For chocolate lovers, Somerville, Massachusetts (just west of Boston, and Cambridge adjacent) is the home of Taza Chocolate, a company that is noteworthy not just for the deep rich flavors of its chocolate, but also for the way it does business with its suppliers. That is to say that if their deeply addictive chocolate rounds are in any way “bad” for you, Taza makes up for it in the good they do in producing them. And, if you happen to be in the area, they’ll happily show you around their factory, and tell you about their chocolate, their history, and the way they do business.
Taza Chocolate began in the mind of Alex Whitmore, a sailor and world traveler who was deeply taken with the hot chocolate he tasted while traveling through Mexico. After seeking out and apprenticing himself to the molinero (miller) who provided the chocolate, he returned to the U.S., where, after a bit of research and coaxing from friends, he began producing stone ground chocolate, as he’d learned in Mexico. And in 2006 he and his wife started Taza Chocolate.
As part of his apprenticeship, Whitmore learned to hand carve the stone grinding disks that are used today in Taza’s production. And it is that attention to detail that gives Taza it’s distinctive mouth feel. Taza’s chocolate is different from most other mass produced chocolate in that it has a somewhat rough texture that is a result, partly from the stone grinding, but also as a consequence of the curing and tempering process.
Taza takes a bit longer to temper their chocolate than many of the “smooth”, mass produced chocolates on the market. Taza produces small round disks that are attractively packaged and suitable for gifts. The rounds are neatly bundled into sampler packages that include flavors such as: cinnamon, salted almond, coffee, chipotle chili, and 85% super dark, Cacao Puro.
Touring the factory takes about an hour (45 minutes, plus the 15 minutes or more you’ll want to spend poking around the colorful store deciding which gifts to buy for friends and which you’ll keep for yourself).
The tour includes a bit of Taza history, a brief instruction in chocolate making, a look at Taza’s traditional methods, time watching the actual production, and of course plenty of tasting. They also dedicate a good bit of time to the ways that their business model differs from other chocolate producers.
Taza works very hard to ensure that their Central American cacao producers are paid a sustainable rate for their product. This rate is often well above the current market price, but ensures that their producers will, over the long haul, be able to maintain the quality that Taza demands and not be forced to cut corners to make ends meet. Taza refers to its business model as, “Direct Trade” rather than “fair trade”, as the “Fair Trade” certification, “didn’t meet all of our needs as a socially responsible business with a commitment to making the best chocolate possible”. On our end (as consumers), we may pay a bit more per piece, but the quality is evident, and knowing that Taza’s work ensures a fair wage and a sustainable livelihood for growers can’t be discounted.
So, if you like chocolate, and are curious to know how they make what you put in your mouth, the Taza Chocolate factory tour is a delicious blend of history, how-to, and a sneak peek inside the chocolate industry that ends with the opportunity to buy some of the best chocolate I’ve ever put in my mouth.
text and images by Glenn Kaufmann
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1. Personal Interviews and experiences