Posted by: ritsukurimono | December 13, 2009

Taza Chocolate Factory Open House

Last Saturday I visited the Taza Chocolate factory, where a local company makes fair trade, stone ground chocolate. Sadly, there were no sugar-grass meadows, chocolate rivers, flying burp soda, or hallucinogenic roller coaster rides. I was terribly disappointed.

That's such a lie.

I’ve been a fan of their stuff for a couple of years, but I had no idea that their factory was so close! It’s a relatively tiny affair, in terms of industrial size; they share the building with Albertine Press, a custom letterpress company that was also having an open house that day. I didn’t have time to visit them, but apparently they also make Taza’s stationery and cards, which explains why they’re so awesome.

This is Larry Slotnick, one of the co-founders of the company, squatting next to one of their enormous bags of cacao beans. Taza buys their organic cacao beans directly from a farmers’ cooperative in the Dominican Republic and pays above fair-trade prices for them. They go through about 10 145-kg bags of raw cacao a month.

The red machine in the back is their roaster, but before they owned one of their own, Taza used the roaster at another local institution, JP Licks, which is a coffee and ice cream bar. I find this kind of hilarious, because if you’ve ever tasted JP Licks coffee, it is the most acidic, face-twisting, charred-black crap you’ve ever swilled. Worse than Starbucks, worse than Peet’s, worse than McDonald’s. It’s awful. (Their hard yogurt is quite good, though!) But apparently that makes for excellent cacao bean roasting. Taza’s chocolate is done at a medium roast.

Then the beans get manually carried next door to the grader, which is a machine that crushes the hulls off of the beans and then sorts the fragments into six grades of chocolate. The hulls, meanwhile, get donated to local community gardens and apparently gets sold to MEM Tea, where they eventually reappear in chocolate chai tea mixes. If I were a local soapmaker, though, I would totally buy Taza’s excess hull waste to make into chocolate soaps. How delicious would that be?

After that, the crushed beans are milled finer by traditional Oaxacan millstones like the one Larry’s holding here. Since cacao beans have such a high fat content (54%!), the friction heat of the millstones grinding against each other melts them and a river of chocolate-precursor gushes forth. Then they add sugar and flavor additives like chili pepper, almond, or cinnamon, and pass the chocolatey mass through two rollers to grind the sugar finer. The final product still has a kind of grainy texture that wears down on the tongue, like delicious sand. Then they pour it into molds (using a machine that used to be used to make doughnuts, apparently) and wrap the discs by hand.

I didn’t get many pictures of the madness, but the place was packed. There were people lining out the doors and into the lobby of the building, most of them waiting for samples. I just wound up ditching the samples line and getting some of my Taza favorites: their stoneground chocolate discs.

That’s cinnamon, cacao puro, guajillo chili, and then another cinnamon for good measure; they’re my favorites. My roommates and I already tore through the chili flavor (each package contains two discs)–I liked it. It has a gentle heat that doesn’t overwhelm the rustic chocolate flavor, and I like that Taza doesn’t oversweeten their chocolate. A couple of my roommates found the burn too strong for them, though. More for me. Everyone liked the cinnamon flavor, which is robust and uncomplicated, unapologetically cinnamony. The cacao puro discs are still sitting on the kitchen counter, waiting for someone’s bad day.


Responses

  1. […] I was having a very blue-toned sort of day, so I dyed up some cashmere in iris purple and cerulean and merino in grape purple (such a lovely worsted weight! It’s 100% merino, but almost lustrous in a way that I’ve never seen merino behave before. I need to figure out what to do with the rest.) The chocolate is from Taza Chocolates, in Somerville; I toured their factory last month. […]


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