The Best Chocolate in America
For over a year now, there hasn't been a whole lot happening on West 42nd Street, in New York City. Back in March 2020, one of the busiest, most notorious places in the country very abruptly closed down—historic theaters, modern day honky-tonks, hotels, gleaming office buildings, all suddenly mothballed. From Fifth Avenue through Times Square and on past the Port Authority, the casual observer could count the number of open businesses on one or two hands, if they even bothered to come to Midtown at all.
Looks can be deceiving. Who knows, really, what all was going on behind closed doors, but one thing was for certain—if you knew where to look, even during those earliest, darkest pandemic days and weeks and months, you could land yourself some of the finest chocolate in America.
The shimmering, Bryant Park-facing showcase that had been home to Kreuther Handcrafted Chocolate had closed, never to reopen, and it would be a very long time before the adjoining two-star Michelin restaurant, Gabriel Kreuther, would be able to welcome guests again, but behind the scenes, a talented team helmed by chef Kreuther, his longtime pastry chef Marc Aumont, and head chocolatier Angela Kim Borah were still filling orders not only for delivery in New York, but for shipping to far away places, as well. Intricate bonbons in thrilling flavors like miso, almond and olive, mango con chile were exciting, modern, the perfect distraction. Most of the world may have come grinding to a halt, but the chocolate gods hadn't missed a beat.
Time and again across the country, the story repeated itself, during the last year and counting. From mostly-shuttered market halls to back street workshops, more than a few of America's chocolatiers found themselves busier than ever. Should we be surprised to learn that so many of us found chocolate a comfort, during such a challenging time? Then again, history does repeat itself—after all, it was the Great Depression that gave us so much of the candy we grew up with. An astonishing number of the names we know best today, from Snickers to Three Musketeers to Sugar Babies, came on the market during that time, and stayed put.
With the pandemic dragging on, hard numbers started to come out. According to the National Confectioners Association, which keeps track of these things, consumption of high-end chocolate in America shot up by double digits since March 2020. Chaos today, uncertainty tomorrow? This was chocolate's time to shine.
For those just tuning in, perhaps after years of relatively joyless adulthood and one too many dental bills, the landscape of American chocolate might have been all but unrecognizable. During the last couple of decades, the industry has been very nearly transformed, through an extended period of revolt dating back at least to the turn of the century, with the winds of change blowing even earlier than that, when chocolate makers, those out West in particular, began to ask the question: What is wrong with the chocolate in this country (how much time do you have), and how do we fix it?
Almost overnight, it seems like, we were talking about chocolate the way we talk about wine and coffee—about terroir and tasting notes, about sourcing and sustainability, about direct trade and bean-to-bar manufacturing, about widespread exploitation in the world of cacao-growing, driven by an insatiable demand for commercial cocoa in the wealthiest countries—everything was now on the table. Fast-forward to now, and the scene has grown immensely, with so many new names to remember. So many flashes of brilliance, so many flashes in the pan, so many new classics, so much to mull over.
All these fits and starts later, there are certain things we now understand. We know to ask more—so much more—from American chocolate. We've changed the way we look at the humble bar, represented in many of our minds as a sugary, milky creature often tasting only faintly of actual cocoa, rarely enjoyed on its own, or at all. In a relatively short period of time, the country has managed to make room in its chocolate-loving heart for an astonishing number of exceptional, and exceptionally minimal, bars of dark chocolate, designed to showcase the unique terroir of its point of origin, often with exceptionally high percentages of pure cacao. (To be considered chocolate in America, all you need is a measly 10 percent—many of the bars on this list clock in at over 70.)
The educated consumer will look for a great deal of things from their chocolate bar these days—transparency in sourcing, fair wages for growers, good ingredients. Are there any fillers? (Organic cane sugar and cocoa butter, yes, but most everything else, no, unless it's high quality milk chocolate, which does exist). Above all, is it smooth, rich, and does it taste as great as the price tag might dictate? These are not bars to be scarfed down on the run, but something you savor, broken off in small pieces, allowing it to melt on the tongue, perhaps paired with wine. Strike it right, and chances are you'll never go back to old habits again.
Why so serious, so many chocolate lovers will ask, and they do have a point—we are respecting chocolate more than ever, to be sure, but that doesn't mean we had to give up having fun.
While this list focuses rather narrowly on the finest American chocolate bars, because they are something so richly deserving of celebration, there are more high-quality bonbon and truffle makers out there right now than most of us will be able to sample in one lifetime. The supremacy of the classic drugstore assortment (which still has a place in our hearts, if not necessarily on this list) has been challenged, and very effectively, by a new generation of American chocolatiers. This is something to celebrate, as well.
Acalli Chocolate (New Orleans, Louisiana)
Carol Morse's interest in chocolate was sparked during a summer of getting to know cacao growers in Central America, while her anthropologist husband worked toward his PhD. In a modest West Bank workshop, Morse combines cocoa from her favorite farmers with Louisiana cane sugar, giving her two-ingredient bars a distinctive taste and a unique sense of place.
Amano Chocolate (Orem, Utah)
Before very nearly everybody was out there peddling their own single-origin bars, a pioneering Art Pollard was already running away with the idea (and an outsized share of acclaim) out in the chocolate happy Beehive State. For much of the company's fifteen-year lifespan, if you have been eating chocolate at the legendary Chez Panisse in Berkeley, chances are it came from Amano.
Askinosie Chocolate (Springfield, Missouri)
Whether or not they've earned the right, most makers tout their sourcing credentials these days, but direct trade trendsetter Shawn Askinosie has been an absolute leader since the mid-aughts, establishing close ties (and setting up a profit-sharing model) with his farmers. Dark milk chocolate from the Philippines (a favorite Askinosie source) blended with salted Swedish black licorice makes a truly memorable bar.
Cacao & Cardamom (Houston, Texas)
Don't knock procrastination—it might just change your life. For Annie Rupani, it was the study breaks from LSAT prep, during which she began teaching herself all about chocolate. The one-time Miss Pakistan World would later begin experimenting, combining modern technique with the bold flavors of her upbringing. Wildly colorful bonbons and patterned bars, in flavors like coffee and cardamom, are a visual feast.
Castronovo Chocolate (Stuart, Florida)
One taste is all you need to understand the difference between pure dark chocolate and your typical American chocolate bar; the first is practically a health food, the other a milky-sweet indulgence. Denise Castronovo, who moved into chocolate-making when the last recession left her with plenty of downtime from her consulting business, is one in a growing group of top-level makers successfully fusing the two ideas, creating a high-cocoa content milk chocolate, known in the industry as dark milk. Castronovo's is made with the finest, sometimes very rare, Latin American cacao.
Chequesset Chocolate (North Truro, Massachusetts)
Does Cape Cod have it all, or what? After just a few years in business, Katie Reed and Josiah Mayo's ambitious startup already feels like a summertime (or anytime) essential, covering all the bases, from candies to single-origin bars, and doing so at a remarkable level. Their white chocolate, infused with lemon and thyme, does a great deal of heavy lifting for the much-misunderstood style.
Christopher Elbow Chocolates (Kansas City, Missouri)
A pastry chef by trade, Christopher Elbow always had a serious knack for petit fours, popular enough with guests at his last restaurant job to give him ideas about striking out on his own. Over a decade later, Elbow's highly creative bonbons are some of the most sought-after in the country. Single-origin chocolate bars are as serious as they come.
Chokola (Taos, New Mexico)
For Debi Vincent and Javier Abad, the journey began in Venezuela, both in chocolate-making and in married life. These days, the couple runs an appealing shop just off the Taos plaza, turning out exemplary single-origin, two-ingredient bars, each wrapped in packaging decorated with the work of local artists. The awards have been stacking up of late, but a 75% Bolivia, made with wild harvest cacao, is of special note.
Compartes (Los Angeles, California)
Dating back to 1950, and for generations a favorite of everybody from Marilyn Monroe to Elvis Presley, Jonathan Grahm has taken the family business (where he began work at the age of 15) to new heights, on the strength of some of the most visually appealing, mosaic-style chocolate bars on the market today, wrapped in some of the most appealing packaging. The aesthetic is highbrow, the taste is all fun—a breakfast-worthy bar packed with donut pieces and freshly-ground coffee is a top seller.
Creo Chocolate (Portland, Oregon)
The berry-farming Straub family stumbled into chocolate roughly a decade ago, and never found their way out. A close relationship with a grower of heirloom cacao in Ecuador is the foundation of most, if not all of their very fine, frequently award-winning work, from the purest of bars to melt-on-the-tongue caramels topped with black lava salt.
Cultura Craft Chocolate (Denver, Colorado)
Damaris Ronkanen sources sustainably-harvested white cacao from Tabasco state—at the heart of a region with roughly 4,000 uninterrupted years of growing experience—for her intriguing 70% Mexico bars. Ronkanen's Mexican drinking chocolate and cacao-infused Cafe de Olla blend were inspired by childhood visits with family in Puebla.
Dick Taylor Chocolates (Eureka, California)
Inspired by a new generation of makers changing the face of chocolate, woodworkers Adam Dick and Dustin Taylor brought the revolution home to remote Humboldt County back in 2010, quickly making a name for themselves with top-quality single origin, two-ingredient bars. Their black fig bar is something of an industry legend by now, and the drinking chocolate is top notch.
Eclat Chocolate (West Chester, Pennsylvania)
Some of the country's most intricate bonbons—caramels infused with calvados, truffles made with rare, Peruvian Nacional cacao—can be found at the masterful Christopher Curtin's workshop west of Philadelphia, but don't miss the crowd-pleasing bars, milk or dark, filled with crunchy Pennsylvania Dutch-style pretzels made in nearby Lancaster County. eclatchocolate.com
EH Chocolatier (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
Pure, dark chocolate is already vegan, and these days you can find the bar of your dreams at most every maker on this list. Near-perfect vegan truffles? That's another matter. This woman-owned operation finds a sweet balance with delicate vegan meltaways that will seduce very nearly any skeptic.
Eldora Chocolate (Albuquerque, New Mexico)
Money man turned chocolate guy Steve Prickett came up like so many makers on this list, tinkering at home in his spare time; fast forward a few years and he's picking up serious awards for his well-sourced, single-origin bars. A flair for distinctive local flavors—mole spice, piñon, chiles—makes Eldora's inclusion bars (industry speak for bars with stuff added to them) uniquely New Mexico.
Fran's Chocolates (Seattle, Washington)
Maybe you're looking to trace the origins of new wave American chocolate, or perhaps you're merely hunting for some of the best chocolate in America; either search may well lead you to Fran Bigelow, who set up shop in the early 1980s, pioneering notions of fair trade and sustainability. President Obama's love of the smoked sea salt caramels is by now well-documented.
French Broad Chocolate (Asheville, North Carolina)
Dan and Jael Rattigan learned at least two things from their years living on an abandoned cacao farm in coastal Costa Rica—one, they weren't beach people. The other was that they really wanted to make chocolate. After more than a decade in business, their single-origin bars are some of the nicest—pure, but lush—in the South.
Fruition Chocolates (Shokan, New York)
Some of the most elegant chocolate bars in the country right now come from Bryan and Dahlia Graham's relatively modest operation in the rustic Catskill Mountains. From beautifully minimal single-origins (a citrus-tart Madagascar Sambirano) to a series of exceptional dark milks (Peru Marańon, in particular), each bar is as rich and smooth as the last.
Kreuther Handcrafted Chocolate (New York, New York)
Gabriel Kreuther's eponymously named restaurant is very likely the only two-star Michelin establishment ever to grace West 42nd Street; in collaboration with restaurant pastry chef (and long-time pal) Marc Aumont, Kreuther is turning out some of the city's most exquisite chocolates.
Buy it: Kreuther Handcrafted Chocolate, Chef's Selection, $99 at goldbelly.com
Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates (Sacramento, California)
fter honing her skills in faraway places like Chicago and New York, Ginger Elizabeth Hahn returned west to open her dream atelier, fusing European style with a seasonal, cheerful California aesthetic. The result is one of the sunniest—and still, quite serious—chocolate shops on this list. Everything feels fresh and fun.
Goodnow Farms Chocolate (Sudbury, Massachusetts)
Subtle notes of apple cider, maple syrup, and rye whiskey give the obsessively sourced, delicately flavored bars at this family outfit on a historic New England farm a distinct sense of place. Tom and Monica Rogan started out in the trade just a little over five years ago, but have already managed to comfortably secure a place for themselves right near the head of the pack.
Guittard Chocolate (San Bruno, California)
Lyon-born Etienne Guittard came to California dreaming of gold, striking it rich not in the Sierras, but in San Francisco, where he founded what would grow to become one of the longest-running makers in the country. Four generations later, the family-owned company remains a trusted friend to bakers and chocolatiers (large and small), as well as lovers of a fine dark bar, and one of the finest drinking chocolates available at your local supermarket.
Harper Macaw (Washington, D.C.)
With a strong focus on cacao grown in Brazil—co-founder Sarah Hartman is Brazilian by birth—this bean-to-bar maker has become a standout in the nation's capital, emphasizing direct trade with their growers and partnering with organizations that work tirelessly to protect and restore the rainforest.
Indi Chocolate (Seattle, Washington)
Last spring, with the historic Pike Place Market all but silent, this relatively recent arrival was still humming, producing some of the city's best chocolate, something you don't say lightly in a town like Seattle. Erin Andrews started out just over a decade ago, moving into the market's long-awaited extension in 2017; Indi's direct trade, single-origin bars ought to have your attention.
Jacques Torres Chocolate (New York, New York)
From orange slices to macadamia nuts, there's very little one of the most famous makers on this list (he's the head judge on Netflix's Nailed It) won't cover in chocolate. After a high-profile career as a pastry chef, the France-born Torres launched New York City's first artisanal bean-to-bar operation back in 2000, well ahead of trend.
Buy it: Jacques' World Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies, 12-pack, $70 at goldbelly.com
Kahkow (Brooklyn, New York)
Think of this Williamsburg shop and cafe like an Apple Store, except the product line being showcased, ever so proudly, is cacao grown in the Dominican Republic. Operated by one of the country's largest cacao growers and exporters, the chocolate made here is about as direct trade as you will find.
K+M Chocolate (Napa Valley, California)
A partnership between Thomas Keller and one of Italy's most revered olive oil producers (Armando Manni) has yielded, with chocolatier Chi Bui at the helm, some seriously beautiful bars, each finding the perfect balance between obsessively-sourced single-origin chocolate and an olive oil prized by chefs around the world.
Buy it: K+M Chocolate Bar Signature Set, $119 at goldbelly.com
LetterPress Chocolate (Los Angeles, Chocolate)
With nearly twenty single-origin bars available as of this writing, Corey and David Menkes (who started making chocolate in their apartment less than a decade ago) continue to clearly demonstrate a serious passion for sourcing, equalled only by their talent for the finished product, often created with nothing more than a bit of organic unrefined cane sugar. The distinctive Ghana Ashanti—in 100%, 70%, and dark milk—is far from your average single-origin.
Lonohana Estate Chocolate (Honolulu, Hawaii)
The one state where following the bean-to-bar ethic doesn't require so much as a crosstown commute also happens to be one of those rare places in the world where cacao growers produce their own chocolate for sale—a 14-acre farm on Oahu's North Shore is the source and inspiration for some of the finest all-Hawaiian chocolate on the market, made in very small batches.
Madhu Chocolate (Austin, Texas)
Harshit Gupta and Elliott Curelop source quality cacao from the Tumaco region of Colombia—a favorite among some of the most accomplished makers on this list—and then go wild with the flavors, drawing on Gupta's Indian childhood for inspiration. Saffron, black pepper from Kerala, cloves, and coriander all make welcome appearances.
Markham & Fitz Chocolate (Bentonville, Arkansas)
Lauren Blanco and Preston Stewart came to chocolate from two very different backgrounds, cultural anthropology, and chemistry, but however they got here, it's safe to say they have arrived, in all senses of the word. Imaginative, beautifully-packaged bars like the Brain Food, an 85% Dominican Republic packed with berries, nuts, acai, and maca root, have managed to make quite the impression, in a relatively short period of time.
Maverick Chocolate (Cincinnati, Ohio)
In 2014, after a career as a mechanical engineer in the aviation industry, Paul Picton launched headlong into an entirely new phase of life—realizing his dream of becoming a chocolate maker. Ably assisted by his family, Picton is turning out some exceptional single-origin bars, recently a relatively rare (at least on the mainland) 100% Hawaiian, sourced from the Big Island's Mauna Kea Estate. (Catch it if you can.)
Milla Chocolates (Los Angeles, California)
American chocolate has improved by leaps and bounds, but most domestic makers have yet to attempt the level of aesthetic taken for granted in cities like Paris and Barcelona, where the shop experience is typically fussed-over as much as the product. Chocolatier Christine Sull Sarioz comes from a background in the fine and decorative arts; with designer husband Goktug, she has created one of the country's most astonishing boutiques, filled with equally beautiful (and exquisitely packaged) chocolate. Seasonal citrus bars in flavors like Meyer lemon and blood orange are almost too pretty to tear apart.
Monsoon Chocolate (Tucson, Arizona)
Adam Krantz's chile mango, hibiscus caramel, and mesquite-smoked whiskey infused bonbons practically leap out at you with their sense of place. As Southern Arizona's most accomplished chocolatier, Krantz has proven himself wonderfully versatile, garnering impressive notices for nicely-packaged bars as well, including one from Madagascar's Sambirano Valley, a particularly sought-after source.
Patric Chocolate (Columbia, Missouri)
The type of success this small company has enjoyed since launching fifteen years ago typically leads to serious growth, but founder Alan "Patric" McClure, who spent one very influential year in France before starting his business, has been perfectly happy to keep things small. As a result, some of the country's most award-winning chocolate is also some of the most difficult to find, released in small batches (and available through the web site) whenever McClure finds the time.
Potomac Chocolate (Occoquan, Virginia)
Back in 2010, Ben Rasmussen turned his Northern Virginia basement into a chocolate laboratory, transitioning relatively quickly from enthusiast to one of the best bean-to-bar makers in the DMV. Impeccably-sourced two-ingredient bars are the main offering from this diminutive operation, but Rasmussen has lately been tinkering with the notion of a better kind of milk chocolate, with considerable success.
Raaka Chocolate (Brooklyn, New York)
From advocacy for increased transparency in the supply chain to a unique specialty in unroasted dark chocolate, everything about New York City's best bean-to-bar manufacturer speaks to a passion for grabbing the consumer by the lapels and bringing them as close to the source as possible without actually forcing them onto a plane. A three-bar springtime collaboration with the New York Botanical Garden is well worth seeking out.
Recchiuti Chocolates (San Francisco, California)
Over nearly a quarter century, Michael and Jacky Recchiuti have grown one of the country's finest chocolate shops from farmers' market pop-up to renowned producer of some of the most elegant truffles being made this side of the Atlantic. Their Black Box collection—16 pieces, in delicate flavors like bergamot tea and tarragon grapefruit—is the perfect gift for somebody (very, very) special.
Ritual Chocolate (Park City, Utah)
Rescued from a barn in Germany where it had been mothballed for decades, an antique conche (the modern chocolate maker's must-have tool, invented by one Mr. Lindt in Zurich, back in the 1800s) appears to have been something of a good luck charm for this high-elevation, highly-decorated chocolate maker. A lavender and juniper berry bar tastes like a warm summer day in the Wasatch Range.
Seahorse Chocolate (Bend, Oregon)
Every now and then, in the age of the two-ingredient bar, one will come along and fool you into thinking that you're being put on—the award-winning Honduras at this spunky, single-origin maker east of the Cascades hints so urgently at the likes of toffee and brown sugar, some tasters have been all but convinced these are actual ingredients. Terroir—it's a beautiful thing.
Sees Candies (South San Francisco, California)
Founded a century ago in Los Angeles by a family of Canadian expats, this West Coast institution (proudly owned by Warren Buffett, since 1972) produces, hands down, the finest classic assortments widely available in the fifty states, made with quality Guittard chocolate and California-grown nuts. Fun fact: When Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance were rehearsing for the famous I Love Lucy chocolate factory episode, they worked at See's to learn the tricks of the trade.
Solstice Chocolate (Murray, Utah)
On the relatively crowded playing field of Utah chocolate making, DeAnn Wallin is well-known not only for her strong commitment to seeking out the finest single-origin cacao, and going everywhere from India to Ghana to Madagascar to get it, but also for the end result—some of the smoothest, most deliciously accessible bars of their kind on the market.
Taza Chocolate (Somerville, Massachusetts)
After falling for the traditional style, stone-ground chocolate he tasted in Mexico, Alex Whitmore apprenticed with a miller in Oaxaca in order to learn how to hand-carve his own granite mill stones. A decade and a half later, this fair trade-pioneering company's Mexican-style chocolate discs—100% organic—are some of the finest around, making for a memorable drinking chocolate experience.
Theo Chocolate (Seattle, Washington)
First in the country to be certified both organic and fair trade, this powerhouse brand—you'll find their bars on shelves across the country—is not only serious about sustainability, but committed to accessibility as well, offering some of the best-priced bars on this list, along side a whole line of amusing (and delicious) creations like peanut butter and jelly cups.
Valerie Confections (Los Angeles, California)
From serious-times single-origin bars to big-fun bittersweet champagne truffles, pastry chef and chocolatier Valerie Gordon has this uncanny knack for doing it all, and very well at that. Whether you're in the market for a handful of almond fleur de sel toffee, or an elegant grand assortment, you are in exceptionally capable hands here.
Vosges Haut-Chocolat (Chicago, Illinois)
Well before the current reinvention trend began, Katrina Markoff was pushing at the boundaries of American chocolate, packing bars full of bacon, sea salt, or chili peppers. Decades later, the offerings from Vosges are imaginative as ever, and equally sustainable—the company operates from a Platinum LEED-certified facility in Chicago, and recently planted its first crop of cacao in Belize.
Buy it: Dark Chocolate Truffle Collection, 16 pieces, $49 at goldbelly.com
Wildwood Chocolate (Portland, Oregon)
Producing some of the most visually-appealing chocolate bars in the country right now—there's a reason they're packaged in clear wrappers—this bite-sized outfit that you don't need to be all things to all people, in order to be successful at chocolate, or to win a slew of awards. Just a handful of flavors are offered, from delicate caramel and fennel pollen to the kids-of-all-ages friendly Texas pecan brittle.
Wm. Chocolate (Madison, Wisconsin)
Starting with a series of kitchen experiments in 2015, William Marx has proven himself as one of the most skilled practitioners of the bean-to-bar method in the Upper Midwest right now. From sourcing to packaging, everything is as close to 100% sustainable as possible.
Xocolatl Small Batch Chocolate (Atlanta, Georgia)
After being spoiled by the truly bean-to-bar chocolate culture they discovered during an extended stay in Costa Rica, Elaine Read and Matt Weyandt filled their suitcases with cacao and came home to learn how to make chocolate; over the better part of a decade, their micro-sized Krog Street Market operation has grown to become one of the region's most important chocolate makers.
Zak's Chocolate (Scottsdale, Arizona)
Rare is the chocolatier that attempts to do absolutely everything completely from scratch; hobbyists gone pro Maureen and Jim Elitzak take pride in doing all of the work themselves, from sorting ethically-sourced single-origin beans to wrapping the often award-winning bars for sale. Their not-to-be-missed (even if you're a major skeptic) white chocolate is made with just three ingredients—house-pressed cocoa butter, whole milk, and organic cane sugar.