Chocolates are a foolproof Valentine’s Day gift, pleasing tastes both sophisticated and simple. But there’s a catch: It needs to be good chocolate. In an age where bean-to-bar, ethically sourced, single-origin artisan chocolates reign supreme, those heart-shaped boxes of sugary Russell Stover’s truffles from the grocery store just won’t cut it. Here’s a handy guide to navigating just about all of the delicious, locally made chocolates on the market—from sustainable bars to hand-painted truffles—so you can score some real, er, brownie points.
Bean-to-bar refers to chocolate made completely from scratch. The skill-intensive process involves sourcing raw cacao, roasting it, and grinding it before turning it into bars. Here are our favorites.
Boulder-based Cholaca processes raw, responsibly sourced chocolate into pure, liquid cacao. It’s best known for pure liquid cacao beverages, but Cholaca also creates fantastic single-source, unsweetened baking wafers. Whether you’re looking for a healthy way to work some chocolate into a smoothie, want to kick up a batch of homemade chili, or are taking a stab at making your own truffles, the organic, fair-trade cacao wafers (which come from either Peru or Ecuador) will elevate any recipe.
Available at: Lucky’s Market (3960 Broadway, #104, Boulder; 695 S. Broadway, Boulder)
Formerly known as Dead Dog Chocolate, Cultura Craft Chocolate crafts its bean-to-bar confections right here in Denver. The two chocolatiers behind the project bring years of experience and deep expertise, and the brand’s 70 percent Haiti bar recently took home a 2017 Good Food Award. While Cultura’s origin bars (Haiti, Guatemala, Belize) showcase the pure flavors of ethically sourced organic cacao, whiskey lovers will adore its 70 percent whiskey-and-nibs bar: dark chocolate infused with Deerhammer single malt, sprinkled with whiskey-soaked nibs.
Available at: The Art Gym Cafe (1460 Leyden St.); The Preservery (3040 Blake St., #101)
Gila and Joel Dar spent more than a year in Costa Rice learning the art of chocolate making before starting Dar. The small-batch bars feature single origin, ethically traded cacao that they roast themselves to various levels (medium, dark, etc.) to bring out the optimum flavor. If you’re looking for a creamy, dreamy, but still dairy-free treat, opt for the 68% coconut milk Ecuador chocolate, which gets its delightful silky body from the addition of—you guessed it—coconut milk.
Available at: The Preservery (3040 Blake St., #101); Marczyk Fine Foods (multiple locations); Chocolate Spokes (2801 N. Downing St.); Zaidy’s Deli (121 Adams St.)
You’ll find the stone-ground chocolate from Boulder-based Fortuna on restaurant menus all over Denver and Boulder (Blackbelly Market, Basta, and Mercantile Dining & Provision, to name a few). And while Fortuna has focused most of its efforts on collaborating with professional chefs, it also offers its single estate, premier cru Mexican chocolate directly to consumers in the form of a large disc. The Huehuetan Estate triple-roasted variety is an intense hit of floral, complex flavor.
Available at: Mercantile Dining & Provision (Union Station, 1701 Wynkoop St.); Cured (1825 Pearl St., Boulder, 2019 10th St., Boulder); The Shop at the Gardens (Denver Botanic Gardens, 1007 York St.)
The bars from this Lafayette-based chocolatier showcase the pure flavors of direct-trade, sustainable cacao. We’re big fans of the colorful, rainforest-inspired packaging, but also of the vanilla and coffee notes in the 75 percent Nicaragua and Ecuador blend bar.
Available at: 1455 Coal Creek Dr., Lafayette; The Preservery (3040 Blake St., #101); Mondo Market (The Source, 3350 Brighton Blvd.)
Sourcing cacao directly from small farmers—a practice called direct trade—is considered the gold standard. Not only do the chocolatiers obtain a better product, but they’re often able to pay farmers far more than market (or even fair trade) value in the process. Colorado Springs’ Tchefuncte Chocolate, for example, pays its farmers $500 per metric ton above the market value for their cacao. You can taste that benefit in Tchefuncte’s Lachua-Guatemala 73% cacao micro lot harvest bar, which comes from a Guatemalan co-op of 200 indigenous Q’eqchi Maya farmers.
Available at: The Preservery (3040 Blake St., #101); Chocolate Spokes (2801 N Downing St.); Denver Bicycle Cafe (1308 E. 17th Ave.)
Lauren Heineck, the one-woman-force behind WKND Chocolate, is the only bean-to-bar chocolatier in the state operating out of her home (thanks, Cottage Act!). She draws upon her experience at Dandelion Chocolate in San Francisco to craft her sophisticated, sustainable bars. Flavors like the spicy “Tumeric of a Goat Thing” (white chocolate with turmeric, ginger, cardamom, white pepper, clove, cinnamon, and cayenne) and the Tanzania 68 percent (with tahini and coffee) are subtly sweetened, allowing the natural nuances of the chocolate to shine. Bonus: Check out her chocolate- and women-themed podcast, Well Tempered.
Available at: WKND’s website and at pop-up events around town
Chocoholics, take note: These shops stock everything you need to satisfy your cravings. All of these sweet stops produce their own confections, generally using bulk chocolate that they melt down rather than relying on the intensive bean-to-bar model described above.
On first glance, you might think this RiNo chocolate shop is a dispensary. All of the sweets are packaged in pill bottles and medical kits so that you can get your “daily dose.” Try the dark-chocolate-covered sea salt “Caramelitas.”
3370 Walnut St., 866-329-6950
The Chocolate Lab is located inside New World Cheese on Colfax. The preservative-free, hand-crafted truffles, which come in flavors like earthy urfa chile and TK, make excellent gifts. Plus, we love that you can stock up on both chocolate and cheese here.
2504 E. Colfax Ave., 720-236-5709
The aptly named Chocolate Therapist in Littleton is the passion project of Julie Pech, who has a background in nutrition and believes in the health benefits of chocolate. We fully endorse medicating with one of her all-natural bars, whether it’s the blueberry-cashew version or the 55 percent bar dusted with freshly ground espresso beans.
2560 W. Main St., Littleton, 303-795-7913
Formerly known as Dietrich’s Chocolate & Espresso, this DU-area sweet stop has been a favorite of locals for generations. Adrienne Johnson-Conway, an apprentice of Mr. Dietrich’s for 15 years, recently purchased the business and changed the name. She’s infused the shop with new life while maintaining the quality of the handcrafted confections. We’re partial to the salted almond milk chocolate Deiter’s Bar, but little ones will love the bar sprinkled with colorful nonpareils.
1734 Evans St., 720-925-5982
A newcomer to Denver’s sweet scene, this Stanley Marketplace sweet shop is all about chocolate; even the truffles are displayed on chocolate slabs. You’ll find an array of hand-painted bon bons (try the simple-but-lovely vanilla bean flavor), stunning chocolate-based confections, and hand-made bars. Just a couple of weeks ago, Miette began rolled out a single-origin dark chocolate bar made with Colombian-sourced cacao.
The Stanley Marketplace, 2501 Dallas St., Aurora
This six-year-old Boulder sweet shop specializes in all things chocolate, from truffles and imported bars to chocolate-infused pastas and even non-edible skin creams made with cocoa butter. We love the house-made bars, which come in creative flavors like cherry-pistachio and pop rocks. Our absolute favorite is like a gourmet version of the Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Crème bar: 64 percent dark chocolate drizzled with white chocolate and dotted with crunchy Amoreos (PL&C’s house-made, gluten-free take on an Oreo).
805 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-449-4804
Tucked away on 29th Avenue, this festive spot sells fudge, truffles, and an array of chocolate-themed oddities. Case in point: Deviled eggs made entirely from white chocolate.
4840 W. 29th Ave., 303-824-2069
Chef Jon Robbins (of Bistro Barbès and Souk Shawarma) has delved into the world of sweets with Temper. Located inside the popular Central Market, he crafts gorgeously painted truffles in chef-driven flavors (think green apple-yuzu and lavender honey). Bonus: There’s also a selection of craft chocolate bars from around the world.
The Denver Central Market, 2669 Larimer St.
This showroom-esque Cherry Creek spot sells gorgeous truffles in luxe flavors like strawberry-balsamic and champagne. As the cliché goes, they’re almost too pretty to eat—almost.
2615 E. Third Ave., 303-355-0654