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In my continuing adventures to bring you some of the more interesting chocolates from around the globe, and get through as much of my chocolate before the meltdown of summer heat attacks my chocolate stash, you might remember a few months back I wrote about a conversation I had when I shocked some unworldly women (who…me?) that asked me which country makes the best chocolate.

For a few years now, I’ve been swapping messages with Art Pollard of Amano chocolate who has spent ten years searching for cacao and learning how to make artisan chocolate tablets at the company he started in Utah. But it wasn’t until just a few months ago I was able to taste his handcrafted chocolate, which he sent me here in Paris.


Amano started out concentrating on two different bars: A tablet of Ocumare chocolate, and another made from chocolate from Madagascar. I’m a big fan of Ocumare chocolate in general, which is considered one of the finest cacao beans in the world. Grown in Venezuela, some manufacturers claim it’s a criollo bean, and I’ve been told various stories that dispute that, and many chocolate experts agree that pure criollo chocolate doesn’t really exist anymore.

I’ll let the geneticists work that out, and concentrate on the taste of the chocolate. Luckily I had help during this tasting from Pam Williams, who runs Ecole Chocolat, an online school for budding chocolatiers. (That’s her hand with the girly-girl ring, not mine.) An expert on chocolate, Pam and I snapped the chocolate into manly-sized pieces and we tasted away.

Amano describes their Ocumare chocolate as having tastes of “plum” and “red fruit”. We both thought it also had a bit of acid; Pam was reminded of ‘walnuts’ while I got ‘leathery, tobacco’ notes on first taste. But as I let it sit for a few weeks, the fruity tastes came through (chocolate that’s too fresh often tastes ‘green’ and unfinished—it benefits from taking some time to meld) and I found myself enjoying the sharp, almost sexy taste of this bar once it mellowed out.

When most people think of Madagascar, they think of vanilla, since this large island off the coast of Africa is justly famous for their slender, fragrant beans. But equally impressive are their cacao beans, which the Amano folks tell us are from Venezuelan rootstock planted in the early 1900’s. Amano describes their Madagascar bar as “untraditional”, and both Pam and I were bowled over by how fruity it was. Pam’s first words were ‘prune’ and ‘raisin’ with a jam-like sweetness. ‘Blackcurrants’ came to mind for me, their intense inky fruitiness with a touch of tannins combined at the finish.

I’m deeply-impressed with anyone who spends the time and takes the care to source the cacao in America, a country whose fine artisanal chocolates deserve to be better known around the world. As Pam said, “It’s the idea that a small-guy can make good chocolate and compete against the big guys. This is proof!”.

I admire Mr. Pollard’s desire to create bars to compete against the world’s finest chocolates and I’d be interested if they created some blended chocolates in the future, since single-origin chocolates limit the chocolate-maker’s ability to create a more multi-dimensional bar and I think with their talent and commitment, a well-rounded chocolate bars which combines the qualities of various beans would be a welcome addition to the line-up of the excellent American chocolates being produced today.

Amano chocolate is available via mail order direct from the company. Visit the Amano chocolate web site for ordering information. I was quite impressed by the terrific information on their FAQs page too, which makes good reading.

Learn more about Pam Williams and her chocolatier training at Ecole Chocolat, and find chocolate all over the world at her ChocoMap.

Previous Chocolate-Tasting Posts

Je Craque pour le Daim

Healthy Hershey’s

La Maison du Chocolat

Who Is Josephine Vannier?



    • Eye_carl

    Ok, I have been to dozens of wine tastings in my life but chocolate tasting? you dont mess around do you David?….Love it

    • satoko_us

    Hi David,

    I came across your blog from Keiko’s and Matt’s, then found this article about Amano. I live in Salt Lake City, but never heard of Amano before. I’m going to visit them (since they’re only 40 minutes away from me) and see their factory.
    Can’t wait!

    • Steve

    Not only do you do comparative chocolate tastings, but now you indicate that chocolate changes as it ages (in a positive way). I would have imagined it could only go stale. Don’t know whether I’m astute enough to perceive such changes but at least I’ll now be aware of the possibility.

    • ParisBreakfasts

    This sounds so like a complex Bordeaux tasting!
    And the aging factor is an interesting note.
    I bought all these different Venezualan bars in Paris planning to cross-taste. But I gave them away to someone who did me a favor. Then I find out he eats M & Ms! French too :(

    • Jen

    I, too, live in Salt Lake and wasn’t aware that Amano was so close! Now I can buy local AND get good chocolate. Thank you for the tip (and for your work and blog in general). You may have seen this already, but Amano was mentioned recently as having buying practices that stand in direct contrast to those of Big Business and the FDA’s attempt to allow chocolate to be made with vegetable oil and other additives instead of cocoa butter–good for the profit margin and bad for the growers. The original post is here….

    with a follow-up here.

    • Byunghoon Kim

    This picture of chocolate looks so good.
    Chocolate goes well with wine! :)

    • clarisse

    hi david,

    i have a question for you, though it hasn’t got anything much to do with this post – when people work with chocolate or sweets in general (not in a cake or pastry, but more.. hands-on things??), does the temperature of the hands make a difference? i’ve heard that some people are more suited to handle chocolate because their body temperature is lower and won’t melt chocolate as fast, etc. is this just a myth??


    • Connie

    Clarisse I suffer from hot hands and it requires some work. I have been known to plunge my hands in ice water , or to stop and hold an ice pack or a cold can of some beverage.
    But if you love the work you can always get around it . David hope you don’t mind me butting in.
    Great post on Amano I am always happy to find another great chocolate maker.

    • Connie

    What a great website Amano has.

    • Linda H.

    Best Christmas gift I’ve ever received–a box of Michel Cluizel chocolates in disc shapes for tasting. There were 70 pieces, 10 each of 37%, 45%, 50%, 60%, 72%, 85%, and 99%. Each person had a favorite intensity. I wish more chocolate makers would create samplers of their chocolates in this fashion. It was fun, and too soon gone.

    • Catherine

    Sort of related, sort of not: when you’re in SF on your book tour, you have to try Poco Dolce’s burnt caramel salted tiles (if you haven’t already). Try Bi-Rite and Whole Foods. To die for. The chocolate covered sesame brittle is a cult favorite, if you can find it.

    • Jessica “Su Good Eats”

    I first tried Amano at an NYC Chocolate Meetup group. It wasn’t in stores yet, and I was bummed that the host, Clay Gordon, didn’t bring more bars so I could buy some! Fortunately, now it’s even on Us Americans do make some good chocolate. I think Dagaboa’s New Moon surpassed my past favorite, Valrhona Guanaja. Yes, I know you don’t like Valrhona. I don’t like a certain brand of chocolate for a similar reason.

    • David

    Catherine: Yum! Those sound like they’re right up my alley. Will do!

    Jessica: Yes, I think the chocolate was in short supply back then, but now it’s more widely-available. (And thanks for the tip about Amazon…I added the links.)

    Connie & Clarisse: I used to have warm hands which melted butter when making pastries. Then, for some reason, they chilled out and now I have very cold hands.

    So much for my career as a masseur!

    Linda H.: I like most of the Cluizel chocolates. They opened a shop in NYC last year too. I like their 99% bar, although I’m one of the few folks who can eat it.

    • Mei


    I’m solely a dark chocolate eater… on a budget. What dark chocolates would you recommend on a price performance ratio (er…that kinda sounds strange)? Keep in mind that yours truly is on the other side of the world so try not to be too esoteric on the selections :P

    Hope I’m not rehashing a question more suitable for older posts.


    • Linda H

    I ate the 99% Michel Cluizel chocolate from the selection and was surprised to like it. I thought it was very un-sweet without being bitter.

    • AT

    Now I’m even more convinced that you need to try some chocolate from SOMA Chocolatier in Toronto. I don’t have the url off the top of my head but it can be Googled and I think I linked it in a comment below your Hershey’s post.


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