Temper, mold, sculpt - that's some pretty artsy lingo. When applied to the medium of chocolate, it's rather scrumptious, too. All these processes hint at the expertise required to turn chocolate into decadent works of art. Chocolate shops across South Carolina are magical places where skilled artisans thoughtfully craft small batches of sweets, some of them using European techniques and ingredients sourced from the world's finest purveyors. Not to be confused with chocolate makers - who actually create chocolate from cacao beans - these chocolatiers take the fine products created by these masters and give them their own special touch to create one-of-a-kind confections.
A fanatical love for chocolate is an affliction happily shared by legions of folks. If you're one of the smitten, here are 10 South Carolina shops where you can experience the full-bodied, velvety richness of handmade chocolates.
CocoBon Chocolatier - Anderson
This shop has a vintage vibe, from the staff in old-timey garb to the historical appointments that reflect the roots of Anderson. Truffles are a house specialty, with standout flavors such as Blackberry Eclipse, Smoked Bacon Truffle and Cherry Blossom.
The Chocolate Tree - Beaufort
Watch confections being made through a window inside this shop. Choose from more than 60 different sweets. Try dark chocolate sea salt caramels and chocolate-dipped fruits. Boxed chocolates shaped like sand dollars make a lovely gift from the South Carolina coast.
Christophe, Chocolatier and Patissier - Charleston (Downtown and West Ashley)
This pair of shops is named for proprietor and third-generation French chocolatier, Christophe Paume. If you're looking for real-deal European chocolates, you'll find them here along with authentic French pastries. These chocolates literally shine as they are tempered to perfection. Impress someone special with a chocolate sculpture or selection of exquisitely hand-painted confections.
Bruges Chocolaterie - Columbia
Art gallery or chocolate shop? You'll have a hard time deciding when you behold the hand-painted Belgian chocolates at Bruges. Chocolatier Christina Miles fills them with ganache or caramel, then uses each confection as a canvas for the finishing artistic touches. Indulge in taste sensations such as mole, French lavender, orange and cardamom, and strawberry balsamic.
Evolution by Chocolate - Columbia
Though this shop is online, you can sample the creations of chocolatier Joseph Vernon at one of many pairings he schedules throughout the Carolinas. The whimsical names of his Certified South Carolina barks and chocolates are the first clue you're about to bite into something out of the ordinary. Krampus Krunch (dark chocolate bark with toffee), Deliverance (dark chocolate bark with bacon) and Carmen Miranda's Hat (dark chocolate bark with cherry, blueberry, apricot and banana) will make memorable impressions.
Chocolat Boutique - Fort Mill
This gourmet chocolate shop offers confections created with the best European butter, nuts, spices and couvertures - chocolates with a high cocoa butter content for extra gloss and richness. The truffles are particularly notable, each one dipped and decorated by hand. Experience rich flavors such as Champagne, Eggnog Truffle Cup (seasonal), and Hazelnut and Walnut Milk.
Sweeties Sweets - Georgetown
Novelty chocolates are a big hit at Sweeties, where you can find hand-poured chocolates in a variety of shapes: alligators, lovely sea shells and turtles, among others. Nut clusters are a crowd favorite, too, along with chocolate-dipped fruits and chocolate cups. Don't miss the dipped stem cherries and pecan turtles.
Agape Chocolates - Graniteville
Engineer-turned-chocolatier, James Stefanakos, has put the small mill town of Graniteville on the map with his bustling candy kitchen. Palate-popping bars like Indigo, dark chocolate studded with tangy blueberries, and Love at First Chai, creamy milk chocolate with hints of ginger, cinnamon, clove, cardamom and allspice, keep customers coming back for more. A portion of profits go to charities working to eliminate hunger, so you can feel extra good about indulging.
Chocolates by the Sea - Hilton Head
Barks and hand-dipped chocolates are the name of the chocolate game at this coastal favorite. If you're craving it, they've got it. Signature barks to try: Berry Blast, dark chocolate bursting with blueberries, cherries and cranberries, and the deliciously self-explanatory Cranberry Pistachio.
Chocolate Canopy - Hilton Head
Churning out luscious chocolates since 1982, this shop is a local institution with island flair. You'll be charmed by coastal creations such as the Crabbie Pattie, a milk chocolate and caramel mash-up, Hilton Head Turtles, fashioned from chocolate, caramel and pecans, and molded chocolates in the shape of light houses and alligators. You won't find tastier souvenirs of your South Carolina beach vacation.