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.

Are you a frequent gift-giver? You may want to take a look at the Celebrations Passport: with a yearly fee of $29.99, it includes free shipping from a family of brands that include Cheryl's Cookies, 1-800-Flowers, and Harry & David. Otherwise, expect to pay quite a bit for shipping: for example, on a gift assortment that retails for $139.99, we were given a shipping cost of $18.99. You can see all of the shipping costs by clicking on the blue question mark icon as you begin the ordering process; delivery prices start at $4.99 and go up to 15% of your order total (for orders over $150).
The packaging is beautiful and modern, with the logo embossed in tonal black on black. The box itself is pretty sexy and, for some reason, reminded me of a black bustier. Inside, the minimally designed booklet explains the flavors, with black and white illustrations of each chocolate. None of the other assortments are presented in such a cohesive package, and we found the Recchiuti’s key of chocolates much easier to decipher than those included with the other brands.
Owned by Mondelez international, Cadbury (formerly known as Cadbury’s) is a multinational British confectionary and the second largest confectionary brand in the world after Wrigley’s. Headquartered in Uxbridge, West London, the brand operates in 50 countries around the world and is famous for their Dairy Milk, Creme Egg and Roses selection boxes. The company is the countries most successful exports since 1824.
So, what if you're not happy with your order? Can you get a refund or a replacement? You'll have to dig around in the Terms and Conditions to find it, but there is a guarantee of timely delivery and a 10-day return policy. But with customers reporting no response from Chocolate's customer service department after multiple emails, you may not get timely help if you encounter a problem.
The actual Black Dinah shop in Westbrook is tiny and unassuming, but don’t let the small size of the storefront detour you from trying their fresh artisan chocolates. Their truffles and chocolates are picture-perfect and come in stunning flavors such as pear Champagne and brown butter (the latter is painted with a signature Maine lobster). Their sipping chocolate, which is rich and creamy, is also a must-have for those long, cold Maine winter nights. 

To narrow down the chocolates we wanted to try, we read reviews of chocolates in Consumer Reports, polled colleagues and friends in the business, and sought advice from Mark Bitterman, owner of The Meadow. For our first review, we took into account availability and usability of online stores: For example, Kee’s Chocolates from New York City came highly recommended from colleagues and editorial publications, but isn’t available online, and our goal was to find something that is accessible to most people. Overall, we came to a well-edited list of 11 of the most highly rated samples to put in front of a panel of nine friends and food experts for a blind tasting.
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.
This Italian chocolatier specializes in hazelnut-flavored chocolate pralines, combining a hazelnut chocolate cream and a whole hazelnut with a crisp chocolate shell in either milk or dark chocolate. It’s a decadent chocolate experience, but with a complexity and mild bitterness from the hazelnut that makes it a more adult experience. Perfect for nut lovers.
The packaging is beautiful and modern, with the logo embossed in tonal black on black. The box itself is pretty sexy and, for some reason, reminded me of a black bustier. Inside, the minimally designed booklet explains the flavors, with black and white illustrations of each chocolate. None of the other assortments are presented in such a cohesive package, and we found the Recchiuti’s key of chocolates much easier to decipher than those included with the other brands.
This box is an excellent choice for anyone who enjoys a variety of chocolate textures or simply as a perfect addition to your next party. It features milk, semisweet, bittersweet and dark chocolate pieces, meaning there is something for everyone and it’s an ideal one-stop chocolate shop for wine pairing. Everything is gluten-free and made from the highest quality artisan cocoa. The chocolates feature both a presentation and price point that really push this product over the edge and help to make it some of the best gourmet chocolate out there.
Famous in New York and internationally as an uncompromising chocolatier, Jaques Torres makes gourmet chocolate chip cookies that are an elegant and rich version of everyone’s favorite cookie. Each cookie measures 5 inches in diameter. Jacques uses his rich, house blend 60% dark chocolate baking discs, which means this cookie skews to the adult tastes, or kids with a discerning palate.
The pieces in a one-pound box were quite varied in appearance, with few repetitions. Most pieces have full flavors of moderate strength. The designs were elegant but not as ornate as Burdick’s. The cinnamon-ginger piece was very good, and the chocolate-coconut mixture is notable. Some pieces are somewhat ordinary, not entirely worthy of a fine chocolatier.
Planète Chocolat sells most of their chocolates in prepared boxes, so I could not pick out my preferences. Some pieces, mostly truffles, are available separately. The pieces in the box I got had textured tops that I could not match up with the diagram, so I could not tell what was what. Planète Chocolat’s chocolates look fancy, but that does not make them taste fancy, and I would rather pay for taste than looks.
If you still want a classic chocolate chip cookie, the Salty Sweet version uses thin slabs of chocolate that layer throughout giving each bite the perfect dough to chocolate ratio. But don’t stop there. We loved the Oatmeal Raisin cookies (“Best I’ve ever had” said one taster), the Dark Chocolate cookies (“Deeply chocolate without being too sweet’) and the Spicy Cinnamon cookies which absolutely live up to the name. Gluten-Free and Vegan cookie options are available too, and they are just as delicious as the classic versions.
Cookie Love’s gourmet cookie flavors include the classics like Chocolate Chip and Oatmeal with dried Cranberries, but you’ll also be tempted by Mocha Chocolate Chip, or how about their heartiest cookie named Enduring Love that combines organic coconut with almonds, oatmeal, chocolate chips and dried cranberries. With loyal customers across the country and rave reviews, Vermont Cookie Love is the place to order rich, all natural cookies and frozen cookie dough for lovers of just-out-of-the-oven home baked cookies.

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.
The only drawback that we found is that Simply Chocolate's prices are often considerably higher than the competition. For instance, many of the chocolates made by Vosges can be purchased directly from that retailer at a significant savings, even when factoring in Vosges' higher shipping costs. You'll want to shop around a bit, especially if your chocolate purchase includes a brand that may be sold elsewhere for less.
One piece had a very good blend of hazelnut and almond with a fine crunchy texture. The marzipan was very good; Jacky Pédro brought out the flavor well. He must have sense of humor and self-confidence to label one of his products Le Crottin du Pin. To avoid spoiling your appetite, I will not translate the name, but the piece is a cocoa meringue with a chocolate cream filling. It was nice and very unusual and just a bit bitter. I also strayed from chocolate and tried the Patés de Fruits, which were very good.
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.
This chocolate brand was first manufactured in the United Kingdom. Its sister brands are ‘Milky Way’ and ‘5 Star’. Its slogan “pleasure you can’t measure” was used to appeal to more women and children. It comes in different sizes from miniature bars to regular 58 gram single bars. Limited-edition flavors include Mars Almond, Mars Gold, and Mars Maple.
There is nothing conventional about Kate Weiser’s chocolate bars. They are painstakingly crafted, yes, but from there Weiser goes rogue, taking the grandest Venezuelan cocoa and adding açaí berries, or, in the ultimate rebellious act, going blonde with a caramel and sesame seed brittle bar. Her riotous, Jackson-Pollock-splatter-painted candy bars and bonbons are beautiful the way a punk rock romance might be—exuberant and irreverent in style and taste.
The award-winning Almond Roll Ups, $33, a soft-baked cookie rolled in sliced almonds that wraps around a marzipan center, was a unanimous favorite. Or try the soft butter cookies that sandwich fruit fillings of strawberry, peach, apricot or raspberry, $33. Gluten-free options are available too like the Hazelnut Cookie, and their award-winning dark chocolate dipped Hazelnut Cookie, $38.
Owner and debonair chocolatier Giorgio Demarini took the skills he learned as a graphic designer and applied his artistic talent to something sweeter. Now he makes chocolates with his mother at Roselen, hand-painting playful designs to turn into delectable, unique masterpieces. His jungle-style flavor blends, like passion fruit lemongrass or lychee with geranium petals, can be found nowhere else. Try to catch a tasting class, where Demarini pairs his handcrafted Peruvian chocolates with various local libations. If timing isn’t right, pick up the perfect gift box with 16 carefully selected bonbons, a wine glass, and small bottle of Pisco Portón. Chocolate shop and tasting parlor in Lima, Peru.
Stuart, Florida, located about 80 miles north of Fort Lauderdale, is already one charming small town to visit. Its highlight, though, is Castronovo Chocolate. This bean-to-bar small-batch chocolate shop has won several gold medals at the International Chocolate Awards for its lemon oil and lemon salt-infused white chocolate, Sierra Nevada 63 percent dark chocolate and Colombia mocha milk chocolate. The service here is attentive and as world-class as the bars themselves.

The scene: a quaint Italian cafe, an espresso, and a piece of Italian chocolate. What’s not to love? The most popular chocolate producer in Italy is Amadei. They buy their cocoa directly from growers, which means they know exactly where the beans came from, and how they were grown. They use that knowledge to produce some of the best chocolates in the world. The Italians also enjoy using chocolate in their pastries, a win for anyone with a sweet tooth.


If you still want a classic chocolate chip cookie, the Salty Sweet version uses thin slabs of chocolate that layer throughout giving each bite the perfect dough to chocolate ratio. But don’t stop there. We loved the Oatmeal Raisin cookies (“Best I’ve ever had” said one taster), the Dark Chocolate cookies (“Deeply chocolate without being too sweet’) and the Spicy Cinnamon cookies which absolutely live up to the name. Gluten-Free and Vegan cookie options are available too, and they are just as delicious as the classic versions.
Woodhouse Chocolate has some very nice pieces; you should definitely visit when in St. Helena or even Napa. However, not every piece lives up to their price level, so be selective about your assortment. I found the shifting flavors of orange, cream, marzipan, and chocolate in the Fiori di Sicilia made it a fun experience, although its chocolate is a minor player. I particularly recommend the Pecan Caramel for an excellent pecan flavor, which mixes well with the chocolate, and the Peanut Croquant, again for a good medium-strong peanut flavor that mixes well with chocolate.
Zabar’s is as New York as it gets. Whether you’re celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas or New Years, Zabar’s bagels, deli meats, and pastries will put you in a New York state of mind. The Black and Whites are particularly fun to eat. Do you eat one side first then the other, or take an equal bite of both sides down the middle? I haven’t decided yet, so I’ll keep practicing.
When I spoke with Eric Case of Valrhona Chocolate, he made a point to differentiate filled chocolates from chocolate bars: “Chocolate and chocolates. Chocolate is something made from a bean, to give to someone that then creates a bonbon, or a confection, or a candy. ‘Chocolates’ are all kinds of things that happen to use chocolate in the ingredients, but they also have marzipan, toffee, nuts, or fruit.” Because of these additions, the shelf life of a quality box of chocolates is (generally) much shorter than that of a bar.
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. 
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