Tuesday night we braved the cold and visited Taza Chocolate for a tour organized by Boston's Sustainable Business Network along with some friends from Cambridge Local First. Taza founder Alex Whitmore took us around the Somerville factory and provided plenty of chocolate for tasting. The company is one of eighteen bean-to-bar operations making chocolate in the US today and has made a name for itself over the past few years for its chocolate's distinctive stone-ground taste and sustainable business model. They buy their beans directly from Latin American farmers, mainly from the Dominican Republic but they're also working on sourcing from Bolivia and Belize, and always pay a premium above the fair trade price for the highest quality cacao.
Taza takes its name from the Spanish word for "cup," as in taza de chocolate or "cup of chocolate." Cocoa beans were originally cultivated in Latin America for consumption as this drink. Following Spanish colonization and the establishment of trade routes, the drink was imported to Europe, where it went largely unchanged for two hundred years until the Swiss and Germans invented new preparations of the cacao bean, giving us the smoother and sweeter confections we know well today. In the Latin American tradition, chocolate was less of a treat and more of a food, desirable for being high in calories (in a time and place when this was a good thing) and its properties as an appetite suppressant.
Taza takes this tradition seriously. Their chocolate is ground the traditional Mexican way; with stones that Whitmore prepares himself, carving grooves in them--a little something he learned in Mexico. It does taste different, so much so that some might not even recognize it. Their signature Mexicano line (traditionally packaged at left) is must coarser and less sweet than what most of us are used to. This is because the stone grinding process produces a much coarser product than a steel one. Taza also forgoes the use refining mills, an emulsification process, and additives that compromise rather than complement the natural tastes and textures of chocolate.
If you eat out a lot around Boston, you've likely seen Taza chocolate on dessert menus. It's a favorite among many local chefs for its distinctive flavor and slow food philosophy. In our last Dinner Series, Chef Sam mixed it with Callebaut for his Raspberry Chocolate Delight. Robert Harris even likes to cook with cacao bean shells, which are removed from the bean after roasting, leaving the nib--the meat of the bean that goes into the grinder to make chocolate. Usually the shells are discarded or turned into garden mulch.
Taza is taking slow food to a whole new level, visiting farms themselves once a year, sharing meals and bearing gifts of chocolate. One can enter a batch number found on the back of a chocolate bar on their website and read exactly when it was made, what farm the cacao came from, where the additional ingredients were sourced from, what the maximum temperature of the roast was, and even see a picture of one of the farmers! Taza is a company that does every single thing absolutely right and it's great to see them finding so much success.
Taza offers public tours on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays for $5. Visit their website for details and reservations.
Mexican Hot Chocolate
- 2 cups milk or water
- 1 package Taza Chocolate Mexicano
- Kosher salt to taste
- Optional garnishes: cinnamon, chili powder, vanilla bean, marshmallows
- Roughly chop or grate a package of Taza Chocolate Mexicano.
- Heat milk or water in small saucepan over medium heat to just below a simmer.
- Remove pan from head and add a pinch of salt.
- Slowly mix in the chocolate, stirring frequently until dissolved.
- When dissolved, return pan to stove and warm on low heat while using a whisk to froth the chocolate.
- When hot and frothy, remove from heat and pour into two warmed mugs.
Molten Spiced Chocolate Cake Makes 4 servings
- 4oz Taza Chocolate Semi-Sweet Baking Squares
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
- 1 Tbsp Cabernet Sauvignon or other wine
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup confectioners' sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- 6 Tbsp flour
- 1/4 tsp Cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp Ground Ginger
- Butter 4 (6oz) custard cups or souffle dishes. Place on a baking sheet.
- Heat Taza Chocolate and butter in a double boiler until butter is melted. Remove from heat and whisk until chocolate is completely melted. Stir in wine, vanilla and sugar until blended. Whisk in eggs and yolk. Stir in remaining ingredients. Spoon evenly into prepared dishes.
- Bake in preheated 425º F oven for 15 minutes or until sides are firm but centers are soft. Let stand 1 minute. Loosen edges with knife. Invert onto serving plates. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar if desired.