Discerning chocolate experts don’t earn their reputations without consuming an awful lot of the stuff; from the awful right through to the awe-inspiring. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it. Luckily, the majority of cocoa connoisseurs are outspoken ambassadors for the fine, and will willingly share their favourite finds with anyone inclined to enquire.
I asked, they answered – talking so generously and expensively about their favourite chocolates that a single post wouldn’t have done them all justice. So, following on from these recommendations from chocolatiers and makers, find below another super selection, hand-picked by those who really know what constitutes the top of the chocs…
Hazel Lee, fine chocolate maker & devotee & Chocolate Ecstasy Tours guide
I came across Pump Street’s chocolate at an Academy of Chocolate tasting evening, and have since visited the factory in Suffolk. The company also makes bread, and I love the way some of Pump Street’s bars include products from its bakery (like the Rye Crumb, Milk & Sea Salt bar Dom Ramsey referenced here).
Pump Street’s entire range has an exceptionally smooth texture; something which isn’t always the case with bean to bar chocolate. I think that texture is really important – a very smooth texture is a sign of great quality. The company uses some incredible flavour cacaos, and my favourite bars are the nutty, fruit and creamy Madagascar 74% Criollo – which uses Akessons’ beans – and the Grenada 70%. On a recent trip to Crayfish Bay Estate on the latter island, I saw and ‘walked’ the cacao used in this bar.
I love Marou’s richly-coloured, cocoa pod-decorated packaging, and the overall branding – stunning and sophisticated, yet unpretentious. The Vietnamese chocolate is of very fine quality, and the range offers the chance to compare different origins within a country. My favourite is the Tien Giang; very rich, round and spicy. I even took this with me on my last trip to Central America and it went down very well with the locals in Colombia! My friendship with Jonathan Tailyour from Middletown Hill (Marou’s UK distributor) affords me the odd bar now and then, in exchange for some technical food advice.
I got in contact with Duffy after encountering his wares at The Chocolate Festival. He uses some of the finest flavour cacaos sourced from a selection of different origins to yield bars with unique flavours, and is unafraid of the odd experiment, like using oak smoked sea salt.
Duffy is also very adept at high-percentage milks – his Honduras Mayan Milk 61% bar only has 8% milk powder, compared to 20% typically used, so you still get a really strong flavour of the fruity Xoco-sourced cacao. I’m not a huge milk chocolate person, so this is a perfect milk chocolate bar for me. I also completely fell in love with Duffy’s Nicaragua Nicaliso 72%, and on a recent visit to his Cleethorpes factory, he was kind enough to share some of his beans so I could make my own version. It’s so nutty and fruity – and very well-balanced.
Having just had the time of my life at the Grenada Chocolate Festival, I’m currently really enjoying The Grenada Chocolate Company’s bars. The same cacao is used across the range and has a very intense flavour, but one that’s also round and balanced.
Part of one of the Chocolate Ecstasy Tours – of which I’m a guide – involves a tasting using Grenada Chocolate Company chocolate. I love demonstrating to guests how each different percentage manages to bring out different characteristics in the cacao; one can be quite intense and earthy and another can have very rich, chocolatey notes.
I also love nibs and salt as a flavouring for single origin bars from all quality brands, because these additions neither interrupt nor mask the flavour of the cacao but still bring something different to the eating experience.
Andrew Baker, The Telegraph’s resident chocolate expert
Right now my favourites plain bar is Duffy’s Venezuala Ocumare 72%. Duffy Sheartown makes so many good bars, but this is my enduring favourite. He is a lovely man and it is always a pleasure to meet him and talk chocolate. Everyone’s palate is different, but for me this is a heavenly combination of rich smooth fruit with a hint of lurking sharp edge. Duffy does things the right way, knows his suppliers well, pays them properly and doesn’t waste time with hype or pizazz. I always recommend his bars to people who want to know what bean-to-bar chocolate is all about. I’m also a big fan of The Grenada Chocolate Company’s 60% bar.In terms of flavoured creations, I’m enjoying Doisy & Dam Goji & Orange chocolate. D&D hand-makes its superfood bars and they are ethically A-OK and tick all kinds of healthy boxes. But the important thing is that everything in the range tastes really, really good. The chocolate is excellent, the blend and texture is great, and the flavour combinations work brilliantly. I haven’t met the makers, but I have tested their bars on a range of people who would not normally go for vegan or healthy bars and they have been universally-enjoyed.
Cat Black, chocolate expert & author
I first came across Scottish artisan maker and chocolatier The Chocolate Tree after I met Ali Gower at Chocolate Unwrapped in 2012 early in his company’s bean-to-bar journey. In the great collaborative, information-sharing atmosphere of the event, it was clear to see how passionate he was about his work, and that he was fully engaged to learn and take it forward.
With The Chocolate Tree’s single origin bars, there is great attention shown to the individual character of the cacao used. For example, the Madagascar Sambirano 72% is bursting with characteristic red fruit notes which come on like a raspberry bonanza!
It’s important for chocolate-lovers to support artisan bean-to-bar makers, as it’s the best way to encourage an industry whose excellence and variety is increasing, yet dependent on establishing a customer base. It is also the best way to learn about single origin chocolate, what it tastes like, and what particular cacaos you like.
I discovered new artisan chocolatier The Winchester Cocoa Company after founder Chris Attewell contacted me, wanting to know if I would be happy to taste his launch collection of chocolates. My interaction with them has been a happy exchange of ideas, sparked by my pleasure in discovering a genuine new talent. I taste many things, and it is a joy to find things of real worth, and a maker whose ideas and talent are flowing in the right direction.
I would recommend The Winchester Cocoa Company’s mixed chocolate box. Two favourites amongst the selection are the almond and mandarin praline – a fabulous combination of smooth and crunchy texture, plus bright and toasted flavours – and the chai vanilla; comfort and spice in one happy mouthful. The chocolates are aesthetically appealing and technically precise. The use of fine-quality couverture is well-judged, and both the innovative and classic flavour combinations are balanced, full-flavoured, and, above all, delicious!
A box of chocolates is a particularly joyous, indulgent treat, but one that’s available to all. There is often little to help people distinguish between the run-of-the-mill, the awful, and the truly fabulous. The contents of many boxes, even the most expensive, are very indifferent, overly-sweet and mass-made. I think it is hugely important to support those individuals making the effort to do something really well. Not everyone has the talent or the palate to do so, or is prepared to invest in the best ingredients and labour intensive processes.
Selfishly, if I am going to indulge, I would rather eat the best I can. That is the biggest treat of all.
Jennifer Earle, chocolate expert & founder of Chocolate Ecstasy Tours
Usually my favourite chocolate is my most recent discovery. I’m especially fond of fruit notes in chocolate, and it was trying chocolate made with Madagascan cocoa that made me first realise that chocolate didn’t always just taste like chocolate. My first ‘cocoa pilgrimage’ was to the island, when I was invited to Akesson’s plantation in the north of the island. I love all of the bars Akesson’s makes now, but especially the 100% bar with Madagascan beans. It’s the most intense chocolatey hit, absent of any harsh astringency, with incredible fruit notes and a delicate sweetness.
I have a huge love for Marou’s chocolate bars, too – Vietnamese cocoa displays similar fruit tones to some of the bars. I spent a few days with the founders last year, visiting the cocoa farmers and the factory. They’re so hands-on and ethical, and are really bringing the whole industry forward.
In that same spirit, I will always have a special place in my heart for The Grenada Chocolate Company. I was lucky enough to spend time with the late Mott Green in Grenada a few years ago. That wonderful, kind, humble man was truly the founding father of the origin production of chocolate on a small scale.
- Hungry for more? Read about the chocolates makers and chocolatiers rate here
- Want to know how to get the most from your chocolate? Get to grips with my ‘Five ‘S’s’ tasting guide here
- To read about Great Taste Award-winning chocolate, click here
- To read about Academy of Chocolate award-winning chocolate, click here