in search of the world’s best chocolate

In celebration of World Cocoa and Chocolate Day (celebrated on October 1st each year) I thought I’d share thoughts about the 16 countries I’ve visited to date in my quest for the world’s best chocolate over the past seven years. Each one of these countries has taught me something important about the world of chocolate and cacao. Whether you choose to focus on the tree (Theobrama cacao), the product made from its fruit (cocoa) or the ultimate finished product (chocolate), it is likely to give you pleasure. And that pleasure can be translated into any language and enjoyed in any destination around the world. Cheers to all the chocolate lovers of the world and the cocoa producers who grow this magical crop that is the key to the world’s best chocolate.

best-chocolate

Montreal is a great city for artisan chocolate. These handcrafted chocolates of Juliette et Chocolat that I encountered in 2009 made me realize that “best chocolate” can be found virtually anywhere. So the quest continues …

searching for the world’s best chocolate

best-chocolate

Taking this tour of a cocoa plantation in the Dominican Republic in January, 2009, planted the seed for Chocolatour. Our guide holds an opened cocoa pod and sheds light into the world of cocoa and chocolate. Some of the best chocolate of the world is created with cocoa grown in the Dominican Republic.

My journey of chocolate exploration unofficially began in the Dominican Republic in January, 2009, when I took a tour of a cocoa plantation. That experience planted the seed for Chocolatour. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that trip changed my life.

world-chocolate

My quest for the world’s best chocolate began with a visit to the Grand Place in Brussels in 2009. Belgium was a fantastic place to launch my research for the best chocolate of the world.

My first major chocolate journey took me to Belgium, France, and Switzerland in October, 2009. What a journey that was! The chocolate produced in Belgium and Switzerland is similar–both very creamy in texture. But the most important thing I learned is that there is really no such thing as Swiss or Belgian chocolate. There is Swiss-made and Belgium-made (or Belgian-style) chocolate. But no cocoa is grown anywhere in Europe. French-style chocolate is very elegant, smooth and silky, but generally darker and more intense than Belgian or Swiss.

best-chocolate

Paul de Bondt of De Bondt Cioccolato Originale in Pisa, Italy, makes some of the world’s best chocolate and is an expert in exploring the flavours of chocolate. He was pivotal to my research in understanding how to taste chocolate.

In 2010, I visited Spain, Italy, and Holland (the Netherlands.) Another fabulous research trip investigating the differences and nuances of chocolate from one country to another and how terroir and local preferences come into play. When I met Paul de Bondt in Italy, I experienced an epiphany that changed the direction of my research and made me want to dig deeper into the world of cocoa and chocolate. He taught me about the science involved in creating the great flavour profiles of chocolate. The cacao tree may produce great tasting cocoa, but it is the skill of the chocolate maker and the creativity of the best chocolatiers who take that flavour to an exalted level. In 2011, Chocolatour spent time in England, visiting as many of the UK’s top chocolatiers as time would permit. England led the Chocolate Revolution in the UK that transformed formerly sweet British-style chocolate into a whole new generation of pure, authentic, and intense chocolate that is now among the best chocolate found anywhere in the world.

growing-cocoa

Staying with cocoa farmers in Peru and helping them with their harvest taught me a lot about the challenges of growing cacao.

chocolate-festival

Attending the Chocolate Festival at Jade Mountain in St. Lucia was a terrific way to become immersed in the tree to bar experience while staying in an amazing resort. Read more about that experience here.

It was then time to further investigate where cacao was grown and deepen my understanding of the world of chocolate. In 2012, I visited the island of St. Lucia in the West Indies, and Peru and Ecuador in South America. The chocolate of Peru impressed me so much that I returned again in 2013. Those trips were filled with amazing experiences, from staying in the most dramatic resort I’ve ever witnessed at Jade Mountain in St. Lucia, to staying with cocoa farmers in Peru and helping them with their cocoa harvest.

growing-cocoa

A cluster of cocoa pods growing in Oahu, Hawaii.

In 2014, I went to Hawaii to discover the only cacao growing on American soil (at that time.) That was an amazing journey that included giving a presentation at the Hawaii Chocolate Festival, meeting many talented chocolates and chocolate makers, and visiting cocoa plantations. I also went to Costa Rica and was a judge at the Puerto Viejo Chocolate Festival–a fantastic grassroots event for chocolate lovers who really want to become immersed in the world of handcrafted artisan chocolate. In 2015, I finally made my way back to Mexico after a very long absence, and spent a month continuing my search for the world’s best chocolate and learning about Mexican cacao. Mexican chocolate has evolved from a coarse and very sweet gritty substance to a silkier product with less sugar and a more intense flavour. I love it, and after two research trips to Mexico in 2015, I returned in early 2017 to continue the journey.

best-chocolate

The “Three Brothers” is a milk chocolate creation featuring three caramelized hazelnuts. The 70% dark chocolate “Brazil” is a masterpiece of silky truffle made from Brazilian cacao enrobed in Brazilian couverture. Two of my favourites from Laderach Chocolatier Suisse of Vevey, Switzerland.

During 2016 and throughout the years prior, I made many trips to various destinations in Canada and the US to attend chocolate events and meet chocolate makers and chocolatiers. I also attended the Grenada Chocolate Festival in the Caribbean in May, 2016. Such great chocolate is coming from that island.

In celebration of World Cocoa and Chocolate Day, I tip my hat to Switzerland, a country that makes the finest milk chocolate on the planet and truly lives and breathes chocolate. I returned to Switzerland in September, 2016 and have a renewed respect for this wonderful country where contemporary chocolate has embraced influences from around the world, but held dear with respect, Switzerland’s rightful place as the homeland and inventor of milk chocolate.

In January, 2017, I returned to the Dominican Republic to research cacao and chocolate. The journey has come full circle after eight years on the chocolate trail. But my quest for the best chocolate adventures on the planet will never end. You can count on that.

Stay tuned as my chocolate travel journeys continue to take me around the planet for the ultimate experience.

 

Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

98 Responses

  1. Donna Janke
    Twitter:
    says:

    Great recap of your chocolate travels. I’ve certainly learned much about chocolate and have a greater appreciation for it and its makers as a result of following along with your travels.

    • Thanks, Donna. It’s amazing how much there is to learn about the world of chocolate. I had no idea when I embarked on this journey in 2009, that it would take over my life! Thx for joining me on my journeys virtually, as well as in person at one of the McNally Robinson dinners. By the way, if you will be in Winnipeg on Feb 10th, we are doing a guided chocolate tasting at McNally Robinson and it would be great to have you join us. 🙂

  2. Esther
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    says:

    Wow, what an adventure! I can’t imagine how you could decide which is the best chocolate in the world. Chocolate is all so wonderful! I’ll certainly be following along to learn the answers.

  3. Beverly says:

    I had no idea such a chocolate culture existed. Thanks for all the fascinating posts that continue to educate your readers about chocolate.

  4. Catarina says:

    Agree completely with what Donna writes in her comment. My knowledge of chocolate has increased enormously because of you. The world’s best chocolate? In my little experience maybe I would opt for Belgium. Godiva and other brands make absolutely delicious chocolate.

    • Hi Catarina and thanks for your comment. Belgium does indeed have a multitude of excellent artisan chocolate makers and chocolatiers. I would suggest that Godiva is in the midrange of that collection. If you really want to taste the pure cocoa, try Pierre Marconi, Laurent Gerbaud, or Galler Chocolatier. Each is an excellent example of handcrafted chocolate in the Belgian tradition.

  5. You have such a sense of taste and adventure! I find your pursuit fascinating and valuable for my own satisfaction being a chocolate lover. I find your experiences enhance my appreciation for chocolate. Thank you for bringing us with you on your pursuit!

  6. Linda Paul
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    says:

    I love the distinction you make between Belgian/Swiss Chocolate vs Belgian STYLE or Swiss STYLE chocolate. It’s an important distinction.

    • Thx, Linda. I think most of us grew up thinking that Switzerland and Belgium is where chocolate originates, but now that we know where cocoa is grown, we understand where chocolate really comes from. and that other countries have become experts at making chocolate–the finished product.

  7. Kate Savory
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    says:

    Love your recap! It brought back memories from your book and has me checking each of my travel destinations for local chocolatiers’ shops. Your mission has truly enhanced mine–thank you, Doreen!

  8. Erica says:

    I have learned a lot about chocolate making from your blog. I really had never thought of the process of making chocolate before. And I knew that cacao came from beans, but I never even imagined what they looked like. I now have a greater appreciation of chocolate. And while I don’t eat pure chocolate very often, I now have a much greater appreciation of everything that went into making a bar.

    • Hi Erica. I can see I still have a lot of work cut out for me in order to help you reach the realization that pure cocoa and dark chocolate are actually a power food! I know you like to eat healthy, but incorporating cocoa nibs into your daily diet is a delicious way to increase your intake of antioxidants and flavonols that you seem reluctant to embrace. Add them to your yogurt, salads, chilli, cookies, and more. Try them and let me know what you think! 🙂

  9. I missed the day but I suspect I celebrated anyway:-)
    I’m a really chocolate addict!

  10. Jackie Smith
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    says:

    I’ve always enjoyed your chocolate travels; what a lovely way to get a ‘taste’ of the world!

  11. What an amazing quest! I quite often find chocolate too sweet but, as you point out, there are lots of different types and probably a variety for everyone.

  12. Sabrina Quairoli
    Twitter:
    says:

    Thanks for sharing your journey since 2009. I visited Switzerland when I was a teenager and still remember the chocolate. It’s amazing how the taste of chocolate helps me remember different moments in my life. I don’t know if it is with all foods or just chocolate, though.

  13. Rachel Heller
    Twitter:
    says:

    Doreen, I’d love to take such a journey! Combining my two favorite things: chocolate and travel! It does seem to me, though, that you’re being very diplomatic about NOT naming one chocolate as the best!

  14. Kay Dougherty
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    says:

    I found the clarification that chocolate is made but not grown in Europe to be interesting. I guess I just never thought about it before. I’d be curious about where you think produces the best dark chocolate.

    • Hi, Kay. Yes, I think it’s the movement that has taken over the world about knowing where our food comes from that has taken us to the source of the cocoa. We never thought about it before. We just ate and enjoyed the chocolate. You ask what country produces the best dark chocolate? I love the cocoa grown in Peru for its fruity notes. I also love the cocoa from Madagascar and from Tanzania. There are many great sources. The key is to look for chocolate makers who are producing single origin bars from cocoa beans. And then sample different ones to see which one you like the best. Have fun with it! It’s just like tasting wines from different grapes and different growing regions. Enjoy the experience and it becomes more meaningful. Cheers!

  15. noel says:

    What a way to travel and eat your way through each destination sample only the best Chocolates….I want to do this! But of course I also grow my own cacao trees in Hawaii 🙂

  16. Doreen, you’ll have to come to Lisbon to try the chocolate from Corallo’s, made using cocoa beans from their family plantation in São Tomé, I think. It’s to die for!

  17. Ramona McKean
    Twitter:
    says:

    Yes, that trip to the Dominican Republic in 2009 changed your life AND it also brought a world of education to your readers about that wonderful thing called chocolate!

  18. Ken Dowell
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    says:

    An interesting journey. It’s not a surprise to me that the Swiss make the best milk chocolate, but I was certainly surprised to hear that some of the best chocolate is made in England.

  19. Billie
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    says:

    I love chocolate- I’ve long maintained that it should be a food group. Traveling around the world learning about chocolate is a great way to live! I’ve always got my eye out for the best chocolate- dark of course.

  20. I suggest you visit Trinidad. I was just there and a claim was made that “Trinitario cocoa is the highest quality in the world.” Personally, I liked the rum better.

  21. What a fantastic journey you have been on!! Thank you for sharing it…now I think I’ll go have some chocolate!!

  22. Phoenicia
    Twitter:
    says:

    Thank you for sharing your “chocolate” adventures!

    We truly take it for granted that we can just walk into a shop and pick a bar/box of chocolate from the shelves. I had no idea just how much went into making chocolate (until I found your blog). I tend to eat dark chocolate and much prefer some brands such as Hotel Chocolat and Green & Black’s.

    You have visited some beautiful countries. I absolutely loved The Dominican Republic when my husband and I visited.

  23. What a mission! Searching for the world’s best chocolate :-). Very sweet :-). Never knew there was a “chocolate revolution” (or that England led it). So many interesting stories behind that lovely rich treat most of us can’t resist!

  24. Fun that you have been able to try so many chocolates around the world.

  25. Chris
    Twitter:
    says:

    What a fabulous journey (or series of) you’ve had up to this point.

    Have you made any plans or had any thoughts of a trip to Africa given it’s place in the world of chocolate?

  26. Jeri
    Twitter:
    says:

    Thanks for sharing some highlights from your chocolate travels. What a quest you are on! Fun too that there are many references where I draw on memories of posts I remember reading over the years.

    • Hi Jeri. It has been years, hasn’t it? Hard to believe I’ve been devoted to chocolate travel for seven years now! And I’m only about halfway thru my journey of the world of chocolate. I hope you’ll stay tuned for more. 🙂

  27. Sushmita
    Twitter:
    says:

    What a recap! Reading this post gave me the insights to what I had missed previously. Thanks for sharing! It’s exciting to each week know something about what you love. Continue your fun!

    • Hi Sushmita. There are many new readers to the site, who like you, possibly haven’t read many of the previous posts. I encourage you to have a look around at some of the destinations mentioned or other destinations you may be interested by using the search tool in the right hand column of the blog. (You may have to turn your device to the horizontal mode if you are on mobile.) Thx!

  28. Adam Wight
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    says:

    Sounds like such a great adventure! I love chocolate and I love travelling. What a great way to combine the two

  29. I always enjoy your tours and photographs Doreen! I learned a few things as well, like there is no chocolate grown in Europe. I can’t help but wonder about how it was introduced (through explorers?) and eventually became such an important part of the Swiss identity. Fascinating!

    • Hi Marty. Yes, cocoa beans were first brought to Europe by Spanish explorer Cortez in the early 16th century. Europeans certainly developed what we know as modern chocolate, but that is always after the cocoa beans have been transported thousands of miles (primarily from West Africa) to the European continent.

  30. Denis Gagnon
    Twitter:
    says:

    I very much enjoyed your article on the world’s best chocolate and your search for it. I have a daughter who worked for Nestle some years ago and is also an expert on chocolate. I have no doubt that she will love your posting. Thanks for a wonderful article!

  31. Oooooh, so many great chocolate finds! Lovely blog.

  32. Carol Colborn says:

    Now, why didn’t I think of this kind of quest? I love chocolate!

  33. What a great adventure you had. Combine that with a topic you enjoy and that is what I call a great trip.

  34. Pat says:

    You have been educating and entertaining us with your stories and pictures for seven years!! Glad you went to the Dominican Republic for a holiday. I am so thrilled that I will be able to check out Xocodiva Artisan Chocolates in Puerto Vallarta in a couple of weeks. I look forward to enjoying and bringing back some treats for the office.

  35. Susan cooper
    Twitter:
    says:

    Hi Doreen, ahhh my favorite day, Chocolate day! Great excuse for one day to indulge more than usual…but my usual days contain a lot of chocolate too. 🙂 it’s crazy how that one trip to Dominican changed your life. You just never know where the road is going to take you in life. Your journeys and experiences sound so fun.

  36. You just made my mouth water by looking at the photographs of those chocolates. Belgium i think i call the home of chocolates. I have tasted chocolates from there brought home by relatives but i hope to one day actually go there and taste it. It seems and looks delicious.

  37. Oh yum, you have made me even more excited for my upcoming trip to Hawaii–I love to try new chocolate–the darker the better. It was a high point of my time to Brussels.

  38. Doreen
    Twitter:
    says:

    Lucky you, Rose! Hawaii has some amazing chocolate. Be sure to check out the posts on this site featuring Hawaii before you go.

  39. Sue Reddel
    Twitter:
    says:

    What chocolatey adventures you’ve experienced! We had the chance to try some St. Lucia chocolate this week at an event. It was so delicious. Glad they made your list.

  40. Chandi says:

    Wow, so much dedication to chocolate! I did a tour of a cocoa plantation on Saint Lucia and some of your pictures remind of it.

  41. Indrani
    Twitter:
    says:

    Good to know the source and process of making of what you love to eat so much! 🙂
    Great pictures. How different they look in the raw state, can anyone ever imagine they are the ingredients of world’s most loved food! 🙂

  42. Mar Pages
    Twitter:
    says:

    What a wonderful experience, not to mention very well documented. Very informative piece, I will be doing a chocolate tour in South East Asia next week such a coincidence to be seeing this!

  43. I wouldn’t mind to work as chocolate taster(if that’s even a job title)! This post making me sooo hungry!

  44. Vyjay
    Twitter:
    says:

    It is a really sweet journey of discovery in search of the World’s best chocolate. It is really amazing to see your passion for chocolate and it really inspires me.

  45. Michele
    Twitter:
    says:

    A woman after my own heart…..scouring the world for chocolate. We try chocolate everywhere too not quite as in depth as you though. My favourite so far was a Fig chocolate in Russia however Switzerland had the most expensive i have ever seen, sadly we could not afford to try is 10 euros for 100g was a bit much..we did however enjoy the supermarket brand recommended by our Swiss friends. Keep up your search.

    • Hi Michele and thanks for your comment. I hope that as a fellow chocolate lover, you will subscribe to my site, as you will find lots of great info about chocolate around the world here.

      Yes, black figs and chocolate go extremely well together. I have had incredible dark chocolate and black fig creations from Mexico, Japan, and the US. But not Russia! Do you happen to recall the name of the brand of that one you mentioned in your comment?

      Some Swiss chocolate is indeed expensive, but there is also plenty of mid-priced brands that make excellent chocolate. The great thing about Switzerland is that ALL of the chocolate is good!
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…Ottawa–the eclectic Canadian capitalMy Profile

  46. Jo
    Twitter:
    says:

    Hello from Jo at Lifestyle Fifty and ZigaZag (and thanks for popping over to ZigaZag earlier today). Wow, what an interesting niche you’ve chosen to write about, and how wonderful that it’s changed your life! I can only imagine how much you’ve learned and also seen as a result of your travels. How wonderful. I shall be following along to find out more 🙂

  47. What a tough search! So many possibilities and tastes! I applaud your dedication! Keep on tasting!

  48. I did a very similar chocolate tour through Brussels! I never imagined how much different fine chocolate tasted over lower quality/common brands.

  49. Bola
    Twitter:
    says:

    These chocolates look so delicious. Your photo in Brussels reminded me of the times I spent there on the grounds of the Grand Place with chocolate in abundance.

  50. Enjoyed reading this, thanks 🙂

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