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This Valentine’s Day, reach for a better box of chocolates

Clockwise, from top left: Lagusta’s Luscious (New Paltz, N.Y.), Midunu (Accra, Ghana), Chocolate Secrets (Dallas), Bonbonbon (Detroit). (Scott Suchman for The Washington Post/food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)

This post has been updated.

It’s time to treat yourself to a box of chocolates. But not every box of bonbons or truffles is worth your time or money. Although it’s a common commodity, exceptional chocolate doesn’t just taste better, it’s better for growers, those who harvest the pods, the roasters, all of the producers, confectioners and the planet.

Over the past year, I’ve ordered dozens of boxes of chocolates from makers primarily in the United States. All of them came with an origin story, the name and location of the farm where the cacao was grown, or the brand of sustainable and fair trade chocolate used to make the candies and bonbons tucked into the decorative box. Some were vegan, most made use of local ingredients and all of them demonstrated a mastery of the unique and time-consuming skill of making molded or enrobed chocolates. These chocolates are significantly more expensive than a Hershey bar, which retails for less than a dollar, but for many, many reasons, if you want to treat yourself, they are worth the cost.

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The list below doesn’t cover them all, but it’s a start. If you have a favorite local chocolate shop, a place you trust, start there. If you’re looking to try something new, find a list of some of the country’s finest chocolate-makers below. They’re all offering boxes of chocolates and nationwide reach. Note: Prices listed exclude shipping.

River-Sea Chocolates: Unique among chocolate makers is this Virginia-based shop that sells chocolate bars and bonbons it makes, bean-to-bar, from cacao pods that grow wild in Brazil. The fruit is picked by the Saraca people, who have been tending to native cacao for centuries. Grown and harvested this way, these cacao trees help maintain a healthy ecosystem and “offer an ecologically friendly monetary incentive for the Amazonian inhabitants to keep the forest they live in protected from logging, cattle ranching, and slash-and-burn agriculture,” according to co-owner Krissee D’Aguiar. River-Sea also imports chocolate from Colombia, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic by sailboat. Find vegan chocolates as well as filled and infused bonbons in flavors like peanut butter-dark chocolate, butterfly pea flower, raspberry and vanilla bourbon. (From $14.99 for a box of 5.)

Artisan Confections: Based in Arlington, Va., Artisan’s workshop and storefront offer locals a taste of carefully crafted bonbons and other colorful sweets. Owner-chocolatier Jason Andelman has been making chocolates in the DMV area for more than 15 years, and his expertise shines in fillings like a buttery salted caramel, cherry ganache and lavender dark chocolate, which is delicate but not cloying. (From $9 for a box of 4.)

Lagusta’s Luscious: The flavors pop at this New Paltz, N.Y.-based shop where owner Lagusta Yearwood has been honing her craft for more than a decade. I was momentarily stunned into silence after a bite of her chewy, chocolate-enrobed thyme caramel. Flecks of sea salt and the scent of lemon tame the woodsy flavor. Don’t miss the chance to enjoy a box of Furious Vulvas, molded chocolates spiced with pink peppercorns and Hawaiian pink sea salt. Consider also the peppermint patties, tahini meltaways and maple honeycomb. (From $18 for a box of 8.)

Socola Chocolatier: Co-founder Wendy Lieu named her shop “Socola” after the Vietnamese word for chocolate. It was a way to honor her parents, who fled Vietnam in the early 1980s. Socola’s flavors — like black sesame, Vietnamese coffee, guava and vanilla passion fruit — sparkle, and her enrobed bonbons are some of the most delicate around. The Valentine’s Day collection includes flavors like strawberry matcha and honey kissed rose; the shop also makes a variety of confections, a special Lunar New Year box and delicate chocolate mooncakes. (From $14.95 for a box of 4.)

Stick With Me Sweets: Painterly and playful, Susanna Yoon’s chocolates surprise with flavors such as calamansi meringue pie, macadamia nut rice puff, passion fruit-guava and pistachio marzipan. Don’t miss the soft fruit caramels, nutty nougat and multilayered candy bars from this New York City-based shop. (From $25 for a box of 6.)

Melissa Coppel Chocolatier: With chocolate shells nearly as thin as a flower petal, these delicate, molded and enrobed bonbons are uniquely sensational. Made in Las Vegas, where Coppel also teaches chocolate-making classes, the only thing more impressive than how they look is how they taste and feel on the tongue. Coppel’s signature flavors are especially complex and include: yogurt, litchi, almond, raspberry and rose; jasmine, strawberry and poppy seeds; honey and tahini; and roasted caramel apple, pecan and croissant flakes. ($40 for a box of 12 bonbons.)

Chocolate Secrets: Pam G. Eudaric and Rocio Estrada run this Dallas-based chocolate business. There’s a lot to choose from, but don’t miss the molded and very colorful hand-painted bonbons in flavors including bananas foster, ancho chile, brown butter caramel and strawberry balsamic. (From $26 for 9 pieces.)

Midunu: Selassie Atadika started her chocolate business in 2014 to celebrate Africa’s culinary heritage, bringing awareness to ingredients affected by deforestation, such as prekese or tetrapleura tetraptera, a flowering pea pod that has a lightly sweet-tart flavor. The chocolates are made in Accra, Ghana, by a team of female chocolatiers, they’re then shipped to a fulfillment center in Green Bay, Wis. “I wanted to change the narrative of cocoa-producing countries as a place for extracting cash crops to a place of showcasing quality finished products,” Atadika says. Be sure to try the Almaz, a bonbon filled with milk chocolate ganache infused with berbere spice, and the Thando, a dark chocolate shell filled with rooibos tea-infused white chocolate. ($24 for 6 pieces or $42 for 12.)

Bonbonbon: Alexandra Clark is the brains behind this Detroit-based shop, which sells the unique tiny rectangular open-faced chocolates in fun flavors like funfetti cake, coffee and doughnuts, lemon bar and sticky “bon.” (Priced individually at $3.50; build a box of any size.)

Kee’s Chocolates: Chocolatier Kee Ling Tong is known for her delicately flavored, hand-rolled truffles, still made one at a time in New York. Salt, spice, acidity, herbs, floral essences and tea soften sweeter flavors such as milk chocolate and render others, like blood orange, almost savory. Don’t miss the white chocolate-almond, coated with salty, toasted almond slices, the nutty black sesame or perfume-like black rose. ($45.60 for a box of 16 or $68.40 for a box of 24.)

Chocotenango: This D.C.-based shop specializes in single-origin chocolate bars, though owner Ismael Neggaz also makes a tight selection of half-sphere bonbons in unmistakable flavors, including coffee-caramel, raspberry, coconut and rosemary-fig. (From $13 for a box of 5.)

Monsoon Chocolate: In Tucson, owner and chocolate-maker Adam Krantz imports cacao from Peru, Ecuador and India to make his own chocolate, which gets formed into bars and delicate bonbons in bold, seasonal and local flavors: chiltepin, cocoa nib horchata, black pepper rose, chile mango, Sonoran sea salt and grapefruit-fennel pollen are some of the shop’s standbys. Don’t miss the vegan varieties. (From $14 for a box of 4.)

Kokak Chocolates: Founder and head chocolatier Carol Gancia opened her San Francisco-based shop in June 2020. After growing up in the Philippines, she immigrated to the United States with a plan to become a master chocolatier. Gancia studied under chocolatier Melissa Coppel and pastry chef Stacy Radin at the International Culinary Center in California before striking out on her own. Flavors include single-origin ganaches, as well as infusions such as kalamansi, banana caramel and lemongrass. There’s a line of vegan bonbons as well. (From 19.95 for a box of 5.)

Borough Chocolates: When Jessica Minghi lost her job at Restaurant Daniel in March 2020 because of the pandemic, she started tempering and molding chocolate to sell online and via Instagram. In 2021, she opened a storefront in Brooklyn, but still ships out some of the brightest, tartest, silkiest lemon creams, raspberry litchi bonbons with a whole raspberry inside and salted caramel bonbons that melt like liquid satin. (From $33 for a box of 9.)

Bliss Chocolatier: The mother-daughter team of Jessica Washburn and Pat Jarstad run this Kansas City, Mo., operation. Standouts include the Sea Turtle, a blue milk chocolate shell filled with salted caramel and pecan praline; vegan raspberry, with a supremely fruity filling; and key lime cheesecake, with layers of sweet lime, creamy cheesecake and crunchy graham cracker. ($25 for a box of 9; $48 for a box of 18.)

In case a box of chocolates feels like too much of a commitment, consider a bag of chocolate marshmallows from Nikki Darling Confections in Chicago, orange blossom hot cocoa mix from Madhu Chocolate in Austin, a tin of pralines from Laura’s Candies in New Orleans, or a box of enrobed toffee from Valerie Confections in Los Angeles.

Finally, if you’d like to taste the difference between chocolate made from cacao harvested in different countries or regions, start with bars from makers such as Askinosie (Springfield, Mo.), Tcho (Berkeley, Calif.), Raaka (Brooklyn), Theo (Seattle), Dandelion (San Francisco), Cru (Sacramento), Fortuna (Boulder, Colo.) or WM Chocolate (Madison, Wis.).

This story was originally published on Jan. 31, 2021, and was updated for February, 2022. Phillip Ashley Chocolates, Milla, Gâté Comme des Filles, and Sugoi Sweets were removed from the original version and replaced with River Sea Chocolates, Artisan Confections, Socola Chocolatier, and Kokak Chocolates.

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