The Aztecs believed the cacao beans used to make chocolate were a gift from their gods, and they'd bestow this sacred gift upon royalty and warriors, thus instituting the practice of giving chocolate to those very special. Casanova called it the "elixir of love" and drank it instead of Champagne. So chocolate came to be one of the gifts given — and happily consumed — on Valentine's Day. In 1861, Richard Cadbury, son of chocolatier John Cadbury, created the first heart-shaped box for chocolate and an economy was born.
In Richard Cadbury's day, selecting a piece of chocolate was pretty straightforward. Now we can consider the cocoa percentage, the origin of the beans, the size of the batch and more. Whether you want Hershey's Kisses, stone-ground 85-percent chocolate, chocolate flavored with shrubs or truffles dusted with gold, here are 10 Los Angeles-area shops that can help you out.
Anandamide — Anandamide is not your typical chocolate shop. With bars named Kundalini Rising and Magical Maca and truffles laced with ingredients such as lucuma, mesquite, ginger and chaga, this "psychedelicatessen" considers itself a house of chocolate dedicated to health and healing. All of the chocolates are organic and gluten-free, and most are vegan as well. The fruits, herbs, spices and mushrooms used in the truffles, bars, fudge and beverages are selected with consideration for their medicinal properties, and they use coconut the way most chocolatiers use dairy. The chocolates are more savory than sweet and somewhat rustic in texture despite the intricate detail in some of the molded truffles. Items are sold individually, and gift boxes are available as well. If your loved one has food allergies or other dietary considerations, this is a particularly good source. 2040 E. 4th St., Long Beach, (562) 438-1427, blisscompound.com.
ChocoVivo – This Culver City shop is as much about chocolate education as chocolate consumption. There are chocolate bars — all dark — both pure (from 65 to 100 percent cacao) and blended (with a variety of spices, fruits and nuts) as well as chocolate beans, nibs, butters and powders. The chocolate can be eaten as is, used for baking or melted into drinking chocolate. ChocoVivo also offers items such as rose cacao body oil, cacao bitters, chocolate dust and a line of chocolate "mylks." Chocolatier Patricia Tsai makes the chocolate from bean-to-bar in the same stone-ground technique that the Mayans and Aztecs made it over 2,000 years ago, all sourced from a single grower in Tabasco, Mexico. Tsai will also host a chocolate tasting Feb. 10. Learn about chocolate, its history, properties and flavor profiles; you'll also taste raw cacao from four different regions and the corresponding single-origin bars made from them. 12469 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 845-6259, chocovivo.com.
Compartes — Compartes owner Jonathan Grahm is as dedicated to the packaging and display of his confections as he is to the chocolate itself. Handmade from locally sourced ingredients at the company's original Brentwood chocolate kitchen, the whimsical flavors and highly stylized chocolates almost beg the question of which came first — the chocolate or the box. The recently opened Century City location sports a wall of handcrafted, artisanal bars in artistic wrappers, as well as a full line of imaginative truffles and brass faucets running chocolate on tap. For Valentine's Day, there are 24-karat gold-dusted Moet Champagne truffles and Macallan 18 truffles, plus flavors including raspberry rose, lavender violet, scones & jam and strawberry champagne, all in Valentine's-centric packaging. Strawberries will be hand-dipped in the chocolate-on-tap. For fruit, flowers and chocolate all in one, try the artisan chocolate heart: a heart-shaped pound of chocolate, hand-studded with fruits, nuts and spices. Westfield Century City Mall, 10250 Santa Monica Blvd. #1625, Los Angeles, (310) 826-3380; 912 S. Barrington Ave., Brentwood, (310) 826-3380, compartes.com.
Dylan's Candy Bar — If your Valentine is a child, or simply in touch with their inner child, Dylan's is sure to feed your sweetheart's sugar-fix. The L.A. outpost of Dylan Lauren's (daughter of Ralph Lauren) Manhattan-based candy emporium is a like an old-world penny-candy shop on 21st century steroids. There are gift packs of classic '50s-era candies; fresh and hand-dipped treats from strawberries to cake pops to twizzlers; signature chocolate bars in flavors such as bacon, pizza and brownie batter; jelly beans and gummy treats in bulk bins; limited-edition collections, gift baskets and towers and candy-inspired lifestyle products. For Valentine's Day, there's a Dylan's Candy Bar Valentines Day Tackle Box full of foil-wrapped chocolate hearts, lips and kisses as well as gummy hearts and Valentine's candy corn. 6333 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles, (323) 930-1600, dylanscandybar.com.
Edelweiss Chocolates — Since 1942, when it was known as Candy Roundup, Edelweiss has been hand-making chocolates in Beverly Hills with fresh sweet cream and butter and imported fruit and nuts, which they roast onsite in their kitchen. The inspiration for the famous "I Love Lucy" chocolate-making-gone-crazy episode, the original machines are still used today to make chocolate-covered marshmallows, chocolate turtles, English toffee, hand-dipped Oreos and a large array of molded chocolates, both milk and dark. For Valentine's Day, handmade heart boxes can be customized with two ounces to eight pounds of chocolates of your choice. Also available: gift baskets containing a teddy bear, a half-pound heart box and a chocolate champagne bottle. 444 N. Cañon Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 275-0341 ; 225 26th St. #22, Brentwood, (310) 656- 0306, edelweisschocolates.com.
Jin Patisserie — A large kitchen and inviting outdoor patio are the setting in which Jin Patisserie's Kristy Choo crafts her edible art — cakes, cookies, French macarons and chocolate. Made with Swiss Felchlin chocolate, Choo's artisanal truffles are available in flavors such as balsamic strawberry, lemon verbena and green tea. She also offers chocolate-covered honeycomb and chocolate bars with fruits and nuts. For Valentine's Day this year, Choo has designed a heart-shaped chocolate box from 70% bittersweet chocolate with five rose chocolate truffles inside. 5741 Buckingham Parkway, Suite D, Culver City, (310) 399-8801, jinpatisserie.com.
K Chocolatier – Chocolatier Diane Krön is known, along with her late husband, Tom, for introducing the chocolate covered strawberry to New York City in the 1970s and opening luxury chocolate shops across America. They opened their Beverly Hills store in 1976, eventually sold the stores and the company and settled in Beverly Hills. Nowadays, Krön makes limited quantities of chocolates in their Culver City kitchens and sells them exclusively in two local stores (the second store is in Malibu). Specializing in dark chocolate and made with as little sugar as possible, K Chocolatier offers a variety of truffles, chocolate-coated fruits and nuts and novelties such as liquor shots (chocolates filled with vodka, tequila or scotch) and K bears, crunchy teddy bear shapes covered in milk, dark or white chocolate. Krön has also designed a line of gift boxes, most notably the "garden of roses," the lid of which is covered with handcrafted paper roses — a nifty vehicle for delivering Valentine's Day chocolate and flowers all in one box. Also available are ladybug and other decorative boxes, all of which can be filled with a cellophane-wrapped package of chocolates of your choice. 9606 Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 248-2626; 3835 Cross Creek Road, Malibu, (310) 317-0400, www.dianekronchocolates.com.
Ococoa – Handcrafted in a Beverlywood kitchen, Ococoa founder and chocolatier Diana Malouf's signature collection is her Butter Cup line of truffles — dark chocolate cups filled with natural nut butters and layers of fruit and truffle. Flavors include macadamia guava, sesame fig, pistachio date and almond cherry, all inspired by Malouf's Lebanese heritage. The truffle and caramel bars also exhibit Mediterranean flavors, such as pomegranate, cardamom and honey liqueur. For Valentine's Day, Malouf has crafted Sweet Hearts in three flavors: almond praline layered with cinnamon ganache; raspberry shrub layered with white chocolate ganache; and guanaja noir ganache. All three have a 61% dark chocolate shell and use Valrhona chocolate for the ganaches. Chocolates are available by pre-order at the Beverlywood kitchen and from local merchants. 2835 S Robertson Blvd., Bk Sugar Arts Lab, Beverlywood, (800) 897-7015, ococoa.com.
Romeo Chocolates – The name alone screams Valentine's Day, though you may want to visit this Long Beach chocolate café on other occasions as well. Belgian-trained master chocolatier Romeo Garcia opened his shop about six months ago and specializes in fair-trade Belgian milk and dark chocolate, French white chocolate and single-origin Central American chocolates. There are single-origin bars with cacao percentages from 33 to 80, as well as bars studded with a variety of berries, fruits and nuts. Truffles — artfully molded, painted and decorated — come in flavors such as raspberry and rose water truffle in Belgian dark chocolate, calamansi mojito and lilikoi-passion fruit, as well as Garcia's take on classics such as praline and caramel. All of the chocolates are made on site; gift boxes in various sizes are available. In addition to the truffles and bars, the café offers a full chocolate menu including a chocolate fondue platter, European-style sipping chocolate, truffle and wine pairing flights and brownie flights. For Valentine's Day, chocolate truffle assortments are available in gift boxes and bags; chocolate dipped long-stem strawberries are available by pre-order. 460 Pine Ave., Long Beach, (562)500-5097, romeochocolates.net.
Valerie Confections — Known for her modern interpretation of classic chocolates and confections elegantly packaged for gifting, Valerie Gordon and her partner, Stan Weightman Jr., founded her namesake chocolate boutique in 2004 with six flavors of hand-dipped toffee. They have since expanded their offerings to include chocolates, pastries, wedding cakes, handmade preserves and petits fours. Operating out of three locations, the flagship, in South Silverlake, includes 4,000 square feet of production space and a chocolate boutique which offers complimentary sipping chocolate while you shop for your sweets. Their chocolates are crafted from their proprietary blend of Valrhona and Guittard chocolates. They recently launched a new line of chocolate bars that includes a rice and sesame bar, a 72% bittersweet bar and an almond toffee bar, as well as a variety of his and hers chocolate assortments and gift sets that include sugar cookies, bars, chocolate bark and toffee treats. 3364 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, (213) 739-8149; 317 S. Broadway, #E3-4, Los Angeles, (213) 621-2781; 1665 Echo Park Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 250-9365, valerieconfections.com.