Why searching for the best chocolate in the world is a waste of time
Searching the internet for the best chocolate in the world is a pointless process. You'll get a very distorted view of what a select few think and any lists you find will often be horrendously out of date and inaccurate. You'll be told what many very experienced and knowledgeable people would agree is woeful chocolate is actually great chocolate. Conversely those with very little understanding of chocolate will expound the virtues of chocolate made by chocolatiers more concerned with how much money they can make rather than displaying any sort of culinary talent.
As a reviewer, judge and retailer of chocolate this is just my point of view, however. Perhaps it’s no more or less valid than anyone else capable of setting up a blog, group on Facebook or Twitter account. But that's my point. Chocolate may be as personal as our tastes in music, but even with music we can tell the difference between well-crafted lyrics and that of a commercial music making machine may get to number 1; or the difference between great art and rubbish art.
There are so many reasons why you should be careful when you search for the 'best chocolate in the world' and read some of the recommendations you'll read as a result:
Most lists are hideously incomplete
The first list you'll find doing a search may be this one from the Guardian
. It was written in 2008 and in the intervening five years the chocolate world has changed beyond recognition. There are just so many new and interesting chocolate makers and chocolatiers producing wonderful stuff now. Even in 2008 the choice, especially coming out of America, Eastern Europe and Asia was nothing like it is now.
Firstly, there's no mention of my favourite chocolatier: Geert Vercruysse
who, I believe, has produced the most delicious ganaches
I've ever tried. Geert has been producing awesome chocolate for many, many years. But until he sent me his ganaches to review
three years ago, he was hardly known outside of Belgium. Until that time he wasn't interested in promoting his own products outside of his homeland. Most true artists aren't so much interested in public acclaim as they are their peers.
Also Paul Maden and James Findlay make the most beautiful selections in the very north of Scotland at their Cocoa Mountain shop and hardly get any press attention, despite very much deserving it.
There may be some great names on the Guardian list, but to miss out Geert, and a large number of other fine chocolatiers in Europe or the rest of the world just won't help you find the most exciting nor most revolutionary chocolate available.
Lists become out of date incredibly quickly
I have some samplers here from The Chocolate Society
which rose out of the ashes of a failed company. Al Garnsworthy has revolutionised the company by keeping focus on producing excellent quality filled chocolates. These samplers are for me to privately review and provide feedback - I'm not allowed to go into specifics about flavour combinations but I am greatly impressed. The problem is, however, if somebody had started and finished their research for the best chocolates in the world then they wouldn't have even been aware of Al's creations. And if anybody had read anything about the Chocolate Society in an old review or post then that may tarnish their perception of Al's company.
Great chocolate doesn't always stay great
When I first reviewed the Pralus Chuao I thought it was the best chocolate bar in the world. It truly was great, those flavours were deep, rich, ever-changing and just beautiful. The problem is that cocoa beans don't offer consistent quality. One harvest may be exceptional the next just very good. With harvests typically taking place twice a year there's no guarantee that climates will remain the same. Similarly there's no guarantee of other outside factors won't affect the quality of the bean. Moreover, there's no guarantee that the processes typically outside of many makers' control won't be altered such as the fermentation of the bean, contamination and transportation.
Many of the fine chocolate makers will explicitly state which harvest the chocolate was produced from, such as Valrhona, whilst others may implicitly state it by marking a 'batch' or 'lot' number on the packaging. When you find a bar that you like note down this information and seek it in the future.
Chocolate makers lose their touch
I'll be opening myself up here to a hole heap of criticism, but I don't think
the most vaunted Mast Brothers currently reach the heights
their initial chocolate did. A couple of years ago I and others thought they made great chocolate. A few weeks ago I tried a variety of their bars and they were lacklustre at best and average at worst. This hasn't stopped Misa Shikuma stating in The Telegraph a couple of months ago that they were one of the best chocolate shops in the world
. By my own recent tasting session I wouldn't put them in the top twenty.
If you rely on crowd sourced ratings
you open yourself up to the debate about quantity of quality. The same can be seen with newspaper circulation. The Sun has a consumption of over 2 million people a day, whilst the Independent with greater journalistic integrity and insight has fewer than 77,000 people a day reading it. Compare that to niche magazines that produce first rate, inspiring, thought-provoking content and you should understand where I'm coming from. Thinking of those crowd-sourced reviews example should we expect Creighton's Chocolaterie or The Chocolate Bar to be just as good as the award winning Boutique Aromatique and the highly respected Valrhona? To further prove the point why does Paul A. Young get the same 9.5 as Cadbury World? The point is that everyone rates things on different bases. If there's no consistency on how we rate chocolate how can we ever agree and how can anything reviewers or journalists state be of any use to chocolate lovers?
Some people are just sensationalists
Anyone searching for the most exquisite chocolate just won't know who to believe. Everyone has an opinion. That's the great thing about chocolate - people are passionate. But with tastes so varied inconsistencies so prevalent and sensationalism so rife it is impossible for the average person to truly find the best chocolate.
So what is the solution? What do experts think?
Listen to the experts - Seventy% has a list of the top bars over the past 10 years (bottom right of the page) and although the makers change over time the list should be a good indication of current quality. The main reason for looking is that this site has a number of different reviewers who are incredibly expert when it comes to fine chocolate and should serve as a good starting point for your own exploration.
Also try C Spot as it is a great resource for rated and ordered reviews. Most of them can be difficult to decipher, but at least you can find what they suggest are the best bars and see which excite you.
But what about the awards?
For a current snapshot of the best chocolate take a look at the round and overall winners of the International Chocolate Awards (for which I'm one of many judges). Every year they'll review hundreds of chocolate bars and filled chocolates. They’ll break down the best chocolate into many regional categories such as Europe, Americas, Italy and most recently Israel too. They'll also classify the awards into different types of chocolate so you can easily locate what you'll potentially most like.
Last year's results show that the Pacari 70% Raw was the best dark chocolate, the Michel Cluziel Maralumi Milk winner in the Milk category, Chocolates El Rey for the white award. Pacari also topped the flavoured dark list with their lemongrass.
The finals for the international awards for 2013 will be due out during Chocolate Week but so far we say that Bonnat, Friis Holm, Red Star, Akesson's, Rococo, Gardini and Ika chocolate are contenders.
So if you really are interested in finding out what the best chocolate is then use the International Chocolate Awards results as a very good starting point as they're judged by experts across a wide range of industry and journalistic names, they're based on a very scientific and strict process.
If you wanted to find chocolate that many people love then Facebook and Twitter will be your friends. My belief, however, is that you generally won't find truly inspirational or memorable chocolate there. You'll only find chocolate made by people with large social media teams dedicated to making people think they make the best chocolate in the world. Demarquette doesn't have those budgets, but to my mind they make some of the best dark ganaches you'll ever try. Reading any of the first thirty or so websites you'll find doing a search for the best chocolates in the world, you'll miss out on what could arguably be seen as the best.
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