The right gift for your beloved is a choice that should come from the heart—but that doesn’t mean a little research can’t help. The following picks are the result of more than 100 hours of research performed by some two dozen testers tasked with finding the best items to help you plan your next romantic occasion (even if you secretly hoard all of the chocolate for yourself).
To find the best box of chocolates, we brought in chocolate expert Megan Giller, along with Sweethome editors and writers, to blind-taste seven brands of bonbons and truffles—on top of the 20 we’ve tested and dismissed in years past. After trying more than 150 individual bonbons and debating the visual appeal of each box, we confirmed that the Recchiuti Confections Black Box ($45 for 16 pieces) remains our top pick for the second year running. Testers unanimously put Black Box pieces in their top two for taste and agreed that its packaging ranked among the most attractive.
Each truffle features Recchiuti’s snappy, bittersweet chocolate wrapped around classic flavors like Burnt Caramel alongside more adventurous combinations such as Star Anise & Pink Peppercorn. Testers all commented on how much they liked the chocolateness of the ganache and the natural, subtle flavors, as opposed to the overly aggressive flavors from EHChocolatier and Éclat. Recchiuti’s flavors, no matter how unusual, always seemed well balanced, and they unfolded on the palate so deliberately that each component remained identifiable.
Looks matter, too, and the Recchiuti set comes in a gorgeous black-on-black box with embossed lettering that feels more romantic than the packaging of our runner-up picks, La Maison du Chocolat and Alma. The company also has Valentine’s Day boxes, if that’s more your speed. And the chocolates themselves look great too: Among the more distinctive shapes are a large triangle, a faceted dome, a heart, and a candied orange peel that resembles a chocolate-covered bundle of sticks. The only consistent criticism among our testers was that some of the pieces were quite large, measuring up to 1¼ inch square. Although the Black Box is on the pricey side—with the addition of two-day shipping, it will set you back $60—it’s a beautiful collection of expertly crafted chocolates worthy of gift giving.
If you’re looking for more-traditional flavors presented in packaging that’s more appropriate for a corporate client or your mother-in-law, a Coffret Maison set from La Maison du Chocolat ($60 for ½ pound) is a good choice. While the shapes are mostly straightforward squares, rectangles, and spheres, and the pebbled brown box is understated, the chocolate and ganache are high quality and elegantly balanced. These pieces are suitable for the traditionalist who would prefer hazelnut- and raspberry-flavored fillings over the ambitious flavors Recchiuti offers.
Alma’s Salty, Spicy, Sweet Box ($22.50 for 10 pieces) is our other runner-up. Our testers appreciated its expert craftsmanship, its playful designs (gourmet peanut butter cups, anyone?), and its modern flavor combinations, including salted lavender caramels and habanero caramels that seemed balanced, unlike the heavy-handed Chocolopolis pieces. The chocolate shell is on the thick side, but overall we thought these pieces were quality chocolates. They come in a sweet craft-brown box tied up with pink ribbons, perfect for a child or a friend. —Lesley Stockton
If your sweetie is a more of a chocolate purist, our pick for the best chocolate bar is a better buy than boxed truffles. We spent 15 hours researching the mammoth subject of chocolate, speaking with chocolatiers, chocolate retailers, and a 15-year veteran of the business. Over the years, we’ve considered more than 75 bars to bring in and blind taste test. If you’re looking for a great chocolate bar to give loved ones and friends, we recommend Michel Cluizel Noir de Cacao 72%. This French-made thin bar melts effortlessly on the tongue, delivering a full sensory experience. It’s well balanced with a pleasant bitter finish and rounded fruit flavors. This is the third year in a row we’ve tasted this chocolate, and it’s reliably excellent year after year. —LS
We talked to five flower-design experts for advice on how to match flowers to their best receptacle. They all agreed: Choose an opaque vase rather than a glass one to hide untidy stems and make the flowers the focal point. A black vase pairs well with white or jewel-toned flowers. One expert suggested green as a versatile option since the color will match most leaves.
Whatever vase you choose, make sure to trim the stems to the correct height. As Meg Muckenhoupt, our garden writer, notes in our guide: “The rule of thumb for traditional arrangements is that the length of the flower stems should be no more than one and a half to two times the height of a vase.” The best dinner table arrangements are short and don’t block the view of the other side of the table.
Our experts also suggested a short, cube-shaped vase in white or black with flowers of a single species and color, cut short enough so that only the heads of the flowers show above the vase. Tie the stems together with rubber bands and drop the bouquet into the vase for a striking, modern arrangement that’s also very easy. —Ganda Suthivarakom
If you want to skip the chocolates and flowers, look to our most recent gift guide for inspiration (including some jewelry suggestions). You’ll also find tons of practical and thoughtful presents in the rest of our gift guides.
From wine educators to James Beard Award winners, everyone agrees: The best thing to drink Champagne out of is a wine glass. But that’s only if flavor is your top priority. Next to a flute, a wine glass won’t feel as special and romantic, which is really what drinking Champagne is all about. At this point, we’ve considered more than 80 glasses in varying shapes and sizes and have put 10 different styles through a total of 12 hours of testing. The Riedel Vinum Cuvee Prestige is our top choice for most people, as its tulip shape, formed of elegant leaded crystal, preserved bubbles the best in our tests.
The most important consideration when you’re choosing a Champagne flute is whether it makes you feel good when you hold it. Riedel’s Cuvee Prestige strikes an elegant profile while still being comfortable to drink from. The glass’s tulip shape also walks the line between that of a tall flute and the more useful (aromatically speaking) bowl of a traditional wine glass. And a tiny, imperceptible etching at the bottom keeps your wine carbonated for as long as possible. —Eve O’Neill
Whether you’re planning a fancy at-home dinner, a Champagne toast, a bubble bath, or a mixer party, adding candles instantly ups the romance factor. We’ve been testing candles for years, and our picks are reliably the longest- and cleanest-burning choices around. Read our guide to hosting parties for more info on how we picked and tested them.
Tealights are a great choice for setting around a bathtub because their smaller size lets them fit on narrower ledges. With an impressively long burn time of about seven hours, Richland Tealight Candles Extended Burn (available in a pack of 100) have been our pick for several years running. They burn longer than either IKEA or Waxations tealights.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $25.
A votive candle has a footprint similar to that of a tealight but stands taller and burns longer and brighter. This design makes votives a good fit for table settings if you don’t have a candelabra. Our top pick for votive candles last year, Light in the Dark’s 15 Hour White Unscented Votive Candles (available in a set of 36), are still the best around. These votives remained lit for an impressive 12½ hours in our tests, and Amazon reviewers indicate the same average. Of the votive candles we tested, these dried the quickest, gave off no smell, and emitted almost no smoke.
If you want something that will last for more than a couple of lights—say, for your nightstand—get some pillars. We couldn’t find pillar candles we liked more than Yummi’s round pillar candles (available in a set of three), our top pick from the previous year. Available in three heights (3 by 8 inches, 3 by 6 inches, and 3 by 4 inches) and almost any color you can imagine, and with a claimed burn time of 60 hours, these candles stood unmatched among the various brands we tested. The Yummi candles melted the least (compared with Richland and Hanna’s candles) and gave off little smoke when extinguished.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $21.
To fill a candelabra for a fancy table setting, you need tapers. Our favorite taper is Candle Charisma’s 12-inch Elegant Premium Quality Taper (available in a set of 12 on Amazon), which was the only brand of candles we tested that didn’t drip. Available in white or ivory, these scentless candles burned for an impressive 10 hours and gave off little smoke in our tests. At 12 inches, these tapers provide the most dramatic and elegant ambiance to the table. —Jamie Wiebe, Michael Sullivan
Yes, those kinds of toys. For readers looking for gadgets to enhance the experience in the boudoir, we asked a full-time writer and sex educator to investigate sex toys. We realize that making a purchase decision on one of these can be troublesome, as they can be expensive and non-returnable.
After more than 100 hours of research by a sex educator from The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproductive Health, and after test sessions with three diverse panels, we have comprehensive recommendations for the best vibrator, the best G-spot toy, and the best anal toy. These guides are for adults only, and you’ll probably want to be at home or in some other private spot when you’re ready to read them. —GS
To find the best condoms, we asked writer and sex educator Bianca Jarvis to interview a variety of condom-industry experts, survey the top-rated designs across an assortment of retailers, and read all the academic literature she could find. She then recruited 32 testers (20 people with penises, 12 people with vaginas), and asked them to use each of five condoms at least twice for insertive anal or vaginal sex, or solo masturbation if they had a penis. When it comes to condoms, size does matter—both length and girth—so we have three different picks. If you’re not sure where you or your partner falls in the size spectrum, Lucky Bloke has a handy guide that can help you figure out which size of condom will work best. Our upcoming full review will have more information on each of our picks as well as runners-up in case any of our top choices sell out.
About 50 percent of American males fit into an “average” condom (which also means that 50 percent don’t). If that’s you, we recommend the latex-free Lifestyles SKYN. This drugstore brand offers the quality of a boutique condom: It’s beautifully packaged, safe for people with latex allergies, designed to offer a fantastic skinlike sensation and heat transfer, and widely available at an affordable price. And our testers aren’t the only ones who like it. SKYN has a rating of 4.6 out of five on Lucky Bloke and a comparable score on Condomania, with reviewer comments such as “feel[s] just as good as wearing nothing,” “the heat transfer was the best I’ve ever had,” and “the only one we now buy.”
If you need a slimmer or smaller size, we recommend the Okamoto Zero Zero Four 0.04. In addition to offering a great fit for slim penises, it holds the distinction of being the thinnest latex condom currently available in the US, edging out its Okamoto Crown brandmate (a perennial favorite of condom users) with a Lucky Bloke user score of 4.9 out of five for overall satisfaction. Our testers reported that this model was easy to put on and take off, and that the extra-thin latex resulted in excellent sensitivity. The lubricant was high quality, too, and testers detected very little smell and taste in comparison with the other models we evaluated.
The Billy Boy XXXXXL is our pick for penises of larger girth. This condom is manufactured in Germany, and its branding is not subtle—yes, there are five Xs in “XXXXXL” (though the condom was not significantly larger than other plus-size condoms we tested), and the black rectangular package is illustrated with tiny cartoon penises. All cheekiness aside, our testers found these condoms easy to open and to put on, with a comfortable shape and size. The Billy Boy XXXXXL also offered excellent sensitivity compared with some of the other large condoms we tested.
After spending more than 40 hours on research, then consulting with a physician, a sex educator, and two nationally known sex shops, and finally testing with a panel of seven couples of various gender mixes, we recommend Good Clean Love Almost Naked organic personal lubricant for most people. Offering a texture that’s smooth but neither gummy nor sticky, Good Clean Love Almost Naked won out over the other water-based lubes according to our panel of testers. Its slickness lasted longer than the competitors’, and it was the best-smelling and best-tasting water-based lube. Good Clean Love has a slight, citrusy smell and taste, unlike the more medicinal tastes and outright funky smells of the other brands we tried. It works with any sex toy and goes great with latex condoms. What’s more, its flip-lid standing squeeze tube prevents a big mess without wasting the product. Unlike silicone-based lubes, Good Clean Love doesn’t stain clothes or bedsheets, and it washed out in our laundry tests.
We recommend MDScience Lab’s Swiss Navy Silicone Lubricant as the best lube for people who prefer silicone. Because silicone lubes stay slick longer than water-based ones, they can be more convenient, since you don’t have to reapply as often. Swiss Navy offers the most versatile combination of texture, slickness, and neutral smell and taste, at one of the lowest prices for a silicone lube (which isn’t always cheap). Swiss Navy feels like a layer of silk on the skin, and it has none of the viscous and gummy aspects of some water-based lubes. It also stayed slick for longer than any of the other brands we tested. Beware, however: It stains bedsheets, just as all silicone lubes do. And remember not to use it with silicone sex toys, as it can react with solid silicone, sometimes degrading the shape of the toy or creating pits or defects on the surface.
Head over to our full review of lubes if you want to know more about our picks and processes. If you aren’t sure whether lube is your thing, or whether you’d prefer a water- or silicone-based formula, you can also get a sampler pack of both of our picks (and our runners-up). —Cesar Torres
Originally published: February 2, 2016