monet, with a strong cinnamon flavor. Most other pieces were okay but unremarkable. The Rodin disappointed because its initial interesting raspberry flavor faded too quickly.
High-quality chocolate, made from the best cacao beans, is the first step. Next is the filling. When a confectioner makes the conscious decision to make high-quality chocolates, they forgo preservatives and artificial flavors and use natural fruit, nuts, butters, spices and herbs. The end result is something that isn’t as shelf stable as Russell Stover or other drugstore candies. Preservatives in those drugstore offerings affect the flavor of the chocolates. When you pit the long-life brands to more perishable high-end chocolates in a blind taste test, the differences are glaringly clear.
Milton S. Hershey opened The Hotel Hershey in 1933, on a hill overlooking his chocolate factory. Its architecture was inspired by a hotel he and his wife, Catherine, had visited in the Mediterranean and includes a Spanish-style patio, a decorative fountain and a unique dining room without corners. It has 276 rooms and has been expanded to include event space. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
The flavors we taste-tested ranged from the creamy, caramel-filled Coffee Toffee to the earthy and bitter 100% cacao Peru bar (not for the faint of heart). Our unanimous favorite emerged as the Goji Berries in Sesame Nougat, a milk chocolate bar studded with dried goji berries and filled with layers of green tea ganache, homemade nougat and soy and sesame filling. In addition to creating their hand-scooped chocolates in-house, Zotter is an independent bean-to-bar producer that prides itself on using organic, fair-trade quality cocoa beans and runs the company entirely on eco-power.
Chocolate fits a lot of moods and personality types. There are the intensely dark, single-origin bars meant for connoisseurs, the whimsical cake pops at a kid’s birthday party and the mass-produced assorted chocolates that your average joe wouldn’t pass up. These Seattle Chocolate candy bars fall somewhere in between. They capture the kid-at-heart sentiment of cake pops combined with some of the same quality ingredients found in high-end chocolate bars.
French Broad: This chocolatier opened in Asheville in 2007 and does a nice job of giving the chocolate lover a big truffle for the buck. These were some of the largest truffles we tasted. Their Buddha Collection’s vegan truffle was a favorite (composed of bitter sweet chocolate and coconut cream), lending the truffle a nice exotic edge. The Lavender and honey from the signature collection box—a milk chocolate ganache around a dark chocolate ganache blended with local honey and lavender—was the a delicious riff on lavender. The mole negro—housemade mole in dark chocolate and rolled in sesame seeds—great texture and spice.
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.
Exactly when and where the first shop specializing in chocolate candies (as opposed to hot chocolate) appeared in America is uncertain, but early examples include Pulakos Chocolates in Erie, Pennsylvania, dating from 1903; Fowler's Chocolates, which opened in Buffalo, New York, in 1910; Keystone Candies, a chocolate shop and soda fountain launched by Greek immigrants in Pittsburgh in 1914; and a Dutch-themed chocolate shop opened the same year in downtown Los Angeles.
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.
For the chocolate purist, or anyone looking for the perfect corporate gift, we think Maison du Chocolat ($60 for 28 pieces) is a great premium choice. The flavors are subtle enough to really let the chocolate shine. The packaging, reminiscent of brown pebbled leather, is understated and innocuous enough to gift for professional reasons. Although these chocolates are incredibly smooth and slightly less sweet than the Michel Cluizel, the overall flavor profile isn’t quite as daring as those in the Recchiuti box and might not provide the same sensory adventure as our main pick. We also think the assortments available online are a little big for a Valentine’s gift (although you can purchase smaller boxes in their stores).
Cecilia Tessieri — one of the world’s few female chocolatiers — makes some of the most expensive chocolate in the world. Since opening its doors in 1990, the Tuscany-based brand Amedei has contributed to a $27,000 cupcake in Dubai and a $1,000 sundae at New York’s Serendipity. Tessieri also makes an eclectic line of pralines, and excellent bars such as the Cru Madagascar Extra Dark Chocolate (70 percent) or Chuao Bar (70 percent). We like the limited-edition Porcelana bar, which you can get for around $25.
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.
Most chocolate makers know nothing about where their cacao comes from. A former consultant for a well-regarded European chocolate maker told me that until last year, the firm’s cacao buyer had never been to a plantation. Farmers sell to brokers who sell to bigger brokers; by the time the cacao reaches the factory, nobody knows its story. Sometimes this arrangement allows growers to mistreat workers without accountability. It also can allow them to get the same price for unripe, rotting or generally trashy beans—at their worst, these are known as "dogs and cats"—that they get for the good stuff.
American consumers are expected to spend an astonishing $1.8 billion-plus on candy for the holiday this year, and about 75% of that will be on chocolate. Mass-market confectioners like Russell Stover, in business since 1923, will account for most of the sales. (The company, which also owns the Whitman’s brand, is the largest boxed-candy manufacturer in America.) Most smaller chocolate shops prepare special Valentine’s Day assortments and/or other chocolate-related gifts, though, and these tend to offer greater variety and utilize better-quality chocolate.