Cocoa Power: Best Chocolate in America
Think outside the box (of basic chocolates) with these dazzling, decadent confections.
Photo By: Glacier Confections
Photo By: Francisco Chavira
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Photo By: Ali Gokay Sarioz
Photo By: Vosges
Photo By: Alicia Carlson
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Photo By: Glacier Confections
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Photo By: Secret Chocolatier
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These days, a plain chocolate bar seems so … basic. Chocolatiers across the country are upgrading the beloved classic by sourcing the best cacao beans, blending them with exotic ingredients, coaxing the chocolate into whimsical shapes and even adorning their creations with exquisite designs. Leave those basic bars to a bygone era and step into these shops, where the confectioners are stirring up chocolate — and imaginations.
Christophe Artisan Chocolatier
For a taste of true French chocolate, look no further than Charleston, South Carolina. Third-generation chocolatier Christophe Paume whips up chocolate creations his customers adore. A favorite is the chocolate caramel sea salt bar, but people come to his shop to look at (and eat!) the beautifully hand-painted truffles and chocolate sculptures as well.
This Northern California chocolate shop is proud of its origins — you’ll see many California influences here, including an abundance of ingredients from local farms. Trained pastry chef (from a family of home bakers) Ginger Elizabeth went out on her own after working for some of the best from New York to Chicago before starting her delightful chocolate business back home. Unique flavors like Raspberry Rose Geranium, Sweet Cream Chai and Peanut Butter Graham Cracker put a fresh spin on the traditional truffles.
This multifaceted chocolate concept that includes not only a chocolate shop but also a bar and restaurant started with a box of chocolates. Owner Phil Simonson’s husband made him chocolates from his own personal recipe, and the rest is history. To this day they still use that as their base chocolate recipe, filling their 300 flavors of truffles with ingredients like Spam and pineapple, drunken goat cheese and Vidalia onions, and salted caramel apple. The restaurant menu pulls in chocolate whenever possible — the pulled pork uses a chocolate bourbon BBQ sauce, and the green salad even has chopped chocolate in it!
Chocolate runs in the family for Tessa Halstead: Her dad was a chocolatier, and she still uses many of his unique chocolate molds. In addition to the chocolate figurines, the Austin shop is known for its Single Origin collection of chocolates that highlights signature flavors of various countries and provides a tasting guide for each, to acquaint customers with chocolate-growing areas of Peru or Papua New Guinea.
Vermont Nut Free Chocolates
Many chocolate truffles are chock-full of nuts, but not the ones made here. This family-run business started when the owners' son had a nut allergy and it was hard to find good-quality chocolates for him to enjoy. A few decades later, they have a full-blown chocolate business with truffles, chocolate-covered pretzels, Sun Blossoms (sunbutter cups) and so much more. All of their chocolates are made in a dedicated nut-free facility just north of Burlington.
Norman Love Confections
The Sunshine State might not be the first place you'd look for handcrafted chocolates, but since 2001 Norman and Mary Love have been crafting beautiful and delicious creations in their shop in Fort Myers. Each truffle has its own aesthetic, like the "paint"-splattered dark chocolate heart infused with jalapeno peppers, or the vibrant green and yellow, tangy Key lime seashell. The gift boxes in the Black line are filled with single-origin dark chocolates.
DeBrand Fine Chocolates
From the age of 8 Cathy Brand was whipping up chocolate creations at home, and decades later she has a small chocolate empire in Indiana, with four shops in Fort Wayne and another in Indianapolis. DeBrand's chocolatiers focus on classic chocolates like caramel and mocha, and also have fun with exotic flavor combinations like raspberry balsamic and rosemary citrus.
Katherine Anne Confections
To keep things interesting at this quaint Chicago chocolate shop, its chocolatiers create a new truffle a week so they can have fun with flavors like cranberry pear walnut, rocky road and peanut butter coconut curry. Come winter, drinking chocolate is the way to go. The flavors range from classic milk chocolate to salted caramel to strawberry butterscotch — and equally appealing are the giant housemade marshmallows that bob like buoys in the hot chocolate.
The chocolates from this Los Angeles shop aren’t only a masterpiece for the mouth; their minimalistic design makes them pieces of modern art. Geometric-shaped bonbons filled with champagne or black sesame are a favorite, as are the jars of elevated chocolate-covered nuts — like dark chocolate-and-cayenne almonds.
After embarking on a culinary career that brought her to some of the best kitchens in the world (including Denmark’s prestigious Noma), Katrina Markoff realized she wanted to continue to produce beautiful food… but no longer wanted the rigorous lifestyle of a chef. Thus, the next chapter of Markoff’s professional life began with her sojourn into chocolate. The confection has proven to be the perfect medium through which Markoff can share her global experiences; Vosges chocolates sing with the flavors of exotic ingredients brought back from her travels. The Black Pearl, for instance, features ginger and wasabi topped with dark chocolate and black sesame seeds. Ever the innovator, Markoff also experiments with super foods, as represented in her Matcha Green Tea & Spirulina Super Dark Chocolate Bar. This antioxidant-packed bar is made with 72% cacao dark chocolate, Matcha green tea and high protein spirulina.
Go to: Vosges
This Boston-area chocolate shop prepares filled chocolates, toffees and the best peanut butter cups you'll ever try, along with assorted high-end chocolate bars. The founding duo, Catharine Sweeney and Elaine Hsieh, love to put their own spin on the chocolates with childhood favorites and ingredients from their hometowns. Try bourbon-splashed caramels, tea-infused ganache and the adorable chocolate hedgehogs. For chocolate overload, the Big Tasty box gives a taste of some of their best chocolates.
Bon Bon Bon
French technique is fused with Detroit ingenuity at this quirky chocolate operation that churns out stellar “bons.” Founder Alexandra Clark was drawn to the concept of bonbons because the confections aren’t defined by such strict rules as other sweets. To start, the shop’s signature confections lack a covering of chocolate on the top, meaning you can see exactly what kind of filling each one features. The innovation extends to the fillings themselves, with a wild variety that is constantly evolving. Michigan’s many international influences have even wound their way into the candies, such as the Coco-Nut Curry stuffed with curry toasted coconut ganache and creamy honey-roasted peanut butter. The Paczki is inspired by the Polish pastry of the same name. Blanketed in donut sugar, this bon features a filling of fried dough ganache, Polish confiture and a sliver of paczki.
Go to: Bon Bon Bon
It’s apropos to find this family-owned chocolate shop in Tulsa’s Brady Arts District, as each handmade confection is a miniature masterpiece. One collection is composed of stunning vegan chocolates that resemble shimmering jewels and come stuffed with caramel fillings in flavors like coconut pecan and blueberry. There’s a chocolate for pretty much every palate, from decadent boozy selections featuring spiked combinations like Mojito Mint and Chardonnay Sea Salt to vibrant white chocolate varieties in Americana-inspired flavors that include apple pie. Patriotism extends beyond the chocolate flavors at this shop, as owner Bill Copeland and his family donate a portion of Glacier’s proceeds to support veterans and military families.
Go to: Glacier Confection
Lucky for chocolate-loving locals, prolific Philadelphia restaurateur Marcie Blaine has a sweet spot for confections. Despite her many restaurant responsibilities, the chef still finds time to create handmade chocolates. Crafted by Blaine and her team in an open kitchen nestled inside the Verde boutique (which Blaine co-owns), the confections feature fresh, indulgent ingredients like cream and butter locally sourced from nearby Lancaster County. The chocolatier shows her Philly pride with a special series that includes truffles emblazoned with the Liberty Bell and the iconic LOVE sculpture. There is even an ode to the city’s signature street food. This chocolate-covered confection is made with peanut butter and pretzel ganache, then printed with a playful depiction of the candy’s namesake: the soft pretzel.
Go to: Marcie Blaine
Craverie Chocolatier Café
The origin story of the chocolates served at this resort cafe starts with a quest to perfect a classic pecan confection. It may be Herbert V. Kohler, Jr.’s enterprising spirit that led him to become the third generation to helm the Kohler Co., but it was his sweet tooth that prompted him to propel the business into the world of chocolate-making. His vision for a craveworthy version of a beloved chocolate resulted in the terrapin, which pulls in smoky caramel and hand-picked pecans. Created in 2007, these candies were the start of the chocolate line now offered at the Craverie Chocolatier Café located in The Shops at Woodlake Kohler. The confections are assembled and adorned in the cafe by Head Chocolatier Anette Righi DeFendi, who is particularly fond of the entrancingly green chocolates known as Emeralds. Available in both milk chocolate and dark chocolate varieties, these jewel-toned creations come stuffed with an assortment of ganache fillings in flavors like mint, lime, green tea and even absinthe.
Go to: Craverie Chocolatier Café
Gearhart’s Fine Chocolates
Charlottesville native Tim Gearhart brings a world of inspiration to his Virginia shop. His former cooking career enabled him to gain both culinary experience and plenty of ideas for his chocolate shop. Those international influences still inform his blends of chocolate, which Gearhart creates by combining local sweet cream and butter with cacao beans sourced from around the world. Innovation is integral to his operation, as Gearhart’s line extends beyond traditional truffles to also encompass signature items like the Ommegang Rosetta Cherry Ale Chocolates. These dark chocolate-dipped confections feature a distinctive ganache infused with a sour cherry ale. Another standout are the peanut butter PUPS, which resemble miniature dachshund heads. They’re made from creamy Virginia peanut butter that’s blanketed in milk chocolate, then dotted with dark chocolate for the eyes and nose, along with toasted almonds for the ears. These darling and delicious pups have a do-good side as well — a portion of every purchase goes to Companions for Heroes.
Go to: Gearhart’s Fine Chocolates
The do-good duo of a Brazilian-born chocolate maker and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran are using chocolate in a rather unexpected way — to help with tropical reforestation. Husband-and-wife team Sarah and Colin Hartman are the minds behind the Harper Macaw craft chocolate factory that opened in Washington, D.C., in 2015. Not only do the enterprising couple purchase all of their cacao beans via direct trade from farms they visit in Brazil near the Atlantic and Amazon rainforests, but they also reinvest a percentage of the proceeds from their chocolate bar sales into the conservation and restoration of those same forests. In addition to single-origin varieties, Harper Macaw’s selection includes unique takes like bourbon barrel-aged dark chocolate. And the operation’s D.C. location provided the perfect impetus for a line that gives a playful wink to the District’s political scene. Developed with design firm Design Army, these partisan bars include selections such as the dark chocolate Tea Party infused with Earl Grey tea and the milk chocolate Filibuster studded with peanuts and pretzels.
The Secret Chocolatier
Chocolate is a shared passion for the family behind this two-locale operation in Charlotte, North Carolina. The love shines through in the handmade chocolates turned out by Chef Bill Dietz, who runs the business with his wife, daughter and son-in-law. Creativity is the key, with varieties like a sweet and spicy blueberry chili bark made with blueberries, ancho chiles and serrano peppers for a lingering tingle. For a true taste of the South, opt for the Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie Bites that pull in Southern pecans, Knob Creek bourbon and golden syrup.
Xocolatl Small Batch Chocolate Micro-Factory
Beans are serious business at Xocolatl, a small-batch chocolatier tucked away inside Atlanta’s famed Krog Street Market. In order to be deemed worthy of being turned into a chocolate bar, each cacao bean that arrives here (usually by way of East Africa or South America) must pass a rigorous inspection by the team. Such exacting standards result in a superb chocolate base for the bars, many of which are then further enhanced by creative flavor combinations. Take the Kissed Mermaids, for instance. This dark chocolate bar is composed of 60 percent cacao, along with coconut milk, a sprinkle of vanilla-infused sea salt and cacao nibs for added crunch. Apple pie was the inspiration for the Americana bar, which features nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice flavors, along with 68 percent cacao.
L.A. Burdick Chocolates
Meticulous care goes into crafting the chocolates at L.A. Burdick, which has locations in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York. High-quality chocolate is coaxed into whimsical shapes, such as the shop’s signature mice and penguins. Each miniature animal is made by hand in a three-day process. The mice come in three flavors: dark chocolate with an orange interior, milk chocolate with a mocha interior and white chocolate with a cinnamon interior. All the critters come dotted with toasted almond ears and adorned with colorful silk tails. The penguins are filled with a whipped dark chocolate and lemon ganache with a hint of limoncello. Inspired by the practices of both Swiss and French chocolatiers, the founders avoid the use of artificial ingredients. The short shelf life of these preservative-free chocolates drives the operation’s charitable component; all leftover chocolates are donated to local shelters and organizations.
A pastry chef by training, Jason Andelman has since crossed over to the dark (chocolate) side. These days, he uses his culinary talents to transform dark and milk chocolates into artfully adorned bonbons that he features at his two Virginia locales. This imaginative chocolatier fills his bonbons with exquisite ingredients such as locally grown mint, passion fruit and ancho chilies, then decorates them with intricate designs. Other signature sweets include the mixology collection, brightly colored bites of chocolates spiked with regionally-sourced spirits and liquors.
Beautifully carved Mayan tiles, tarragon and pineapple truffles, and dark chocolate Buddhas filled with maple syrup caramel are just the start of the delicacies you’ll find at this California chocolate shop. Owner Maya Schoop-Rutten hails from Switzerland and learned the art of chocolate-making in her native country. So conscientious is the confectioner about quality control that she visits the cacao plantations where she sources her chocolate to ensure they meet her rigorous standards. Her travels also serve as inspiration for her unique flavor combinations, which incorporate both ingredients discovered abroad and those found right in her adopted hometown of Santa Barbara.