Chocolate Buying Guides Chocolate Gifts

Valentine’s Day: Fine Chocolate Gifts and Experiences (Part 1)

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it is time to start thinking about how you might show that special someone how much you care. This festive celebration of love has many iconic symbols that make the day recognizable, whether they are flowers, candies, or just a red heart sent in the mail. Above all else, nothing says Valentine’s Day more than a box of chocolates.  

This year, we at Make Mine Fine want to spread the love from our members to you. So many exciting features are being offered this season by many of our associated chocolatiers, whether it’s a classic milk chocolate heart to an easy and festive and strawberry rocher recipe experience. With Valentine’s Day only two weeks away, be sure to order today!

Box of three heart-shaped chocolates and three bonbons, with a ribbon around the box lid

andSons Chocolates

To begin, we have andSons Chocolatiers. Located in Beverly Hills, CA, this second-generation chocolatier is run by two brothers born into the fine chocolate industry, but not into their love for the craft. As they continue to make confections out of their LA kitchen, their Valentine’s Small Gesture Box offers big things in small packages. Send this to a friend or loved one and put a smile on their face.

Boxes of assorted fine chocolates, each with a different mix

Dancing Lion Chocolate

Next, we have a step-up from the traditional box of chocolates with Dancing Lion Chocolate’s Bonbon Sharing Boxes. With this box, you only need to decide your size — the rest is a surprise. The chocolates sent will be a sample of some of Dancing Lion’s most recent creations. If you or your special someone is a lover of the unknown, this is the perfect gift.

Large box containing chocolate gifts

Christopher Elbow Chocolates

This Valentine’s Day celebration can last more than just a day. Since 2003, Christopher Elbow Chocolates has been producing quality cultivations with a modern twist. Containing their signature nine-piece chocolate collection in a red and gold box, one round of toffee, one round of chocolate covered almonds, two dark chocolate fleur de sel pecan caramels, and three signature chocolate bars, this Artisan Chocolate Gift Box won’t disappoint.

Hollow chocolate heart, broken open to reveal more chocolates inside, next to a rose flower arrangement

KAIRI Chocolate

Additionally, KAIRI Chocolate has created the one heart that is ok to break … one made from chocolate.  The delicate outer shells hold even more edible fun inside and are great theatrical gifts. The best part is that there is no wrapper to throw away!  Visit KAIRI’S Facebook page to learn more.

Ruby-colored chocolates

Valrhona Chocolate

To wrap up our list, Valrhona Chocolate has a special red recipe perfect for February 14. Sourcing their fine cocoa in the small village of Tain L’Hermitage, France, Valrhona Chocolate’s founder and Pastry Chef Albéric Guironnet prides himself in the combination of complex and unique flavors.  Whether you’re an experienced chocolatier or just looking to try something new and fun with someone you care about, these Strawberry Rochers made with their Fruit and Nut Couvert are sure to satisfy.  

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Recommended Chocolate Cookbooks – The Perfect Holiday Gift

Recently, I asked acclaimed chef and FCIA board member Maricel Presilla to help me develop a list of chocolate cookbooks to share with our readers. She provided some wonderful suggestions geared for the beginner, all the way to the master chef level. I also added her book to the list, along with a few others! Hopefully you will find the perfect holiday gift from our selections below.   

From FCIA members

Making Chocolate from Bean to Bar to S’more: A Cookbook

Dandelion Chocolate (Clarkson Potter, 2017)

Here is the chronicle of Dandelion, the evolving bean-to-bar company that brought chocolate cool back to San Francisco. With recipes that will make you run to the kitchen in anticipation of complex flavors and dreams of the lands of fine cacao, this is a book that might inspire you to follow on the footsteps of the dynamic team that gave life to this innovative chocolate factory cum cafe in the heart of the Mission district. Inspiring and useful.

Guittard Chocolate Cookbook: Decadent Recipes from San Francisco’s Premium Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Company

Amy Guittard (Chronicle Books, 2015)

Amy Guittard is the fifth generation of the Guittard family, the sole owners of the venerable Guittard Chocolate Company. The company was founded in 1868 by Etienne Guittard, a Frenchman from Tournous who landed in San Francisco looking for gold only to discover a more enduring treasure, chocolate. With 60 recipes of differing levels of complexity and contributions from San Francisco chocolate stars such as Alice Medrich, this is a cookbook that tells an important chapter of the American chocolate story from a company that remains true to its roots.

The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Chocolate with Recipes, Second Edition

Maricel E. Presilla (Ten Speed Press, 2009)

In its 2000 and revised and expanded 2009 editions, The New Taste of Chocolate, a serious reference book from award-winning scholar and chef Maricel E. Presilla, inspired chocolate lovers, makers, and farmers to look deeper into fine cacao from Latin America. This was the first book of its kind to visually present a thorough overview of cacao varieties and their individual flavor profiles from a first-hand perspective and within a historical framework with chocolate recipes, both savory and sweet, calling for specific origins and percentages instead of using generic terms like bittersweet or bitter that mean little to cooks. A book to savor for its scholarship and for recipes that inspire.

Essence of Chocolate

Robert Steinberg and John Scharffenberger (Hyperion, 2006)

John Scharffenberger, a former sparkling wine maker, and Robert Steinberg, a retired physician who loved cooking and had done a brief stint as an apprentice under the legendary Maurice Bernachon, joined forces to create a small craft chocolate factory in 1996, Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker. Beginning in South San Francisco and expanding four years later in Berkeley, they made waves and gained converts. Their chocolate blends made with carefully sourced fine cacao inspired a new generation of small artisanal chocolate makers in the US. This book, born in the Berkeley stage of the Scharffen Berger project, tells the history of an iconic chocolate company and its founders with enticing recipes for all levels of expertise, many from great chocolate experts and chefs such as Flo Braker and Thomas Keller. Visually attractive, the book impresses with quality food and evocative field photography taken at one of the company’s suppliers of Dominican cacao, Hacienda Helvesia, in the island’s El Valle cacao region.

Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate

Pam Williams and Jim Eber (Wilmor Publishing Corporation, 2019)

In the spirit of The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate tells the story of what that next movement in the fine-flavor chocolate symphony might hold. Told in four lively parts covering everything from before the bean to after the bar – genetics, farming, manufacturing, and bonbons – the book features interviews with dozens of international stakeholders across the fine-flavor industry to consider the promises and pitfalls ahead. It looks through what is happening today to understand where things are going, while unwrapping the possibilities for the millions of us who believe that life without the very best chocolate is no life at all.

From master pastry chefs

Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé

Pierre Hermé and Dorie Greenspan (Little, Brown, and Company, 2001)

Dorie Greenspan, a respected US pastry expert and cookbook author with vast experience in France, distills the genius of Pierre Hermé’s chocolate desserts in a book that is both a visual feast and an invaluable source of inspiration for anyone who loves fine chocolate. One of the first renown pastry chefs to work with fine chocolate, Pierre Hermé’s chocolate desserts combine boundless imagination and impeccable technical skill. An essential cookbook in any serious chocolate library.  

Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate

Alice Medrich (Artisan, 2003)

Alice Medrich, a beloved San Francisco award-winning author and pastry chef, showcased the possibilities of fine dark chocolate with higher cacao content than was the norm when she opened her iconic shop and atelier Cocolat in Berkely more than thirty years ago. This book tells part of her groundbreaking story with delicious recipes in the clear voice of a born teacher.

The Great Book of Chocolate

David Lebowitz (Ten Speed Press, 2004)

An alumnus of Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse and a graduate of Callebaut College in Belgium, the Ecole Lenôtre, and Valrhona’s Ecole du Grand Chocolat, David Lebowiz made a name for himself in San Francisco as an innovative pastry chef with an expertise in chocolate during the heyday of small craft chocolate companies such as Sharffen Berger. Before moving to Paris, where his blogs and cookbooks have attracted a cult following, he wrote this chocolate book for Ten Speed Press’s s Big Book series, tall and slender tomes on single subjects that are both fun and useful. Here is a collection of terrific chocolate recipes worth trying.

For beginners

Chocolate for Beginners: Techniques and Recipes for Making Chocolate Candy, Confections, Cakes, and More

Kate Shaffer (Rockridge Press, 2019)

Clear and informative with beginners in mind, this is a cookbook for first-time users and aficionados of chocolate needing to be taken by the hand by a gentle teacher. Give it to that motivated someone in your life, with a five-pound bag of chocolate couverture for lots of practice

For professionals

The Art of the Chocolatier

Ewald Notter (Wiley, 2011)

From renowned confectioner and pastry chef Ewald Notter, a gold medal winner of the Coupe du Monde in Lyon, France, this is a comprehensive illustrated overview of the exacting art and science of chocolate confections. A valuable resource for any chocolatier.

Chocolates and Confections: Formula, Theory, and Techniques for the Artisan Confectioner, Second Edition

Peter P. Greweling (Wiley, 2012)

Years teaching baking and pastry arts at The Culinary Institute of America inform Greweling’s impressive compendium of chocolate and confections. Described as a Bible on the subject by admiring readers, it is an indispensable reference for anyone seriously interested in the technical aspects of artisan confections.

Encyclopedia of Chocolate; Essential Recipes and Techniques, Edited by Frederic Bau, Second Revised Edition

Ecole du Grand Chocolate Valrhona (Flammarion, 2018)

Targeting mainly those who want to perfect their chocolate desserts, this is a pictorial cookbook with step-by-step instructions edited by Frederic Bau, the renowned instructor of Ecole du Grand Chocolate Valrhona in collaboration with master pâtissier Pierre Hermé. Among the important contributions of this lavishly illustrated and elegant tome are sound techniques that can be applied to chocolate desserts made with any fine chocolate, not just Valrhona’s.

For vegans

Vegan Chocolate: Unapologetically Luscious and Decadent Dairy-Free Desserts

Fran Costigan (Running Press Adult, 2013)

A New York-based pastry chef and teacher, Fran Costigan lives what she preaches, embracing a diet free of all animal products, including eggs and dairy, and applying it creatively to her cooking and baking with chocolate. For those looking for deliciousness in dairy and egg-free chocolate desserts, this cookbook is the answer.

For passionate cooks

Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies

Laura Esquivel (Anchor, 1995)

A jewel of Latin American magic realism for those who believe in the wonders and mysteries of cooking. There might not be much hot chocolate in this novel, but plenty of passionate cooking stirs the senses like the burbling, steaming hot water needed for a hearty cup of Mexican chocolate.

Make your gift complete with 220 gram bag of Goodnow Almendra Blanca Single Origin Hot Cocoa, made with premium cacao from Tabasco, Mexico, a Gold and Best in Competition prize winner in the recent International Chocolate Awards World Drinking Chocolate Competition 2020 in Hannover, Germany.

Chocolate Buying Guides Chocolate Gifts

Fine Chocolate Gifts for the Holidays (Part 2)

Last week, I posted some holiday chocolate gift ideas from members of the Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA). Here is part 2, which was prepared by FCIA Intern, Ulgen Kurygin. We hope you enjoy it!

Remember, ordering from Make Mine Fine helps to support artisan chocolate makers and farming communities who grow cocoa responsibly in the tropics. 

Hot Chocolate 

Chocolate Advent Calendars

Gift Jars of Chocolate Sauce

Interesting Chocolate Gifts

Holiday Seasonal Chocolate Boxes

Chocolate Buying Guides Chocolate Gifts

Fine Chocolate Gifts for the Holidays (Part 1)

The Make Mine Fine website has made it easier than ever to find the perfect holiday chocolate gift for someone special in your life. Chocolate gifts can enhance any of the upcoming holidays:   

  • November 26: Thanksgiving (United States)
  • December 8: Bodhi – Day of Enlightenment (Bhudhist)  
  • December 10 – December 18: Hanukkah (Jewish)
  • December 25: Christmas (Christian)
  • December 21 – 25: Pancha Ganapati (Hindu) 
  • December 26 – January 1: Kwanzaa (Pan-African festival)
  • January 1: New Year’s Day 

Ordering fine chocolate from Make Mine Fine helps to support artisan chocolate makers and farming communities who grow cocoa responsibly in the tropics. 

Are you looking for gluten free or sugar free chocolate? Perhaps you are interested to find some great new chocolate recipes. Our new search feature allows you to easily find any of these specialty items. Simply go to the homepage, scroll down to “Select Category,” and choose what you are looking for.  

Here is my list of chocolate gift ideas and classes for the holidays. (And also check out our other chocolate gift guides.)

Luxx Chocolat 
(New Jersey)

Voted one of the best chocolatiers and confectioners in America for the past five years, Luxx Chocolat offers great chocolate, special events planning, pairings and tastings, and classes.

Luxx Chocolat chocolates with gift packaging and ribbon
Luxx Chocolat November 2020 collection

Marzipan trees from Lake Champlain Chocolates

Lake Champlain Chocolates 

It is hard to resist the holiday selection boxes or the marizipan trees that are specially made in Vermont. Lake Champlain Chocolates’ handcrafted chocolates capture the essence of Vermont, the tradition of craftsmanship, over 35 years of expertise, and passion for quality, in all of their products.

Amore di Mona (Kentucky)

Amore di Mona’s luxury gift boxes are hand packaged with gold foil, ribbons, seasonal embellishments and French aladine sax seals. They evoke old world sophistication, while satisfying modern desire.  

Mignardise Collection from Amore di Mona

Traditional Drinking Chocolate from Dancing Lion Chocolate

Dancing Lion Chocolate 
(New Hampshire)

Dancing Lion Chocolate sources their chocolate from small farms and artisan chocolate makers globally. Everything is made from scratch at their shop in historic Manchester, NH. Dancing Lion has received numerous international awards.  

Caputo’s Market and Deli (Utah)

Check out Caputo’s holiday offerings. They include private online tasting classes featuring chocolate, cheese, and regional specialties. You may also be interested in Caputo’s Party Kits, ideal for a virtual party. Each kit includes party boxes filled with cheese, chocolate, and salami sent to each attendee’s door, plus Caputo’s emcee over a Zoom web meeting to lead the event with trivia and games. They also have beautiful gift collections, perfect for the holiday season.  

Caputo’s Party Kit

The Chocolate Enthusiast 

Located high in the mountains of Colorado, the Chocolate Enthusiast offers customers a delightful selection of craft chocolate from around the world. Services include tasting experiences, pairings, and education. 

Dandelion Chocolate 

Dandelion Small Batch Chocolate offers some wonderful chocolate gift sets and online tasting courses. You may also find their recent blog on drinking chocolate of particular interest as we enter the winter season.

Gâteau Basque from Dandelion Chocolate

Specialty chocolates from Xocolla Chocolate

Xocolla Chocolate (Texas) 

Xocolla is featuring white chocolate and “Matcha” green tea bars for the holidays. They also have a variety of single origin bars from Latin America as well as Madagascar.  

indi Chocolate 

There are many great gift ideas offered by indi Chocolates, including truffle boxes, single origin bars, and dark chocolate with dried cherries. These items will bring holiday cheer for your family and friends.

Variety box of 25 chocolate truffles from indi Chocolates

Driftless Indulgence 20-piece Bonbon/Truffle Assortment

Driftless Chocolates 

You will not want to miss the new truffle offerings from Driftless Chocolates. Many of the truffles have a special color scheme that can be matched to your favorite holiday.  

General News Sustainability

My Journey from an African Classroom to Fine Chocolate

It’s hard to believe that next year marks my third anniversary as Executive Director of the Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA). My career path is different from most of the nearly 300 members of our organization. I don’t have a background in culinary arts or chocolate making, nor as a pastry chef. I do, however, have a deep respect for those who make quality chocolate products and the passion and artistry they bring to their businesses. I also am a self-proclaimed “chocoholic.”

My professional career began in 1984 when I joined the US Peace Corps, serving for two years in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mompono is a small village situated south of the Congo river, deep in the rainforest. There, I taught tropical agriculture and biology to 150 high school students at a Catholic Mission. The challenges were many. Residents of Mompono lacked running water, electricity, healthcare services, stores, and any regular communication with the outside world. Despite the hardships, I was amazed at the resiliency of the community and the eagerness of students to learn and excel in school. This experience helped shape my interest and career path in international agriculture.

After receiving my masters’ degree in agricultural economics from Michigan State University in 1990, I returned to the Democratic Republic of the Congo for another two years, this time based at an agricultural research station in the Katanga Region. The USAID-funded project provided thousands of farmers with improved maize and peanut seeds, as well as training on farming and marketing. Covered loading docks and bridges were constructed to help store and transport products from rural areas to food deficit areas within the region.

For the eight years that followed, I worked on a number of agricultural development projects. In the Philippines, I joined teams to establish electronic marketing and price information systems among retail and wholesale markets, systems which still operate today. In Sri Lanka, I helped design improved wholesale and retail food distribution in Colombo, for the Ministry of Planning. In Jordan, I worked within the Ministry of Agriculture to improve efficiency and planning of agricultural investments.

My career took another turn in 1998 when I joined the US Grains Council. As their Director of Business Development, I identified new markets for US corn, barley, and sorghum. This involved extensive travel to Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia to support and promote feed grains for livestock development.

In 2000, I was asked by major branded chocolate and cocoa processors to lead their cocoa sustainability efforts. At the time, there was very limited knowledge of cocoa farming systems, deforestation threats, child labor or certification.

The World Cocoa Foundation was formed shortly afterwards. I served as WCF president for nearly 16 years, improving understanding and building alliances.

Chocolate sampling tables at an FCIA event

My journey then led me to FCIA, where I am proud to represent a truly extraordinary group of companies and staff who are dedicated to making quality chocolate products and sourcing cocoa in an ethical and responsible manner.

Despite the challenges of the COVID pandemic in 2020, I see some of the same resiliency that I first noticed in communities during my Peace Corps experience. FCIA and our members are adapting to a challenging business environment and will continue to promote and grow this wonderful segment of the chocolate industry. We could not have made this kind of progress without the many partners inside and outside our community.

Thank you.


Addressing Poverty and Child Labor in Cocoa: A Fine Chocolate Perspective

Despite the COVID pandemic, families and friends around the world are looking forward to the upcoming holiday season. This is the time of the year when we celebrate our blessings and dine together. Chocolate will invariably be on the menu, since it is one of the most popular desserts in the world.

As you prepare holiday menus and shop for food, take a moment to think about your chocolate purchase. Where was the chocolate made? Where were the ingredients sourced from, and by whom? 

Most cocoa is grown in West Africa. In recent years, production in this region has expanded and currently accounts for over 70 percent of global supply. The nearly 2 million farms in the region are managed by families on individual landholdings of less than 5 acres. In these rural areas, there is limited infrastructure, social services, or regulatory oversight.

Since farming is a family business, children routinely help to clear land, maintain orchards, and harvest cocoa. This can involve hazardous work such as pesticide applications, machete use, and carrying heavy loads. Many children living on farms do not have access to or attend school. The overarching problem in the region is a marketing system that clearly benefits large companies and governments, while famers remain impoverished. Poverty and child labor are invariably interlinked.

This month, NORC at the University of Chicago issued a report commissioned by the US Department of Labor to assess progress on child labor mitigation efforts on cocoa farms in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. A second report, conducted by NORC and issued by the World Cocoa Foundation, examined company-specific programs to combat child labor in cocoa supply chains. The overall findings from NORC showed a persistent and ogoing problem of child labor on farms in West Africa. Rick Scoby at the World Cocoa Foundation provided a comprehensive and balanced review of both reports. As he said, “It is important to note this report, led by the U.S. Department of Labor, is not about the abhorrent practices of forced child labor or forced adult labor in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, which other studies show is extremely rare in the cocoa sector.”

The NORC reports made several recommendations, such as scaling up company programs, increasing child labor monitoring and remediation, adopting living income differential (LID) wages for farmers, and investing significantly in education. To learn more about LID, please visit FCIA member’s Uncommon Cacao’s blog explaining how this works.

Is there the political will to make this happen? Are there any significant changes to the cocoa marketing system that can result in better equity for farmers?

The Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA) and our 300 members represent companies dedicated to promoting and supporting fine chocolate. Although our footprint is small in comparison to the full chocolate industry, our company members are innovative and offer consumers quality and healthy chocolate. This website, Make Mine Fine Marketplace, lists over 80 of our company members who sell chocolate directly to consumers online. Learn about how these companies source cocoa and compensate farmers in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. We also encourage you to take a virtual journey to cocoa producing countries to learn the history, farming and marketing practices, and unique flavor profiles in each country. 

To reduce cocoa farmer poverty, cocoa farmers need to make more for their crop. Are you willing to pay more for quality chocolate, knowing that you are not only supporting artisan chocolate companies but also helping cocoa farmers and their families?