|Taza's two best: Chocolate Mexicano 70% Dark Chipotle Chili and Coco Besos|
Alex, the founder, went to Oaxaca where chocolate is primarily for drinking, not eating. While there, he studied with molineros (mill experts). Taza started in 2007 in Somerville, MA. The goal was to make the Oaxacan style chocolate, but in a way that was both good for eating and drinking. Today Taza still uses molinos (stones used to grind chocolate) from that region, though Taza carves the ridges into them themselves to their chocolate-making specifications.
What is the benefit of the stone ground method?
There is no conching. Conching pulverizes the bean. Taza's stone ground method doesn't pulverize because pulverizing causes chocolate to lose some of its nutrients, like magnesium and antioxidants.
What is the process for making stone ground chocolate?
All of the bean harvesting is the same: the cacao pod is cut from the tree, the beans--actually seeds--and white fruit are removed and placed into wooden boxes to ferment for up to 7 days, the beans are dried on wooden slats for up to 8 days, and then they are packed and shipped.
Because Taza is bean-to-bar, the process in their factory starts here with roasting the cacao bean. Roasting both develops the flavor and loosens the shell. Next, winnowing separates the shell from the nib. (All there is is nib and shell, so to eliminate waste, the shells are used as mulch.) Next the nibs are crushed between the stones. One stone is stationery, while the other rotates. The nib is ground up into a paste known as chocolate liquor, which has a texture like hot peanut butter. The chocolate liquor is then combined with cane sugar in the mixing tank. At this point in the process, chocolate used for the Taza's disc chocolate is ground once more to break down the sugar crystals. Then it goes in a holding tank, followed by tempering for texture and appearance, molding and wrapping. Then you can eat it!
The process is a little different with their bars. For their bars, they use a wheel with more finely etched ridges to lightly pulverize the bean to get a smoother texture. This pulverizing is not as much as a conch used typically in chocolate making. The bars are European style, which is to say they add more cocoa butter.
Why are most of Taza Chocolate's products round?
So it can fit in a cup for drinking chocolate.
Is Taza Chocolate Fair Trade?
No, they are not Fair Trade by choice. Instead they are Direct Trade, which has less intermediaries/bureaucracy via brokers. Instead 100% used toward the product goes to farmers.
Learn anything else?
- Cacao plants are the size of a "fully-inflated American football." They are cut open with a machete.
- The flavor of baba, the white fruit cacao beans (seeds) live in, is like lychee, jackfruit or durian in quality. (The guide said that it is the sweetest fruit he had ever tasted.) Baba is what activates the fermentation. It's called "baba" (which translated to "spit") because originally people sucked the fruit and spit the seeds out.
- Cinnamon is originally from Sri Lanka, so the Aztecs and Mayans couldn't have used it in their chocolate drink.
- Tempering actually changes the melting point, which sounds like black magic, but heating up other foods also has an effect, like how the texture of onions changed when carmelized.
- My guide's favorite chocolate other than Taza is El Rey. Gotta check that out!
Yes! There's no denying that the rough texture of stone ground chocolate is a paradigm shift from the chocolate most people are used to, but it sure is tasty. In the shop after the tour, we were allowed to sample chocolate to our heart's content. After doing my duty for my readers and eating as much as needed for a full report, I can say that there were two Tazo standouts I would direct you to first: the Chocolate Mexicano 70% Dark Chipotle Chili disc and the Coco Besos chocolate-coconut bar. Enjoy!