While several European countries are known for their fabulous chocolate-making, the world hosts thousands of exceptional chocolatiers—in some unexpected places.
Top chocolatiers generally work with couverture (first-rate chocolate containing a high percentage of cocoa butter) to make their creations, versus fresh cocoa beans, although an increasing number now experiment with bean to bar. Some makers even grow their own cacao beans. Direct contact between growers and makers is the best-case scenario for sustainable, or at the very least fair trade, chocolate.
Virtually every country on the planet produces terrific chocolate, so look for the local flavor when traveling. Just be sure to read the labels! If sugar is listed as the main ingredient, quickly put it down and find a bar in which cocoa (mass, solids, or liquor) shines.
Paul A. Young, London, England
Award-winning author and master chocolatier Paul A. Young deserves the accolades he receives for his creativity and mastery with all things chocolate. Walk into his tiny Camden Passage original chocolate shop and inhale the intoxicating aroma of fresh chocolate being made on-site. Young is one of the British chocolatiers who launched the chocolate revolution in London about 15 years ago, casting aside the overly sweet British chocolate of old for the fresh and innovative chocolate offerings that you’ll now find in at least a dozen top-notch chocolatiers in the capital city. Try his dark chocolate sea salt caramel pecan brownies—guaranteed to seduce every unsuspecting chocolate lover. Three locations in London found in Camden Passage, Royal Exchange, and Soho.
Que Bo!, Mexico City, Mexico
Traditional Mexican flavors come alive for popular chef and TV personality José Ramón Castillo, a leader in the evolution of Mexican chocolate. Que Bo! uses only organic ingredients sourced from local producers. Vibrant colored truffles matching their star ingredients, such as orange (mango, chili, and salt) or bright pink (guava). The massive, dipped confit figs soaked in molasses, cinnamon, and sugar can be enjoyed in the chocolateria’s hacienda-style courtyard in central Mexico City. Five locations in Mexico City.
SOMA Chocolatemaker, Canada
Masters at everything they do, these Toronto chocolate experts present pure chocolate bars made with beans from around the world, taste-tempting chocolate confections, and truffles like works of art. The conoidal Douglas fir truffles—symbolic of the Canadian coniferous icon—blend fruity cocoa from the Dominican Republic and natural oils from the fir trees to give the experience of eating chocolate in the middle of a pine forest. SOMA also highlights their expertise in frozen confections like whiskey and chocolate gelato, nods to their first store space in the corner of a distillery. Two stores and a chocolate lab in downtown Toronto.
Sprüngli, Zurich, Switzerland
With colorful eye-popping displays of sumptuous chocolate truffles and confections, Sprüngli offers the traditional high-end Swiss chocolate experience. This luxury chocolate shop first opened its doors in 1836, later to build a reputation on its signature macaron, the Luxemburgerli. Chocolate-covered nuts and hot chocolate mixes are offered to take home, in addition to the ultimate grand cru truffles that would send anyone’s eyes rolling back in delight. Rub shoulders with the city’s well-to-do while enjoying a coffee and chocolate cake in the Paradeplatz flagship shop’s second-floor café. Numerous locations in Zurich.
Cicada, New South Wales, Australia
This Australian bean-to-bar chocolate maker uses only the best single-origin cacao beans. Cicada’s expertise marries the notes of red fruit with undertones of sweet caramel that are both natural to the cacao. A little added cocoa butter to increase the smooth factor, a touch of raw sugar, and the enticing magic of the Madagascan bourbon vanilla bean make the best chocolate bar you could possibly find: Their 73 percent bar, sourced from the Somia plantation in the Sambirano Valley of northern Madagascar, is ultimate bliss in the form of a chocolate bar. Cicada plans to open a bigger and better factory and shop soon. Bars sold in Sydney at The Rocks Markets and Bondi farmers markets.
Travel Tip: Chocolate doesn’t travel exceptionally well, so chocolate bars are the best souvenir choice when traveling abroad. They are more durable than truffles and, unlike bonbons or ganaches, have a shelf life of one to two years. Bring heat-resistant packaging with you to keep the bars from melting on the way home.
SpagNVola, United States
SpagNVola husband-and-wife owners Eric and Crisoire Reid oversee entire chocolate process from farm to store, delivering unadulterated chocolate perfection. First they grow cacao at their farm perched on mountain slopes in their homeland of the Dominican Republic. The cacao pods are handpicked, then roasted and refined in their Gaithersburg, Maryland, factory. Take the free tour to learn about the origins of their chocolate and watch the kitchen’s magic. The award-winning 70 percent and 80 percent pure chocolate bars paint the clearest picture of quality, but don’t miss the boxed sets of olive oil truffles or caramel bonbons. Boutique at National Harbor and factory in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
Roselen Chocolatier, Lima, Peru
Owner and debonair chocolatier Giorgio Demarini took the skills he learned as a graphic designer and applied his artistic talent to something sweeter. Now he makes chocolates with his mother at Roselen, hand-painting playful designs to turn into delectable, unique masterpieces. His jungle-style flavor blends, like passion fruit lemongrass or lychee with geranium petals, can be found nowhere else. Try to catch a tasting class, where Demarini pairs his handcrafted Peruvian chocolates with various local libations. If timing isn’t right, pick up the perfect gift box with 16 carefully selected bonbons, a wine glass, and small bottle of Pisco Portón. Chocolate shop and tasting parlor in Lima, Peru.
Jouvay, Grenada, West Indies
Chocolate doesn’t get any fresher than Jouvay, perfected by the Grenada Cocoa Farmers Cooperative based at the rural Diamond Chocolate Factory. The idea was to partner with local farmers working right in the ecosystem to grow the best quality beans. While visiting the 18th-century factory inside a converted rum distillery built by French monks, see the cocoa beans drying on trays under the Caribbean sun. Growers employ a centuries-old French tradition of “walking” the beans—turning them gently by walking over the shells, which are later roasted and removed. Inside the small tasting room, sample each chocolate bar flavor, such as ginger and cocoa nibs. Factory and farm in Victoria, Grenada.
De Bondt, Pisa, Italy
If you like chocolate bark covered with fresh fruits and nuts, you will go nuts for the chocolate of Paul de Bondt. He was born in Holland and married an Italian, Cecelia. The couple makes international chocolate with flair. Try their lemon lime 64 percent bar made from Madagascar’s finest cacao. Although one can find several outstanding chocolate makers in Tuscany, de Bondt proves noteworthy for his scientific approach to chocolate, offering various percentages of the same cocoa in a series of bars that lets you find just the right nuances for your chocolate preferences. Chocolate and tea shop in Pisa.
Ki’ Xocolatl, Mérida, Mexico
Ki' Xocolatl, meaning "rich delicious chocolate" in the Mayan and Nahuatl (Aztec) languages, lives up to its name. Belgian owners collaborated with locals to cultivate beans from the heart of the Yucatán Peninsula using ancient techniques. Then artisanal chocolate meets Maya ingredients like baked corn chips, peppers, and almonds, flavored with homegrown spices. Ki' Xocolatl also presents a unique lineup of cocoa-based spa products, including chocolate shampoo, lotions, and soap, all highlighting the natural moisturizing and detoxifying qualities of cacao beans. Save time to sip traditional Mexican hot chocolate made from organic cocoa paste, natural cinnamon, and cane sugar in the art-filled Mérida café at Parque de Santa Lucía. Three retail locations in Mérida.
Doreen Pendgracs has spent the past seven years scouring the planet in search of the world’s finest chocolate and most memorable chocolate experiences. She is the author of the award-winning book Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate. She is currently researching the second volume, Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate Adventures. Read her writing about the world of chocolate.