Truth be told, there’s never a bad time to wax lovingly about (or consume vast amounts of) chocolate. But with Valentine’s Day approaching, February seems to be a particularly appropriate month to pay serious tribute to the cacao bean in its many rendered forms, from truffle to bar and everything in between. But when it comes to counting down the country’s best chocolates, you won’t find any convenience store chocolates on this list.
For honest-to-goodness artisan chocolate, we’re going straight to the source: the chocolate shops that only deal in the kind of delectables made from scratch and with lots of love. So as you prepare for the most chocolatey of holidays (Nielsen estimates Americans purchase approximately 58 million pounds of chocolate in the days leading up to February 14th), consider satisfying your sweet tooth at one of our picks for America’s 10 Best Chocolate Shops. —By Jennifer M. Wood
Located: New York, NY (multiple locations)
A real-life Willy Wonka, master pastry chef Jacques Torres realized his lifelong dream of becoming one of the first U.S. artisans to create a line of made-from-scratch chocolate when he opened his first “workshop” in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood in 2000. Today the man better known as “Mr. Chocolate” boasts five retail locations throughout New York City and even a seasonal ice cream shop next to his original Brooklyn outpost. But Torres has got a lot more to offer than boxes of assorted chocolates; truffles (some of them champagne-filled), candy puzzles and plaques, hot chocolate, chocolate chip cookies and milk chocolate-covered Cheerios are just a few of the unique concoctions you’ll find here (while more adventurous palates may like The Wicked Bar, a candy bar spiked with ancho and chipotle).
Located: Walpole, NH; Cambridge and Boston, MA; New York, NY
In the pastoral town of Walpole, New Hampshire, L.A. Burdick Chocolate’s namesake proprietor, Larry Burdick, has been crafting a catalog of chocolate goodies the old-fashioned way: by hand! Utilizing only the finest beans from around the world (think Switzerland, France and Venezuela), the chocolatier’s four east coast shops are jam-packed with an assortment of chocolate confections, from bars to birthday cakes. But their signature chocolate mice—which are as adorable as they are delicious—hit on every tastebud; the dark mice include a whipped orange inside, the milk chocolate mice are filled with mocha and the white mice are flavored with cinnamon and port. (Penguins, honeybees and chocolate bunnies round out the gastronomic zoo.)
Located: More than 200 locations nationwide; six international locations in Hong Kong, Japan and Macau
Not a whole lot has changed about See’s Candies since Charles See started producing his mother Mary’s recipes for public consumption more than 90 years ago. Sure, they’ve grown from a single-store operation in Los Angeles to more than 200 locations worldwide, but when it comes to the chocolate-making process, See’s is still doing things Mary’s way. Which means they’re making chocolate with only the finest and freshest ingredients and making sure there are no preservatives added. Today, See’s offers more than 100 varieties of candies and chocolates, which can be purchased online or at one of their many, many retail locations. The stores keep the old-school candy shop vibe happening with their iconic black and white floors and decor. If it ain’t broke...
Located: San Francisco, CA
What is New American Chocolate? According the masters at TCHO (pronounced like “choh!,” as the T is silent), it means “bringing new thinking to an ancient food to create an exquisitely modern, and uniquely American experience, in much the way that the upstart Napa Valley changed people’s perception of American wine.” Obsessive in the best way possible, these chocolate makers have a hand in every stop of the candy-making process, “from bean to bar,” and regularly engage their rabid fanbase for ideas and feedback. Fruity, Nutty and Citrus are just a few of the flavor varieties you’ll find at TCHO’s flagship San Francisco store (where visitors can take daily tours of the factory); they can also be found in more than 300 specialty food stores across the country, including Whole Foods and more than 5,000 Starbucks cafes.
Located: New York, NY (multiple locations); Las Vegas, NV; Japan; Korea
Part bakery and part chocolate shop, third generation French pastry chef François Payard’s 13 eateries, which span from New York to Japan, offer sweets lovers a totally immersive experience. Born in Nice, France, Payard learned the baking trade at the foot of his grandfather, owner of the acclaimed Au Nid des Friandises on the French Riviera. After being named The James Beard Foundation’s “Pastry Chef of the Year” in 1995, the chef got serious about realizing his childhood dream of opening his own patisserie; today, this means a wonderland of wall-to-wall sweets and sweet-themed accessories (think candles), including a signature line of hot chocolate, givrettes and an old-fashioned pate a tartiner (a milk chocolate spread).
Located: Brooklyn and Manhattan, NY
Brooklyn-based brothers Rick and Michael Mast may be relatively new to the chocolate game, having established their factory and tasting room in 2007. But they’re certainly making up for lost time with an extensive line of American craft chocolate bars that are meant to be savored and pondered in the same way one might contemplate a fine wine. The brothers are creating complex flavors with the help—and addition—of their specialty food and farm partners, including Anderson Almonds, Stumptown Coffee and Crown Maple Syrup. The result is a line of candy bars boasting such unique components as biodynamic almonds and dried serrano peppers.
Located: Salem, MA
In the picturesque—and sometimes spooky—city of Salem, Massachusetts, the talented candymakers at Harbor Sweets have been hand-making some of New England’s most charming artisan chocolate since 1973. Taking a cue from its waterfront locale, Harbor Sweets’ best-known creations are its Sweet Sloops, a delectable collection of sailboat-shaped sweets, with a boat made of almond butter crunch, a white and dark chocolate mainsail and jib and a bit of pecan spindrift washing over its sides. Available at fine food and gift stores in 20 states, the company’s flagship store remains the very same red brick building in Salem where it all started 40 years ago.
Located: Burlington, VT
On the scenic shores of the lake for which it’s named, Lake Champlain Chocolates in Burlington, Vermont has been adding some local flavor to its Belgian chocolate-based confections for three decades, utilizing such ingredients as Vermont cream, sweet butter, maple syrup, honey, fruits and nuts in its vast array of small-batch, all-natural chocolates, which contain no preservatives, extenders or additives. (See, chocolate can be good for you!) In addition to its flagship store in Burlington, Lake Champlain Chocolates can be found at specialty food and gift stores across the country, including Whole Foods Markets.
Located: Fort Myers and Naples, FL
The confectioners at Norman Love take an artist’s approach to their culinary endeavors, aiming to make each chocolate a one-of-a-kind creation. Using only the highest quality ingredients, Norman Love Confections frequently (and pleasantly) surprise with deliciously unexpected flavors and aromas. For Valentine’s Day, they offer a charming line of heart-shaped candies, including Berry Kiss (where white chocolate covers pureed strawberries and a white chocolate yogurt ganache) and a peach melba-inspired Peachy Keen Kiss. With plenty of accolades to their credit, Norman Love counts Oprah Winfrey as one its biggest fans.
Located: New York, NY
As with his famed fashion line, master designer Giorgio Armani pays meticulous attention to every detail of Armani/Dolci, his very own line of chocolate, which is sold online and in an elegant chocolate shop that sits above Armani’s flagship Fifth Avenue store on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The main attraction—besides the expertly designed and packaged goodies, which are wrapped in red lacquer paper and grosgrain ribbon—are the two dozen types of pralines, include a dark chocolate variety created in honor of St. Valentine (which is filled with passion fruit cream and decorated with a tiny red heart).
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