Tuesday, December 15, 2009

From Bean to Bar: Taza Chocolate, Somerville

I have detailed my love of Taza Chocolate many times on this blog, but I recently had an experience that allowed me to get closer to the source of my obsession. About once a year, the Taza factory opens its doors for an open house. And, like many other people, I lined up by 10 to get into my own version of Charlie's Chocolate Factory. Located in a warehouse on the Cambridge/Somerville version, the only idea that such a place would exist is the lush smell of roasting chocolate that greets you at the door.

Inside was a mob scene of sorts as people clamored for tastes of hot chocolate, chocolate bars and chocolate nibs. I began with a tour that was led by one of Taza's founders, Larry Slotnick. Taza is one of 20 "bean to bar" chocolate factories in the United States.
As Larry explained to us, Taza gets deliveries of organic cacao beans directly from La Red Guacanejo. This cooperative in the Domincan Republic is paid by Taza to ensure that workers receive fair pay, while the cooperative, in turn, provides Taza with excellent cacao beans. The dried beans are delivered to Taza where they are roasted in a Birth Sirocco roaster from Italy. Next, they are "winnowed" as the cacao bean is separated from the shell. Finally, the nibs are ground into cocaoa liquor on stone grinders from Mexico. This careful drying and roasting in large part contributes to the uniquely fruity flavor that is a trademark of Taza chocolates.
This is the key to my love of Taza chocolates: while their chocolate bars are ground again to create your typical smooth consistency, I am a fan of their "Mexicanos." These bars are kept rough, giving them a nutty, nubbly and crackly taste that I adore. Regardless of the grinding, Taza adds sugar, which varies depending on the style of chocolate. For example, the "60%" bar has 60% chocolate and 40% sugar. In addition, other ingredients are added such as guajillo chile, salt and almonds or Cinnamon. Finally, the chocolate is tempered and molded. Each bar is then packaged by hand to be devoured by hungry people like me.
After our tour, we had one more chance to try our the chocolates, before making our choice of purchases. The good news for those of you that missed the tour? First, you can purchase many of these chocolates at local stores. Russos in Watertown has a particularly strong selection. Second, the Taza website offers a chance to buy directly from the factory and to view a "Virtual Tour."

I commend Taza for many things: for their commitment to supporting people at the source of the beans in the Dominican, for the range of ways they are "green", for their organic chocolate, and most of all, for their fantastic chocolate. It is not cheap, but it is very much worth it.

Taza Chocolate, 561 Windsor Street, Somerville MA, 617-623-0804

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