What have I been doing lately?  It might have to do with sinking my teeth into my first Raphio and trying to decide how to best capture the elusiveness that is Ritual’s metallic logo.

Because: It’s happened!!! That narrow window of time between December and February (aka chocolate-shipping-weather) FINALLY arrived, when temperatures dip from one hundred and ten degrees Fahrenheit in the shade to a chilly 77 degrees (when it is literally time for jackets and socks, and no I’m not crazy, just acclimatized), and I held my breath while the chocolate was en route (after constantly reorganizing, reducing, and revising my wish list).

I’ve got recommendations. The online craft chocolate stores I ordered from (2019) are as follows:

Bar and Cocoa
Location: South Carolina, USA
Shipping Cost: Free shipping (within the USA) for orders over $75 (Yay!)
Product Range: Very impressive (and constantly expanding) See the full list.
Bar From Bar and Cocoa I’m Most Excited to Try: Probably Zotter.
Confession: The Zotter bar is already photographed and tasted. Wow. I’m now officially adding the caramel milk to the “if I ever get a chance i want THAT one again” list.

Caputo’s Market & Deli
Location: Utah, USA
Shipping Cost: Chocolate ships free!! (Clarification: This applies to the USA only and you may run into a fee for warm weather packaging during the summer months, but Caputo’s has confirmed there is no need to wait for cooler weather.  They package chocolate according to the receiver’s temperature, and offer a warm weather guarantee.  (So everyone’s chocolate arrives safe and sound!)
Product Range: I’d always considered Caputo’s to have the best selection of any U.S. based online store, although Bar and Cocoa may have caught up. (I didn’t do a side-by-side comparison.)
Bar From Caputo’s I’m Most Excited To Try:  That’s hard. Ritual Vanilla maybe. Also Fruition Browned Butter.  Oh and definitely Letterpress Mint. (Obviously it’s hard to decide. And obviously I’ve completely abandoned my rule of one bar per maker. I “blame” it entirely on everybody who makes irresistible inclusion bars.)

The Meadow
Location: Oregon, USA
Shipping Cost: Free shipping (within the USA) for orders over $100
(Which I couldn’t take advantage of, unfortunately.)
Product Range: The selection on their website usually varies pretty widely from month to month / year to year. Due to their location, they can be counted on to carry a nice selection of bars made in Oregon (Ranger, Only Child Chocolate, etc.)
Bar From The Meadow That I’m Most Excited to Try: Castronovo Lemon, without a doubt.

I recommend all three of these stores.

Last but not least, here are two honorable mentions (other online stores that carry a selection of craft chocolates, though I didn’t get to order from them this year):

Chocolopolis
Location: Oregon, USA
Shipping Cost: I can’t comment as I didn’t get to order from Chocoloplis in 2019. (Guess you’ll just have to place an order to find out!)
Product Range: Chocolopolis seems to focus on dark chocolate (both single origin and blends) rather than inclusion bars (although they DO carry some milk chocolate and inclusion bars)
Bar I Would Have Liked to Try the Most: Something by Mission Chocolate. (Admittedly this is partially because of the gorgeous flower-decorated wrappers. But also because of some unique inclusions. Like candied guava.)

Cocoa Runners
Location: UK
Shipping Cost: I believe shipping is free within the UK. Check their website for international shipping rates.
Product Range: They have a great selection of European and Asian chocolates (partially due to their location) as well as bars from other countries.
Bar I Would Have Like to Try the Most: Probably another Dormouse bar. Oh, and TCHO Mint Chip Gelato. (Yes I know TCHO is made in the USA but wouldn’t you know, there is no TCHO at The Maadow or Bar and Cocoa or Caputo’s; I would have had to order it from the U.K!)

What are your favorite online chocolate sources?

Whenever articles are written about the 5 or 10 or however-many best bean-to-bar/craft/artisan chocolates, I’ve noticed that Dandelion Chocolate in San Francisco always makes the cut. Photos of their bars encased in thick gold-embossed paper wrappers often show up in my Instagram/Twitter feeds, and, not long ago, Dandelion expanded and opened several locations in Japan.

It was high time to pick a Dandelion to see what the fuss was all about.

Dandelion Chocolate Still Life Photo

Dandelion’s two-ingredient bars feature beans from different origins. I picked their Mantuano bar because the beans are grown in Venezuela, and I happen to be partial to Venezuelan beans.

Having a Dandelion bar in-house was exciting, but even the good press didn’t guarantee it VP treatment.  In the end, it dutifully waited its turn just like all the other chocolate at my house until it got its moment in the sun. Correction: Half an hour in the sun (by the time I was done with it).  By then it was the *perfect* tasting consistency.

My first bite certainly didn’t evoke any memories of chocolate consumed long ago during my childhood, because I don’t recall ever eating fine dark chocolate until a few years ago.  (The normal chocolates of my youth was Hersheys, an occasional box of Russel Stover, and chocolate chips (dipped out from a 5lb bag from Sam’s Club!). Instead, the taste on my tongue was a subtle twist on the “new normal”; what I call “grown up” chocolate, the knock-your-socks-off vibrancy of beans that have different flavor profiles instead of always tasting the same.

Found on the wrapper: “In this bar, we taste notes of classic dark chocolate, roasted almonds, and espresso.” My untrained tongue did not pick up on any of the roasted almond notes, but there were most definitely hints of espresso.  (It is actually quite amazing how many dark chocolates have coffee notes, despite not containing any coffee.)

High Time to Pick a Dandelion Chocolate

This is CHOCOLATE.  No flavorings, no emulsifiers.   All it takes to be an awesome chocolate is cocoa beans & sugar, carefully selected and ground and conched and tempered and packaged.

I understand the hype now.

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Last December, while doing chocolate-related research, I stumbled across a whole new world of chocolate.

Craft chocolate.  Bean to bar chocolate.  Artisanal chocolate.  Small batch chocolate.  There are a lot of names for it, but, suffice it to say, it’s not the mass-produced chocolate commonly found on the shelves of grocery stores and convenience stores.  Instead, it is chocolate meticulously made by companies that are so small they sometimes consist of only one to two people, whose mission is not just to provide high-quality chocolate, but also an incredible chocolate experience.  (I could definitely make a hobby out of trying different flavors and collecting packaging…)

A Whole New World of Chocolate - Dick Taylor Maple Coconut

One of the first craft chocolates I happened to run across (online) was Dick Taylor.   The geographical distance between us didn’t stop me from admiring the high-quality packaging and the stunning design on the chocolate bars themselves.   The glowing reviews cemented my decision that someday, if the opportunity arose, I was going to make one of those bars mine.

Fast forward to April: There was a little extra room in a package headed my way.  I picked Dick Taylor Maple Coconut.

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