Andrew Ramsay  / Courtesy Cocao Ooze Chocolates
If you think a box of chocolates is a bland Valentine’s cliché, then you’re not shopping at the right places. Chocolatiers have elevated the sweets into an art form and are opening appealing shops that cater to both locals and tourists.
The finest new truffles and bonbons often reflect local tastes and unexpected pairings. Consider the white peach and apricot caramel chocolates sold in Mexico City’s artsy Condesa neighborhood or the Blanc de Noir ganache covered in gold dust available at a Basel shop also known for its wine tastings. These bite-size treats are an easy, affordable luxury—a satisfying treat in the moment and a souvenir to savor long after your travels.
For years, the big news in chocolate has been the bean-to-bar movement, a worthy farm-to-table-inspired trend that focused more on varietals and provenance than culinary-driven flavor combinations and artful presentations. But recently, truffles have come into focus. And indeed, one trend has flowed into the next, with careful sourcing and community involvement playing a large role for some recently opened chocolate shops.
In Berkeley’s Elmwood district, for instance, it’s all about cocoa with a cause at Casa de Chocolates, a hacienda-inspired boutique slated to open in February 2012. Owners Amelia Garcia and Arcelia Gallardo are sourcing their beans from various South American communities, and their plan is to launch a nonprofit organization to give back to the farmers who cultivate the shop’s cacao. Their beans go into creative flavors like dark chocolate with goat’s-milk caramel.
The market-driven tenets of farm-to-table cooking have also made their way into the chocolate lab. In London, Paul A. Young (who just released a beautiful cookbook for the chocolate-obsessed) focuses on hyper-seasonal flavors, with a selection that changes each week. Soma, Toronto’s favorite small-batch producer, has taken the approach in a different direction, opening a new factory-like space where customers can watch the bean-to-bonbon process happen before their eyes. And in Mexico City, local fruits like mango and passion fruit are put on display inside colorful chocolate shells at Tout Chocolat, a trendy new shop by a former NYC pastry chef.
Whether as souvenirs or exercises in virtual travel, these spots satisfy the urge to indulge, bridging a familiar medium with the essence of a destination—and what can be sweeter?