Life

Looking For The Best Artisanal Chocolate Makers In America


Going into the kitchen of an artisanal chocolate maker feels a lot like getting the golden ticket to visit Willy Wonka’s factory. You walk in, and it’s like you’ve entered an alternate, more whimsical universe. First, you’re hit with the sweet, floral smell of chocolate, wafting at you from every direction. Then, there are the delightful sight — straight out of a child’s storybook. On one side of the room, trays of pretty, heart-shaped chocolates cool on the counter. On the other, creamy, luxurious chocolate is pouring thickly and continuously into a mixer. It’s especially hard to take your eyes off that fountain of chocolate-y goodness. It’s just begging for you to place your mouth under it like Augustus Gloop. It’s chocolate you wouldn’t mind drowning in.

When I went on a tour, I considered doing just that for a moment, mowing down everyone around me to beeline straight for that hot stream of pure chocolate. I figured I could get my head and hands in for a good 30 seconds before the shocked staff was able to pull me out. Luckily for… well…. all of us, I think, they were prepared for the uncontrollable chocolate lust that must overtake every visitor to their kitchen. A plate of dark, delicate looking chocolates was passed around within seconds of entering.

And as I popped the freshly made chocolate into my mouth, hazelnut flavors giving way to a sweet, cream filled center, I closed my eyes and audibly sighed. I didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world.

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The craft of making chocolate has been around for thousands of years. Even from the start, cultures in the Americas knew they had something nearly divine. Cacao beans were valuable enough to be used as currency, and both the Aztecs and Mayans used chocolate in sacred ceremonies. Though, at the time, chocolate wasn’t quite what we think of today. It was most likely a fairly bitter drink. It wasn’t until Spanish ‘explorers’ (as a Puerto Rican woman, I prefer murderers/slavers over ‘explorers’ but to each his own…) arrived in the 16th century (and took the beans back to Europe) that chocolate was mixed with honey and cane sugar to become the sweeter chocolate taste we know today.

And it wasn’t until the mid 1800’s that chocolate really started to resemble the harder form we think of as ‘chocolate.’ That’s when a Dutch chocolate maker came up with an inexpensive way of squeezing out the cocoa butter from the bean. This led to chocolatiers around the world taking cocoa powder, sugar, and cocoa butter and combining them to make eatable chocolate. Since then, artisans everywhere have worked to craft the perfect combination of these ingredients.

And lest you think of chocolate as a purely Europeon pursuit that migrated to our shores later, you should know that the first chocolate factory on American soil opened in the 1700’s. It’s a product that comes from the Americas, has been hand crafted here for hundreds of years, and has inspired chefs, and chocolatiers for centuries.

These are some of our favorite artisanal chocolate shops and brands in the United States. They are all small businesses that put pride and craft into the art of making one of the most addictive and decadent foods in the world, and they’re definitely all worth a visit ASAP.

So what are you waiting for? Get in your car, quit your job, and go. We highly recommend leaving it all behind, changing your name, and going off the grid to spend the rest of your life drifting from chocolate shop to chocolate shop — no earthly possessions but a trunk filled with chocolate and a stomach filled with…more chocolate. Life is filled with too much responsibility and not enough chocolate, after all.

Fran’s Chocolates (Seattle)

There’s a reason that this Seattle chocolate shop is a personal favorite of President Obama. The family owned business has been hand crafting mouth-watering truffles, salted caramels, and chocolate covered nuts for over 30 years. Obama’s go-to order is their milk chocolate, salted caramels. Apparently, he loves them so much that refuses to share, and the chocolatier makes a special box just for the secret service when the president comes to town. Fran’s also has a commitment to sourcing fairtrade ingredients and is certified with Fairtrade America for their ethical sourcing practices.

Valerie Confections (Los Angeles)

Named best chocolate in Los Angeles by Los Angeles Magazine, this husband and wife duo crafts chocolate out of their shop in downtown LA. They’re known especially for their chocolate-dipped toffees, but also excel in their petits fours, handmade preserves, cakes, and pastries.

The Mast Brothers (Brooklyn)

Mast Brothers colorfully packaged chocolate is surprisingly controversial. Some people love it, others find it average and lacking (our food editor described the texture as “mealy”). But as one of the first bean-to-bar chocolate artisans in during the maker movement, the Brooklyn chocolatiers deserves credit for reinvigorating and jumpstarting an era of handcrafted, better chocolate. Even if other brands have surpassed their bar in taste, it’s worth noting that they were the one of the first chocolate companies to set the bar in the first place.

Vosges Haut-Chocolat (Chicago)

Known for their exotic truffle collections, this Chicago chocolatier uses a multitude of spices, flowers, roots, herbs, and liqueurs to create a unique “around the world” sensory experience in their chocolate. They’re also committed to being green. They use 100 percent renewable energy in their manufacturing.

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Jacques Torres (New York)

The famous chocolate maker’s factory in Brooklyn was already a strange, magical mix of chocolate and one of a kind art pieces, so it makes sense that he recently opened up an interactive museum. Choco-Story New York, The Chocolate Museum and Experience with Jacques Torres is delighting visitors.

Jacques Torres is known for his elaborately visual chocolate creations, but those theatrics don’t take away from his chocolate’s flavor which is downright amazing.

Theo Chocolate (Seattle)

Theo chocolate is not only incredibly tasty, but committed to fair trade and practices. The bean-to-bar chocolate maker was the first certified organic chocolatier in the U.S. They say on their website, that “the choices we make here in Seattle, Washington touch lives across the planet in real and lasting ways. That knowledge, and that responsibility, is what drives us to do things differently, to help make the world a better place.”

Theo’s ethical sourcing and manufacturing helps to counter (just a little bit) chocolate’s fairly unethical, historical start.

John Kelly Chocolates (Hollywood)

This unassuming little chocolate maker is hard to find. For three years I lived pretty much across the street from them, and never knew they were there. But the little shop has been located just off of Sunset Boulevard for over a decade, quietly crafting insanely good chocolate. And once you know they’re there, you’ll make trips back again and again. They not only make incredible chocolate truffle fudge, but their salted caramel chocolates might literally be worth dying for.

Rogue Chocolatier (Massachusetts)

Chocolatier Colin Gasko’s chocolate bars are frequently named the best chocolate in America. Good luck getting some though. The craftsman makes ALL of the chocolate himself and they are nearly always sold out. You have to be on their email list just to find out when a new chocolate is dropping, and then pray you can click ‘buy’ fast enough.

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