A New York-based friend yesterday asked me, what were the best chocolates you have had?
Knowing that I’m a chocaholic, her bets were on my well-trained global palate of a picky addict. Mind me, these two do not contradict. Yes, I need my daily square of a dark, preferably a super-dark, minimally flavoured (no vanilla, bacon, coconut or potato chips, pretzels, gummy bears et al in my bar of chocolatey indulgence, but cracked cocoa nibs or a pinch of salt are fine as they enhance the taste of the cocoa), ideally single origin chocolate. I’m a choco snob. I don’t need it paleo, sugar-free, gluten-free and whatever is trendy in the particular period imbibing fashion into taste, but it has to be balanced, truly artisanally made (fine-tuned not just self-pronounced chocolate craftsmen as it so often happens in America), tasting of its origin and smooth.
Kids fun treats versus serious chocolate for adults
I have tried some weird chocolates in America. Fernet, pop rocks, potato chips, dehydrated ramen noodles and bacon just did not impress me in chocolate. Those made in LA were supercharged with magic energy, and overpriced as such. I went as far as to visiting a cocoa plantation on Oahu, Hawaii. Waialua Estate Hawaii grown cocoa though was not great enough for the stiff competition on the US-made market. Madre Kokoleka, also Hawaii-grown was better. All my choices below were transparently and directly sourced from small cocoa farms. All are focused on dark chocolate.
Back to my inquisitor, she was about to open a new cafe in SoHo hunting for extraordinary delectables that could enhance the experience. Adding only the best chocolates into her inventory would only do her business good. Who is not tempted by trying that beautifully packaged chocolate near the checkout counter?
Often, I succumb. At the ABC carpets and home mecca of aesthetic hedonism on Manhattan, they savvily line the cashiers with superb chocolate offerings. Wholefoods does it too, but their palate is not as fine. Whether I am getting yet another tea cup into my collection, buying dining accessories or a cookbook in the ABC’s kitchen department, I always sneak in one or two bars into my shopping basket. Here, I buy some of the best chocolates made in America. The choice is limited, but impeccably curated.
The sweet friends of chocolate
The best chocolates made in America as elsewhere rely on the best ingredients. Traditionally, the Aztecs did not sweeten their xocolatl, a pinch of chilli did it. From colonial tastes to modern chocolate, sweetness replaced pungent kick in chocolates.
In general, cane sugar pairs better with chocolate than any other ‘natural’ sweetener. If they use organic, unrefined cane sugar I feel better about my sweet indulgence, but the taste does not change much. I’m not a fan of granulated sugar in Modica-style Italian chocolates. Honey is too much for chocolate, plus its consistency makes a smooth chocolate impossible. Local maple sugar sweetened Nohmad American chocolate just tastes of maple and salt, the cocoa got lost in translation.
Stevia sucks, its herby flavor profile undercuts the taste of the chocolate, so I better just brew a tisane from it. Maltitol is most frequently used by the best European chocolatiers from the Belgian Pierre Marcolini, through the French Patrick Roger and Alain Ducasse, to the Swiss Laderlach. It’s the most neutral artificial sweetener suitable for diabetics.
I can do with the brown, unrefined coconut sugar that HU, the paleo den on the 5th Avenue adds into their organic house-ground cacao bars. These Hu Chocolate treats are perfect post-workout as most include nut butters, some even puffed quinoa into their refined-sugar, GMO, etc. -free bars. Still, I prefer the simple 70% cacao and the signature Salty Chocolate, either exuberant with gentle caramel notes. Their ‘wild’ marketing reminds me of Antidote and the dark Jungle peanuts chocolate by Cocoa Parlor.
The best chocolates made in America now
On the other side of that famous steel bridge, in Brooklyn, Fine & Raw brews probably the best hot chocolate I have ever had (even better than in Europe). A dense, deep, dark cup of coconut sugar sweetened pleasure. Their Chocolate Almond or Hazelnut Butter spread aren’t only better than Nutella, but organic, raw (not overheated), refined sugar and artificial preservative-free. Only pink salt and refrigeration after opening keep it for longer. Well, no need for an extended shelf life as this small jar will be licked through within days. Their mini chocolate bars are handy for that in my hand-back rescue on the go. They sell impeccable truffles in their factory in Bushwick too.
Whisky and chocolate? I spoke of my purist approach to chocolate, but when you just use the barrels in which the whisky was aged, then I’m not against. You can tour the industrial-cool manufacture of Cacao Prieto in Red Hook, and I wholesomely recommend it. I booked tickets for two, taking my German friend and she loved it. The Orchid scented chocolate is the rare flavoured bar that I enjoy as much as their pure 72% Criollo cocoa from Dominican Republic. A safety warning: there is a whisky tasting included in the experience. Take Lyft, Uber or taxi back, the metro is a far walk away.
Also on the hipster part of New York, Raaka produces small-sized single-origin bars, some aged in second use wooden casks from bourbon ageing. The depth of the wood in the 82% Kokoa Kamili, Tanzania translates into the “unroasted” chocolate from bean to bar is made in factory in Red Hook and can be tasted during their factory tours during the weekends. They also make a powerful 100% cocoa bar from the same origin. “We simply love the bold, bright, and fruitier flavor of unroasted cacao beans.” They also use maple sugar, organic yacón root in addition to cane sugar in some bars. In the Pure Cacao & Strawberry & Coconut, they do not add any sweetener at all, just the fruit sugar.
Traveling South, in California, a duo of musicians ADAM DICK & DUSTIN TAYLOR composed the organic Dick Taylor superb, single origin chocolates. My favourite is Belize, from the Toledo District, where the Maya Mountain Cacao co-op works with local Mayan farmers, and the Guatemalan hand harvested Fleur du sel flaky sea salt by Bitterman Salt CO. in 73% NORTHERNER signature house blend. Unrefined cane sugar is blended into each bar.
Sustainable sourcing and trading of chocolate
Harper Macaw directly trade cocoa to Washington D.C. from South America, mainly Brazil and Dominican Republic. Sustainable forestry and maintenance of the cacao trees are at the heart of conservation in the Amazon as well as the remains of the rainforest along the Atlantic coast. Atop of that, Harper Macaw reinvests into planting the Reserva Serra Bonita on the Northeast edge of the Atlantic rainforest. My favorite is 77% COCOA Single Estate from Tomé Açu grown in Pará, Brazil. Also the organic 80% Oko Caribe from Dominican Republic aged in Rock Creek Rye whiskey barrels from One Eight Distilling company is very interesting. They also make Bourbon and Bordeaux (wine) barrel aged bars. Organic cane sugar sweetens all of their creations. Other sustainably commendable brand is Villakuyaya, sourcing from small family farms in Ecuador and Cocoa Parlor from Dominican Republic.
I had some great chocolates made in Oregon such as Woodblock Chocolate, but I found the above choices overall better. Further, there are some other great chocolates sold in the US, but they were not made in the country, thus not eligible as my made in America. Strangely, I did not include more California chocolates, where too much has been focused on superfoods over the quality of the pure product. I have tried hundreds, literally, but never returned to most of them.
Scaling up has also been detrimental to some pioneers in pure, high quality, bean to bar chocolate producers in America. Dandelion in San Francisco expanded as the quality dipped. Mast chocolates over-crafted their bars and a scandal tinted their reputation in America as transparent and honest chocolatiers.
I have not tasted all chocolates ever produced in America, still, I tried more than an average chocolate lover would. My curiosity is insatiable. Feel free to add your personal favorites that you would consider being the best chocolates made in America. There is just one rule for my approval in the comments below. Please, add why you think your choice is superior to others.