As with so many French delicacies, the national passion for chocolate originated with the aristocracy. In 1615, Anne of Austria, the intended wife of King Louis XIII, made a gift of chocolate to her future husband, who fell immediately for this exotic and aromatic product of the New World. Chocolate drinking became fashionable at the court in Versailles, where the kings drafted various chocolatiers to prepare the cocoa bean paste with water or milk and with various spices and seasonings as a special treat. King Louis XV had a particular love for this drink, and the custom spread from the royal court to the French bourgeoisie.
Today, the average Frenchperson consumes around 15 pounds of chocolate a year.
Chocolate became a more broadly available luxury in France during the 19th century, when the Menier company was founded — now owned by Nestlé — and today, the average Frenchperson consumes around 15 pounds of chocolate a year.
A visit to any really good Paris chocolate shop can be a real education, since French chocolate culture mimics the country’s connoisseurship of wine. You’ll be told the provenance of the beans from which the chocolate was made — different cocoa beans from different countries render very different chocolates — given small tastings and generally tutored in what makes an excellent chocolate and why. Here is a selection of our favorite Paris chocolate shops.
The oldest chocolate shop in Paris was founded in 1761 and remains one of the best to this day. It is especially well-known for old-fashioned pralines, chocolate-dipped wands of candied orange rind and crunchy truffles garnished with almonds and hazelnuts. The other specialty is the candied chestnuts the French love at Christmas. All the products are packaged beautifully.
À la Mère de Famille
35 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, 9th arrondissement. Tel. (33) 1-47-70-83-69
This celebrated chocolatier from Lyon has opened its Paris shop not far from Le Bon Marché department store. Bernachon was founded in 1953 and eventually became the favorite supplier of the late chef Paul Bocuse. Today, a new generation of Bernachons is producing such signature chocolates as the palet d’or, dark chocolates filled with fresh cream and decorated with gold leaf; rond pistache, kirsch-flavored pistachio paste and crushed pistachios dipped in dark chocolate; and kalouga, salted butter caramel covered with chocolate.
127 Rue de Sèvres, 6th arrondissement. Tel. (33) 1-88-33-79-59
Founded in 1884 in the town of Voiron, this estimable chocolatier opened its first Paris boutique a few years ago. Its award-winning single-bean chocolate bars, which are made from the world’s rarest cocoa beans, have a cult reputation in France. Many consider the single-bean Chuao bar the best of them all, but the Apotequil, which is made with beans from Peru, is a firm favorite of Parisian chocolate lovers.
189 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 8th arrondissement. Tel. (33) 1-45-61-02-58
One of the most elegant chocolate shops in Paris, the new flagship store of Damyel was designed by interior architects Jessica Barouch and Francesco Balzano with a monochromatic décor of ivory-colored stone. Among the superb chocolates sold here, the palets fleur de sel, thin chocolate wafers garnished with crystals of French sea salt; mendiants, fruit- and nut-studded chocolate bars; and citronettes, candied lemon rind dipped in dark chocolate, are standouts.
87 Avenue de Wagram, 17th arrondissement. Tel. (33) 1-40-54-84-07
Many chocolate lovers consider Jacques Genin to be the nec plus ultra of the art, and his atelier, shop and tearoom in the northern Marais attracts devotees from all over the world. His specialty is ganache, often perfumed with ingredients like green tea and salted butter. His pastries are outstanding, too, which is why this is a great address for a timeout during a walking tour of the Marais.
133 Rue de Turenne, 3rd arrondissement. Tel. (33) 1-45-71-29-01
This esteemed chocolatier is best known for his chocolate bars, which are made from some 30 varieties of cocoa beans and come in dark chocolate, milk chocolate and hazelnut-garnished versions. They’re the ideal snack to tuck into a pocket while sightseeing, and they’re also delicious and easily transportable gifts to bring home. Another favorite is the caramel-dark chocolate paste in a tube, which is wonderful on hot toast or ice cream.
231 Rue Saint-Honoré, 1st arrondissement. Tel. (33) 1-84-25-78-59
From a first boutique launched in 1977, this haute couture chocolatier now has seven shops all over Paris, plus outlets in China, Japan, Korea and New York City. The original store, on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, offers an excellent selection of gift box samplers, along with chocolates sold by the piece, including pralines with toasted pumpkin seeds and Champagne-flavored ganaches.
La Maison du Chocolat
225 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 8th arrondissement. Tel. (33) 1-42-27-39-44
Gastronomic entrepreneur Alain Ducasse converted an old garage into a chocolate-making atelier and equipped it with traditional machines that he tracked down from all over Europe. The chocolates are superb, and it’s also fascinating to watch the production process through the large picture windows of the workshop. Note: The operation also has an outlet in Hall 2 of the Gare de Lyon, if you want to buy a snack or gift before boarding your train.
La Manufacture de Chocolat Alain Ducasse
40 Rue de la Roquette, 11th arrondissement. Tel. (33) 1-48-05-82-86
Well-known for the chocolate sculpture he puts in his shop window, Patrick Roger is as much an artist as a chocolatier. Beyond using chocolate as a medium, he crafts some superb chocolates, and his legendary dark chocolate praline bar made in small signed batches sells out almost immediately.
108 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 6th arrondissement. Tel. (33) 1-43-29-38-42