The last three weeks have been incredibly productive for my list of 2015 new year's resolutions! In the beginning of June I adopted my dog Scout (resolution #3) and last Friday I finally experienced a farm dinner (resolution #8). Over the weekend I also checked resolution #12 off my list when at long last I took the Taza Chocolate factory tour!
Taza Chocolate was co-founded in 2006 by Alex Whitmore and his wife Kathleen Fulton. Taza creates stone ground chocolate which is a preparation method native to Mexico. The company gets its name from the Spanish phrase "taza de chocolate" which is a traditional Mexican drink that is stone ground chocolate mixed with hot water. Taza is the Spanish word for cup.
The first time I tasted Taza Chocolate was on a date back in 2011. The guy I was seeing bought a round disk of Taza Chocolate at a specialty food store and promised we'd use it to make hot chocolate when we got back to his house. The romance didn't last, but my love for Taza did.
I have been wanting to take the factory tour for over a year. This past weekend I went with a friend on Saturday afternoon. Taza's factory is located in Somerville, in between Union Square and Inman Square. Outside there's a welcome sign with Taza's logo, which features the cacao plant.
Our tour group had about 15 people. We began in front of a bright yellow wall labeled "Cacao Corner."
Our tour guide, Josh, was super enthusiastic and highly animated. He presented each new piece of information like he'd discovered gold.
He told us all about Alex's journey to Oaxaca, Mexico and his love for stone ground chocolate.
We learned about the region in the world where Taza gets it all its cacao plants (see the map below). In the coming weeks, Taza will become the first U.S. chocolate maker to import directly from Haiti.
Josh showed us the granite wheels that actually help grind the chocolate. The design on the wheel is made especially for cacao. If you were to use the wrong wheel, it would spark and smoke. That's where the expression "keep your nose to the grind stone" comes from. Who knew?
We even learned about the growth of cacao trees and pods. Taza is one of only 70 producers in America who makes their chocolate from "bean to bar."
After covering the basics in the Cacao Corner, it was time to head behind the doors of the factory. Little did we know, we'd be asked to wear hair nets. I must say, we look pretty good!
Inside the factory space we heard all about the process the beans go through when they arrive in Somerville.
At the back of that room was the red roasting machine which roasts all the cacao beans and any nuts Taza uses in their chocolate bars.
Next we were able to hold some cacao beans in our hands to get a sense for size, texture and smell.
Once the beans are stripped of their shells, Taza sells the chaff to gardeners. Josh pointed out, "If you use the chaff as mulch or fertilizer for your garden, on a warm day, your lawn will smell like brownies."
Next Josh offered each of us the chance to taste the cacao nib. Everyone who was interested in was asked to hold out their hand.
The cacao nib itself is actually quite bitter. This is not the chocolate flavor you are used to because it has no sugar.
Next we gobbled up chocolate covered cacao nibs, which were still fairly bitter.
Once we'd been schooled on the process of taking cacao beans and turning them into usable nibs, we moved over to a giant glass window overlooking the room where the chocolate bars and disks are actually made. Josh hilariously said, "In the words of MTV Cribs, this is where the magic happens." Ha!
In this room, the chocolate is mixed with sugar crystals and ground a second time. It's made sweeter with cocoa butter and vanilla.
In one week, Taza produces 43,000 three ounce chocolate bars.
Our second to last stop was the window overlooking the final steps in the process - putting the chocolate into its molds and letting it cool for 20 minutes at just 40 degrees. After that, the chocolate bars and disks are sent off to be wrapped and then shipped to the over 4,000 vendors who sell Taza's unique chocolate confections.
For the grand finale, Josh let us lose in the gift shop to taste any flavor of chocolate we wanted. There were several platters set up around the room, but he was also willing to let us sample anything that was tucked away in a glass jar on a higher shelf.
In addition to all the chocolate flavors, the gift shop also sells Sweet Lydia's home made marshmallows.
In a very clever move, Taza is selling s'mores kits for the summer.
Throughout the gift shop space there are stacks of cards with recipes on them for various desserts using the Taza chocolate, like banana chocolate tart and iced hot chocolate.
Hanging on the walls are all the Taza t-shirts, including this design that says, "Perfectly Unrefined."
With several pieces of chocolate in my belly, I scooped up the flavors I wanted to take home and got in the checkout line. Behind the cash register was a chalkboard announcing upcoming special events, including visits from ice cream and food trucks.
I walked out of the factory with quite the bag of loot. I went with the vanilla disk, the coconut, toffee and raspberry bars and a package of the marshmallows. I thought they'd be perfect for my July 4th BBQ.
I was really impressed by the Taza Chocolate factory tour. For just $6 dollars we participated in a one hour tour, our guide was extremely knowledgable (and excited), we saw the inner workings of the chocolate making system and most importantly, we indulged in unlimited free samples. Did I mention they also have free parking?
I also learned that all Taza Chocolate is dairy-free, gluten-free and kosher.
If the Taza Chocolate factory tour has been on your to-do list, definitely make a reservation this summer and stock up on your favorite flavors. The Taza chocolate stays good for up to 14 months, if you can even keep your paws off it for that long.
Visit the factory at 561 Windsor Street, Somerville, MA 02143.