The Artisanal Bars Raising America's Chocolate Game You Need to Try

Chocolate | Pixabay
Chocolate | Pixabay
When you ask people about great chocolate-making countries of the world, most would mention they’re somewhere northern Europe – Belgium perhaps, or Switzerland. But America is home to some great small batch artisan chocolatiers too, so we asked the experts at Cocoa Runners for some of their favourites.

America might not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking about fine chocolate, but if you look beyond candy kisses and peanut confection you might be surprised by what you find. To prove America’s chocolate-making credentials, we’ve selected some of the most delicious bars from some of the US’s best chocolate makers. You might not find these chocolate bars in your local corner shop but these artisans are making waves in the chocolate world, with fans around the globe. Taste one and there really is no going back.

dandelion Venezuela © Cocoa Runners

Maker: Dandelion
Location: San Francisco, California
Bar: Mantuano, Venezuela Dark Chocolate 70%

Dandelion is the brainchild of two tech entrepreneurs turned chocolate makers. Todd Masonis and Cameron Rigg founded Plaxo, one of the first social networks, along with Sean Parker (memorably played by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network). After they sold the company, Todd and Cameron started making chocolate for fun in Todd’s basement. They rigged up the machinery, taught themselves from the internet, and handed out the chocolate to their friends. From basement to international renown, Dandelion now has chocolate cafes and factories in both San Francisco and Japan! This bar uses cacao beans from a female-run cooperative in Venezuela.

Tasting Notes: the chocolate has a deeply roasted flavour with natural notes of coffee, hops and barley with just a hint of spice.

Askinosie Mababu Tanzania © Cocoa Runners

Maker: Askinosie
Location: Springfield, Missouri
Bar: Mababu Tanzania Dark Chocolate 72%

To ex-defence lawyer Shawn Askinosie, chocolate is about social and economic development as a much as it is about, well… chocolate. He and his daughter Lawren work closely with farmers in different countries, including Tanzania. They don’t want to ‘help’ the farmers, but to collaborate with them in a full partnership. Askinosie pays high prices for the beans, returns some of the company’s profits and empowers farmers by teaching them about business strategy. It also sets up schools, digs wells and builds long-term relationships. Not only does it do good, the chocolate tastes great too!

Tasting Notes: This buttery dark bar is bursting with notes of summer berries and honey.

Taza Mexicano Cinnamon © Cocoa Runners

Maker: Taza Chocolate
Location: Somerville, Massachusetts
Bar: Mexicano Cinnamon Dark Chocolate 50%

The first chocolate ‘bars’ were very different from those we eat today. In South America, cacao beans would be coarsely ground with sugar and spices using a stone molino. The chocolate was turned into a delicious frothy drink, often with added spices and sugar. Then, in the 1870s, the Swiss discovered how to refine and conche cocoa nibs into smooth chocolate bars, which are the forerunners of almost all the bars we enjoy today. Alex Whitmore decided that old style, stone-ground chocolate also tasted pretty amazing – and so he launched Taza as a line of stone-ground chocolate just for eating.

Tasting Notes: This cinnamon infused bar has an unusual, almost biscuit-like texture. The large sugar crystals make this a sweet and crunchy treat bursting with warming spice.

Fruition Toasted White Chocolate © Cocoa Runners

Maker: Fruition
Location: Woodstock, New York
Bar: Toasted White Chocolate 38%

Woodstock, NY isn’t just the home of great music, but great chocolate too. Bryan Graham is the chocolate maker’s chocolate-maker. His fine bars have won countless awards, including overall World Gold at the International Chocolate Awards 2016. Before chocolate, Bryan worked as a pastry chef in some of New York’s best restaurants. While working at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) he developed his own special technique for making white chocolate. The result is this toasted white bar.

Tasting Notes: The bar has sweet caramel notes, reminiscent of dulce de leche and brown butter along with a hint of vanilla.

Belize Toledo © Cocoa Runners

Maker: Dick Taylor
Location: Eureka, California
Bar: Belize Toledo Dark Chocolate 72%

Best friends Dustin Taylor and Adam Dick are master carpenters by trade, building everything from furniture to boats by hand. Their fascination with the handmade led them to become early pioneers of the American craft chocolate movement. Their workshop in Eureka (really), California is filled with old machinery they bought online and adapted to make chocolate. They even bought a letterpress and taught themselves how to use it so that they could print their own packaging!

Tasting Notes: this dark has an unusual green grass aroma, leading into some fruity flavours and bright lemon.

Tcho © Cocoa Runners

Maker: TCHO
Location: San Francisco, California
Bar: Serious Milk Cacao 53%

The founders of TCHO have had pretty varied careers, from designing NASA technology to founding WIRED magazine. Unsurprisingly, TCHO take a scientific approach to chocolate making and flavour. In addition to focusing on the chocolate’s origin, TCHO also focuses on flavour profiles. The company has built chocolate labs at origin to educate the farmers it works with. At the labs, farmers, locals and any scientists from the co-ops learn about how chocolate is made, as well as how it should taste. Thanks to their better understanding of chocolate flavour, farmers have been able to improve the overall quality and flavour of their cacao. This means higher cacao prices for the farmers and better chocolate for you.

Tasting notes: this milk tastes just like it says on the packaging – it is lush and fudgy with seriously deep chocolate notes.

Ritual Madagascar Dark 2011 © Cocoa Runners

Maker: Ritual Chocolate
Location: Park City, Utah
Bar: Madagascar Dark Chocolate 75%

Ritual founders Anna and Robbie’s attitude to chocolate making is dedicated, if not obsessive. They have repaired a number of heirloom conching machines and then developed some new grinders too in order to create their perfect bars. Tasting the chocolate, you can tell how long it has taken – Ritual’s bars have an exceptionally smooth flavour and melt.

Tasting notes: We tasted layers of lemon sherbet and sharp berries in this bar, before a sweet roasted finish.

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