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Left is White with nuts: ChocoMe and middle is Dark with teeny tiny specks: Askinoise and right is White with pink balls: ShocoSigne Langford/The Globe and Mail

Few foodstuffs have captured and held onto our collective imaginations like chocolate. It's been the cause of excitement, enticement, even vice, since the Spanish conquistadors brought the cocoa bean home from the Americas in the 16th century. And after 500 years, chocolatiers are still finding ways to make it feel like a new discovery.

With their creativity fuelled by the booming small-batch, artisanal, handmade scene – Portland, Ore., and Brooklyn, N.Y., leading the pack – confectioners are pushing the envelope of flavour combinations, and going over the top (literally) for visual appeal. Oh, and don't call these candy bars. Let's think of these as tablets, shall we?

Shoko Chocolates & Confections

Award-winning Toronto chocolatier and finalist at the World Chocolate Masters, Royce Li launched his confectionery in 2013. He plays with unusual ingredients and flavours: matcha, lychee, rose, togarashi (Japanese chili) and ginseng, and even though white chocolate isn't really chocolate at all, but rather a mixture of pure cocoa butter, milk, sugar and vanilla, for many it delivers the same sensual pleasure, without the caffeine. Pictured: Slivered almonds spiced with coriander seed and peppercorn, and strawberry crisps dotted over white chocolate, 100 g, $8.50 from

Askinosie Chocolates

This Springfield, Mo.-based company is as interesting as its confections. Former criminal defence lawyer Shawn Askinosie is the kind of guy who gets on tiny planes to visit remote cocoa-bean farms. He sources single-origin varieties from every cocoa-growing continent in the world and makes his direct-trade product by hand with antique equipment. Pictured: From his CollaBARation collection, dark Philippine chocolate is blended with goat milk, sea salt and Lakritsfabriken Scandinavian rice-flour licorice, 85 g/3 oz, $9,


In this case, more is more. These big, beautiful tablets by chocolatier and company-owner Gabor Meszaros are made by hand in Budapest, and lavishly adorned with brilliant edible silver and gold, vibrant freeze-dried fruits, herbs and candied flowers, wine-stained sea salt, spices and nuts. From a list of more than 80 chocolate and topping combinations, Meszaros has also created a line specifically for pairing with wine and coffee. Pictured: White chocolate studded with raw pecans, Sicilian pistachios and honey-roasted peanuts. 100 g/3.5 oz, $22-$24,