Giving chocolate for Valentine’s Day has been popular since the 1800s, though perhaps only more recently has the tradition seen so much creativity. Much of this innovation comes from the chocolatiers behind the sweets. For some, crafting delicious treats is a high art; for others, it is a gutsy entrepreneurial venture. Regardless of how they got into the business, several of the D.C. area’s most distinctive confectioners are women, each infusing their own heritage and experience into their flavor-filled bites. These five women-owned local chocolate shops offer shipping, delivery and pickup options — perfect for bringing a little sweetness to a partner or friend.

Petite Soeur

Ashleigh Pearson is from a family of scientists and majored in biology at the University of Maryland. But after winning a baking competition hosted by her church, she started working in D.C. restaurants, including Marcel’s, before accepting a scholarship to attend Le Cordon Bleu. Living in Paris, she often scraped together the money to sample the city’s best sweets, because, as she says, “in that bite, you can be anything — the taste transcends the problems of the moment.” Later, while leading the chocolate program at the Michelin-starred Per Se in New York, she envisioned coming back home and opening her own company, which she did in 2019.

Petite Soeur chocolates blend Pearson’s French culinary training with strikingly beautiful aesthetics. Each piece is hand-painted with designs inspired by the flavors inside it. The coffee and cream bonbon, for instance, features vanilla cream ganache with D.C.-based Small Planes Coffee: The dark chocolate shell is deep brown with a golden splatter, which Pearson says represents “the splash cream makes right when it is hitting coffee.”

The flavors are deeply personal to the chef, too — maple black walnut crunch combines Pearson’s housemade maple jam, walnut ganache and crispy walnuts, a recipe inspired by her grandfather’s black walnut cake. Valentine’s Day gifts include bonbon boxes and several varieties of sablé cookies.

Bonbons start at $14 for a box of four. Shipping available; limited local delivery available every Tuesday. Also sold inside Glen’s Garden Market (2001 S St. NW). — SFF

June B Sweet

June B Sweet’s specialty is the brigadeiro, a truffle-like confection from owner June Drummond’s native Brazil that’s made with three main ingredients: condensed milk, cocoa and butter. The sweets were created in the mid-1940s to support the presidential campaign of a brigadier general; the general lost the election, but the sweets’ name — and popularity — has endured. Drummond compares their ubiquity to cupcakes in the United States. “It’s the same with brigadeiros in the life of Brazilians — that same connection with a flavor. Everybody knows how to make a brigadeiro.”

Drummond has turned the brigadeiro into a fine art, branching out beyond the traditional chocolate recipe with delicately handcrafted bonbons that look almost too lovely to eat — and with a level of sweetness that’s not for the faint of heart. Flavors include fruits and floral aromas, champagne and caipirinha, and toppings such as nuts, chocolate shavings and ground coffee beans. “Crunchy strawberry” has a dried strawberry in the center of the soft, gooey filling and large strawberry pearl sprinkles that add texture, while “love petals” is coated with pink, rosewater-flavored sugar rocks and garnished with a tiny dried rosebud.

For Valentine’s Day, June B Sweet is also selling elegantly packaged chocolates, and some boxes combine brigadeiros with solid chocolate crowns. Drummond took over the D.C. stationery store Write for You several years ago and revamped the space into a chic boutique offering custom stationery and her sweets. “Hospitality is very important for us,” she says. “That’s what I try to create with the sweets and the store.”

Brigadeiros start at $27 for a box of nine; boxed chocolates from $32 for nine. Shipping and local delivery available; sweets also can be preordered for pickup at Write for You (3807 McKinley St. NW). — VHL

Craving for Chocolate

Suzanne Nader was born in Lebanon and married into a family of chocolatiers, so it is no surprise that Craving for Chocolate, the company she established in Northern Virginia in 2015, showcases flavors from the Middle East as part of its wide selection. Her business partner, Dalia Hidayat, whose family is Egyptian, had been working in executive sales until a client gave her some of Nader’s chocolate and Hidayat wanted more; she joined the company in 2017. As part of their mission to enrich communities, the pair package larger orders in distinctive wooden boxes made by artisans who are Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Many of their chocolates highlight tastes often found in Middle Eastern desserts; some of the most beautiful meld delicate layers of chocolate with tangy cardamom, sweet dates or tart pomegranate. The chocolate simsim consists of honey and sesame wafers — often a snack in the Levant — dipped in milk chocolate, while the evergreen chocolate highlights mastic, a flavor similar to a mix of mint and anise that is common in Mediterranean sweets. A crunchy cup consists of chocolate shell with a lush pistachio center, complemented with wafers on top.

“We want our chocolates to evoke happiness and joy,” says Hidayat. Vibrantly colored pieces including the red velvet pop and strawberry cheesecake chocolate are particularly jubilant Valentine’s Day options.

Gift boxes start at $15 for seven chocolates. Shipping and pickup in McLean available. — SFF

Veritas Artizen Chocolate

“I have a bachelor’s in business administration and a master’s in counseling psychology — and so, naturally, I bought a chocolate company!” Andrea Howard says, with a laugh, about her decision to buy a fledgling chocolate business several years ago and rebrand it as Veritas Artizen Chocolate. Howard briefly trained with the company’s previous owner to learn the nine steps of chocolate making, using fair-trade beans sourced from farmers in Ecuador — making her the first bean-to-bar chocolatier in Loudoun County. From that point, she largely taught herself, later expanding to truffles; barks with toppings such as dried strawberries or toffee, caramel and almond pieces; and chocolate-dipped items ranging from bacon to Oreos.

Howard’s daughter, Nikita Coelho, has since joined her in the business, and the pair sell Veritas confections at two Loudoun County ice cream shops Howard recently acquired and renamed HoneyBee Creamery. “And it just happens that all my employees are [women]. So we’re kind of a women-centric business,” she says. For Valentine’s Day, Veritas offers gift boxes with an assortment of items that can be tailored to the buyer’s preferences (dark vs. milk chocolate, with or without nuts, etc.). All feature truffles, in flavors such as strawberry balsamic and toffee, and handmade hot cocoa bombs — cocoa powder, sometimes blended with spices, encased in a hard chocolate shell that dissolves in hot milk or water.

Valentine’s gift boxes start at $35; hot cocoa bombs $18.50-$20 for a box of three or four; truffles from $8 for a box of four. Shipping and Northern Virginia delivery available. Also sold at HoneyBee Creamery (20693 Ashburn Rd., Ashburn; 700 Fieldstone Dr., Leesburg). — VHL

Arcay Chocolates

Anabella Arcay’s gorgeous truffles belie their maker’s determination. She began making chocolate in her native Venezuela in 2006, and her expertise as a master chocolatier and technical precision were recognized in the dozens of international awards she racked up. But although her products were popular, “in Venezuela, one week there would be no cream; the next week, we would be unable to get another ingredient. I learned how to adjust all of my recipes to account for the missing ingredients,” she says.

After moving to Maryland and reestablishing her business in 2017, she adjusted her offerings to appeal to Americans’ changing tastes, with truffle flavors such as matcha, passion fruit and blackberry cardamom. Arcay says her goal is to highlight every flavor in a truffle, and that comes through after one bite of her lemon basil truffles.

The company, which initially produced its chocolates in Rockville, opened a boutique inside Latin American marketplace La Cosecha in 2019. Valentine’s specials include several flavors of truffles in heart shapes and gift packages featuring bonbons and chocolate barks, chocolate paint kits for kids, chocolate-dipped figs and nuts, and chocolate spreads.

Truffles start at $23 for a box of nine; bars start at $6.50 each. Shipping available; delivery available on select orders. Also sold at La Cosecha (1280 Fourth St. NE). — SFF