Pumpkins, spooky tales, haunted places, legends, and ghost stories are part of Halloween. There’s another integral part of the celebration too: chocolate.
That’s something the people at Taza Chocolate in Somerville, Massachusetts, know quite a bit about. In their small factory not far from the city boundary with Cambridge and just across the Charles from Boston, they take chocolate, as they say, ‘from bean to bar,’ and to nibs, discs, chocolate covered treats, and chocolate for baking and drinking as well. It’s a rather uncommon sort of chocolate, too. It is stone ground.
That stone grinding, a practice which began in ancient Mexico, allows for flavors and textures that differ from the European based chocolates that define most well known chocolates in the northern hemisphere. While on a trip to Mexico six years ago, Taza co founder Alex Whitmore had his first taste of this flavor and knew he had to bring the idea back to his home in Massachusetts. He did, teaming up with two friends and at first making batches of the product in his kitchen. Before long, demand for the distinctive food led to a small factory and a small company. Taza Chocolates are now available in a number of fine food stores across the country, through mail order, and in a small store at the factory — where you can take a tour of the process or look through picture windows from the store into the places where the making happens — as well.
But how does stone ground chocolate taste? It is chocolate, right enough, you’ll have no trouble tasting that. Taza chocolates have a deep, dusky flavor that seems to hew a bit closer to the bean for its richness than do most chocolates made based on European methods. There’s also a crunch and a grit to the texture that’s distinct to the way stone grinding allows small bits of caramelized sugar and cacao to become part of the body of the chocolate. It tastes rather more like a substantial food than an added on treat, really, although it is certainly sweet and tasty. At Taza they have straight up dark chocolate, and for their bars and discs, they also prepare versions with flavors including ginger, chile, salted almond, and specialties that change with the seasons.
Those disc shapes recall the origins of the chocolate and the present day fashion in which it is made at Taza, too. From ancient times in Mexico, cacao beans were ground between stones carved with channels so the resulting liquid could be gathered. These stones were, and still are, called molinas, and Whitmore learned how to dress the stones as they are done in Mexico as part of his learning how to make the chocolates he would create.Though Taza now makes thousands of bars each month, Whitmore still hand carves the stones.
Another thing the folks at Taza learned and decided on when they began their company is that they wanted to create a business that respected not just the food, but the people who grow the beans and the planet on which they grow. To that end they they by only from organic farms which practice sustainable agriculture, visit each farmer or farm cooperative each year to build long term relationships in person, and only buy from growers who treat their workers fairly and do not use child or slave labor.
That seems a fair return for what might be thought of as just a simple Halloween treat.
You may learn more factory tours, mail order possibilities, and how Taza Chocolates are made as well as where their beans come from and why dark chocolate may be good for you at the Taza Chocolate web site
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