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Editor’s note: This story was updated in early February 2021 to reflect business closures, changes, and new brands.
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 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, truffles, and more. Here are our local favorites.
Gila and Joel Dar spent more than a year in Costa Rica learning the art of chocolate making before starting Dar Chocolate in 2016. Their 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 of the beans. If you’re looking for a creamy, dreamy, but still dairy-free treat, opt for the 68 percent coconut milk Ecuadorian chocolate, which gets its silky body from the addition of—you guessed it—coconut milk. The company also offers a newer line of smaller truffle bars, studded with almonds, cashews, and pomegranate arils.
Available at: Marczyk Fine Foods (multiple locations); Whole Foods Markets (multiple locations)
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 offering single-estate, premier cru Mexican chocolate in varieties like 75 percent dark, 55 percent milk, and white chocolate with turmeric, coconut, and lime, the company now has an exquisite line of hand-rolled truffles to tempt you. Try the caramel milk chocolate blended with small-batch goats’ milk cajeta, a type of dulce de leche.
Available at: Mercantile Dining & Provision (Union Station, 1701 Wynkoop St.); The Shop at the Gardens (Denver Botanic Gardens, 1007 York St.); Cured (1825 Pearl St., Boulder; 2019 10th St., Boulder)
Chocolate lovers tend to be passionate humans, and Moksha co-owner Michael Caine is no exception. Not only is he devoted to crafting bean-to-bar chocolate for his Boulder-based brand, but he won’t do it without intimately knowing where the cacao beans come from, how they’re produced, fermented, and roasted, and paying top dollar for them. That’s why he and wife/co-owner Jennifer also run the Shanao Cacao Collective, a non-profit dedicated to improving the farming conditions, conservation efforts, and supply chain in the Alto Mayo Valley in Peru, from where they source Moksha’s Criollo cacao. Michael even goes as far as pressing his own cacao butter, which results in incredibly smooth, deeply-flavored treats. As a result, his white chocolate, made entirely from cacao butter, is a marvel, as is his silky vegan pink milk chocolate, which uses coconut milk powder in place of dairy milk. Many of the brand’s bars also come with a calming dose of CBD sourced from Colorado-grown hemp, and Moksha is partnering with fellow local sustainability leaders Bona Coffee Roasters, Living Tea, Dry Land Distillers, and Kingman Estate Winery on special gift collaborations and virtual events.
Available at: Weathervane Cafe (1725 East 17th Avenue); Cured (1825 Pearl St., Boulder; 2019 10th St., Boulder); Moxie Bread Company (641 Main St., Louisville); and online for delivery. 2746 47th St., Boulder, 720-648-8815
Chocolate Shops and Brands
Chocoholics, take note: These shops and online brands stock everything you need to satisfy your cravings. All of these Colorado-based businesses produce their own confections, generally using high-quality bulk chocolate that they melt down rather than relying on the intensive bean-to-bar model described above.
High-school sweethearts (now spouses) Jenny Bazzetta and Sean Price are the hard-working team behind Colorado Springs-based Bonbon Bombardier, where they bring Price’s chef chops and Bazzetta’s chocolatier experience to bear in a wide array of artisanal treats, both chocolate and otherwise. Their bonbons, barks, bars, caramels, pate de fruits, and marshmallows are all made with organic, sustainably-sourced and -grown ingredients, and their packaging is eco-friendly, too. But if flavor rules all, then Bonbon Bombardier is a keeper: Its pâte de fruits are incredibly jammy and vibrant, the caramels—especially the best-selling vegan salted coconut variety—are smooth and decadent, and the chocolates, including a pink ruby chocolate Meyer lemon bonbon they created for Valentine’s Day, are melt-in-your-mouth marvelous.
214 ½ North Tejon St., Colorado Springs, 719-301-9033
In 2010, self-taught chocolatier Phil Simonson left a corporate career to open a sweets shop, which he expanded in 2017 to include a full bar and restaurant—the only chocolate-centric eatery of its kind in Denver. His hand-crafted truffles are infused with savory flavors like ancho chile, Serrano ham, and onion; he makes buttery salted caramels and almond toffee; and his chocolate-covered marshmallows make excellent gifts all on their own. But better yet, why not order a party platter to give (or get) a taste of them all?
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 a selection of dark-chocolate-almond bark, milk-chocolate-pecan turtles, or any of the all-natural bars, available in versions like blueberry-cashew or 55 percent dark dusted with freshly ground espresso beans. The shop also offers a best-sellers bundle, a box featuring Pech’s award-winning toffee, sea salt caramels, a turtle, and a box of assorted bonbons—which is just what the doctor ordered.
2560 W. Main St., Littleton, 303-795-7913
If you’re searching for Colorado-made craft chocolates in outrageously clever flavor combinations, look no further than Carbondale’s Cocoa Tree Chocolates. Owner Abby Mandel, who happens to have a Ph.D. in nutrition science and who wrote her dissertation on taste perception, tinkers endlessly to come up with the perfect pairings for her hand-painted truffles and cylindrical, ganache-filled bars. Her banana bread truffle—filled with walnut marzipan and banana white chocolate ganache—contains a dream combo, and the new coffee hazelnut bar with coffee caramel ganache and a cocoa nib center is more than just doctor approved. Assemble your own custom assortment or let Mandel surprise you—either way, you’ll be satisfied.
Available at: Online for delivery; the Launchpad (76 South 4th St., Carbondale) and True Nature (100 North 3rd St., Carbondale); Meat and Cheese (319 East Hopkins Ave., Aspen)
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 former owner Erich Dietrich’s for 15 years, purchased the business in 2016 and changed the name. Since then, she’s infused the shop with new life while maintaining the quality of the handcrafted confections. We’re partial to the cranberry macadamia crunch bar, but little ones will love the foil-wrapped milk and dark chocolate hearts.
1734 Evans St., 720-925-5982
In February 2020, Cultura Craft Chocolate opened a new factoria and cafe in the Rise Westwood building, where the company now produces all of its bean-to-bar confections. The two chocolatiers behind the project bring years of experience and deep expertise, and the brand’s 70 percent Haiti and 70 percent whisky-and-nibs bars took home Good Food Awards in 2017 and 2020, respectively. While Cultura’s line of origin bars showcase the pure flavors of ethically sourced, organic cacao from Haiti, Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico, gin lovers will adore its 75 percent gin-and-juniper bar: Belize cacao infused with Leopold Bros. Navy Strength Gin, sprinkled with homemade juniper sugar.
3742 Morrison Rd., email@example.com
Juicy cherry cordials. Gorgeous chocolate bars embedded with pretzels, candied orange slices, or caramelized cacao nibs. Adorable, Valentine-worthy solid mini chocolate bears and teardrop-shaped truffles filled with ganache infused with Bookcliff Vineyards’ late harvest Grand Valley Zinfandel. All of that and more are being made in Boulder by Loveland-native and United States Marine Corps. Lieutenant Colonel Brandon “Candy Man” Busch, who served for 10 years and through two combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a heavy-lift helicopter pilot. (During his deployment, he read the Culinary Institute of America’s textbooks cover-to-cover.) After earning a pastry degree and running a catering business, Busch opened Lift Chocolates in 2017. Now, he spends his days creating new and delicious chocolate treats that will delight your palate—and inevitably lift your spirits.
6395 Gunpark Dr., Boulder, 303-447-1001
This Stanley Marketplace shop is all about chocolate; even the truffles are displayed on chocolate slabs. You’ll find an array of colorful hand-painted bonbons (try the simple-but-lovely vanilla bean flavor), stunning chocolate-based confections, and hand-made bars. For Valentine’s Day 2021, Miette rolled out several new products: pastel-hued caramel-filled chocolate lips; strawberry-chocolate-pistachio and white-chocolate-Oreo bars; a box of hazelnut, caramel, and almond spreads; and Randy the Unicorn, an chocolate figurine filled with candy and chocolate pebbles. In other sweet news, Miette’s second retail location on East Colfax Avenue, which is really a chocolate boutique and art gallery, opens February 9.
The Stanley Marketplace, 2501 Dallas St., Aurora; 9905 E. Colfax, Aurora
This 10-year-old Boulder confectionary specializes in all things chocolate, from truffles and imported bars to cakes, tortes, cookies, and pastries. You can’t go wrong with one of the house-made bars, like PL&C’s gourmet take on the Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Crème bar: 64 percent dark chocolate drizzled with white chocolate and dotted with crunchy Amoreos (house-made, gluten-free take on an Oreo). But the truffles, which come in iterations like cherry pie à la mode, Mile High Spirits Fireside Whisky caramel, and honey lavender, are also a home run.
805 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-449-4804
Vail Village and Beaver Creek Village are both home to the luxe chocolate (and gelato) brand, Rimini Chocolate, which was started by pastry chef Michele Hyuke and chocolate pro Michael Schneider, creator of Chocolatier Magazine, in 2008. The Rimini cafes in both tony mountain towns offer a bounty of chocolate goodies, as well as 24 daily gelato flavors, pastries, sandwiches, crepes, and coffee drinks, and you can also order truffles for delivery nationwide. They arrive looking like precious jewels set in their black boxes, which we say is a better gift than jewelry ever could be.
Available at: 675 Lionshead Pl, Vail; 45 W. Thomas Pl, Avon; online for delivery
In July 2020, this 26-year-old spot moved from its home in Sloan’s Lake to a new storefront in Berkeley, where its shelves are lined with fudge, truffles, bars, and other decadent goodies. Roberta’s is known for its selection of chocolates molded into different shapes, from flowers and animals to Colorado sports team emblems. Treat your favorite person (or yourself) to a bag of chocolate-dipped pretzel rods sprinkled with nonpareils or a box of truffles, especially the pralines and cream and habanero varieties.
4022 Tennyson St., 303-824-2069
Founded and operated by Elaine Kanelos, whose grandfather, Andy, invented Andes Candies in 1921, Denver-based Snow Owl makes rich, luscious fudge sauces from organic Arriba cacao that’s grown and roasted in Ecuador. There are four custom flavors—buttery traditional, potent bourbon-laced, dark chocolate, and mint—and each one is good enough to eat straight from the jar. For the more civilized chocoholic, try drizzling the warm sauces over ice cream and cake and using them as dipping sauces for fruit, cookies, and marshmallows, a la chocolate fudge fondue. Look out for the just-launched Fudge of the Month club too, from which members receive jars of fudge sauce each month as well as custom recipes.
Chocolate is a family affair at Stargazer on Colorado Boulevard, where father-daughter owners John and Karen D’Onofrio work alongside Karen’s husband, Jason, who is the chief operating officer, and John’s granddaughter, just beginning her chocolate retail career at 14 years old. Karen makes all the sweet treats, and rightfully so; she got her start learning from the original owner of south Denver’s Dietrich’s, and then earned the designation of Master Chocolatier at Ecole Chocolat in San Francisco. Her education and experience result in craft truffles, solid bars, barks, and chocolate-dipped items, including graham crackers and rice krispie treats that Karen makes from scratch. Alongside the beautiful chocolates, Stargazer offers espresso drinks made with Huckleberry Roasters’ beans; Kingman Estate wines; and the best hot chocolate—made on site with ground bits of whole chocolate, not a dehydrated powder—in town.
700 Colorado Blvd, 303-392-4000
Temper, located inside the Denver Central Market on Larimer Street in RiNo and at DIA, is owned by culinary entrepreneur Mark Callahan and led by head chocolatier Anna Martinez. The shop specializes in gorgeous painted truffles in chef-driven flavors (think: strawberry and Champagne, blood orange and chai) and also sells a selection of craft chocolate bars from around the world. Order a selection of liégewaffles enrobed in chocolate or a custom box of 12 bonbons for yourself and those you love. For the carnivorous, Temper also collaborated with Smōk at the Source Hotel & Market Hall on two smoked caramel bonbons: one made with dark chocolate, brisket fat, caramel, and smoked almond, and another produced with milk chocolate, pork fat, caramel, and chicharon; get them at both the restaurant and the chocolate shop while supplies last.
The Denver Central Market, 2669 Larimer St.