Club Meeting of June 24, 2007

Tonight the club tried something new - tasting dark chocolate with fresh fruit. Last week Leonard was invited to a friend’s house for dinner and was asked to bring some chocolate for dessert. At the end of the meal he opened up a bar for everyone and tried it with some slices of orange sitting in front of him. Hmmm! Big time good! Hence the idea for the club. Fresh fruit chosen for the evening were cherries, orange, fig, apricot, nectarine, blackberry and strawberry. Pineapple, raspberry and banana were considered but, no, not tonight.


Rather than tasting the usual six or seven bars of dark chocolate we kept to a selection of two bars to simplify – Valrhona (71%) and Green & Black (70%).

Overall everyone found the combination just great. Tasty in the extreme and highly recommended. Questions that came up - do we down the chocolate or fruit first? Do we taste each fruit with one chocolate, then start over with the other chocolate? A quick decision was to taste each fruit with both chocolates one after the other to get the best comparison.

Since this was our first go at this kind of tasting it was a little like the wild west. Everything was wide open and anything was good for a try. Next time we may go about it differently.


At the end of the tasting the question that arose, left on a desert island which combo which you want to have with you? Surprise. Who would have thought that nectarine would go so well with chocolate? Of the eleven present seven chose it as a favorite, and all with the Valrhona. David on the other hand liked his Valrhona best with blackberry. Leonard found Valrhona to be more subtle in taste than the Green & Black and liked it best with orange. Like an evening on the beach at dusk, he said. But Green & Black with Cherry was high on his list as with others, e.g. David, Susan.


One idea to come from this was to try the next tasting with dried fruit. So we shall see. But with great encouragement we say to everyone - try your favorite chocolate with fresh fruit!


Tonight was a first not only for this variety of tasting but also because club member Susan Griffin announced that today, after three years of intense work she had finished her current book Wrestling With the Angel of Democaracy – On Being an American Citizen. This is momentous to be sure, and to mark the occasion she graced us with a reading of a portion of the last chapter Rounds. Too bad the world could not be there to hear her tender and thoughtful reading of this important material. We know why Susan was short listed for the Pulitzer for her work A Chorus of Stones - a subtle and penetrating mind at work with reflections on who we are, and the world we have created. We all look forward to the publication of this new work next January.

* the fruit was all from Berkeley Bowl, except for the nectarine, which was fresh from Frog Hollow Farms of Brentwood, CA
Club Meeting of April 22 , 2007

Tonight the blind tasting was put aside. When asked why, the only response from Carrie and Ken as the chocolate was being unwrapped was, “Because!” End of story.
Instead of the regular six chocolates we tasted eight bars.

Selection in the order of tasting.
Pralus. Madagascar. Criollo. 75%. France.
Caffarel. Madagascar. 70% Italy.
Robert. Madagascar. 70% Made in Madagascar.
Dagoba. Sambirano. Madagascar. 65% Trinitario.
Debauve & Gallais. 64% France.
Dessert Goddess. 60%.
Elite, Bittersweet Chocolate Airy, Israel. No percentage
Debauve & Gallais. 85%. France.

Tonight’s tasting showed that despite how different everyone’s taste is around chocolate, at the extremes of good and bad there is no  disagreement. Pralus knocked everyone’s socks off and came out highest of the evening. Leonard gave it a 9.9. Carrie a 10.

Rebecca said it was the best damned chocolate she’s ever tasted. Wow! A couple of people wanted more chocolate taste, like Nancy. But she still gave it a 9.


At the other end, the lowest score went to the Israeli bar Elite. It’s highest score was a 2.5 from Nancy who thought the airy thing was fun. Others were a couple of zeros, ones, etc. The first item on this chocolate’s list of ingredients was sugar. Maybe that says something. It was thick, almost stick like, and reminded everyone of the infamous Russian aerated chocolate of a couple of years ago – clods of dirt mixed with drywall.

Somewhere between the extremes were bars like the Debauve & Gallais 85%. Despite it’s high cocoa content Susan loved it, in small doses though. “Like walking across the Piazza San Marco at night,” she said. Pamela thought it tasted like dirt, but good dirt and gave it a seven. Leonard at the other end, thought that while it was clearly a well made chocolate, he would decline any offer in the future. He started out by rating it zero but then thought the quality of it’s manufacture was worth something so changed his score to 0.5.


The bar of Robert chocolate came in second from the bottom. Rebecca found it wonderfully boring, like a relative you never look forward to seeing. Leonard thought it was like kissing a corpse. Despite this it did garner much praise all around because it is the only chocolate we’ve ever tasted or seen that is actually manufactured in a cocoa producing country. Strange, but the very people who cultivate cocoa beans have taste chocolate because the end product is manufactured in far away foreign lands. Thus Carrie gave it a double rating, a 9/3, nine for political reasons, three for taste.

In a film of Nell Newman, director of Newman’s Own food products and daughter of Paul Newman, we see Nell and her team on the plantation where their variety of coffee bean is produced serving coffee to the workers – the first cup of coffee they had ever tasted.

Club Meeting of February 19 , 2007
Tonight’s meeting featured six bars of our favored dark chocolate and one bar of milk chocolate that Carrie slipped in to throw everyone off.
  • Tonight’s selection:
  • Pralus, Sao Tome, 75%
  • Lake Champlain Chocolate, Sao Tomé, 70%
  • Olivier, Sao Tome, 65%
  • Guittard, Madagascar, 65%
  • Hi-Crown – Japanese
  • DeVries, Dominican, 80%
  • Cluizel, Madagascar – milk, 50%

The top chocolate of the night was the Olivier from France which proudly displays the fact that it uses no soy lecithin in its bars. Second was Devries. His bar evoked images of Havana in the 1930s for Susan, Dashell Hammet or Sam Spade walking along the quai in a fog. The first time we tasted this chocolate it swept everyone off their feet. Maybe it was the 80% that made it not as palatable as the Olivier tonight. Nevertheless the name Devries still elicits many smiles around this club.

At the bottom of the ratings was the Hi-Crown Japanese. Luke found the Hi-Crown had a crisp break, but in taste it was, gulp, execrable. A fine word one hardly hears these days. The highest score it garnered out of nine people at the table was a two from Ken. Nancy, however, did take note of it’s attractive package in a box resembling a box of cigarettes.

Guests Jane and Joanna Pitt, yes, related to the club founder as sister-in-law and niece respectively, were in town and wanted to attend a meeting but we reluctant to try any chocolate because it has never been kind to their digestive systems. But what can one do in the presence of such temptation? So, of course, they gave in. And the next day both were happy to report no adverse reactions whatsoever of any kind. Dark chocolate comes through again!

Club Meeting of January 21, 2007

Tonight’s meeting after the holiday break was welcome and much fun. Guests tonight were Billy San Juan, a student at St. Mary’s College, and Richard Friedlander, a professional mediator and also husband of club member Pamela Prince.

As always Carrie selected the chocolates for tonight’s blind tasting and as always the evening was not without surprises. After several months of blind tastings there is no doubt that this is the way to go.

Tonight’s chocolates
Artbar – 70%, Switzerland. Organic. No origin given.
Sharffen Berger, Kumasi Sambirano, 68%. Berkeley. Beans from Ghana & Madagascar.
Sharffen Berger, Los Islas, 73%, Berkeley. Beans from Trinidad, Jamaica & Dominican Republic.
Casa Don Pugliese, 45%. Italy. No origin given.
Olivier, 73%. French from Toulouse. Beans from Madagascar.
Theo, 65%, Seattle. Beans from Madagascar.



The first bar tasted, Artbar, was new to everyone and did pretty well with one rating of 9, two 8’s and the rest 7.5’s and 6’s.



The second tasted was the Sharffen Berger Kumasi Sambirano. Rob gave it a low 4 saying it was too sweet, and guessed it’s cacao content at 55%.  In reality it was 63%. Guest Billy San Juan guessed cacao content at 65%. Pretty good. The bar did get a couple of 8’s with the other ratings all over the place, e.g., 5, 6, 7.




The third bar tasted was the Sharffen Berger Las Islas and everyone lit up on that one, except for Carrie. She thought it was too sweet (5.5) and guessed it’s cacao content at a low 65%. Way off. It is 72%. Leonard scored it a 9.5 and guessed the cacao at 73%. Every one else was oohing! and aahing! and scored it high with four 9’s, and 8.5’s, and a 7.5 from Jules who liked it but was not quite as impressed as the others.




Fourth to be tasted was the Casa Don Pugliesi. Without being rude, let’s say it didn’t go over very big with anyone. In fact, three rated it Zero. Pamela gave it the highest rating of 5, saying it was like a “Novelty bar, fun.” Michael was not as kind as he ran to grab a napkin so he could dispose of it presto quicko. Billy, who gave it a 4, thought it was like a computer screen with lousy pixilation. The main objection was waaay, too sweet, and with cocoa at only “45% minimum” what can you expect? But what does “minimum” mean? Does that mean it could be 65 or 70%? We doubt it. On the tag was instructions for making hot chocolate. Maybe that’s it. It’s really a bar for hot chocolate - but they forgot to put it on the label. We note that the first ingredient is cane sugar. That tells us something.



Fifth to be tasted was the Olivier from Toulose. This got two 9.5’s, high indeed, with only a 5 from Billy who found it too sour for his taste. The others were one 6 and all 7’s.
And lastly we tasted the Theo from Seattle. Five gave it a rating of 6, while two rated it a 9. Two others gave it an 8.5.
To summarize, the topper was Las Islas and the bottom was Casa Don Pugliesi.


The discussion during tasting is always fun, illuminating, informational, recreational, and sometimes shocking. It is never dull and sometimes goes careening into the raucous.. How discussion tonight came to women’s girdles I do not remember. But Marissa recalled that when she applied for a job at a Big Boys restaurant on the East Coast back in the early 1970s, she was told all waitresses were required to wear girdles and that the manager, John or Jim or something, would give the girls a slight tap on the derriere to make sure they were properly suited up.

To her credit Marissa refused the girdle and made sure John or Jim did not get his hands anywhere near her derriere.

Club Meeting of January 14, 2007

With over 100 people on a waiting list to join our club I thought it was time to have a special meeting for list people only. I couldn’t accommodate everyone, of course, so I put the word out and the first 12 to respond were in. Of the 12 only 8 showed. Part of this, I later learned, was due to my not confirming with people. Drat!

The choice of chocolates from lowest to highest in cocoa content were:

  • Michel Cluizel, LosAncones,  67% France
  • Monoprix Gourmet, Noir Extra, 70% France
  • Lindt Excellence, 70% Swiss
  • Yamate, Dark, 70% US
  • Sharffen Berger, Bittersweet, 70% US
  • Villars, 72% Swiss
  • Novi, Fondente Nero, 72%  Italy
  • Pralus, Vanuatu, 75%  France


For the evening’s tasting I made a selection of 8 bars, trying to make it as interesting as possible with some premium bars along with a couple of more common bars easily found in Paris supermarkets.

In every tasting I lead outside the club I always throw in a bar of Newman’s Own Dark Chocolate. We love Paul Newman and commend his position of turning all profits from his consumer products over to charity. But why can’t he produce a better chocolate? Most likely he contracts with a manufacturer who simply puts the Newman’s Own label on the bar. And the results are not happy.

Club member Carrie Olson began the evening with a brief history of chocolate, it’s journey from central America to Europe, and how it is processed from bean to bar.

As always once the tasting got underway there was plenty of fun. And as always there was plenty of variety in people likes and dislikes. The Pralus Vanuatu is always interesting because of it’s distinctive flavor: very smoky and earthy. A few rated it high at 8 and 9. A few others scored it low at 0, and 1. Others were more middling.

The Novi Fondente Nero was even more split. Four at the table liked it much and scored it an 8. Four others gave it the NCV rating (no commercial value).
Vive le chocolat!



Return to homepage