Candice Alstrom Small Producers: Amano, Patric, Rogue, Xocolatl de David, Askinosie.
Big Producers: Amedei, Valrhona, Bonnat, Cluizel, and Scharffen Berger.
Up and coming: Dick Taylor, Marou, and Ritual.
David Arnold I’m asked this all the time but you will not get a list from me here because so much depends on the situation, time or place. I do however like to interview others and figure out chocolate recommendations specifically for them. Individuals are different and so are my recommendations.
Debbie Ceder Wow. Limiting it to five is very hard. Our website lists all of the ones that we consider favorites, but I’ll list these: Amedei, Dandelion (a newcomer whose every product so far has been outstanding), Hotel Chocolat, Rogue, and Soma. To be on our favorites list, a chocolate maker must produce consistent quality in all products.
Vic Ceder Unfortunately, I am unable to limit it to five favorites...
USA: Amano, Dandelion, Fresco, Lillie Belle Farms, Patric, and Rogue.
Scharffen Berger used to be in this list, but after the Hershey's acquisition they stopped producing their 'Limited Series' bars. I'm also impressed with David Bacco, Dick Taylor, and Woodblock.
Canada: Soma is the best, hands down!
UK: Hotel Chocolat.
Belgium: Pierre Marcolini.
Switzerland: Original Beans.
Ecuador: República Del Cacao.
France: Bonnat, Michel Cluizel, Pralus, and Valrhona.
Italy: Amedei, Domori.
As for individual bars, my all-time favorite bar was the Scharffen Berger Jamaica à l'ancienne, which melded stone-ground Jamaican cacao nibs, coarse cane sugar, and whole vanilla beans. We once took a factory tour of the Scharffen Berger facility in Berkeley, California. I specifically
asked the guide about the Jamaica à l'ancienne bar, and he said that the reason they only made it once was because it was too time intensive.
The Rogue Jamaica bar is another excellent bar from Jamaican beans.
ChocoFiles * Rogue- Colin Gasko makes consistently great chocolate with every bar he makes. You just can’t go wrong with a Rogue bar. I am also anxious to see how the bars from his new production method turn out. His bars are already of such high quality that he doesn’t have much room to get even better, but I have high hopes that he may indeed have found a way to do so.
* Fresco- I really like their systematic approach of changing one or two variables and documenting it for you. For example, I have been astounded to see the difference that changing only the conche time made to how much I enjoyed two different bars. Many of my “Top Favorite” bars are made by Fresco, so every time I try a new one I hope that it will also be a new “Top Favorite”. One of the inevitable downsides their approach is that I haven’t enjoyed some of the other bars quite as much as others because one variable was changed. But that’s where differences in taste come in too, so others probably still enjoyed those bars quite a bit.
* French Broad Chocolate- they are an up and coming new maker in Asheville NC that people should keep their eye on. The Chulucanas 66% bar shows what heights of quality that French Broad is already capable of achieving. Watch for more great chocolate from them!
* Askinosie- I like their plain dark bars, and I especially like the ethos of the company. They are using chocolate to improve the lives of many people in developing countries.
* DeVries- Steve DeVries made some great chocolate and I wish he would make more again. When DeVries stopped making chocolate it was a loss to the artisan chocolate world.
My Top Favorite bars (rated from 0 to 10):
* Amedei Chuao 2009. Rating = 10. (Sadly, in recent years Amedei has not maintained this same high quality.)
* Fresco 212 Dominican Republic 2011. Rating = 9.8
* Rogue Piura 2010. Rating = 9.8
* Coppeneur Java 2009. Rating = 9.8
* Rogue Silvestre 2012, batch 3. Rating = 9.7
* French Broad Chulucanas 66%, 2012. Rating = 9.6 (I generally prefer chocolate in the 70-77% range, but this Chulucanas bar recently became my new standard for a bar in the 60-69% range. If anyone wants to know what I like in a chocolate bar this is it!)
My resources to obtain artisan chocolate from Europe are rather limited, so there are quite a few new notable European artisan makers that I have only had limited experience with or that I have not yet been able to try at all. For example, I have had some of Duffy’s and I really liked it, but I don’t have a way to get more. I am also looking for more Friis Holm, Idilio Origins, and Pierre Marcolini.
Mark Xian Again, favorite and best are 2 separate categories (the C-spot® ranks the latter within The Chocolate Census which houses ratings & reviews). Both share a common trait however: transience.
Perhaps the most classic recent example of this would be Coppeneur -- a label that vaulted to the stratospheric heights around 2008/09 on the strength of due diligence, select sourcing & that German art of engineering which tallied close to a dozen masterpieces in its collection combining intensity with finesse of flavor.
A year on since director of sourcing & quality management Georg Bernardini left Coppeneur, the company chose to emerge from his shadow by downsizing & streamlining its catalog in 2012. Gone are sundry origins & several upper-percentage bars, replaced by more accessible offerings for a wider market.
The move marks a retrenchment of sorts. A re-positioning in the marketplace & a shift away from an obsessive, even maniacal, attention to detail in the pursuit of sensory peaks to one that now pays more mind to the business & the bottom line.
Such is often the story, whether in chocolate, art or life. Scharffen Berger, for instance, underwent a less grand evolution (because its portfolio carried nowhere near the gems of Coppeneur's). Just as Julian Schnabel's "plate paintings" broke thru & gave way to other visual interests (film primarily), a barsmith may be able to fixate for only 18 months or a couple years at a certain peak level before drawn into different areas that consume their time & energy.
While sad but true that the great ones come & go, be glad they came into existence at all. Catch them on the rise, stay with them at their best, & harbor some gratitude should any fall from ultimate grace in creating chocolate nirvana for mere mortals.
And not to worry, in a busy world of 7 billion people, replacements can be always be found. From the German-speaking world of chocolate barsmiths, Zotter now fills the void… & then some.
So, whenever discussing the rankings – whether ‘favorite’ or ‘best’ – bear in mind their perishable nature & try to keep it as current as possible.
To play back your question, here’s a list of neither the favorite nor the best but instead the C-spot® Dirty ½-Dozen (keep checking the website for the full dozen). The Dirty Dozen take their cue from the movie of the same name that portrayed a small unit of convicted felons-turned-commando squad for a special ops mission; a suicide mission really whose few survivors have their sentences commuted to gain their freedom. Quite analogous to chocolate… it’s insane madness (just ask anyone deeply immersed in it).
These Dirty ½-Dozen Chocolates are unsung heroes, fanatics with unique qualities / character, perhaps unorthodox, that rise above their oft-meager ratings. The kind of bars you want in the foxholes of life to cover your back when incoming fire assaults you or during that Chocolate 911 when you need an EMS hit to escape medical danger. Comrades in arms… the C-spot® Dirty ½-Dozen:
Most often a victim of ridicule & discrimination, some consider ‘White Chocolate’ a contradiction in terms, unworthy of the name; that it’s not even chocolate at all since it contains no cocoa mass (if it did, it’d be brown).
Enraptured “Whiteys”, however, embrace it. When well done, it’s replete with the mouth… & Whiteys – the wiggas of chocolate – are all in it for the mouth… that over-the-top orgasmic bodymelt; proclaiming that maybe it is a feminine thing, that most women have a love affair with cocoa butter that baffles almost all men. As one maker in praise of cacáo butter says: I love everything about it … I love its texture … its melting properties … its crystalline structure & its temper-ability … I love pressing it … & I love the powder it leaves behind.
Danta marries the feminine White Chocolate butter to masculine nibs in this bar for a yin-yang stud… a tongue-throb of sensory-textural overload. Oral sex really (including some nibbling teeth behind a smooth lip) right up there with the Taoist discipline of ‘tongue kung fu’. To maintain decorum in public, this bar requires the art of how to fake NOT having an orgasm.
II. Grenada 60% -- Friend-of-the-Earth Mott Green, always outnumbered / never outgunned, takes on the much larger forces of the Grenada Cocoa Association with his brand of the ‘dirty dozen’ – 12 or so organic growers.
Whereas the bigger Cocoa Association supplying the likes of Chocovic, S-B, and Felchlin (the last via Larry Burdick) moves around 5,000 lbs /week, Mott & Crew might do a fifth of that.
Small & nimble, these brothers just kill it... while redefining ‘friendly fire’.
Their modest 60% Bar is an RPG of smoked spice-bread from the little bean that could. What this cacáo lacks in pedigree it makes up for in ambition. An overachiever that surprisingly & affectionately keeps on giving as it shreds the mouth chamber.
III. Grand Kru – Epic chocolate-making, direct from the source on Príncipe Island off the coast of West Africa. Flavored Gatorade™ (shhhh... confuses the liquor licensing authorities)... for well before, during, & after the game. ‘Grand Kru’, so re-named by the C-spot® (the official label reads Chocolate with Raisins & Cocoa Pulp in Bitter Liquor) because a) this contains fermented cacáo alcohol as fine as Grand Cru wine &, more importantly, b) in homage to the nation of The Kru, perhaps the most African of Africans, who so resisted being taken into slavery that their would-be masters simply gave up trying.
Mad-genius Claudio Corallo knows each & every one his beans better than house pets. He grows & harvests them himself. No one is more committed. He tends to a humble &, until now, neglected varietal (a direct descendent of the 1st cacáo transplanted to Africa from Brazil in 1822 so we’re tasting some history) which had been a dried-out seed of an underdog that lay dormant for years in a dark corner until Claudio cut some bush & the rains came... then the sun shone. What he coaxes out rivals a big sound from a tiny violin - basically making him a virtuoso - & this is his masterwork. It probably enjoys cult status back in his homeland of Italy, where intensely proud & moral men no doubt sacrifice their virgin daughters for it.
IV. Douglas Fir -- David Castellan of Soma Chocolatemaker literally thinks outside the box. Namely, that box of assortments by chocolatiers the world-over which, despite its assorted ways, usually contains the SOS (Same-Old-Same). Hell, this guy even thinks outside the bombone by dropping this Douglas Fir medallion. A highly unusual, essential oil of the evergreen permeates this soft-'n-sweet-as-jelly ganache... berry tart / pine sharp & resinous throughout, mellowed by a buttery chocolate with a slight meaty / pemmican finish.
In a world where bonbons proliferate by the millions to make the pursuit of them a foolhardy Faustian bargain, this stands its ground against any on-comers. Truly a rare & stupendous uniquity.
V. Milk Chocolate today is the bad boy of bars, viewed as adulterated blasphemy by purists. That’s why Al nassma’s Camel Milk Chocolate bar, an outlier of a Milk Choc if there ever was one, is on the team. A dromedairy (pardon the spelling) magic-act that leaves a strong impression. Chocolate, a sacrament in the Maya world & adored in Christian Europe, now on the way to the heart of Islam via camelback.
VI. Every special forces Delta op requires stealth & subversion. This squad sports 2 of them in case a substitute is needed --
a) Pacari Raw 100 – unsweetened / unroasted “raw chocolate” (in quotes to mimic Santiago Peralta of Pacari who answers the question ‘just how raw this is?’ with a wink & nod);
b) Lurking in the dark shadows to be called upon if need is Amano’s clandestine Dos Rios – a gangster chocolate.
George Gensler At this moment, my top five favorite chocolate makers/brands are: Amadei, Domori, Felchlin, Pacari, Fresco
My top five bars (off the top of my head) are: 2006 Felchlin Cru Sauvage, Domori Chuao, Patric Signature 70%, Rogue Piura, Amadei Porcelana
Maricel Presilla That’s unfair, because you are asking me for a very limited number of chocolates. But let’s do it by geographic areas. I appreciate some chocolate makers for different reasons. In the U.S., I used to love Scharffen Berger when it started because it was revolutionary. They believed in blends and they did a great job with their 70% when it came out. It was pure joy. I had known the components exactly because I had contributed to it with my Venezuelan cacao. I sourced the cacao for Scharffen Berger’s lovely Cuyagua bar. I also sourced the cacao for El Carmen, a project I did with Robert Steinberg. It was Scharffen Berger’s first single origin bar with cacao I sourced from a particular section of the La Concepción farm. It was one of the greatest moments of my life. So I would say that when Scharffen Berger started I was very proud. And I was proud to see Guittard follow suit and become a champion of my favorite beans. As for the new generation of chocolate makers here in the U.S., I would say that I usually like everything that Art Pollard and Colin Gasko make. What Colin did with his Piura bar was extraordinary. I am also very fond of Shawn Askinosie. He had a change of careers, just like mine going from being a lawyer to become a chocolate maker. He has the social conscience. He is also innovative using goat’s milk in milk chocolate and has done very interesting things such as going to the Philippines to source historically important cacao that had been forgotten, or to Soconusco when nobody was talking about this important region. That was before Bonnat. These are people that I admire for many different reasons in the United States.
Then in Europe I would say Cluizel. This is a family of very brave, no nonsense chocolate makers. They did a very good job with their grand cru line. My cacao from La Concepción was one of the first chocolates from that series and they did a very good job. I became a fan of Los Ancones; from a technical point of view; it is a very good chocolate. For achieving interesting nuances of flavors and for the ability to tame cacaos that other makers would not deal with I would say Stephan Bonnat. He does a great job. These are people that a truly admire.
In Latin America I have always admired El Rey because of his role in spearheading the single-origin movement and for making chocolate in the country of origin of the cacao. Obviously Pacari is doing a sensational job in setting new standards for Ecuador and Latin America. I also admire the cooperative El Ceibo in Bolivia. I don’t know how far they can go but at this point it is a good example of how much farmers can accomplish by coming together. We need more examples like this in Latin America. We are eyewitnesses to a chocolate revolution in Latin America, but the region still faces many challenges. There are serious political problems in Venezuela. Sometimes it is hard for a chocolate maker from a cacao producing country to compete with someone who comes from abroad and pays higher prices. It’s the nature of the beast; if you come from the Eurozone you’re going to be able to pay higher prices, making it harder for the locals to compete. There is always the danger of a large European company setting shop in a cacao producing country and placing a burden on local manufacturers. I also like what Diego Badaro is doing in Brazil with AMMA. Diego is not only revitalizing his own farm, but also making a world-class chocolate with cacao that is not especially easy to work with. He is even doing a remarkable chocolate with cupuacu, a first cousin of cacao with white beans. These are the lone rangers in places that have traditionally imported chocolate from elsewhere; countries where cacao has been traditionally sold to large companies, and where no chocolate maker has done anything worth talking about with that cacao before. Notice that I have mentioned people that have contributed more than good chocolate to the industry; people who have set examples for others to follow or new styles or high standards of quality for the industry.
Alex Rast I'll give you a list, but first let me make it ABSOLUTELY CLEAR that *my* list is not necessarily *your* list. It's a lie to say that there is a clear "rank order" amongst chocolatiers or bars. Many fine bars are utterly worthy of greatness, and to imagine that you can go into a shop and blindly "cherry-pick" based upon an almost arbitrary list created by someone else with particular tastes, no matter how "expert", is folly and does a disservice both to you and to the many interesting chocolatiers worldwide.
Michel Cluizel - star example: Los Ancones
Guittard - star example: Chucuri
Domori - star example: Porcelana
Amedei - star example: Chuao
Amano - star example: Montanya
That question is more difficult that you’d think to answer, as there are many makers of excellent chocolate. I’ll just go for it, in no particular order. Colin Gasko at Rogue crafts excellent chocolate even though the appearance of his slab bars lacks some appeal relative to other fine chocolate makers. Another consistently superb maker is Art Pollard at Amano. I haven’t yet tasted all of the Domori chocolates, but the subset I’ve tried has been great. Amedei makes a wide variety of mostly excellent chocolate. Michel Cluizel. Alan McClure at Patric. Shawn Askinosie. Oops, that’s seven. I was afraid that would happen. As for individual bars, Lindy and I each maintain a list of our favorite chocolate bars on One Golden Ticket.
Ian Whitaker We are very fortunate to have more than five top chocolate brands, or bars, in the world. But if I was to be marooned on a desert island with only five chocolate bars, they would certainly be selected from those that the World Chocolate Awards guide book has awarded three stars to. Which of those chocolates I select would depend entirely on how I am feeling at the time.