When it comes to chocolate, the good stuff doesn't come cheap.
To find the ultimate chocolate experience, taste testers at ShopSmart, the shopping magazine from Consumer Reports, nibbled on thousands of boxed bonbons, from hand-crafted assortments going for $90 a pound to a $10 Whitman's Sampler.
According to tests, you'll have to shell out at least $26 a box for the good stuff. But there's lots to choose from in the $40-and-up range, including exotic flavors such as mango and chili pepper.
ShopSmart's top pick this year is Woodhouse Chocolate Assortment, which beat Norman Love Confections for the first time.
Though chocolatiers rarely run sales, there are ways to save. To avoid shipping costs (which can add a lot to the price, especially if you order in the summertime, when rates are higher), go online to see if there's a retail store near you. Also, sign up for e-newsletters, which may include coupons. And check the chocolate maker's website for cheaper shipping options.
One more tip: Can't eat nuts or hate the gooey, fruity centers? Ask whether the retailer will customize a box for you -- many will.
Here are six sweet selections to consider:
• Woodhouse Chocolate Assortment (16 ounces, 48 pieces), $90 -- Deemed the yummiest in ShopSmart's taste tests, these chocolates were bursting with flavors such as cinnamon toast, pecan pie, mint and real whipped cream fillings. Visit woodhousechocolate.com.
• Candinas (16 ounces, 36 pieces), $49 -- A mix of dark and milk chocolates that are ultrasmooth, with yummy hazelnut, caramel and liqueur-flavored centers that hint of fresh cream and butter. Visit candinas.com.
• L.A. Burdick Large Wood Box Assortment (16 ounces, 64 pieces), $65 -- ShopSmart's tasters made note of these bonbons' intense chocolate flavor with subtler fillings such as cherry liquor and hazelnut. Visit burdickchocolate.com.
• Fran's Assorted Truffles Collection (12 ounces, 36 pieces), $50 -- These milk- and dark-chocolate truffles have delicious chocolate-based fillings of hazelnut, coffee and caramel flavors. Visit franschocolates.com.
• Vosges Exotic Truffle Collection (6.4 ounces, 16 pieces), $40 -- This delicious mix of traditional and unusual flavors (curry, paprika and wasabi) is well worth the taste bud shock, say ShopSmart's tasters. Visit vosgeschocolate.com.
• Theo Chocolate Confection Collection (4.5 ounces, 12 pieces), $26 -- Flavorful, dark chocolate encases outstanding fillings of lemon ganache, fig, mint and more. Visit theochocolate.com.food - yourbiz