Taza Chocolates Factory Tour w/Tastes!
This is a once a year tour of their homey (all in one room!) "factory" tour - Watch their chocolate beans being roasted and so on, see a film about their farmers, eat some delicious chocolate....
Make sure you get good directions; coming from Windsor St you drive through twenty foot piles of smashed up cars - and I'm not kidding...
Also, as it's Somerville Open Studios, other places in the Taza building, like a local handpress that lets make your own cards, are also open.
Finally, if you're on foot, take a left out the front door and keep your eyes peeled - That's all I'll say...
Taza has some signs up now, I believe on Columbia which guide you there around the other way (don't worry, high fences and car chassis are still part of the experience). If visiting it checkout other chowish stops about 5-10 minutes walking distance. Fernandes Fish Market for Portuguese shopping, Martin Brothers for Portuguese Wines, Casal Bakery (for a "bica" and maybe a pastry), a small store next to MAPS which mostly sells Catholic symbols (used to be called Girofle, not certain now and iffy hours) but in the past had pots and portugese earthenware.... plus Muqueca or Casa Portugal for lunch. And Tupelo just opened too!
So we made it over to Taza and boy are we glad we did! As a fan (since its debut in 2006) of Taza's chocolate, we were definitely interested to learn more about this innovative company. We knew Taza was a local company, but we had no idea what a cool business concept it really is. Here is what we learned ...
Taza is a small, local producer of 100% stone ground, organic chocolate (the only producer in the US of this type of chocolate). Taza's co-founders, Alex Whitmore and Larry Slotnick's business model focuses on socially and environmentally responsible chocolate making and centers on direct trade and organic sustainability.
Marketing itself as a bean-to-bar company (one of only 25 in the U.S.), Taza purchases all of its cacao beans directly from a small Dominican Republic cooperative called La Red Guacanejo and handles the entire process itself. By working directly with the farm, Taza ensures that it is getting the best quality beans, and by cutting out the middleman, farmers are ensured fair wages, far superior to Fair Trade pricing.
Once the beans arrive, Taza begins its unique chocolate making process - everything is done in house. First, the beans are roasted in Taza's antique (they guestimate it hails from the mid 50's) rotary roaster, which Taza's founders miraculously found in Italy. Originally, when they first started out, Taza roasted their beans at J.P. Licks! But that quickly got old and they needed to find their own roaster. Anyway, Taza prefers to roast their beans at a lower temperature and for a longer time than most roasters, as it brings out the flavor of the beans to a greater extent. After the beans are roasted, they are "winnowed" in the, you got it, Winnower machine. Like with everything, there is a really cool story behind Taza's winnower, which, also antique, was found in an old Dominican Republic candy factory that was slowly selling off its machines. It was a case of being in the right place at the right time, for sure. Once winnowed the beans are ready to be made into chocolate!
Eventually, the beans are hand ground in the authentic Mexican style with Molinos, Mexican stone grinding mills. The hand grinding creates the unique texture and flavor that Taza chocolate is known for, while maintaining the integrity of the cacao. This process differs greatly from the traditional European style of making chocolate which produces the smooth, creamy chocolate most people are familiar with. The sugar used in the chocolate is sourced from The Green Cane Project, a Brazilian company that is as green as it sounds, using the spent cane fiber to power the entire factory and the nearby town!
After the chocolate is molded, each bar is individually hand wrapped with care by a Taza employee, ensuring the utmost in quality control. The result is 100% USDA certified organic chocolate. There are no artificial flavors, colorings or sweeteners used, nor are any pesticides or herbicides used on La Red Guacanejo's farm. Containing no dairy, lactose, soy, soy lecithin, wheat or gluten, Taza Chocolate is also vegan friendly and totally eatable by those who are lactose intolerant or who suffer from soy allergies or Celiac disease.
Because Taza does not use any dairy, all of their chocolate is considered "dark", there is no milk chocolate. So, to like Taza's chocolate, you have to like dark chocolate, but in my mind, that's the only way to go! Taza's chocolate is definitely an acquired taste and the gritty texture from the hand grinding does take some getting used to. My favorite flavor is the Chocolate Mexicano - Guajillo Chili and the Chocolate Mexicano - Salted Almond. For bars, I prefer the 70% Dark Stone Ground Chocolate Bar.
You forgot the part abut how they had to learn to make their own grinding stones, thru trial and error...I love Taza, esp. those gaujillo chili discs...I'm not a fan of most European chocolate, but Taza was a watershed moment. The gritty, visceral flavor made for a more intense experience, like trying your first cup of freshly roasted espresso....
This was quite interesting, and I also loved the chili-chocolate disc. The only slight bummer was that when I was Russo's on Sunday, I noticed the discs on sale for 3.25 (think) and they were 4 at the tour. However, that's a small price to pay for free chocolate milk, samples, and the tour.
re: the modern serf
I went today to the open house. Myself and three others got there around 915am, and a crowd had already formed for the 10am open.
We were ushered into a make-shift store that had bread racks lined with their product. Behind the bread racks they were handing out samples of the hot chocolate (made with their cinnamon chocolate I believe, which happens to be my favorite) and little squares of each of their Mexican chocolate and standard dark chocolate.
We were ushered into another room, in groups of maybe 25-30 and given a 10-15 minute explanation of their production process. Shown the machine which seperates the shell from the cocoa nib. After this we were brought back into the store room for purchases and such. By the time we were done, the place was mobbed with kids and families alike.
All in all, worth going, and interesting to hear that a 20 person company churns out 6k pounds (I think) a month of product, all hand wrapped.