Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Taza Tour: Mexican Chocolate in Boston

About a month ago, after the AWP conference was over, I drove from one suburb of Boston to another with a fiction writer, a journalist, and a roboticist to visit the Taza factory. We were late, so we made a little bit of a scene when we arrived, but tour guide Caroline made space for all four of us despite the fact that the tour was already full. I'd done this once before, but without a tour guide. There was no official tour in 2008--Taza was newish and the company was still growing into the former commercial laundry facility that is their factory. They were also teaching themselves how to make chocolate, which has largely been an improvisational, frontiersman/woman-type activity over the past twenty-five years, though the Craft Chocolate Makers Association (which Alex Whitmore of Taza helped to create) may change that a bit.

"We're one out of twenty bean-to-bar chocolate makers in the US," Caroline told us. "I think that number is growing very rapidly--but we're one of the only ones making Mexican-style chocolate." If Taza has its own story--or its own chapter in the narrative of how unwieldy pods plucked from sweaty trees in the middle of the jungle yield the familiar indulgence known as chocolate (a process both accurately and charmingly illustrated in murals running all along the wall of the Taza factory)--then that's it. Since 2006, they have been using stone mills to process cacao beans into chocolate that is noticeably grittier and slightly more crumbly than what most card-carrying CCMA members are producing. Alex actually cuts the grindstones himself, a craft he learned during an apprenticeship in Oaxaca, where this kind of chocolate, conventionally blended with water or milk to make hot drinks, is as standard as maple syrup in New England. Taza's chocolate is distinctive because their classic Mexican methods are unique in the US while their sommelier-like selection of beans and their blend that's high on cacao and low on sugar is unique in Mexico.

A make-believe version of one of Taza's hand-carved granite grinding stones

What else can I add? Well, the four of us--the blogger, the journalist, the novelist, and the roboticist--did spent a few hours there, inquiring into how things worked, chatting, taking pictures, taking notes. And if conventional wisdom has it that three monkeys given infinite access to a typewriter will ultimately come up with Hamlet, then it would stand to reason that our little group was certainly qualified to come up with some story or other. Here are some possible conclusions:

Taza is loyal: Today, they continue to work with the same cooperative of cacao growers in the Dominican Republic that they started out with in 2006.

Taza is focused: All of their cacao beans come from Latin America. Though none (to my knowledge) actually come from Mexico, they're working closer and closer to chocolate's Mesoamerican roots through a partnership with Maya Mountain Cacao in Belize (expect to see special edition Belize chocolate disks soon).

Taza is expanding: In 2013, you can buy Taza chocolate in Australia, as well as in most of the American states of the union.

Taza is crafty: Their roasting machine is an antique German piece of equipment unearthed and purchased a few years ago in Italy. The disks actually come out of what used to be a commercial donut maker. "We do a lot of repurposing here," Caroline told us.

That, and, in the right hands (like those of the factory store's assistant manager Josh), the Taza disks do indeed yield an unimpeachable hot chocolate.


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