There they are: those familiar heart-shaped boxes in shades of red, filled with paper liners and chocolates, just waiting for you between the dog food and diapers at your local pharmacy. It's your "oops" moment and also your salvation, if you've waited till the eve of Valentine's Day to pick up a gift for your beloved. But who knows how long those boxes have been sitting on those shelves?
Even without going into the history of the relation of Valentine's Day and chocolates, it's easy to understand why chocolate is the favorite way to express love on Valentine's Day. There is an allure to chocolate, which is, in its very essence, inherently romantic. Chocolate melts in your mouth and also melts hearts.
Valentine's Day is a time when goods of all shapes and sizes suddenly morph into heart-shaped objects, but none more so than chocolates. Fortunately, Chattanooga is lucky to have a number of places to buy fresh, handmade chocolates made daily, so you can skip the mass-produced, plastic-wrapped variety hanging out on that shelf.
Brendan Patrick opened Belle Chocolates on North Market Street in 2019, after a successful launch from his home kitchen a year earlier. A self-taught candymaker, he says chocolate makes an excellent Valentine's gift due to its properties, which include theobromine, an active "feel-good" chemical found in dark chocolate.
"It opens your blood vessels and releases serotonin into your system," he says. "These things, combined with a romantic setting, are certain to help you feel the good vibes."
Patrick makes dozens of different kinds of chocolates, from bars to bonbons, but when asked which are his favorites — those that he would want to put in a box — he had a hard time choosing among the many chocolates he loves. "I guess I'd have to say caramelized white chocolate with pecan gianduja [chocolate mixed with at least 30% nut paste, most commonly hazelnut], 80% dark chocolate ganache, fig and white chocolate bonbons and bonbons with caramel cream, cherry and bourbon ganache," he says.
Wendy Buckner, chocolatier, pastry chef and co-owner of The Hot Chocolatier, creates artisan chocolates so exquisite that you might think twice about eating them — it's almost like destroying a Rembrandt. Each piece is expertly crafted with decadent flavors hidden inside, and there are certain chocolates that stand out when it comes to best expressing your love.
"Our handmade truffles are our favorite things that we make," she says. Some truffles have flavors that you might not associate with chocolates, such as the "dark chocolate hotties" with ancho, chipotle and cayenne peppers. Or try these show-stoppers: the white chocolate passion fruit truffles, or the Tom Sellecks with their dark-chocolate centers.
Add a nice bottle of wine — chocolates pair with wines just like savory food does, Buckner says — and it'll make your Valentine swoon. Dark chocolates pair well with red wine and brut champagnes, while white wine and Prosecco are good partners for the sweeter chocolates, like The Hot Chocolatier's sweet milk truffles or the lavender vanilla, a white chocolate truffle.
And don't forget, buying handcrafted chocolates for Valentine's means you're buying local.
"You're buying directly and supporting people in our community," Buckner adds. "You aren't supporting a giant corporation. Eating high-quality chocolate speaks for itself. It makes all the difference in the world."
Sweets for Your Sweetheart
Wondering where to get the best chocolate in town? Here's some info to help you find love in candy form. Remember that Valentine's Day is one of the busiest days of the year for local chocolatiers, so place orders as far in advance as possible.
502 North Market St. #110
The Hot Chocolatier
1437 Market St., (423) 266-3066 and
5525 St. Elmo Ave., (423) 541-9964