Most of the “Top 10 Chocolates” or “Best Countries for Chocolate” have lists that are mostly made up of European countries like Italy, Belgium, France and Switzerland. While I’ve had some phenomenal chocolate in these countries, none of them made my list of places where I’ve come to find some of my tastiest confections. Since these high end chocolatiers are working with beans that come from a narrow region that flanks either side of the equator and the trees grow best in tropical weather, you won’t be seeing any of your fancy French chocolate made completely locally. So, where can you find some of the best chocolate? Much like a lot of my other travels, I went straight to the source and found some of my personal favorites were small local farms, cooperative employment opportunities and sustainable organic chocolate choices.
The Best Chocolate I’ve found in my travels
My Largest Chocolate Producer: Indonesia
More than terraced rice paddies and surfing, one of the top producers of cocoa is Indonesia. They ranked in the top 3 out of the ten major cocoa growers in the world. I first had the chance to learn about socially responsible business when visiting Cocoa Grounds in Bali. They work with social initiatives and aid local farmers to be productive and proactive in their community.
- travel tip: if visiting Cocoa Grounds get in touch with them before looking for the cafe, they may have since moved locations from their website listing.
Best Straight from the Source: Ecuador
Pacari is one of the only producers that are making their products from “tree to bar” not just “bean to bar”. This is going to be the chocolate your Ecuadorian boyfriend brings home to you as a gift, it’s the chocolate in South America. Pacari also wins points for being certified organic chocolate and taking a stance on sustainable agriculture. Because they are coming straight from the farm the price is a total steal for the quality and they have some unique pairings. I had tried their chocolate & Guayusa pairing, it’s a super energetic leaf from the Amazon that has a jolt of antioxidants and caffeine.
Want to get a little classy in the capital? Head to Republica del Cacao chocolate boutique on Venezuela street. Grab a few souvenirs or taste one of their gourmet creations. Can’t get to South America but want to get in on the chocolate tasting? Kallari Chocolates is a cooperative farming initiative that is available online or in Whole Foods Markets.
Chocolate has been the rise and fall in Ecuador. It was the major export for centuries, most of your famous chocolate was from Ecuadorian beans (think Hershey for example) and then an infection decimated the cocoa tree population in the early 1900s.
Best Place for Chocolate Education: Peru
There are two Chocolate Museums in Peru, one in the capital of Lima and the other in the tourist town of Cusco. I was curious about them so I went to both, plus it’s a good excuse to buy more chocolate if you turn it into a learning experience! They talk about the history of cocao in South America, the cultural importance as well as its uses in cooking, trading and medicine.
The logo looked familiar and then I realized I was at the same museum in Granada, Nicaragua the year earlier. The nice difference is they talk about things both regionally & globally so you can get a sense of the impact of production on a more local level at each of the places you visit. The museum in Lima over looks the main square (Plaza de Armas) so in my opinion it has the best view of the three.
They offer workshops so you can learn to make your own chocolate and bring home a more personal souvenir, if it makes it back home before you eat it!
Most Inspiring Dessert: Dominican Republic
Cooperative farming was in full swing on this Caribbean island, keeping things local while building up the economy. One of my favorite days on the island was visiting a local women’s cooperative chocolate factory, Chocal, where we had the opportunity to meet the women involved in the project, learn about the chocolate making process and help wrap up some of our own chocolate bars to take home with us as an edible keepsake. It was powerful to see these ladies take charge of a career so they could be closer to their families and not work further away from Puerto Plata region while scraping by in the tourism industry towards the busier Punta Cana area of the island.
Best Chocolate You Didn’t Even Know You Loved: Marou Chocolate, Vietnam
As if I needed another reason to love Vietnam, then you add delicious chocolate to the mix and it’s over. Marou Chocolate started as a small operation and now is quickly picking up speed in the artisan chocolate arena as one of the best. I had bought a bar of it in Ho Chi Minh City when we were there a few years ago and then stumbled on the same pretty packaging in a specialty store in Philadelphia 2 years later and couldn’t resist trying it again to export me straight back to Saigon.
Honorable Mention & Most Surprising: Omnom Chocolate, Reykjavik Iceland
I came across this artisan chocolate company while on my “stop over” and didn’t expect to spend part of my long weekend in Iceland touring a chocolate factory. Omnom creates spectacular chocolates with a process they call bean to bar. The packaging was what initially grabbed me but the yummy flavors had me sneaking a few bars in my carry on for the way home.