Break-up or break-time, bad day or good luck – it’s no exaggeration to say that chocolate has become something of a panacea to any eventuality in life, ever since it was brought over to Britain in the 17th century.
But the actual origins of the sweet treat that we know and love today goes back centuries. In fact, it has been discovered that as early as 1900BC, those living is what is today known as Mexico fermented, roasted and ground the cacao plant to produce a paste that was then mixed with water and flavourings and drunk.
Some time after this, the Europeans adapted the recipe for the original cacao drink by adding large amounts of sugar to suit the palate of the West and it wasn’t until 1847 that Joseph Fry discovered how to convert chocolate back into a solid, thus resembling something close to what we think of as chocolate nowadays.
So, what of the chocolate of current times?
Well, don’t get me wrong, we all enjoy a good old galaxy bar now and again but there’s something particularly special about the higher-end chocolate brands that makes the whole experience that little bit more tempting.
Perhaps it’s the packaging – the pristinely wrapped box tied up tightly with ribbon that promises the secrets of all sorts of untold happiness. Or maybe it’s the act of gifting itself – we often give chocolate to friends and loved ones as a sign of appreciation, meaning any future box is bound to be filled with goodness.
Personally, though, I think it’s all about the taste. Good-quality chocolate just brings something extra to the table. So here’s a list of our top luxury chocolate brands – all of which have excellent vegan options too for all the free-from friends out there – that are sure to tantalise taste buds.
Chococo may not have as long-established a history as some of the other luxury chocolate labels out there but that doesn’t mean their expertise is any less.
In fact, many in the field would say that with such an abundance of brands out there, it’s even more impressive that Chococo has managed to make a dent in the high-walled chocolate world and thus rightfully take their place among many of the big names.
This independent artisan group was founded by husband and wife team Andy and Claire Burnet, who struck gold with the decision to focus on producing chocolates that are fresh in the truest sense of the word. By using locally sourced and seasonal ingredients, they have carefully created a brand that knows what they’re doing, and does it really well.
You can really tell the attention to detail that goes into the chocolates, with each one almost looking like a miniature piece of art because of the way there are put together – and the taste is nothing short of fantastic too.
If you thought I was finished there, you’re mistaken. Chococo has maximised its potential and also broken into the realm of brownies, which look positively mouth-watering. Need I say more?
Paul A Young
If putting a name to a face is on your agenda when picking brands, Paul A Young is the place to head.
Paul has spent time honing his craft, working hands-on with his team at their two London shops, and that effort is certainly reflected in the superior-quality chocolates he produces. Everything is made by hand in-shop, using fresh ingredients that are free from additives or preservatives, and you only need to look to the numerous awards that his products have won to be able to appreciate his mastery of the chocolate realm.
His chocolates come in a mixed medley of flavours – from elderflower and gin, to peach, pineapple and piña colada, and even the divisive love-hate Marmite truffle – that are guaranteed to stimulate taste buds with their uniqueness.
If you’re bored of traditional chocolates and are wanting something that offers exciting and new tastes, head over to Paul A Young today (either in person or on his new online webshop). If one thing’s for certain, wherever flavour goes, Paul follows.
I first came across Coco at their little shop in Edinburgh and have constantly come back to them as a reference for chocolate done well – not just in taste, but also sourcing.
Chocolate sourcing has often been put under scrutiny because of the sometimes unscrupulous methods that pay pennies to cocoa farmers whilst the big bosses sit on their riches. But this is not the case with Coco, who use Columbian locals to help source and farm the cocoa beans, ensuring that more money stays in the country and so supporting developing economies.
All of their chocolate come in beautifully designed packaging, with bright colours and patterns that truly sing to the thought and effort that goes into each bar. They come in a variety of flavours, with the unusual but surprisingly delectable haggis, as well as Isle of Skye sea salt, clearly referencing their Scottish heritage, and Earl Grey tea and gin and tonic proving interesting twists on the classics.
Through its diversity of flavours, Coco is the perfect example of how a brand can both do good, as well as taste good.
Friars offer more varieties of chocolate than you could imagine; from no added sugar and gluten free, to palm oil-free, they have made it their mission to ensure that no one misses out on indulgence.
The focus here is founded in quality, with any new product set before a strict tasting panel who will only introduce it to the line if the product scores above 9/10. This ensures taste remains a primary focus that continues to serve the founder’s original message.
If you’re after a bit of fun, Friars’s novelty selection is just the (golden) ticket where chocolate takes on a number of interesting shapes (games controllers, breasts, tool kits, makeup, cigars, golf balls and pizza to name but a few). However, where they really lead the way is in their free-from section and, after taking a look at their extensive collection, it’s easy to see why.
Instead of the very limited, if not non-existent, offerings of the past, the brand has ensured they are keeping up to date with current trends by making a range of free-from offerings where the carefully crafted exterior is also matched in taste. What a revolution!
If chocolate was like fashion, then Hotel Chocolat would fall in the high end of the high street. It’s hard to find a quality chocolate brand that isn’t more than a pretty penny, but Hotel Chocolat fills that space between off-the-rack and designer wear.
Their mouth-watering chocolate comes in a range of flavours and prices so there’s sure to be something for everyone. Their slabs are the perfect thing to sink your teeth into or, for those who fancy something a little more refined, their chocolate boxes come in a huge variety of flavours that change regularly with the seasons.
I recently tried their vegan sleekster box and was pleasantly surprised by how creamy the nutmilk chocolates were. My top pick was definitely the peanut butter and nutmilk buche – it’s just a shame you can’t buy them individually!
More luxurious than a Mars bar but less frivolous than Moët, Hotel Chocolat falls perfectly between your everyday chocolate and the stuff of connoisseurs.
If you need an excuse to eat chocolate without the guilt, try Goodio. As the name suggests, their chocolate is stuffed full of goodness. Using organic, nutritious ingredients and made from raw cacao – which is classed a superfood due to being rich in antioxidants – their raw, vegan chocolate bars are nothing short of inspiring.
But the buck doesn’t stop there. The brand was founded on the principals of sustainability, transparency and wellbeing, meaning you can be certain that purpose comes before profit.
The flavours of their chocolate are inspired by the Nordic countries – think buckthorn and wild blueberry, as well as the more typical mint and sea salt – which truly brings a new side to traditional flavours of old.
Goodio has a great thing going here, setting a precedent for the future of chocolate and bringing an inspiring product to the masses.
I’d be surprised if you haven’t already heard of renowned chocolatiers Rococo, as they truly are part of the crème de la crème of the chocolate-making world.
Established in London in 1983, the brand offer a real tasting experience through their chocolates that is matched by few. Their five-pillar philosophy, which is rooted in taste and quality, attests to the care and detail that goes into every product.
The bars come in an abundance of tantalising flavours, including spice island and big smoke, but it is their chocolate boxes that really sing of their superior quality.
As well as the well-loved classes such as their rose and violet creams and dark chocolate ginger, Rococo also offer a whole host of mixed boxes to truly indulge in. I particularly like the dark and nutty collection, which is filled with an enticing array of almond and orange, raspberry and almond, and yuzu and date pralines, enrobed in rich dark chocolate. They are the perfect thing for a post-dinner sweet kick and just so happen to be vegan too!
Charbonnel et Walker
Does anyone think of luxury chocolate without thinking of Charbonnel et Walker? Considering they’re endorsed by the royal warrant as one of the few chocolatiers to the Queen, I think it’s unlikely.
Britain’s first chocolatier was founded in 1875 after a uniting of Mrs Walker and Mme Charbonnel, encouraged by the then Prince of Wales. They later set up shop in New Bond Street and have remained there ever since, so clearly must be doing something right.
Charbonnel et Walker’s range is extensive; along with the typical milk, white and dark chocolate, they also have an assortment of truffles and products for all manner of occasion and dietary requirement.
Their truffles come in a variety of interesting flavours, from sea salt banana to pistachio (and even English afternoon tea), with the Marc de Champagne a particularly hard-hitter. If simpler flavours are more your thing, I highly recommend the dark mint thins (which are also suitable for vegans). With a gentle minty freshness, they have all of the richness you’d expect of high-quality dark chocolate with a subtle lift of mint that really give it that edge.
If it’s good enough for Her Majesty…
Blending eastern flavours with the European sweet tooth, Raphia brings the spice and vibrancy of Morocco to life with every bite of their delightful confections.
From dark chocolate-dipped nuts, indulgent chocolate truffles, jewel-like dark fruits and chocolate squares wrapped in gold foil, Raphia’s offering is made for sharing with friends and loved ones.
You might recognise famed Belgian chocolatier, Pierre Marcolini, for his iconic chocolate hearts. Knockout ganaches, silky-smooth caramels and pure milk pralinés are beautifully presented and make an elegant gift for the sweet-tooth in your life.
Ideal for handing over as a gift, this stunningly decorated box is intricately painted in opulent reds and golds - so you can skip the wrapping paper. Inside you’ll find slices of spicy candied ginger blanketed with rich dark chocolate. Elegant and sophisticated, this is the grown-up way to enjoy chocolate.
Purveyors of the finest Italian chocolate, this generous hatbox contains an assortment of their prized sweets. Delve into the sensory high that is Chocaviar with flavours ranging from pistachio, crème brulée and the almost sinfully indulgent crème cacao, a double whammy of delicious chocolate.
No dairy? No problem. Indulge in delicious handmade Fine de Champagne chocolate truffles from boutique confectioner Booja Booja. This box holds 16 richly flavoured vegan sweets in a charmingly patterned box that’s just made for celebrations.
With 100 national and international food awards to their name (to date), it looks like I’m not alone in putting Chococo top of the list of luxury chocolate brands. But don’t just take by word for it, you need to taste it to believe it.