Over a year ago, West 42nd Street has been quiet in New York City. In March 2020 one of the most famous and busy places in the country was abruptly shut down. There were historic theaters, modern-day honky tonks, hotels, and elegant office buildings that were all closed. The number of businesses open in Midtown is easily counted by casual observers, who can count from Fifth Avenue to Times Square, and beyond the Port Authority.
Sometimes appearances can be deceiving. It is hard to know what was really going on behind closed doors. But one thing is certain: if you were able to find the right place, even in those darkest days, weeks, and months, you could be rewarded with some of America’s finest chocolate.
The Bryant Park-facing showcase, which had been home to Kreuther Chocolate, had closed. It would take a long time before Gabriel Kreuther’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Gabriel Kreuther would be open again. But behind the scenes, Angela Kim Borah, Angela Kim Borah, chef Kreuther and Marc Aumont, were still fulfilling orders for delivery to New York and shipping to distant places. The perfect distraction was the intricate bonbons made with exotic flavors such as miso, almond, olive, and mango con chilled. The world may have slowed to a halt but the chocolate gods didn’t stop.
Courtesy of askinosie chocolate
The story has repeated itself over and over again throughout the country in the past year. More than a few American chocolatiers were busier than ever, from mostly-shuttered markets to backstreet workshops, and more than a few found themselves in difficult times. Were we surprised that chocolate was such a comfort in these difficult times? History does repeat itself, after all, the Great Depression gave us so much of the candy that we grew up eating. Amazingly, many of the names we remember today, including Sugar Babies to Three Musketeers and Snickers, were on the market at that time.
Hard numbers began to emerge as the pandemic continued to drag on. The National Confectioners Association keeps track of this data and reports that the consumption of high-end chocolates in America has increased by twofold since March 2020. Uncertainty tomorrow, chaos today? This was the time for chocolate to shine.
The American chocolate landscape might not have been as familiar to those who just started watching, perhaps because of years of unhappy adulthood and too many dental bills. The industry has almost been transformed over the past couple of decades. This was after a long period of revolt that dated back to at least the turn of the century. But the winds of change began blowing earlier when chocolate makers from the West started to ask the question: What is the problem with American chocolate ( how long do you have) and how can we fix it?
It seems that we started talking about chocolate almost overnight. We were discussing terroir, tasting notes, sourcing, sustainability, sourcing, and exploitation of cacao-growing. This was driven by an insatiable need for commercial cocoa from the richest countries. The scene has changed tremendously, with many new names to be remembered. There are so many highlights of brilliance, many flashes in the pan, so many classics, and so much to ponder.
An educated consumer will expect transparency in sourcing, fair wages to growers, and good ingredients. Do you find any fillers in your chocolate bar? Are there any fillers? Is it rich and smooth? Does it taste as good as it looks? These are not bars that you can eat on the run. They should be enjoyed slowly, in small pieces, and melted on your tongue. If you do it correctly, chances are that you will never return to your old ways.
Many chocolate lovers will wonder why we take chocolate so seriously. But that doesn’t mean that we have to stop having fun.
This list is focused on American chocolate bars of the highest quality, but they are still something that many of us would be proud to have in our lives. A new generation of American chocolatiers has challenged the dominance of the traditional drugstore assortment, which still holds a place in our hearts. This is also something to be proud of.
Actually Chocolate (New Orleans, Louisiana)
Carol Morse discovered chocolate while working as an anthropologist in Central America. Morse creates two-ingredient chocolate bars in a West Bank workshop. She uses cocoa from her favorite farmers and Louisiana cane sugar. This gives her bars a distinct taste and a unique sense of place.
Amano Chocolate (Orem, Utah)
Before almost everyone was selling their single-origin bars on the market, Art Pollard, a pioneer in chocolate-happy Beehive State was already running with the idea and a large share of the acclaim. Amano was the source of most of the chocolate consumed at Berkeley’s Chez Panisse over the past 15 years.
Askinosie Chocolate (Springfield, Missouri)
Although most manufacturers claim their sourcing credentials, many aren’t aware of Shawn Askinosie, who has been a leading direct trade trendsetter since the mid-aughts. He established close ties with his farmers and set up a profit-sharing model. This bar is made with dark milk chocolate from the Philippines, a favorite Askinosie source, and salted Swedish black licorice.
Cacao & Cardamom (Houston, Texas)
Procrastination is not something to be ashamed of. It might even change your life. Annie Rupani credits her study breaks during LSAT prep as the time she learned all about chocolate. Later, Miss Pakistan World and Miss Pakistan World would experiment with modern techniques while still retaining the bold flavors from her childhood. The visual feast that is the bonbons and patterned bars are wild and colorful, with flavors such as coffee and cardamom.
Castronovo Chocolate (Stuart, Florida)
You only need one taste to know the difference between American chocolate bars and pure dark chocolate. The first is healthy food and the second is a sweet indulgence. Denise Castronovo is one of a growing number of top-level chocolate makers who successfully fuse the two ideas to create high-cocoa-content milk chocolate. This chocolate is known as dark milk in the industry. Castronovo’s chocolate is made from the best, and sometimes rare, Latin American cacao.
Chequesset Chocolate (North Truro Massachusetts)
Is Cape Cod the best place to find everything? Josiah Mayo and Katie Reed have been in business for just a few short years. Their ambitious startup covers all bases from single-origin bars to candies and does so at an amazing level. Their white chocolate is infused with lemon and rosemary, which does a lot of work for the often-misunderstood style.