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Taza: It’s What’s For Dessert

October 22, 2009
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As a budding foodie, and member of the female race, I can appreciate a good piece of chocolate. And by chocolate, I don’t mean any of that Hershey’s crap, which will do in a pinch but I’m now far too spoiled to truly enjoy, I mean REAL chocolate. So that’s why I jumped at the chance to get a free tour of Taza Chocolate’s factory in Somerville, MA.

For one day, the hip young owners of this artisan chocolate company transformed their two floor factory to be open to the public. The tour started off wonderfully enough, with a room that was part store, part taste-test center. They had an absolutely delicious iced hot chocolate made from their spicy chile chocolate (I posted the recipe here) and about a dozen cups of differently flavored chocolate chunks. It was the first time I had tasted Taza, and I was admittedly taken aback. It has a unique texture, much grainier than I (and, it turns out, most of the U.S) am used to. The floral notes, which usually requires developing a taste for, were much more present. I almost didn’t recognize the taste as chocolate, since it didn’t have the sweetness of milk chocolate or the bitterness of dark. It turned out to be an entirely new chocolate experience. In a few minutes, one of the owners gathered us around to begin the tour and I learned exactly why this is.

Taza is a bean-to-bar chocolatier, one of only 25 bean-to-bar companies in the United States. This means they’re in charge of the entire process, and Taza went even further by cutting out the middle-man and creating direct relationships with their cacao bean growers in Mexico. This enables them to pay the growers 15% more than any fair trade or organic company. Because of this Taza understandably becomes the farmers’ favorite customer, and they make sure to reserve the cream of the crop for Taza only. After this introductory shpeal, we head into the bean preperation room. (Unfortunately, we were unable to see the top floor where they mix and mold the chocolate due to sanitary reasons.)

We gather round a beautiful red machine that reminds me a bit of an invention Dr. Suess would draw. This is the roaster, and Taza’s particular machine is a 1950s model rescued from Germany. They follow a strict “slow and low” roasting method, which allows for the floral notes to fully come to the surface and not get burnt out like when cheap chocolate brands roast their beans. Next they get dumped in a winnowing machine which sorts out any twigs or other foreign earthen material, cracks the beans and separates the shells from the cocoa nibs. Taza sells the shells to local tea or brewing companys to make chocolate infused drinks, then takes the nibs upstairs to be ground, mixed, and molded.

So, you know how I was surprised by the granular texture? Here’s why. The majority of America’s chocolate lovers are used to the European style of artisan chocolate, which grinds the beans to a much finer paste and “conchs” the mixture, or intensely process the chocolate to create a much smoother, silkier texture. Taza is one of the only companies to bring the Mexican style of chocolate artisanry to the U.S. This means that they stone grind the beans on a mill, which have a much courser surface (that wheel on the table in the picture above is one of their stone grinds). They also don’t conch the chocolate. Once the nibs are ground they stir in sugar, vanilla beans, cocoa butter and any other flavoring and that’s that. The mixture is then put into molds, set,hand-wrapped and labeled.

There you have it. The story of Taza from bean-to-bar. Their products are sold in various independent shops around Massachusetts, or can be ordered from their site, linked above.

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