Mayan Spiced Bar // Mayana Chocolates // Spooner, WI
When it comes to chocolate, father knew best. The pod, in other words, has fallen far from the tree — the Mayas, who first cracked the code of this now-sacred bean, make our current blends and bars seem bland. Our milks are merely milquetoast; our darks are downright dismal compared the the bittersweet, sharply spiced and richly fruity concoctions the originators thought up. Save those sugared Swiss powders for de-icing the sidewalk and taste chocolate primal source, with spiced marshmallows, salted caramel, and a snappy, tortilla-chip crunch.
Coconut Lime Caramels // Salt + Flint // Lawrence, KS
The candy aisle is paved with compromises. We’ll put up with a lot when it comes to satisfying that sweet tooth: dyes and preservatives, silly names, and even — bless our sinning souls — artificial shredded coconut, as long as it’s coated in chocolate. But we draw the line at caramels. A candy so decadent and, let’s face it, one that if all goes well we’ll be chewing, and chewing, for ages, should be perfect. No cut corners. And these are. The coconut comes through, but subtly (fear not, Mounds-phobes) and is brightened and balanced with a refreshing spritz of lime. You’ll savor every tooth sticking morsel and not regret a bite.
Coffee Toffee // Dave’s Sweet Tooth // Detroit, MI
One who travels must, eventually, return — so let’s finish out our world tour with a domestic dessert. And this one is as local as it gets: simple stateside goodness, all Michigan-made. But the former firefighter behind the namesake tooth eschews the mechanical means of his Detroit neighbors — no assembly lines, no microwaves, just butter, sugar, hand-sliced almonds, and whole roasted beans from down the road in Ferndale. A sweet end to a long journey.
Espresso Cocomels // JJ’s Sweets // Boulder, CO
Candy. CANDY. Yes, fine — go nuts, kid. But let’s trojan horse this a bit. Here we have a delicious chocolate caramel, and if that’s all you need, then stop reading right here, and bliss out in coco-land. But inside that chocolate coating, a good-for-you surprise. In case the locavore gym-rat on your other shoulder pipes up, dig this: These aren’t corn-syrup-ed Wonka bars. Cocomels are all natural, made with sustainably sourced, non-GMO cocoa and smooth vegan coconut milk. Candy even a mother could love.
Salt Water Taffy // Salty Road // Brooklyn, NY
Our first taste of street food is, in some ways, its psychedelic, carnivalesque epitome: summertime delights on boardwalks and county fairs, technicolor sno-cones, ephemeral candy floss, and the king of it all, saltwater taffy. But today’s reality is a far cry from that sunny childhood dream — most modern taffy doesn’t even use sea salt! Not so, Salty Road. These hand-stretched morsels, made first for a friend’s beachside stand on the Rockaways and now available to you, use all natural ingredients, from real vanilla beans down to the large-grain sea salt.
Black Licorice Toffee // Laurie & Sons // Harlem, NY
Surviving a shut-in requires more than just sustenance — let’s treat ourselves for braving the wild indoors. But save the chalky chocolate bars for campfire s’mores once the snow thaws. If we didn’t have you sold at chocolate toffee, read on, choosy beggar: black licorice, fresh ground star anise, Hawaiian lava salt and — not satisfied yet? — a dash of Pernod. Shackleton would cross an iceberg for this one; lucky you, you’ve got a whole bag. For now.
Smoke & Stout Caramel Bar // Vosges // Chicago
Inspired by founder Katrina Markoff’s mix of traditional training (she’s a Le Cordon Bleu alum) and avant garde inspiration (she worked a stint at El Bulli), Vosges is as far from Hershey bars — in both directions — as it seems possible to get. Think Willy Wonka in a Saville Row suit: the Chicago-based chocolate factory makes everything from über-classic truffles to a whole shelf’s worth of bacon-infused bars to this particularly hybridized creation, a blend of Rogue Brewery’s chocolate stout, rich dark chocolate, and alderwood-smoked sea salt.
Cactus Candy // Cactus Candy Company // Phoenix, AZ
Well-regarded as slakers of thirst, stretchers of mind, and stickers of privates, the desert cactus has another trick in its holster: the less-known prickly pear fruit, which, like a quince or sour orange, seems only to shine in sugared-up jellies and sweets like these candy cubes. A Phoenix tradition since 1942, these sugarbomb nuggets are stuffed full of real cactus fruit juice — and, unfortunately for the sweeter-toothed among us, a hell of a lot easier to eat.