A local chocolate-maker embraces traditional techniquesPrint this Page

Artisanal chocolate-makers are cropping up all over the country, and the Boston area is lucky to have one right in its midst. Taza Chocolate is located in an office building in the Boston suburb of Somerville. But its mission of handling chocolate production “from bean to bar” means that its work begins much further away: with farming cooperatives in both Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.

Taza sources orAlex Whitmore and Taza's cocoa roaster.ganic cocoa beans from both countries, explains co-founder Alex Whitmore. The beans are brought to the Somerville headquarters, where Alex and his team make chocolate bars that showcase the cocoa’s complex, natural character. Taza chocolate is fruity, intense and even a bit gritty due to minimal processing and refining.

"We basically want to preserve all the flavors that are inherent in the cocoa beans," Alex explains. He learned about traditional chocolate production methods on a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, and was inspired to begin his own career in chocolate. The name "Taza," Spanish for "cup," is a tribute to his experiences south of the border, where chocolate is often drunk, not eaten.

After the coFreshly winnowed cocoa nibs.coa beans arrive in the U.S., the first step is to roast them. Taza roasts its beans lightly to maintain the cocoa’s natural fruitiness. The beans then need to be "winnowed," or separated into the nib -- the part of the bean that is used to make chocolate -- and the chaff. Taza's winnowing machine separates about 200 pounds of cocoa beans a week, Alex says.

The nibs fall from the winnowing machine into buckets. The chaff, which is essentially the shell of the cocoa bean, is commonly used as garden mulch. (Who wouldn’t want a chocolate- scented lawn, we wonder?) 

Upstairs, the nibs will become chocolate. Because they contain both cocoa solids and fatty cocoa butter, the nibs liquefy when ground -- almost like making peanut butter. This oozy paste, which is the base of the finished bar, is called chocolate liquor.

The traditional stones used to grind Mexican chocolate. Taza uses molinos -- old-fashioned Mexican stone mills -- to grind the nibs into chocolate liquor. At the heart of the molinos are stones, which rub together to grind the nibs. Unlike traditional steel rollers, Alex explains, the rough surfaces of the stones keep Taza's chocolate from getting too smooth and helps preserve flavor.

The chocolate liquor is transferred to a refining machine, where organic cane sugar, vanilla beans and a little extra cocoa butter are added. The lower the sugar content, the higher the cocoa -- Taza’s 80 percent bar has the least sugar, for example, while its 60 percent bar has the most.

Mike and Brendan temper and mold chocolate. After it is refined, the chocolate is tempered, or carefully melted so it will stay smooth and shiny once it is molded. Here, production manager Mike Schechter, who wears headphones to protect against the machine's noise, and colleague Brendan Gannon shape the tempered chocolate into bars and Taza's signature Mexicano discs. Once cool, they are ready to be sold.
For our full selection of Taza Chocolate products, click here.