Club Meeting of November 22, 2005


Over the last year and a half Leonard has assembled a large stash of chocolate for the club to taste. But with club members brining so much of thier own chocolate to meetings  his stash has grown large, and as we all know, there is so much chocolate and so little time. So tonight's tasting was made up of an assortment from Leonard's stash. Nine bars were selected.

These included:

  • Dolfin, 88% (Belgium)
  • Scharffen Berger El Carmen from Venezuela, 75% (US)
  • La Maison du Chocolate, Cuana, 73% (France)
  • A la Mere de Famille, Ebony, 72% (France)
  • Debauve et Gallais, 72% (France)
  • Domori, Madagascar, 70% (Italy)
  • Baratti & Milano, 70% (Italy)
  • Lindt, 70% (Swiss)
  • Debauve et Gallais, Santo Domingo, 67% (France)




The group's comments were most interesting.

Rebecca was impressed with A la Mere de Famille's Ebony. “I'd like to take a really long walk with this chocolate. And alone.” She scored it an eight out of ten.

Nancy found the Dolfin, 88% from Belgium flinty, bitter. Like an old curmudgeon, and gave it a four.

Michael thought the Dolfin was too serious. “Like Paris before the Germans marched in.” He scored it a six.

Of the Scharffen Berger El Carmen, Marissa said, “It's like an eccentric I like but don't want to be around.”

The range of opinion over the chocolate is always fascinating and points up the fun of our meetings. Both Nancy and Marissa gave the Domori 70% a zero rating, saying it tasted like “cardboard,” “went from bad to worse.” Pam was a bit more positive and gave it a two. In contrast, Carrie thought it delicious with a strong taste of cherry and gave it an eight. Leonard must have been in a rare mood, and gave this Domori a ten!

Of course eyes rolled as people gave their scores, but no blows were exchanged and sneers of contempt were appropriately concealed. Everyone left in a most jovial mood.


Club Meeting of September 6, 2005


The focus of tonight's meeting was Italian chocolate. The three brands selected for tasting were Amedei, Domori, and Venchi, (pronounced Venki).

Guests of the club tonight were Patrice Wynn, Seneca Klassen, and Sedge Thomson with his son ten year old Henry. Seneca is one of the owners of Bittersweet the Chocolate Café in Oakland. The success of their venture has been most impressive and as I write they are working on another location for lucky San Franciscans with a planned opening on Fillmore Street in October, 2005. Sedge is host of everyone's favorite Saturday morning radio program West Coast Live heard on KALW-FM at 10 am. Patrice was owner of Gaia Books, a cultural icon of north Berkeley for many years and now lives in San Miguel d'Allende, Mexico.





Tonight our taste buds wrangled with nine bars of dark chocolate - three bars of Domori, 70%, 75%, and 100%; two bars of Venchi, 75% and 85%; and four bars of Amedei, Tuscany 70%, Chuao 70%, Porcelana 70% plus a blend at 66%.

Tasting was unremarkable until we got to the Amedie Chuao and then everyone's taste buds woke up with a start. "Handsome, roguish," said Patrice with a smile. "James Bondish," offered Sedge. "Tango, arousing," said Gloria. "A good one night stand!" said Susan, with delight in her eyes. "Yeah, and with no guilt the next morning," fired back Kimberly. By now the group was erupting with laughter. "He's got pomade in his hair, he's wearing a double breasted suit with lapels that have the shine of infinite dry cleanings," I offered up.

Here was one of those magic moments when a rich and subtle chocolate hits everyone's imagination in the same way, Kapow! and triggers a stream of distinctive images that make the chocolate more than simply a bar of chocolate. It becomes a personality. We conjured the essence of this chocolate so completely that we were ready to see him enter the room.

But what did it really taste like? Some comments: deep, subtle. burnt sugar, roasted peppercorn, blackberry, floral, light citrus finish, fleetingly sweet, caramel, not buttery, has a kick. Most bars we taste get wildly different reactions. Several club members might give a high score to a bar, maybe a 7 or 8, while others will roll their eyes with incomprehension and give it only a 2 or 3. This Amadeo Chuao was an exception.

It is worth noting 10 year old Henry's scoring during the evening. He gave a zero to the Domori 100% because it was too bitter. The Venchi 85% got a 2. The Venchhi 75% got a 3 1/2. The Amedei Tuscany 70% got a 4 1/3, the Amedei Chuao 70% got a 6 1/2. Keep in mind our scoring is on a scale of 1 to 10. The Domori Madagascar 70% was clearly his favorite of the evening. He gave it a 900.



Club Meeting of August 17, 2005


Tonight's meeting was attended by the smallest number to date, only seven members. But a numbers of invitees filled out the table nicely.

The choice of chocolates was made up entirely of bars I brought back from Paris last spring.


These included four varieties of Jean-Paul Hevin, none of which had any percentage of cacao on the label. Rather unusual. The four bars were Noir de Feves, Sao Tome, Java, and Venezuela. This was followed by two bars of Christian Constant - Pure Trinitario 66%, and Cuba, 70%. Next was a bar of Cacao & Chocolate, Guarya, 70%, and lastly Cote d'Or, 70%. The latter is an industrial bar available in most French supermarkets. The others are rather high end product, or at least purport to be.



The scoring was all over the map with high and lows coming from all corners of the table on the same bar. With one exception



David O, Carrie O, Ralph W.

And that was the Christian Constant, Pure Trinitario. It was the richest, most subtle and most complex. Conversation continues about individual methods of scoring, what reference points we use, etc. In the past, after tasting a chocolate I did not particularly like, a chocolate lacking personality and would not care to taste again, I would give it a low one or two.


One bar caught everyone's attention and the response was unanimous. This is the chocolate we've been waiting for tonight.


But I've changed my thinking on this. Rather than measuring a chocolate solely against whether I would want it again or not, I now think a more reliable measure is against the worst chocolates I've tasted. Like the Russian bar that tasted like clods of dirt with dry wall. (see meeting of February 22, bottom of page). That's a zero. This boosts the others that were just ok to a 3, maybe a 4 or 5. Conversation will undoubtedly continue on the weighty matter.

Guests, Victoria Shoemaker, Richard Friedman


Member, Susan G. Guest, Victoria Shoemaker


Club Meeting of July 19, 2005


Tonight's tasting was attended by sixteen members of the club and was presided over by Adam Smith, owner of Fog City News in San Francisco, located at Market at First. Another guest tonight was Louis Dolinsky, for many years a journalist at the San Francisco Chronicle, now working on an article about the club he hopes to get published in the paper.


Adam presenting two bars of Hachez

Adam opened Fog City News in 1999 and began as a classic newsstand featuring an array of newspapers and magazines along with an assortment of pick-up items like tobacco, candy, peanuts, and other munchies.

Once Adam noticed the brisk sales in chocolate he began stocking more, and today has an entire section of the store devoted to chocolate. Today Fog City boasts over 200 different varieties of chocolate bars and confections imported from around the world and has the well-earned a reputation as one of San Francisco's main purveyors of chocolate.  A must-visit for any choco lover.

Chocolate has become so central to Fog City that it now holds regular chocolate events open to the public. To get on their email list one must visit the store to sign up. See Fog City's shameless plug below. In must be stated that in compliance with our Club ethics, no club member has any financial relationship with Fog City. See Club Ethics.

Adam has led hundreds of tastings and under his guidance tonight's chocolate club experience, aside from being raucously fun, was most informative. He brought a selection of six bars to submit to the group's palate. These included two bars from the German chocolatier Hachez, one bar at 88%, the other with orange at 77%. Next were the French Bonnat (75%), Dagoba Los Rios (68%), Plantations Arriba from Ecuador (90%) and lastly, Gorenjka from Slovenia (70%).

First of all, sez Adam, chocolate should be tasted from the highest cacoa percentage to the lowest. This is most interesting since we always thought it was the opposite, and in fact there is some debate on this point among chocolate aficionados.

An important part of the chocolate experience is to take a whiff of the chocolate before popping it into your mouth. Even we at BCC know this. But Adam gives new meaning to "taking a whiff." In fact, the phrase "taking a whiff" trivializes this experience for him.

To watch Adam langorously smell a small piece of chocolate, first on all sides, then break it open, smell it again and again, and slowly deliver a list of scents he recognizes, is to watch him become one with chocolate. Give him a goatee and a turban and you would swear he was having a transcendental experience.

Personally, my whiff lasts only a few seconds. Adam's can go on for four or five minutes. "Hmm," he says with dreamy eyes, "very fruity . . . strawberry, cherry, a little pineapple . . . peach." Then a long pause as his olfactory experience deepens. "Ollalieberry, kiwi. A hint of honey. But very earthy, too." Now his eyes roll back, his head sways slightly from side to side. "Hmmm, tobacco, grassy, woodland meadowish . . ."  Okay, I may be exaggerating a bit, but not much.

Once all the tasting was done Adam pulled out one more bar for the group to taste, if we were interested, that is. Sure! To our shock and consternation he pulls out a bar of . . . a bar of . . . I can hardly bring myself to write this . . . he pulls out a bar of, uh, erg . . . gulp . . . milk chocolate!! That's right, MILK CHOCOLATE! Sacré Bleu! A hub-bub ensued as the table lit up with laughter, giggles, bulging eyes, and looks of disdain as well as delight.

The bar, Hachez Maracaibo, 55%, from Venezuela, was broken up, passed around, and to my surprise a majority of those at the table enjoyed the experience. I personally did not and would much prefer a good Snickers or Mars bar if I wanted the sugary sweet chocolate fix. This reflection found no resonance among other members who sat there with Cheshire cat smiles enjoying the aftertaste of their milk chocolate experience. Despite the success of Adam's stealth chocolate there was no outcry for introducing milk chocolate into our club tastings.

P. R. plug directly from Fog City News sanctioned by the Club:

Fog City News has now been voted "Best Newsstand" and "Best Candy Store" in the Bay Area! We carry more magazines than any other local newsstand (over 700 in the foreign section alone) and, with over 200 premium bars, we have the largest selection of imported chocolate in Northern California! Our inventory is completely computerized so we can provide detailed editorial and shipping information for thousands of magazines. Want to know what a chocolate item actually tastes like? We have compiled tasting notes on every bite-size item and bar we carry! Oh, and we also have on hand hundreds of rather distinctive greeting cards and the largest collection of nostalgic and imported glass bottled soda pop in the Financial District.


Adam, Pennie
Pamela, Gloria, Adam
Rob & Pam
Luke tallying scores

Club Meeting of June 9, 2005


Tonight's meeting was the first since Leonard's return from Paris and was full of catching up, etc.

There were sixteen members in attendance.

The club had it's first gate-crasher when Ken and Rebecca walked in with an uninvited "guest," ten-year old Abe Weill.

Abe stopped everyone dead in their tracks when, upon tasting his first bit of chocolate he said, "This one has a good aftertaste."


"Where'd you learn that?" asked Leonard.

"Oh, I've been saying that since kindergarten," replied Abe. Impressive, indeed.

Zohara Mapes, master truffle maker and guest club presenter last December, also came by with more truffles for tasting. This added a rich dimension to the evening.

Leonard brought back more than twenty different bars of chocolate with him, far more than the club can handle in a single meeting.

There was a real variety. Some were from exclusive chocolatiers with shops looking more like high end jewelry stores. Others were more mundane and line the shelves of the local Monoprix, which is the equivalant to our Safeway.

Eight bars were selected for tasting. The results were most interesting.

The two that scored highest were Poulain, 86% cacao, and Patrick Roger, 87% cacao.

Neither elicited great swoons of pleasure, but they definitely came out on top.

Both were blends as opposed to being a single bean variety.

Poulain came from the Monoprix.

Patrick Roger is one of a class of artisanal chocolatiers who has taken chocolate to the level of high art. In the year 2000 he won a most highly esteemed award, Meilleure Ouvrier de France.

There is no equivalent in the US. Think of it as your peers getting together and selecting you from the many, and lifting their class in a toast they say, "Damn fine work. You're the best!"

The other chocolate bars did not impress all that greatly.

When the tasting was done and everyone was sitting around sipping from their water bottles, Leonard, thinking "What the hell," suggested that the group have a chaser and do one more bar. Everyone assented.

He reached into his stash and pulled out a bar of Debauve & Gallais, 70% from Sâo Tomé. This is a small island country in the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of West Africa.

As pieces of the bar were passed around and everyone took a bite a ripple of oooh and aahs followed.

Here was the only chocolate of the evening to provoke the sought after swoons of pleasure.

No doubt, this was THE preferred chocolate of the evening.


Club Meeting of February 22, 2005


The Berkeley Chocolate Club welcomed artisan truffletier Zohara Mapes.

Zohara makes truffles in limited editions using the finest ingredients,

including organic cacao, available by special order only.

Her brand name is ZCACAO

As she says as you're about to take the first bite of one of her truffles,

" Enjoy the bliss."

photo by Mark Liebman

Zohara's passion for chocolate has led her on journeys to the Mayan jungles in Belize to experience chocolate making at the source.

Her knowledge of chocolate extends down to the microscopic level, to an understanding of how chocolate's crystal patterns affect its taste and feel. Zohara's truffles are a subtle blend of science and art, plus a good dose of love.


photos by Leonard Pitt unless marked



Zohara brought 4 varieties of truffles for the club to taste and they were mmm, oh so good!

1. Costa Rican
DeVries Chocolate single bean variety (Cacao Trinitario 70%) Straus Family Creamery organic cream and butter with a touch of Chambord liquor.
2. Ecuadorian
Single bean variety chocolate from Ecuador (Cacao Nacional 70%) Straus Family Cremery organic cream and butter, Angelo Garro Forge Nocino Liquor and a touch of bourbon vanilla liquor.
3. Damiana Date
Fine 70% Venezuelan Chocolate, Straus Family Creamery organic cream and butter, Damiana liqueur, organic medjool dates with a touch of nutmeg.
4. Spicy Organic Dark
Fine 70% organic chocolate, Straus Family Creamery organic cream and butter with a touch of liqueur, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove and chili pepper.


photo by Mark Liebman

Chocolates tasted at this meeting:  


Jacques Torres, New York City Christian Chocolate from Strasbourg, France


Grenada Chocolate from an organic cooperative Scharffenberger Venezualan "Cuyugua" Lake Champlain Chocolates from Vermont

Divine Free Trade Chocolate

While the Berkeley Chocolate Club does not make public its ratings, from time to time there are chocolates that come across our palates that so stunning in their badness that they require mention.
Consider this the Razzie for dark chocolate.
This month it is Aerated Bitter Chocolate by Pycckuu Wokonan of St. Petersburg, Russia. Mark Leibman, club alternate for the evening, was the first to offer his assessment. "Drywall with clods of dirt," he said. Everyone else took their taste of the bar and nodded in agreement as they ran screaming from the room. Boy, was it bad. We do realize that being of the former Soviet Union, they may be laboring with a handicap, e.g., working under less than stellar conditions. So, they receive a big "A" for effort. Keep on keeping on!


Aerated Russian "Chocolate"

Return to homepage