Chocolate is much more than just a delicious treat – it can be an emotion, a moment of pleasure, a comforting feeling, or even a pick-me-up. Recognizing the features of the best chocolate is not easy, as taste is not the only important aspect. Quality chocolate should have meticulous preparation, premium ingredients, low sugar, no preservatives and, of course, an exquisite taste. To help you identify the finest, we have put together this list of the 8 characteristics of what we consider the ‘best’ chocolate.
1. 100% pure cocoa butter
Did you know that chocolate producers are allowed to replace up to 5% of cocoa butter in chocolate with vegetable fats? Adding anything other than pure cocoa butter to chocolate might be economical, but it is detrimental to the texture and aroma. High-quality chocolate will always contain 100% pure cocoa butter.
2. Avoid chocolates with preservatives
Preservatives in food may have several harmful effects on the body, including breathing difficulties, heart damage, and even behavioral changes in young children. The only reason to use preservatives in chocolate is to extend the product’s shelf-life up to a year. Ingredients and fillings such as fruits, nuts, cream, or butter will reduce a chocolate’s natural shelf-life to 1-3 months, so some chocolatiers use preservatives such as Propionic Acid or Propionates to avoid making a fresh batch of chocolates every day. A first-class chocolatier will prefer to not use preservatives. A 2 month shelf-life is more than acceptable for chocolates with no preservatives (if kept in a dry and cool place between 18° – 20°C or 55° – 70°F).
3. Premium chocolatiers do not use coloring
Using coloring adds artificial and unnecessary ingredients to a natural recipe and has no positive impact on the taste. Premium chocolatiers working with high-quality ingredients will never add coloring.
4. Alcohol will only hide chocolate’s true flavors
The strong taste of alcohol overpowers the taste of chocolate, no matter how high the cocoa content. To enjoy the authentic taste of a chocolate, real connoisseurs will never recommend liquor-filled recipes.
5. The lower the sugar the better
Ingredients used for fillings such as fruits, caramelized almonds, or hazelnut praliné will already contain sugar. It is therefore unnecessary for chocolatiers to add a great quantity of sugar to their recipes. The more sugar, the less premium the ingredients are likely to be.
6. Single-origin couverture chocolate is preferable
Couverture chocolate is the thin layer that coats the filling and is the first encounter you have with the chocolate.
The 4 most important elements for an exceptional couverture are:
1/ The quality and flavors of the cocoa bean. Smaller plantations with high-quality soil, often located under the forest canopy where it is not too dry or too humid, will tend to offer a cocoa bean with more remarkable aromas than the usual mass-harvested bean grown in higher density row-cropping and subject to a more intense amount of pesticides.
2/ The correct preparation of the couverture chocolate. there are several steps in preparing cocoa, and each must be handled with skill. In roasting, for example, different bean varieties must be slow-roasted in different manners (distinct temperatures and durations) for the bean to give out its optimal bouquet. The importance of knowing the proper roasting technique for each type of bean is essential, yet often disregarded by mass-market chocolate producers. Inadequate roasting will cause beans to lose their essence.
3/ Respecting the proper cooking temperatures. The cocoa expert will recommend specific temperatures to be followed by the chocolatier while manipulating the couverture chocolate, guaranteeing a finished product with well-rounded aromas and proper texture.
4/ Knowing when NOT to mix cocoa beans. Many chocolate recipes are made with blended cocoa (different types of cocoa beans mixed together during roasting and crushing). However, when a bean variety has a deliciously uncommon flavor, it is important NOT to mix it so the original essence can be preserved. This is what we call ‘single-origin’ cocoa, made with only one bean type.
7. Piedmont hazelnuts: a premium filling
Aside from the couverture, what makes chocolate delicious is the filling. If we take the example of praliné, first-class chocolatiers will primarily use “Nocciola del Piemonte“, an internationally protected term for hazelnuts from the Piedmont region of Italy. Considered to be one of the finest varieties in the world due to their almost perfectly round shape, gentle flavor and strict agricultural regulations, chocolatiers will not compromise with this fine ingredient.
8. Impeccable ‘savoir-faire‘ (know-how)
No matter how high the quality of the ingredients, the ultimate skill lies in the preparation. What is important is the finesse of the couverture, the tempering of the chocolate, the slow-roasting of the beans, caramelizing of the hazelnuts or almonds, and the chopping and preparation of the filling ingredients (the taste of the chocolate can vary according to the texture of the hazelnuts or other nuts, for example). A tiny alteration can modify the flavors of a whole batch. Not every chocolatier masters these techniques.
The best chocolates deserve luxury packaging
If you want to offer an exceptional gift, make sure the presentation is impeccable! We have taken gift-giving to the next level by offering 4 elegant packaging options: our Assortments, zBoxes and Mahogany boxes.
Pictured above: The Ruby box from our Mahogany Collection. USD 126.65
A skilled cocoa expert
With over 40 years of experience in the chocolate business, our cocoa expert, Olivier de Loisy, travels the world to find the most refined, flavorful cocoa beans to use in crafting our chocolate couverture. His experience allows him to recognize instantly the feel, smell, and taste of an exceptional cocoa bean.
Pictured at right, Olivier de Loisy (left) with his son. Photo by: Lionel Moulet for Chocolaterie de l’Opéra.
Our World-Champion Chocolatier
Awarded prizes for ‘World-Champion Chocolatier’ and ‘Meilleur Ouvrier de France’ (Best French Artisan), Pascal Caffet has been zChocolat’s chocolatier for 15 years. His ancestral techniques and know-how have always matched up to zChocolat’s standards to provide first-class recipes.
Chocolate ‘à la Française’
French chocolate is now considered one of the best chocolates in the world. The French palate is as demanding with chocolate as it is with wine, and has a definite preference for dark chocolate, smaller pieces (approximately 9 to 10 grams), less cream, less sugar, and less butter. When crafting each recipe, zChocolat takes all of this into account, demanding the most delicate yet bold flavors. The resulting Numbered Collection is 100% handmade in France.
zChocolat has won many awards over the years, including being added to the distinguished list of “The Fifty Best Chocolate” by the website ‘The Fifty Best‘ – an online guide to fine living. Having been described as “A cut above“ by the Washington Post, the “Best present idea“ by The New York Times and even “Spectacular“ by the Los Angeles Times, our chocolates seem to seduce worldwide. Discover the awards and recognitions we have received over the years.
Hot off the press
Still not convinced? Read what the press has to say about zChocolat in our online pressbook.
The videos say it all
The emotion on the faces of people tasting chocolate says it all. Our annual tasting events give us the opportunity to meet our customers and see first-hand their reactions when eating zChocolat. Watch the video of our tasting event in London below to see for yourself!