We detail a handful of our favorite artisinal chocolate brands, from the more well-known Mast Brothers to a Silicon Valley tech start-up and even a brand that makes chocolate with saffron.
In the US, the relationship between chocolate and its consumer is shifting. When Americans think chocolate, they often associate it closely with candy. Peanut butter cups, chocolate bars with caramel peanuts, essentially plenty of sugar and not a lot of refinement. Now, a handful of chocolatiers are changing the American chocolate landscape.
There’s no denying the growth in the artisanal movement. It’s more common now than ever to see people seeking out small-batch, locally produced products. Whether it’s handmade soaps or organically grown coffee, consumers want to know where the goods they consume come from. When producers are small, and when they have a story we can follow and understand, we’re more likely to trust their product. It seems logical then that chocolate–one of the most unanimously adored food items there is–would become just such a product.
We took a closer look at some of our favorite artisanal chocolate brands that have been making waves in the food scene over the past few years. These are companies that are trying to change the way many of us eat chocolate. Instead of seeing the confection as another vehicle to consume sugar, these brands are focusing on ingredients, flavor, and the quality of good cacoa beans. In keeping with the brands we like, these are all companies that approach food consumption as an experience for all of the senses. What that means is these are delicious products that come housed in some beautifully designed packaging.
Mast Brothers is probably the most visible brand on this list, especially when it comes to artisanal chocolate. This is partly because brothers Rick and Michael Mast have become poster boys for the Brooklyn artisanal movement since they set up shop in 2007. But a large part of the company’s notoriety comes from their beautifully packaged product; each slender slab of chocolate comes elegantly wrapped in gold foil and a creamy page of stylized paper. Mast Brothers’ Creative Director Nathan Warkentin brings his background in menswear to the package design process (mood-board et al), developing modern and minimal wrapping that seeks to complement the chocolate it contains.
The confections within are just as pleasing to the palette as the packaging. Based on the Mast chocolate we sampled, this dark chocolate is not not as rich as some of the other brands out there. While others can be fudge-y and creamy, Mast’s is on the more brittle side. The ingredients are kept simple and straightforward, so you can truly taste the cacao used in these bars. Definitely a bar worth trying.
Austrian born Red R. Thalhammer started Antidote Chocolate as a “delicious antidote to the demands of daily life.” As the name suggests, this isf a lot more than just indulgence for your tastebuds. Red approaches chocolate in a refreshingly new way; one which sees the food item as a remedy for your daily ailments, thanks to its antioxidant, antidepressant and anti-stress qualities. All Antidote Chocolate is made with raw cacao handpicked from Ecuador.
Thalhammer’s attention to detail doesn’t stop with the high-calibre chocolate she uses; she also pairs the stuff with organic ingredients for unique flavor combinations that really let the chocolate sing. Coffee & Cardamom is an excellent flavor, along with Rose Salt & Lavender, and Banana & Cayenne. This is a great bar if you’re looking for delicious chocolate with sophisticated and unexpected flavor combinations.
This San Francisco based company takes a Silicon Valley approach to chocolate making, using feedback from their users––a program they call “Beta”–– to co-create and refine their offerings. TCHO also partners directly with growers, sets them up with flavor labs and works with them in real time through a cloud-based database called “Cropster,” all to ensure their product is made from the best possible beans.
TCHO calls itself “New American Chocolate,” appropriating the name of the ambiguous cuisine synonymous with experimental flavors and fresh, inventive ingredient pairings. Their signature chocolate wheel lets you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into, whether it’s chocolate that’s “nutty,” “fruity” or floral.” Whichever it is, we can guarantee it’s smooth and rich. This is the artisanal chocolate brand that doesn’t take itself too seriously; in addition to their high quality dark chocolate, TCHO also produces playful milk chocolate flavors including “Mokaccino,” “TCHunky TCHOtella” and “Strawberry Rhubarb Pie.”
Daniel Sklaar started Fine & Raw out of his Williamsburg loft after ditching a career as a financial analyst. After experimenting with recipes in his kitchen, Sklaar brought Fine & Raw chocolate to the world, using low-temperature techniques to preserve the raw chocolate’s flavor. The brand prides itself on being green and sustainable, using organic ingredients including palm sugar (instead of cane), blue agave and virgin coconut oil. The packaging outside reflects the ethos of the food inside: Fine & Raw’s pared-down wrapping is made with recycled paper and vegetable-based ink.
This is rich and creamy dark chocolate for those looking for something a little indulgent. You can’t really go wrong with this, whether you’re going for straight dark chocolate or something with an interesting twist. The Lacuma & Vanilla dark chocolate is particularly delicious, thanks to the unique kick of flavor courtesy of the Peruvian fruit.
This bean-to-bar chocolate is manufactured in small batches out of Three Rivers, Massachusetts. The brand works closely with farmers in Peru, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Trinidad and Tobago and Honduras, to source the finest quality beans for their single-origin bars. In fact, for Rogue Chocolatiers and its founder Colin Gasko, it’s all about the beans. There aren’t any funky flavors or ingredients in these bars. Instead, each slender slab of chocolate is elegantly packaged in slim white envelopes, with only the bean origins, ingredients and flavor notes printed along the outside.
These may have had the greatest depth of flavor, and are perfect for anyone who takes their chocolate connoisseurship seriously. The ingredients here are as minimal as they come, with just cacao and cane sugar, so the flavors of the cacao really come into their own. Believe us when we tell you they truly speak for themselves. There aren’t any experimental flavor pairings or peculiar ingredients here, just some seriously excellent chocolate. These are popular bars though, and the batches sell out quickly, so be sure to keep an eye on their stock online.
Ryan Cheney started Raaka Chocolate after tasting the subtle and distinct flavors of unroasted cacao in Thailand. All of Raaka’s chocolate is handmade in Red Hook, Brooklyn, with the bulk of their unroasted beans coming from Bolivia and the Dominican Republic. Like a lot of the brands on our list, Raaka uses low-temperature techniques to preserve the flavors of their cacao, letting the subtle flavors of various beans come through. The funky packaging comes courtesy of stationary and textile brand Loop, and is made from recycled papers and soy inks.
Raaka boasts some of the most interesting flavor pairings in their virgin chocolates, from chai, maple & nibs, and even saffron & cranberry (if you’re feeling adventurous). A large part of this is thanks to Cheney’s parternship with gastronomist Nate Hodge. But don’t let the outré flavors fool you; these chocolate-makers use top-notch beans, and the bold ingredients compliment rather than mask the flavors of the unroasted cacao.