Club Meeting of December, 2008
    Meeting Francois Pralus

    Walking down the street in Paris last October, just steps away from the Pompidou Museum, I passed a shop under construction. The occupant-to-be was given away by the sparkling new sign over the window, PRALUS. Whoa! That stopped me dead in my tracks! I peered through the window and saw men working away installing shelving, etc. No chocolate anywhere in sight. Two days later I happened by again and voila, OPEN! And it was their first day (34 rue Rambuteau at rue Beaubourg).



    Inside, I chatted up the attractive girl behind the counter about how much I liked Pralus, about my chocolate club in California, etc, and she said, “Why don’t you tell Mr. Pralus. He’s right here.” And dang, if he wasn’t within arm’s reach.


    Francois Pralus is a most charming, high energy guy whose enthusiasm could easily make him anybody’s Ambassador of Chocolate. It just so happens that he had written a book on chocolate that came off the press that very day. My new book on Paris had come out that same week. So as he put one of his books in my hands I put a copy of my new book in his hands. Great exchange! (see photo).


    I told him how much I liked his Vanuatu bar which I had not seen for a long time and learned, sadly, that he had to discontinue this unique bar because of a loss of communication with the growers. Too bad. His Vanuatu, distinctive for its smoky, tobaccoey, earthiness, was in a class by itself.

    A couple of days later the shop had it’s official opening which I attended as well, and was most happy to see our Goddess of Chocolate there, Chloe Doutre –Rousell. Fun abounded.

    So it was only a matter of course that this month’s club tasting would do an evening of Pralus. Of his fifteen or so bars, I brought back seven which we put before the club. These were: Fortissima, Ghana, Madagascar, Colombia, Venezuela, Cuba, and Trinidad. All were 75% except for the Fortissima, which was an 80% bar.


    Let’s cut to the chase. With 13 people in attendance the ranking from top to bottom was:

    • Ghana
    • Madagascar
    • Columbia
    • Venezuela
    • Cuba
    • Fortissima
    • Trinidad

    Comments were most interesting. Leonard found the Fortissima 80% like a female dominatrix who comes on strong only to reveal a soft, sweet side in the finish. He gave it a 6.5. While it came in second from last, it did garner two 8’s from Gloria and Susan. Cuba was highly praised by Michael who said it reminded him of the Bay of Pigs or the Battle of Moncara. He gave it a perfect 10! Madagascar, third place, got three 9’s and one 9.5. Pretty good. For the greatest spread in scoring there was Luc who gave the Venezuela a measly 2.5, saying it was unpleasant and chalky, while Susan gave it a 9.7 saying she loved it and found it to be as soulful as the singer Odetta. Pamela liked it too, likening it to Carmen Miranda – complex and surprising.

    For everyone’s favorites of the evening,

      • Mark went for the Venezuela at 8.2, as did Susan at 9.7.
      • Pamela, Penny and Jesse, Ghana at 9.
      • Guest Laura gave a 9 to both Ghana and Madagascar.
      • Lenny, Venezuela at 8.
      • Carrie gave 9s to Madagascar and Venezuela.
      • Gloria went for Ghana at 9.
      • Marissa’s high was Madagascar at 8.
      • And of course Michael with the Cuba at 10.

    To do justice to Pralus we have decided to do January’s tasting with his remaining bars also so we will have tasted the whole range he offers. Who knows what lies in wait?

Club Meeting of August 31, 2008


We had a special guest tonight, Lonny Shavelson of Public Radio International. Lonny produces shows that are broadcast on the series, The World, and after seeing the club's website thought we might be a story worthwhile looking into. So in keeping with the theme of his show we chose nine bars circling the globe. Lonny recorded the entire proceedings, although we did tone it down just a tad.

Tonight's meeting featured nine bars. They are presented here in the order of their ranking after all the tallying.
  • 1. Devries, Costa Rica. 77%
  • 2. Republica del Cacao, Ecuador 75%
  • 3. Santander, Colombia 70%
  • 4. Amedei, Porcelana, Venezuala 70%
  • 5. Chocolove, Caribbean 73%
  • 6. Pralus, Sao Tome 75%
  • 7. Domori, Madagascar 70%
  • 8. Michel Cluizel, Maralumi, New Guinea 64%.
Club Meeting of July 27, 2008



Tonight’s meeting had fourteen in attendance. A good turnout for sure. And it was hilarious from beginning to end. I constantly marvel at the fact that we are still the only chocolate tasting club in America.

People don’t know the fun they are missing!


Tonight was a new experience in our almost five years of meeting. Tasting was reserved to a single chocolatier, the Parisian house of Patrick Roger. Members Luke and Nancy were recently in Paris and stopped in his boutique on Boulevard Saint Germain. Leonard always stops there when in Paris and has been befuddled by the large selection of bars, over forty in all. Buying one or two always leaves him wondering what he might by missing in the others.

Having six bars tonight is a good start. Well, we did do a chaser so to speak, a seventh bar (Papua New Guinea) after the formal tasting.

The six selected, all 75%, were:

Sao Tome



1. Ghana 75%         


2. Madagascar 75% 


3. Tanzania 75%  


4. Trinidad 75%


5. Venezuela 75%  


6. Sao Tome 75%    


The Sao Tome’s low score was across the board. Several tagged it “quirky.” It tasted “moldy”, “rubbery”, “vacant,” “rancid.” Luke was the loner giving it an 8, noting that it was “interesting and complex.” It is not often that any one bar gets two zeros but such was the case here.

At the other end was Madagascar. Even though it came in second it’s reactions were strong. For Leonard and Michael it came on slow, subdued, then let go with an explosion of taste that knocked their socks off.

Leonard likened it to a nun who calls you into the rectory for a conference. Once in the room she disrobes and you find yourself in front of Charlize Theron. Michael grinningly tagged it “psycho-bitch” chocolate. Comes on slow and tears you apart. All in all, “transcendent” he thought. Both gave it a 9. It’s lowest score came from Jesse (4) who found it too “intense” and “weird.” Susan found it “intriguing” with notes of cherry and tequila (Jeanne Moreau in Jules and Jim) and gave it a 7. Carrie loved this bar and gave it the only ten of her tasting career. This brought cheers from everyone.

First place Ghana scored high across the board without the extremes of some others. Nancy scored a 9.5 likening it to Catherine Deneuve in Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Michael found it “earthy,” “smoky,” “classy.” Joan echoed with “Classic” “delectable.” Susan simply “loved it.”

Rob waxed poetic over the Trinidad (Lauren Bacall in To Have Or Have Not) and gave it a 10, the first 10 he has ever given (cheers also). His exaltation of this bar brought a tear to Michael’s eye. Leonard was close behind with a 9.5. Interestingly, everyone else scored around 7 or 7.5.

Venezuela stayed in the middle with five 5s, four 7s, two 7.5s one 7.8 and two 8s.

All in all Patrick Roger comes out on top. Leonard promises to being back another selection of six or seven bars from his trip to Paris in October.


Club Meetings of March, 2008



Double Whammee Historic Chocolate Event!

For months we have talked of doing two blind tastings two weeks apart, but with the same chocolates. At last!

The two tastings took place March 9 & 24. Getting a group to two of anything is not easy and we had several who came to the first but could not come to the second.  So we had to scratch their scores. In the end we had eight people at both tastings.

The big question, of course, was how would everyone’s ratings come out. Would reactions to the bars vary from one tasting to the next. Only Carrie, our personal Price Waterhouse knew what was what and she was very good at keeping the wraps on everything.

Well, here are the results.

The six bars we tasted at the first meeting, in the order of tasting, were:

  • Valrhona. 71%. No origin for cacao
  • Devine. Ghana. 70%
  • Askinosie. Ecuador. San Jose Del Tambo. 70%
  • Bittersweet. El Carmen. Tabasco, Mexico, 66%
  • Michel Cluizel. Mangaro. Madagascar. 65%
  • Lindt. Madagascar. 65%

The order of tasting at the second meeting was as follows:

  • Bittersweet
  • Lindt
  • Devine
  • Michel Cluizel
  • Askinosie
  • Valrhona


Results of First Tasting:
1. Valrhona
2. Bittersweet
3. Askinosie
4. Michel Cluizel. Madagascar.
5. Devine
6. Lindt

Results of Second Tasting:
1. Michel Cluizel. Madagascar.
2. Bittersweet
3. Valrhona
4. Devine
5. Lindt
6. Askinosie

A number of questions arose. How much does the order in which the bar is tasted count. And how about the weather? It was markedly warmer at the second tasting and best we try to keep bars at a given temperature, warmer is warmer.

And how different were some of the ratings?

Keeping in mind that we score from one to ten, at the first meeting Mark rated Cluizel only a 2, but at the second meeting he gave it a 6 with a Wow!

Michael scored the Valrhona an 8 at the first meeting saying it was good in a Jane Austen way, sweet yet restrained. At the second he gave it a very consistent 8.7. Go Michael!

At the first tasting Lenny found the Valrhona middle of the road and gave it a 5.5. At the second tasting he thought it was really good and scored it an 8.

The Askinosie went on a roller coaster ride with Susan. She scored an 8.5 first, then only a 4 at the second tasting.

Same with Mark. He scored Askinosie an 8 at first, but only a 2.8 at the second tasting.

Gloria gave Bittersweet an 8 both times. Yo Gloria! And Carrie, a 9 both times!

Carrie gave Devine an 8 the first time around but only a 3 at the second tasting.

As everyone knows we are the only chocolate tasting club in America,
Strange but true. In fact, sad but true. We would love to see other clubs and we have encouraged people to venture out, but while everyone loves to taste chocolate, organizing takes a particular bent of mind and to date no one of that ilk has stepped forward. With the phenomenal rise of dark chocolate one would think this is a slam dunk. Far from it. If people only knew what they were missing.

So we go on having all this fun by ourselves. Imagine that there were chocolate clubs around the country and we did a tasting such as this. The excitement would be electric from coast to coast and would certainly grab the ear of the chocolate industry. Maybe one day.


Club Meeting of February 11 , 2008


Tonight we had ten present – eight regular member plus two guests, Susan Felix and her nephew thirteen year old Jesse Richard Duhun. The meeting was unusual since there was not a bar in the lot that anyone had ever heard of, much less tasted. That filled everyone with anticipation. The results, however, were a mixed bag. We did not do a blind tasting tonight.

The selection of bars:

  • Malagasy Mora Mora. 73% Madagascar. Organic. Equitrade Suitable for vegetarians and vegans
  • Malagasy Sambirano. 75% Madagascar. Organic. Equitrade Suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
  • Kallari Rainfamily75% Ecuador. Organic cocoa liquor. Gluten free and suitable for vegan consumers. No GMOs.
  • Kallari Rainfamily 70% Ecuador. Organic cocoa liquor. Gluten free and suitable for vegan consumers. No GMOs.
  • Fortnum & Mason Tercentenary 72% London.
  • Patric 70% Columbia, Missouri. Madagascar, Sambirano Valley.
  • Prestat 63% London. All ingredients organic.

Political correctness and ethics were high among the selections and that goes far with us. A recent article in Fortune magazine (February 4, 2008) about child labor in the West Africa cocoa trade gives reason for pause. Short of that, stories of exploitation on cocoa plantations are not new – For interesting reading see this article by Carol Off, author of Bitter Chocolate-Investigating the Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet.
            The chocolate from Kallari Rainfamily is a welcome antidote to this social disease of alienation and exploitation. Kallari is an association made up of 800 Kichwa families in the jungles of Ecuadoran Amazon that began in 1997 and make a variety of products for export, mostly crafts and jewelry. Chocolate is the most recent addition to their line. Who would not applaud a statement such as: “Kallari has created sustainable income so Kichwa people can fulfill our basic family needs without logging our rainforests or selling our land.” And they promote themselves as “four times as fair as Fairtrade.” Very impressive. Any one interested should have a look at their website: www.kallari.com.
            Malagasy chocolate, like Kallari, is also a very homegrown operation. From seed to bean to bar, the entire chocolate making process takes place in Madagascar. They too offer more than chocolate and also produce coffee, spices, and teas. Instead of Fairtrade, they pride themselves on being part of Equitrade whose standards puts more money into the pockets of local farmers thus helping “to end poverty through sustainable commercial international trade.” All very laudable indeed. See: www.malagasy.co.uk.
            Prestat chocolate, located in England, was founded in 1902 by a Frenchman, Antoine Dufour. The company website makes the interesting statement that it was the Dufour family who invented the chocolate truffle in 1895 in Chambery France. A mighty declaration indeed. Another website (The Nibble) states that “according to legend” the truffle was invented in the 1920s by French culinary giant Auguste Escoffier. Anyone who thinks they know the real story is welcome to contact us at the Club.
            In 1999 the company was bought by half-brothers Nick Crean and Bill Neeling. Their website expresses their enthusiasm for their product line and the packaging makes no secret of their pride that Prestat chocolate has been enjoyed “by royalty and nobility, stars of the screen and stage, and even cardinals, bishops and nuns for over 100 years.” As if that wasn’t enough, their wrapping, in a most understated fashion states, “By appointment to Her Majesty the Queen Purveyors of Chocolate.” We wondered why the Pope wasn’t on the list. Everyone liked that they were organic.

            The Berkeley Chocolate Club has decided to post all the results of our tastings online. One reason for not  posting in the past is because we understand the immense work and dedication that goes into the art of chocolate making, particularly from small producers and, well, to put it simply, we do not like the idea of giving a less than favorable report to anyone after all their labor. And also because it is so personal. It is very common that a single bar can get radically different scores within a single club tasting. So we heartily encourage any other chocolate club out there to sample the same selections as we have and then we can compare notes. That would be interesting. This is only a dream right now as we are not aware of any other chocolate tasting clubs anywhere and we have looked. If anyone knows of one, please contact us.

            That said, here are the ratings for tonight. Remember, we score on a scale of 0 to 10, with .5s allowed. It is generally agreed that a score of 5 indicates a chocolate you would buy in a movie theatre. It’s not your favorite, nor is it the worst, but it will do while watching a movie. Anything scored lower you would have second thoughts before buying, and  in descending order as the score goes lower.



1. Kallari Rain Family 75%         


2. Kallari Rain Family 70%         


3. Patric 70%                                


4. Prestat 63%                             


5. Fortnum & Mason 72%          


6. Malagasy Mora Mora 73%    


7. Malagasy Sambirano 75%    


Some comments:
            The highest rating the Malagasy 75% got was a 4.8 from Susan. There were several 0's, plus one .5, 4, 1.0., etc.
            The Malagasy 73% did get a 5.5 from Luc and  a 4 from Mark, but the rest ranged from, 0 to 2.5. the overall comment was waxy. One member could not believe there was so little chocolate and had a second piece to verify. Someone thought the poor taste might be because the bars had outlived their shelf life, but the dates were fine.
            The Patric 70% got two 7.5's.. The others ranged from one 3, three 4's, to one 5 and one 2. Even the 7. 5 found it astringent, like quinine. Others said sour, metallic, tart, bitter, acidic.
            Prestat 63% ranged from one 1.5 to 6, with everything else in between.
            The Kallari 75% ranged from  8.6 from Susan who loved it (and in fact had two pieces), to a lowest scoreof 5. The Kallari 70% got an 8 from Marissa with a couple of 5's at the low end from others.

            Lowest scoring: Fortnum & Mason. Their wrapper is barely comprehensible. Gold on black is popular among chocolatiers, but it never seems to work. And the clock on the F&M label is a real head scratcher. What the devil does it mean? The Malagasy is fine, except for the gold on black. They have information printed on the inside of the label which everyone found handsomely designed. Patric came out on top with the most handsome packaging and with Kallari right behind. Kallari also prints inside the label to good effect. The Prestat got the 'kitsch award' for the evening. Dame Edna Everidge would certainly rate it number one (pink and gold).

Club Meeting of January 14, 2008
This was the club’s first meeting since September because Leonard had been away in Paris for two months, then the holidays, etc, and here we are, it’s 2008!
Tonight’s meeting had 12 attendees plus one guest, Oakland artist Taya Doromitch.

People often ask “Is there enough chocolate to keep the club going month after month?” The answer is yes. We had never heard of Tom and Sally, Cado-Badie or L.A. Burdick. Sometimes we have tasted the same chocolate a second time and that’s fine. A new context can change everything. Tonight’s tasting was not blind. At the extremes, the top and lowest rated were clear to everyone. In between it got very interesting and as always there was plenty of variety in reactions.
The Olivier Saint Domingue got a 9 from Michael who found it smooth and caressing. At the other end of the spectrum, Rob gave it a paltry 2.5. He found it fruity, tangeriny, but that it fell apart. The L.A. Burdick got a 0.7 from Mark, an unusual score indeed, and an 8 from Ken who found it most pleasing.
Once the group tally was done, the top rated bar of the evening was Patrick Roger’s Cuba garnering a score of 7.92. Michael thought it was good like Shelly Duvall’s performance in Popeye. At the other end the lowest rated of the evening was Tom and Sally with a 2.9.
Tom and Sally’s has the strangest  packaging of any chocolate the club has seen. Nowhere on the front  of the wrapping is there anything suggesting a brand name. This is a chocolate that travels incognito. Look on the back and get out your magnifying glass. In the smallest of print you’ll see their name and even a website. A quick look on my laptop and, wow! Look at the page for Adult Products. Google them and see for yourself. Chocolate Thongs!! They must get snowed in a lot in Vermont.
    • The selection of chocolate’s were the following:
    • Tom & Sally. No percentage given. Brattleboro, Vt.
    • Olivier, Grand Cru. St.
    • Domingue. 67%. France.
    • Olivier. Tanazania. Nopercentage given. France.
    • Patrick Roger. Cuba, 75%. France.
    • Patrick Roger.  Peru. 70%.
    • Cadio-Badie. 80%. France.
    • Cadio-Badie. 70%. France.
    • L.A. Burdick. No percentage given. New Hampshire



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