Cocoa as the first ingredient.
High-quality chocolate should list cocoa, or some derivative of it—such as cocoa butter—as the first ingredient. If cocoa is not the primary ingredient, the chocolate is likely high in sugar.
Cocoa percentage of at least 60 percent.
The higher the percentage of cocoa, the darker and less sweet the chocolate. A chocolate of about 60 percent cocoa is suitable for snacking, while a chocolate with at least 80 percent cocoa will have a strong, bitter flavor better suited for baking.
A dark, well-sealed wrapper.
The more chocolate is protected from light and moisture, the longer its shelf life will be. While clear packages can be pretty, chocolate well wrapped in foil and an over-wrapper is more likely to stay fresh.
Look for a matte gloss finish and choose chocolate that’s free of discoloration. Any discoloration or grittiness is a sign of improper storage and could indicate spoilage.
A clean break.
High-quality dark chocolate should make a snapping sound when broken and break without crumbling. Due to higher milk and sugar content, both white and milk chocolate bend rather than snap.
A best-by date.
While dark chocolate can be kept for more than a year, milk and white chocolate shouldn’t be stored for more than six months. Discard chocolate with even a slightly sour aroma. To prevent premature spoilage, keep chocolate tightly wrapped in the original packaging to help protect it from light and moisture.
Origin of ingredients.
Though the origin of cocoa can slightly alter the taste of chocolate, quality is relatively unaffected and the difference in taste is nearly undetectable to the average consumer.
A high price point.
These days, high-quality chocolate can be found at most local supermarkets. Chocolate can cost as much as $15-$18 per pound, but chocolate in the $4-$5 range is sufficient for baking since the final baked good incorporates other ingredients, such as milk and sugar. Chocolate that costs $6-$7 per pound is suitable for eating out of the package or candy-making.