The best chocolate in the world?
Spoiler alert: it doesn't exist... Well, it depends on your definition of the best chocolate in the world. Before we get into it, let's start with a disclaimer. A chocolate sommelier for years, I am able to give an informed opinion on the qualities and defects of a bar. However, this does not mean that I have tasted all the chocolates in the world by far!
All countries combined, there are several thousand producers, each generally offering an assortment of at least ten tablets. There are therefore at least 50,000 different chocolates available on Earth. Not to mention the former and future producers. At the rate of one chocolate per day since birth, it would take more than 136 years to taste them all. And who would remember the first…
Although we cannot talk about the best chocolate in the world, it is nevertheless possible to look for the best. Certainly, it's less glamorous than giving a single name, but it's more honest.
The best ingredients for the best chocolates
Above all other considerations, the quality of the ingredients is essential. A good chocolatier will know how to do the best with any cocoa. But it is with exceptional beans that the result will be magical. As such, even if mixtures of different cocoas, also called blends , can be interesting, personally, I have never been as impressed as by a chocolate with beans from the same harvest. Due to the multiple pollinations of cocoa tree flowers, each fruit of the same tree already presents a certain diversity. Therefore, working with a single harvest offers a large potential taste palette. This is probably why chocolates produced from micro-batches regularly obtain higher marks in competitions.
Knowing whether the best chocolates should be milk, dark or even contain inclusions, for example hazelnuts, is a matter of taste. On the other hand, due to their misleading labels , industrial chocolates will never claim the title of best chocolates. Sticking an “ethical” label on a product resulting from human exploitation and in particular from child labor automatically disqualifies them in my eyes.
Recognize the best chocolates in the world with a medal?
The distinctions received during a competition often allow you to get an idea of the quality of a chocolate. However, not all prices are equal. The International Chocolate Awards and Academy of Chocolate Awards are the most serious. The Academy of Chocolate lacks a bit of transparency by not sharing ratings. In both systems a very (too) large number of subdivisions: according to the type of chocolatier, the region of the world, the country, etc. This jungle therefore does not allow us to quickly identify the best chocolates in the world.
Another bias associated with these competitions comes from the fact that not all producers participate and those who do do not submit all their chocolates. So many potential gems off the radar. Despite everything, these rankings remain an interesting tool for identifying some of the best chocolates in the world. The best thing is to know what type of chocolate you are looking for: milk, dark, micro-batch, direct trade, from a particular region, etc.
Is the best chocolate in the world Swiss or Belgian?
One of the lessons of these international rankings – which I also learned from my personal experience – is that we must get rid of prejudices. The debate over whether Swiss or Belgian chocolate is the best in the world is overrated. Rare are the chocolatiers from these countries to be distinguished. On the contrary, it is often producers from South America, but also from the USA and Asia who appear on the list. On the European side, the winners are often from unexpected origins, such as Scandinavian countries.
The explanation is rather simple. Without the weight of tradition to respect, producers are freer to interpret the beans to their fullest potential. This partly explains why Swiss chocolates are not awarded medals and Belgian ones barely more. I have often observed Swiss chocolatiers focused on their technical skills, their excellence and the quality of their ingredients. However, when I taste the same beans worked by others outside Switzerland, the result is sometimes much better. Fortunately, the Swiss bean-to-bar scene is waking up and catching up, even if the clientele is not always up to date.
Chocolate makers that impress me
We can never say it enough: the best chocolate in the world is the one we prefer. Personally, certain chocolatiers particularly impress me for different reasons. To conclude and illustrate the particularity of each experience, here are three striking examples:
And you, which chocolates/chocolatiers impress you?
AOC - The Academy of Chocolate
The Academy was founded in 2005 by five of Britain's leading chocolate professionals, united by the belief that eating good chocolate is one of life's greatest pleasures. The Academy campaigns for better chocolate and to promote greater awareness of the difference between fine chocolate and the mass-produced chocolate confections that most of us consume.
Our objectives are as follows
- Encouraging chocolate lovers to look "beyond the label" to differentiate between chocolate confections and "real" chocolate.
- Improving the quality and knowledge of chocolate around the world by promoting understanding of chocolate ingredients, throughout the chain, from bean to bar.
- Encourage the transparent sourcing of cocoa beans from plantations and their production under socially fair and environmentally friendly conditions.
The International Chocolate Awards were established in 2012 and are managed by the IICCT with a group of independent international partners with years of experience in tasting and judging chocolate and organizing fine chocolate-related events . The judges are sensory experts and members of the IICCT Alumni. Competitions are being held in a growing number of countries and regions around the world in the bean-to-bar and craft chocolatier categories. Winners from regional competitions are judged together in the global final, which celebrates the best creations of the year.