New York City is awash in cocoa butter. Between French-style truffles in Manhattan, Austrian treats in Queens and a feast of raw chocolates in Brooklyn, the City is experiencing a chocolate boom. Upstart artisanal makers are on the rise, while some members of the City's old guard of chocolatiers churn out thousands of pounds of the sweet stuff a day. Here's an unapologetically high-calorie guide.
The SoHo outpost of Kee's Chocolates is one of just a few chocolate workshops left in Manhattan. Owner Kee Ling Tong's handmade truffles are tiny masterpieces of unexpected flavor, balancing chocolate (of course) with saffron and honey, Thai chili or mango green tea.
A bit uptown lies another Manhattan storefront-workroom, tucked away in a nondescript Flatiron District office building. Chocolat Moderne was founded by Joan Coukos Todd, a former banker who changed careers after a trip to Belgium. Two of her chocolate bars—one infused with lime toffee and the other with blood-orange bergamot caramel—have won Sofis, the fancy-food world's equivalent of the Oscars.
Chocolat Moderne. Courtesy, Specialty Food Association. Photo: Mark Ferri
Expect more traditional offerings at Li-Lac Chocolates, which opened in 1923 and still prides itself on being “stubbornly old fashioned.” It was once the oldest chocolate house in Manhattan, but it moved production to Brooklyn in 2014. There, through the factory-store's large windows, you can watch some 140 items—turtles, mints, pralines and the like—being made in small batches from the original recipes.
Li-Lac is one of four chocolate factories to have set up shop along the recently revitalized Sunset Park waterfront in Brooklyn. Industry City, the warehouse complex it calls home, first opened in 1895 and became a bustling seaport that employed 25,000 workers, but its industrial might fizzled out by the 1960s. Now, its 6 million square feet of commercial space is finding new life with chocolatiers.
Jacques Torres, a modern gourmet chocolate pioneer, is another recent transplant. Tours at his just-opened factory in Brooklyn Army Terminal, a group of renovated buildings roughly 20 blocks south of Industry City, are expected to start sometime after the Easter rush, but no dates have been confirmed. With eight stores and an estimated $10 million-plus in 2014 sales, “Mr. Chocolate,” as Torres is known, has a New York City mini-empire. His offerings range from chocolate-smothered Cheerios to high-heeled shoes (made from chocolate, of course).
Jacques Torres Chocolate. Photo: Julienne Schaer
At the other end of the scale, Liddabit Sweets, founded by two pastry school grads in 2009, has a small, popular Industry City café that sells gourmet riffs on favorite candy bars, among other confections. Peeks into the kitchen are welcome.
Tumbador, also in Industry City, has been based here since beginning operations in 2005. Started as a private chocolate label for high-end hotels and resorts, the company also has a nostalgia line that revisits childhood favorites like chocolate-covered marshmallows and Ring Dings; there is, however, no store.
Over by Downtown Brooklyn, Nunu Chocolates combines humble ingredients like potato chips and beer with exquisite chocolate. Hand-dipped salted caramels might evoke some small-town nostalgia, but the products are available at shops nationwide. Watch them being made in the store while you try a frozen hot chocolate.
Raaka Chocolate, founded in 2010, has a new factory in Brooklyn's Red Hook that offers 45-minute tours. Its dark chocolate bars are made from unroasted single-source cocoa beans ground with stone and minimal sugar, and are free of gluten, dairy and nuts. But they're not short on taste: the chocolates are infused with ingredients such as coconut milk and Himalayan pink salt.
Elsewhere in the borough, Fine & Raw Chocolate uses low temperatures in its Bushwick factory to highlight its raw chocolate and “conscious” ingredients like virgin coconut oil and blue agave. An open-plan workshop lets you see how the chocolate is made while you browse.
One of the first Brooklyn-based bean-to-bar makers, Williamsburg's Mast Brothers is sold in more than 500 locations and served in restaurants from Shake Shack to Per Se. The Iowa-born brothers buy beans directly from farmers around the world. There's a brew bar for chocolate drinks and, in back of that, a new tasting room to hold various events. Sign up at mastbrothers.com for tours, tasting seminars and monthly factory dinners with famous guest chefs.
Mast Brothers produces up to 3,000 bars a day, but that's still pretty small scale compared to the Madelaine Chocolate Company. One of New York City's largest and oldest chocolatiers, the family-run company was pouring 100,000 pounds of chocolate a day before Superstorm Sandy devastated its Far Rockaway plant, which only reopened in late 2013 (and is still not operating near its former capacity). You've seen Madelaine’s products—basically anything wrapped in foil and celebrating Easter, Hanukkah, Christmas or Valentine's Day. Though the plant, which remains a significant local employer, isn’t open to the public, you can shop at the small outlet store and take your goods to enjoy while strolling near the water.
The City's oldest operating chocolate maker, Supreme Chocolatier, produces everything from foil-wrapped chocolate ghosts to Bavarian mint meltaways at its factory on Staten Island. Founded in 1911 by a Greek immigrant, it's still owned and operated by the same family. Tours are on hold until spring 2015, but the retail store is open.
Supreme Chocolatier. Photo: Kate Glicksberg
Looking for an old-world candy shop filled from floor to ceiling with homemade German- and Austrian-inspired chocolates? Head to Forest Hills, Queens. Not much has changed at Aigner Chocolates since the store first opened in the 1930s as Krause's Candy Kitchen. John Aigner, a longtime employee, bought the shop in 1960, and it's now run by his grandchildren. Best of all, the chocolate bunnies and truffles that line the walls are still made in the basement.
Meanwhile, SoHo boutique MarieBelle, whose Aztec hot chocolate is Oprah approved, plans to open a second NYC store next to its Greenpoint factory. It's one more bit of evidence that the City's chocolate-making future will be as sweet as its past.