An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris

An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris
An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris

Summary

For a delicious new perspective on the city, escape the tourist throngs and embark on a culinary quest, from bonbons to bars, éclairs to macarons. These are the essential chocolateries esteemed by Parisians in the know.

FRANCE’S LOVE AFFAIR with chocolate runs deep in the culture. “In French we would say, ‘On baigne dans le chocolat depuis tout bébe.’ We bathe in chocolate from babyhood," mused Paris native Cécilia Jourdan, CEO and founder of the Hello French online language program. “You know, instead of having a bottle of milk, I’m sure some of us have hot chocolate as babies." She was only half-joking.

Still, there has never been a better time to eat (or drink) chocolate in France. Both the quality and the quantity of offerings have reached an all-time high: In the last 10 years, the number of artisan-chocolatiers in the country has grown by nearly 40% according to the business newspaper Les Echos. Paris, in particular, overflows with chocolate boutiques. You can barely walk more than a few blocks without finding one beckoning with an artful display of truffles and bonbons. Even those familiar with the city will gain a new, delicious intimacy with the place by mapping a travel itinerary around its great chocolateries.

As a starting point, you can’t do better than the venerable Debauve & Gallais, in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés district. In 1779, founder Sulpice Debauve, a pharmacist, concocted a headache remedy with cocoa for Queen Marie-Antoinette. Soon these bonbons—known as Les Pistoles de Marie Antoinette or the Queen’s Coins—became tout la rage. In 1800, Debauve was named chocolatier to First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte and opened his boutique with his nephew Antoine Gallais. In 1825, for the coronation of Charles X, Debauve & Gallais created a Fleur de Lys of caramel ganache that remains one of the store’s top-selling confections. A must for any chocolate lover in Paris, the shop at 30 rue des Saints-Pères, paneled in varnished wood, with the original apothecary case arcing gracefully through the space, traces a history of France in cocoa.

You hardly need an excuse to visit Paris, nor a purpose once you get there. But traveling on a culinary quest offers the pleasure of discovery and can even extricate you from the dreaded tourist shuffle—the prospect of waiting in yet more lines as you check off a to-do list of the major sites. Imagine, instead, if your wanderings led you to a dark-chocolate truffle here, a milk-chocolate caramel there. Such an expedition might take you to both high-profile and less-known neighborhoods, letting you experience the city as a local even as you fill a suitcase or two with pâte à tartiner (like Nutella, but so much better) and jewel-toned bonbons from Patrick Roger.

Roger has earned the celebrated status of artisan-chocolatier. In France, this is no small thing. To create as Roger does is to work at another level altogether. His chocolates are sculpture, confection and painting all in one bite. Concoctions like peach licorice, lime caramel and honey ganache fill his demi-sphères, coated in dark Madagascar chocolate and finished to look like glass marbles.

Another Parisian bringing a boldly contemporary eye to chocolate, Jacques Genin takes a seasonal approach at his eponymous shops. In winter, one might find notes of ginger, chestnut honey, orange and saffron in his ganache confections; warmer months may bring basil, grapefruit and rosemary, with a touch of fleur de sel. To carry home, try his barres gourmands, which come individually wrapped in a chic metal tin. I particularly love the praline of Bronte pistachios, caramel and raspberries. (Note: Genin’s pâtes de fruits are perhaps the best in the city and, while not chocolate, deserve their own spot in your suitcase.)

While Roger and Genin approach their artistry with the utmost seriousness, celebrity chef Christophe Adam aims for hip playfulness. Obsessed with éclairs, he has devoted an entire shop to them: L’Éclair de Génie. He has also opened a café that serves a mean “dirty" hot chocolate (ever so slightly salted). But his laid-back style belies extensive formal training and years cooking at the city’s best restaurants. He crafts his whimsical éclairs impeccably, with combinations ranging from milk-chocolate-and-cassis to a bright-red, high-gloss “rouge baiser" made with raspberry pastry and raspberry glaze, concealing a center of chocolate mousse. Adam designs every one to delight.

With delight very much in mind, chocolatier Patrice Chapon added a Bar à Mousse aux Chocolats to the front of his boutiques. His team makes each deep, rich chocolate mousse on offer from a different single-origin chocolate, ranging from milk to intensely dark. They scoop it into a cone like ice-cream and present it to you with a spoon. Of course, the spoon is but a suggestion; any list of things to do before you die should include the experience of licking chocolate mousse directly from a cone.

Indeed, Parisian chocolatiers embrace the overt sensuality of chocolate. When I asked Jean-Paul Hévin, known for his eponymous boutiques, about the way Parisians make a gift of chocolate, he got right to the heart of it. “You must know a person well. It’s a bit like giving perfume," he said. “Will she be more inclined toward a full-bodied taste, a floral, a spice? It’s a moment of sharing and, as with all gifts, reveals much about the personality of the giver."

Hévin likened the making of chocolate from bean to bar to the production of wine. He noted that chocolate production has grown “more and more refined" and stressed “the importance of the farmers, how the beans are cultivated and harvested, and the provenance of their terroirs, which is paramount."

More than anyone, the chef Alain Ducasse has raised the profile of artisanal, bean-to-bar production in Paris. In 2013, Ducasse launched La Manufacture de Chocolat on rue de la Roquette, near La Place de la Bastille. There, beans from across the globe are roasted, crushed, ground and conched—a final smoothing process that refines the texture and flavor. “Each of these steps requires extremely meticulous know-how," Ducasse explained to me. “It is on this process and the beans’ origins that the final taste largely depends."

La Manufacture became an instant sensation for locals and tourists alike, and its popularity led to the opening of a series of Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse boutiques around Paris. Not surprisingly, Ducasse sells some of the very best chocolate to be found anywhere, and his tablettes have become iconic. They come studded with everything from candied orange and caramelized almonds to shards of nougatine and fleur de sel. These ingredients are meant “to enhance the taste of the chocolate, to enrich it, to give it a touch of the unexpected," Ducasse explained. But to truly understand the obsessive nature of Ducasse’s craft and the importance of his focus on sourcing, set aside extraneous flavors and taste the different single-origin chocolates side by side.

Lavished with 21 Michelin stars at his restaurants—high temples to French cuisine known for rarefied culinary feats—Ducasse made what might seem to some a rather radical left turn into his new career as chocolatier. But Parisians don’t see it that way. They consider it an absolutely natural progression for a great chef. Chocolate is, after all, one of the highest expressions of French gastronomy—not to mention an opportunity to experience the brilliance of a chef like Ducasse at a fraction of what you would pay for one of his tasting menus.

Because you can only hit so many of Paris’s great chocolateries in one vacation, use the list below to make sure you get a taste of the indisputable classics as well as the innovators carrying the art of chocolate making into the 21st century.

THE ESSENTIAL PARIS CHOCOLATERIES

Get to know the city as its chocolate-loving natives do, bite by delicious bite.

Fit for a Queen

Debauve & Gallais (30 Rue des Saints-Pères, 7th Arrondissement)

Not to Be Missed: Dark chocolate truffles, in their signature embossed box; Les Pistoles de Marie Antoinette

The Legends

La Maison du Chocolat (8 Boulevard de la Madeleine, 8th Arrondissement)

Not to Be Missed: Rich, velvety hot chocolate made with two different dark chocolates and vanilla beans from Madagascar

Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse (40 Rue de la Roquette, 11th Arrondissement)

Not to Be Missed: Single-origin tablettes, such as the fruit-forward Cabosse Congo and the lively, citrusy Tanzanie; caramelized hazelnut dark-chocolate tablette mendiant; the stunning visual spectacle of it all

Jean-Paul Hévin (3 Rue Vavin, 6th Arrondissement)

Not to Be Missed: Grand cru chocolate macarons, such as the Millot, made with beans sourced in Madagascar, or the Yaoundé, with cacao from Cameroon

Maison le Roux (1 Rue de Bourbon le Château, 6th Arrondissement)

Not to Be Missed: Melt-in-your-mouth chocolate caramels made with salted butter from Brittany

For the Artistry

Jacques Genin (133 Rue de Turenne, 3rd Arrondissement)

Not to Be Missed: Barres gourmandes, including pistachio praline and raspberry-caramel, and barres fines

Patrick Roger (225 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 8th Arrondissement)

Not to Be Missed: Elegant dark-chocolate demi-sphère filled with lime caramel ganache

For Sheer Whimsy

L’Éclair de Génie, Christophe Adam (14 Rue Pavée, 4th Arrondissement)

Not to Be Missed: “Rouge baiser" raspberry éclair with a dark-chocolate interior; Mexican dark chocolate éclair

Boutique Chapon, Bar à Mousse aux Chocolats (69 Rue du Bac, 7th Arrondissement)

Not to Be Missed: Single-origin mousses to-go, in a cone

The Upstarts

Edwart Chocolatier (17 Rue Vieille du Temple, 4th Arrondissement)

Not to Be Missed: Coffret “Terre de Fût" of liquor-infused chocolates—from Japanese rum to Port to whiskey

L’Atelier Chocolat du Bristol (114, Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 8th Arrondissement)

Not to Be Missed: Spicy honey chocolates; chocolatier Johan Giacchetti at work

An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris
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An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris
An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris
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An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris
An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris
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An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris
An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris
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An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris
An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris
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An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris
An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris
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An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris
An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris
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An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris
An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris
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An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris
An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris
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An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris
An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris
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An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris
An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris
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An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris
An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris
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An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris
An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris
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An Insider’s Guide to the Best Chocolate in Paris
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