The 8 best chocolates in 2021, according to a professional chocolatier
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- Chocolates make a great gift for all sorts of occasions, or you may just wish to treat yourself.
- We had a professional chocolatier with a decade of culinary experience test more than 30 chocolates from 13 brands.
- Our top picks include Bon Bon Bon for truffles, Vosges Haut-Chocolat for gifting, and See’s Candies for nut lovers.
My career revolves around chocolate. I trained at the Culinary Institute of America, pursued further training at the Chocolate Academy, Chicago, and currently work at EHChocolatier, a small-batch artisanal chocolate producer in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In my experience, good chocolate brings joy, conveys love, heals heartache, and forges connections.
To find the best chocolates, I used my background as a chocolatier to research countless high-quality brands known for their reputation in the chocolate industry. Based on consumer reviews and professional writings, I narrowed the list of brands to test to 13 different producers. I sampled more than 30 chocolate products from the 13 top contenders, evaluating appearance, flavor, and texture of the chocolate. You can read more about how we tested here.
These are the best chocolates money can buy, delivered right to your door (or the lucky recipient’s). It doesn’t get better than these. Trust me, I’m a chocolatier.
Here are the best chocolates in 2021
- Best chocolates for gifting: Vosges Haut-Chocolat
- Best truffles and ganaches: Bon Bon Bon
- Best chocolates for caramel lovers: Fran’s Chocolates
- Best chocolates for nut lovers: See’s Candies
- Best bean-to-bar chocolates: Dandelion Chocolate Factory
- Best vegan chocolates: EHChocolatier
- Best hot chocolate: Christopher Elbow Chocolates
- Best chocolate subscription: MonthlyClubs.com Gourmet Chocolate of the Month Club
Updated on 4/29/2021: We updated this guide to better reflect each brand’s seasonal offerings for the spring holidays.
From the stunning packaging to glamorous garnishes to the lingering flavor of luscious chocolate, Vosges Haut-Chocolat makes the perfect gift for anyone and any occasion.
We’ve all been there: in a pinch for the perfect gift but can’t find something quite right. Chocolate is always the answer but the ideal gift needs to offer a variety to account for different preferences. The packaging also needs to feel ultra-special. Opening presents is half the fun and this holds true when it comes to chocolates. When considering options for this category, I looked not only at the quality of chocolates, but for assortments that cater to different occasions, relationships, and personality types.
Vosges Haut-Chocolat offers gift options for anyone, all occasions, and at a wide price range. There’s the “safe bet” gift of hand-formed Champagne Truffles in an ornate round purple box. Or opt for a more occasion-specific item like the spring-themed Petit Nest of Peanut Butter Eggs or Wild Strawberry & Rose Wandering Rabbits. And if you’re looking to go all-out for your college bestie, the Grateful Dead Box, a collection of curated chocolates accompanied by cosmic crystals will surely strike a chord. For someone recovering from ailment or heartache, the Chocolate Alchemy Healer Collection (currently out of stock) will do the trick. A detailed tasting guide outlines the magical properties of each bonbon’s ingredients, along with their celestial significance and zodiac association.
Regardless of which specific chocolate gift is right for the occasion or person, each box comes with an undeniable wow-factor before the recipient has even lifted the lid. The excitement doesn’t end once the gift is unwrapped either. All Vosges chocolates are stunning. In the Chocolate Alchemy Healer Collection (currently out of stock), the geode-like Ceylon Cinnamon Bark is adorned with crystallized violets, and the Damiana Truffle is studded with fuschia and silver cocoa nibs. This chocolatier’s use of shapes, layered components, textures, and variety within one box will be universally pleasing. While many Vosges chocolates feature uncommon ingredients in unexpected combinations, they are in reality very approachable to eat. For instance, I’ll admit that a truffle of Reishi mushrooms and Italian hazelnuts was a bit intimidating to bite into, but it translated into a luscious, umami milk chocolate ganache with an underlying nuttiness that lingered, leaving me wanting more. Each Vosges Haut-Chocolat morsel is truly exciting to bite into, like unwrapping yet another surprise: the gift that keeps giving.
Worth a try:
- Momma Bar, $8
- Yuzu Raspberry Cakes, $22
- Bastet Sacred Hi Vibe Chocolate Collection, $160
The best truffles and ganaches
Bon Bon Bon’s truffles are a treasure trove of fun, inventive flavors; each two-bite bonbon is meticulously and playfully decorated, and wrapped in its own individual box.
Ganache. You’ve seen the word countless times on menus describing chocolate desserts, but few know what the term actually means. Ganache is the decadent combination of cream and chocolate. It’s used to frost cakes, glaze donuts, and most importantly in my book, fill truffles. A traditional truffle is round with a simple chocolate shell or coating of cocoa powder, nuts, or coconut. But the world of ganache-filled bonbons need not end there. Our favorite producer of truffles and ganaches, Bon Bon Bon, is unconventional in its truffles’ shape, use of flavors and textures, and packaging.
When selecting a good truffle, there are a few key qualities to look for: first, it should have a uniform, thin shell enrobing the ganache filling. An overly thick coating of chocolate cracks and smashes the delicate ganache when bitten into. Secondly, it should have a shiny exterior (unless coated in cocoa powder, etc), free of blemishes or white “bloom” (a sign that the chocolate was not treated properly during production or storage). Lastly, inside the truffle should be a silky smooth ganache; grainy ganache is a sign that the filling was poorly made.
Bon Bon Bon, a hip and cheeky producer out of Detroit, hits the mark on all of these and then some. Each truffle is a two-bite masterpiece, delivered in a thin rectangular chocolate shell. Rather than fully enrobing its ganaches, this chocolatier chooses to leave its bonbons topless — a very risqué move. Not only is this visually unconventional in itself, but each bonbon is also adorned with playful garnishes to match its youthful yet adult flavors. For example, the Bour-Bon-Bon-Bon has a layer of rich bourbon ganache topped with whiskey caramel in a dark chocolate shell, appropriately garnished with a glacée orange and dark chocolate “ice cube.” The Sticky Bon has a cinnamon donut ganache topped with a toasted pecan crumble, mascarpone drizzle, and pearl sugar all held in a thin milk chocolate shell, and the Lemon Bar None is a white chocolate cup filled with a zingy lemon custard ganache on top of a layer of shortbread crust, dressed with royal icing and a dusting of powdered sugar.
Bon Bon Bon chooses fresh, local ingredients and packages each ingenious morsel individually in a tiny box, mirroring the care and thought put into each bite you’ll enjoy.
Worth a try:
- Coffee & Donuts bonbon, $3.50 each
- Mustachio bonbon, $3.50 each
- Bour-Bon-Bon-Bon, $3.50 each
The best chocolates for caramel lovers
The caramels from Fran’s Chocolates possess everything a caramel lover seeks in the perfect bite: pull, chew, and just a touch of salt.
Caramels come in all shapes and sizes, firmnesses, colors, degrees of bitterness and butteriness, and with all types of garnishes. A devoted caramel lover will have fervent opinions on how a caramel should be, regardless of its chocolate coating. Setting out to name the best caramel chocolate was no easy task, but I was up to the challenge.
When I bite into a caramel, I first consider its “pull.” In my book, a good caramel should leave a trail of gooey — not runny — confection behind when you pull the candy away from your mouth. It should resist a bit, rather than allow for a clean bite. That being said, you still need your molars intact in order to enjoy a second taste. Like the perfect bagel or pizza crust, a caramel needs to have just the right amount of chew — not too hard, not too soft. Secondly, salt is great in moderation. It highlights the burnt sugar notes that make caramel what it is (burnt sugar) and cuts through the rich, buttery flavor of the confection. However, salt applied with a heavy hand makes for an unpleasant surprise; it stomps out nuanced flavors and tramples on the chocolate coating.
Fran’s Chocolates caramels offer the “pull,” deliberate chew, and strategic salting that a great caramel should possess. Fran Bigelow, founder of Fran’s Chocolates, was inspired by a trip to Paris and has since been dedicated to sharing the joie de vivre philosophy through exceptional confections. This Seattle-based candy producer features Fair Trade certified chocolate to complement, not overshadow, the caramel’s delicate yet luxurious buttery flavor. The uniformity of each morsel and consistency in salting means that each bite will be just as perfect as the last. While you can find chocolate caramels in all sorts of variety boxes, Fran’s Chocolates offers box options totally committed to caramels, revealing its devotion to the craft of caramel chocolates. With your choice of milk or dark chocolate coating, grey salt, smoked salt, or a classic exterior sans salt, the truest of caramel lovers will undoubtedly find what they need.
Worth a try:
- Smoked Salt Caramels, $14
- Gray-Salt Caramels, $14
- Gray & Smoked Salt Caramel gift box, starting at $16
The best chocolates for nut lovers
From classics to creative morsels, See’s Candies knows how to honor the perfect pairing of nuts and chocolate.
From clusters to pralines, turtles to barks, nuts are no strangers to chocolate. They go hand-in-hand and you don’t have to be a nut fanatic to appreciate the pairing. A real nut lover, however, lusts for a chocolate that celebrates the nut, not just accompanies it. The sweet and savory flavors developed from roasting cacao beans make chocolate the ideal “plus one” to any toasted nut. A coating of good chocolate draws out the natural sweetness of almonds, pistachios, and pecans; coaxes the fatty richness of cashews, macadamia nuts, and hazelnuts; and embraces the slight bitterness of walnuts and pine nuts.
See’s Candies, founded in 1921, has a vintage, old timey feel with black and white checkered packaging and classic confections included in its arrangements, such as Walnut Divinity and Dark Chocolate Peanut clusters. It has an entire collection of “Nuts & Chews” for those devoted to nut-bejeweled chocolates. Toffee-ettes, sold in black and white coffee canisters, are small nuggets of Danish butter toffee and roasted almonds coated in milk chocolate and rolled in more crunchy almonds.
See’s also offers less conventional options for the more daring nut enthusiasts that you can put together in your own custom arrangement. Consider the CA Crunch, a flakey brittle center with peanuts and peanut butter enrobed in white chocolate and covered with chopped English walnuts. For the sweet tooth, go for the non-traditional white chocolate covered Cashew Brittle. Looking for something a little more playful and funky? Try the Milk Mayfair, a soft pink-hued center of walnuts, cherries and vanilla, coated with creamy milk chocolate. With a vast assortment of nut-celebrating confections, See’s Candies are the one-stop-shop for any nut lover with a chocolate craving.
Worth a try:
- Nuts & Chews assortment, starting at $43.97
- Toffee-ettes, $34
The best bean-to-bar chocolates
Dandelion Chocolate Factory is the premium vintner of the chocolate world, offering the dynamic chocolate bars with helpful notes to guide you through your tasting experience.
“Bean-to-bar” chocolates are progressively popular among chocophiles; they’re made by small-batch craft producers that manage everything from sourcing the cacao beans to the final touches of processing and flavoring.
San Francisco-based Dandelion Chocolate Factory approaches its processing like a wine maker approaches the production of fine wine. It crafts single-origin chocolate bars, which are made from cacao beans of one variety from one location. Just as soil and climate impact grapes for winemaking, regional terroirs influence the flavors of cacao beans. Dandelion Chocolate’s bars highlight the different beans’ distinctive characteristics.
Not only do Dandelion Chocolate’s bars showcase the nuances of single-origin beans, but they richly represent the art of roasting by offering bars made from cacao of the same harvest but with different roasting profiles. For example, you can purchase a pack of bars made from the same beans, but processed by Dandelion’s Tokyo and San Francisco chocolatiers (currently sold out). Imagine two wines made from the same exact grapes, fermented by two different winemakers. Offering these chocolate bars opens a window of insight to the choco-connoisseur that few producers do.
Each and every chocolate bar from Dandelion Chocolate feels deluxe, wrapped in gold-accented paper with tasting notes you would expect to find on the label of a fine wine. As for the chocolates themselves, Dandelion Chocolate’s bars are superb, offering something for everyone. When seeking chocolate to savor on its own, I look for chocolate that is rich and complex with a pleasant bitterness and melt-in-your mouth smoothness, lacking any waxy residue. So many chocolate producers that make dark chocolate with high cacao percentages toe the line of welcome bitterness and bracing, aggressive harshness. However, even at 70% cacao and beyond, Dandelion Chocolate’s bars are balanced and approachable. Whether you’re a true chocolate aficionado or just someone looking to enjoy a spectacularly tasty treat, Dandelion Chocolate makes the best “bean-to-bar” craft chocolate bars.
If you’re interested in baking, also check out Dandelion’s specially-engineered chocolate chips. Crafted by a Tesla designer, the chips are purportedly the perfect shape and size to create a delicate balance of snap and melt in chocolate chip cookies.
Worth a try:
- Wrapped Three-Bar Gift Set, $35
- Rich & Complex Flavor Picks, $50
- Single-Origin Truffle Collection, $45
The best vegan chocolates
EHChocolatier is not afraid to use flavor, so you won’t miss the dairy in its selection of vegan chocolates.
Vegan chocolate bars are a dime-a-dozen nowadays, seeing as how dark chocolate is innately vegan. But achieving a rich, “creamy” truffle minus the dairy is a whole other feat. Ganache by definition contains cream. Many vegan truffle options out there rely on heavy nut butters for creaminess, which can leave a greasy film behind in your mouth. Others have a thin or gritty texture, or taste lackluster even with the use of fancy, flavorful olive oils.
Full disclosure: I work at EHChocolatier but I also tested and considered five other vegan chocolates for this guide and have sampled many more in my work. None have compared to the Meltaway Collection by EHChocolatier. EH is not afraid to use flavor, so you’ll never miss the dairy. The vibrant Passionfruit bonbon sends you to a juicy tropical oasis in one bite; the jade-toned Matcha chocolate is toasty, grassy, and silky smooth; the Belgian-style Hazelnut Praline meltaway, with bits of caramelized sugar and toasted nuts, is so rich you’ll swear it’s laden with butter. All of the fillings are in perfect balance with the thin veil of bittersweet dark chocolate that enrobes each of them. The bonbons are decorated with vividly-colored cocoa butter patterns to match the exciting flavors they adorn; pink zebra print is paired with sassy, juicy raspberry ganache, while psychedelic blue swirls top a mind-bendingly rich dark chocolate center.
Lest you think I’m biased, I’m not alone in my praise for this collection. The International Chocolate Salon awarded EH gold medals in three vegan categories in 2020: best ingredient combination, best taste, and best flavored chocolate, as well as three silver medals for best texture, most unique, and top vegan chocolate. Food and Wine Magazine named EH’s products among the “Best Chocolates in the US,” while The New York Times, Boston Magazine, and The Boston Globe have also featured positive reviews of this artisan chocolate producer.
Worth a try:
- Vegan Meltaway Collection, $24.50
- Spring Bonbon Collection, $16.50 for six
- Dark Single-Origin Tasting Bars, $16.75
The best hot chocolate
Christopher Elbow’s Drinking Chocolate is grown-up, yet still approachable; the cool older sister to your childhood hot cocoa.
I grew up relishing packets of powdery, saccharine cocoa mix with tiny dehydrated marshmallows. The smell of hot cocoa still brings memories of thawing cold fingers at the ski lodge, family vacations to rustic snowy cabins, and the sound of crackling firewood. Now, I crave unctuous, warm bittersweet sipping chocolate (sometimes with a splash of amaretto). Just as my hot cocoa habits have evolved over the years, so has sipping chocolate over millennia. Originating in Mayan culture, bitter drinking chocolate made its way to Europe and underwent countless adaptations before becoming the sweet, milky beverage we sip today. High-end hot chocolates celebrate the bitter notes of cacao, providing a grown-up sip with a touch of childhood nostalgia in each mug.
Even before adding your choice of schnapps or liqueurs, a haute hot chocolate should be intense and richly flavored. The cocoa’s innate acidity and bitterness should be prominent but palatable. Some chocolatiers add sugar or flavorings such as vanilla beans, peppermint, or espresso powder to their mixes. With single-origin chocolate bars in vogue, many producers are now offering single-origin sipping chocolates as well.
Christopher Elbow, best known for its brightly colored chocolate bonbons, typically offers four hot chocolate options of various flavors and cacao origins, in sleek reclosable tins. (You may find more limited availability as the weather gets warmer.) We tested the Cocoa Noir Dark Drinking Chocolate, the chocolatier’s luscious interpretation of a rich European-style drinking chocolate. Containing just dark chocolate and vanilla bean, this super intense, silky drink has a velvety texture. Its balanced bittersweet chocolate flavor lingers just long enough to leave you craving another sip. With something so decadent, I was satisfied after a small mugful. No marshmallows needed.
Worth a try:
- Cocoa Noir Dark Drinking Chocolate, $19.95
The best chocolate subscription
The Gourmet Chocolate of the Month Club from monthlyclubs.com offers delicious, diverse chocolates with a conscience.
Monthly subscriptions are available for just about anything: flower bouquets, recipe kits, smoked meats, date-night in a box, and yes, you guessed it, chocolate. Subscriptions make a great (albeit pricey) gift that keeps giving. They are also a fun, interactive way to learn more about a specific product through exposure and experience. When searching for the best chocolate subscription, we considered each brand’s selection, how the items are made, the brand’s chocolate sustainability and trade models, and opportunities to learn more about chocolate in the process of enjoying our deliveries.
The Gourmet Chocolate of the Month Club provided through monthlyclubs.com works with professionals at the esteemed Zingerman’s Delicatessen in Ann Arbor, Michigan to offer a curated assortment of chocolates, including both bonbons and bars. Zingerman’s prides itself on a thorough product selection process that sources chocolates from international small-batch chocolatiers. Items are chosen based on quality and creative interpretations. It’s noteworthy and respectable that these chocolates are sourced from eco-friendly, fair-trade producers you can feel good about supporting. Past boxes have even included some of our top picks mentioned above. Best of all, each delivery comes with an educational newsletter containing tasting notes, background reading material, and product information, so you’ll get more out of your subscription than just really really delicious chocolate.
Buy from monthlyclubs.com
What else we tested
- Colorado Cocoa Pod: This bonbon producer offers gorgeous hand-painted, incredibly giftable treats. Well-balanced flavors like Blueberry Cheesecake and Hazelnut Cookie Butter come in playfully themed collections such as the Zodiac Animal box. These chocolates are strikingly pretty and make an excellent choice for all occasions and recipients. However, as a small producer, stock and availability can fluctuate.
- River Street Sweets: We tried both caramel chocolates and nut confections from this brand, which uses old-timey fonts and graphics on its packaging in line with its “homemade southern candies” concept. The classic candies made us nostalgic, but the chocolate used in their candies lacked the depth and richness of other brands we sampled.
- Fruition Chocolate Works: We considered this producer for both its bean-to-bar production and its delicious sipping chocolate. We love that it is committed to a direct-trade model in order to best compensate its cacao farming partners. Fruition offers a handful of single-origin dark chocolate bars, but they were a bit acidic and less distinct in flavor from one another. In addition, they make milk chocolates and flavored bars such as “Hudson Bourbon” and “Brown Butter Milk.” The use of added flavors in the chocolate bars, albeit delicious, made the producer feel like less of a “purist” about the cacao used in the bars. The sipping cocoa was tasty but lacked the intensity we sought for the grown-up, decadent drink.
- Raaka Chocolate: This single-origin bar producer chooses to showcase the fruitier, brighter flavors of raw cacao beans. It’s a hip and unique approach to illustrate cacao’s complexity. However, the boldly flavored bars such as Waffle Cone and Maple Vanilla Crunch (currently unavailable) make it hard to appreciate the innate qualities of the chocolates featured. Raaka also offers a subscription, “First Nibs,” with exclusive access to micro-batch bars. This can be a fun way to try new offerings from Raaka, but we prefer a subscription that offers other types of chocolate beyond bars.
- L.A. Burdick: We seriously considered this producer’s eleven sipping chocolates, seven of which are made from single-origin cacaos, for the “Best Hot Chocolate” title. Burdick’s offers something for everyone, including a white drinking cocoa. Each package comes with an adorable little whisk, but the paper bag packaging was messy and a bit cumbersome. Otherwise, these cocoas are worthy of a try.
- Lake Champlain Chocolates: This Vermont-based chocolatier offers monthly subscriptions showcasing an assortment of its numerous bonbons and truffles. From Almond Butter Crunch to Milk Chocolate Macadamia Nut Caramel, its confections are delightful. However, this subscription provides no exposure to other brands.
- Bar and Cocoa: The Dark Chocolate Club subscription delivers a curated collection of four full-sized bean-to-bar dark chocolates of different origins each month. We love that the company uses minimalist eco-friendly packaging in order to “showcase chocolate makers who practice ethical and direct trade, and support eco-conservation and sustainable farming,” but we were hoping to sample chocolate in many forms besides just bars in our subscription.
- Kekao Chocolate Purveyors: This monthly subscription offers four to five chocolate bars each month. While not necessarily of single-origins, it sources from assorted brands. We wish there was an opportunity to try chocolate in other forms besides bars, such as truffles and bonbons.
- Jackie’s Chocolate: This producer offers a monthly chocolate subscription, delivering a box of 15 chocolate bonbons to your home each month. We liked the idea of sampling an assortment of products from chewy caramels to chocolate-coated fluffy marshmallows, but were looking to try chocolates from multiple producers through our subscription.
Our testing methodology
While I’m currently employed as a chocolatier, I’ve lived previous lives in both scientific research (I originally studied zoology) and recipe development. I’m a scientist at heart and a true chocolate-fanatic, so my testing approach for this research was both methodical and thorough. My education in the hard sciences, the savory culinary arts, and finally fine chocolatier-work has all been in preparation for the daunting task of hand-selecting the very best chocolates. I cut no corners and left no truffle unturned.
I started by reading about top brands in the chocolate industry, then taste-tested countless confections, evaluating their flavors, textures, and presentation. In all, I sampled more than 30 products from 17 brands for this guide. Here is the criteria I considered:
Flavor: The growing conditions of the cacao used to make any given chocolate impact its flavor, which can range from sweet and fruity, to nutty and toasty, to bitter or acidic. These can all be used effectively in different applications. However, chocolate that has gone bad or rancid will have a soapy or cheesy flavor. I looked for balanced, prominent cocoa notes with no off flavors.
Texture: I considered the texture of all the chocolates. Correctly tempered and stored chocolate shouldn’t melt in your fingers; it should be firm and “snap” when broken or bitten into and melt smoothly on the tongue.
Packaging and presentation: First and foremost, I looked for packaging that protects the chocolates it contains. Different art and decor appeal to different preferences and purposes, but no one wants broken or smashed confections. After that, I also considered how the packaging and presentation contributed to the overall impact of the chocolates, considering many give chocolates as gifts for special occasions.
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