Love dark chocolate? Ever wonder how that delicious dark chocolate went from bean to bar for our enjoyment? When we visited Boston, Massachusetts back in July, one of the excursions we made outside of the Boston area was to the Taza Chocolate Factory in Sommerville, Massachusetts. For those of you who read my story on my visit to Hershey’s Chocolate World in Hershey, Pennsylvania; you will find this one to be very different. This is about a small artisanal chocolate company in Sommerville, Massachusetts called Taza Stone Ground Chocolate where we toured their factory and saw the entire chocolate making process from cocoa bean to packaged chocolate bar.
Now if you are wondering how in the world we ended up doing a chocolate tour in the Boston area? It was a rather unexpected and impulsive choice but so worth it. While sightseeing in the historic district of Boston we came upon the Boston Public Market, an artisanal market with local food vendors selling everything from cheese to bread, flowers to jams and jellies, and guess what else? Chocolate!
Here we came upon Taza Stone Ground Chocolate, a local artisanal chocolate company. I bought some chocolate to bring back home and also for my friend Jo with whom we were going to spend a few days in Cape Cod. While I was paying the cashier I noticed a flier promoting Taza’s Chocolate Factory Tour. I asked the cashier how far the factory was from Boston. She said it was a short 20-minute drive and the factory tour was a lot of fun but we had to make reservations, and she asked us to go to their web site to see if there were any tours available. I took the flier with me and we walked back to our hotel.
Back at the hotel while we were planning the next day’s activities I asked the girls if they were interested in touring the Taza Chocolate Factory, and the answer was a resounding Yes! Since we had just walked over 7 miles all day touring the Freedom Trail and the histroic sites in the Boston area, we tabled the idea of going to see the USS Constitution Museum the next day and decided to check out the Taza Chocolate Factory instead. Anjali looked up Taza’s web site and found a 12noon factory tour that was available the following day. We booked it and headed to Taza Chocolate in Sommerville the next morning.
This 20-minute car ride across the Charles River from Boston gave us a unique opportunity to see artisanal chocolate being made. I allocated 3 hours for this excursion and figured if we got to the Taza Factory in Sommerville early, we could be back in Boston after lunchtime and do some more sightseeing.
When we arrived at the factory at 10:45am, I must admit I was a bit awry. Even our Uber driver asked us if we were sure this was the right location. The area surrounding the Taza factory is very industrial and pretty deserted. You don’t see much activity around here and this area of Sommerville is a little dilapidated. I was surprised that this was the location for Boston’s favored artisanal chocolate company. But we braved it and got out of the car and headed to the factory. We arrived an hour early and the Taza building was closed. So we decided to take a 10-minute walk to Sommerville’s Main St. where we grabbed brunch at a new local hot-spot Juliet.
Here is a little insider information I found out about Sommerville. When I told Jo’s friend Julie who lives in Boston about our visit to Sommerville, she commented that this town has become the new “it” place for youngsters to live in. Because Boston and Cambridge have become so pricey, many young professionals are moving further out to more affordable Sommerville. And because of this new influx of young people, Sommerville is at the beginning stages of gentrification.
After an eclectic brunch at Juliet we walked back to Taza for our factory tour.
We were fortunate to have just one other couple from China with their young son on this tour with us.
The first stop on our factory tour was a short tutorial on how cocoa is grown, sourced, and dried for delivery to the Taza Chocolate Factory. I learnt a lot about cocoa and chocolate from this tutorial. I thought I would share with you some of the fascinating journey that the cocoa bean takes from seed to edible chocolate bar. Did you know cocoa grows on huge trees as giant seedpods that are as big as papayas? Inside the pods are hundreds of fleshy cocoa seeds that look like lychee fruit, all soft and gooey. I asked our tour guide what the fruit tasted like, and he said they do taste like lychee fruit; they are sweet and tangy and have a floral scent.
During harvest time farmers cut the pods from the tree, collect them and transport them by mules to an area where the pods are cracked open and the beans and fruit are removed.
The fruit and beans then go through a fermentation process, which is done in large wooden boxes that are stacked on three levels. The beans and fruit are packed in these wooden boxes where the fermentation process takes one week to complete. The beans start fermenting on the top level of these boxes, and after two days the contents are shaken and allowed to fall into the second level of boxes. The fermentation process is complete when the cacao reaches the ground level or third level.
After fermentation the beans are then dried to remove all excess moisture and to allow any residual sugars and acid to evaporate. The drying process is done on large wooden decks where the beans are spread out to dry. Once the beans are dry which takes up to eight days, they are packed in sacks and shipped to the Taza Chocolate factory.
Taza is praised for their fair trade chocolate sourcing practices, which is called the Taza Direct Trade Program. Taza doesn’t use middlemen or distributors to source their cocoa from farmers as they feel middlemen get the bulk of the profits from the cocoa bean sales. Instead, Taza sources cocoa directly from the farmers. They achieve this by working with local buyers who work directly with the farmers to assure that the farmers follow fair labor practices, grow Non-GMO organic cocoa, and use farming techniques that respect the environment. Most of Taza’s cocoa comes from Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Belize, Guatemala, and Haiti.
Taza’s claim to fame is their unique chocolate-making technique. They use traditional Mexican stone mills called molinos to grind the cacao. The hand-carved stones that turn inside the mills in their factory preserve the authentic flavors of the beans and create a chocolate that’s grainy and true to the cocoa flavor.
Taza chocolate has just 3 ingredients: cocoa, sugar, and natural flavoring, that’s it. Because they don’t use milk in their chocolate, their chocolate has a very long shelf life.
Taza’s web site has an awesome graphic on how the process of their stone ground chocolate is produced. When you see the images below, the pictures I took from the factory tour will make sense.
The first station on our chocolate making factory tour was the Roasting and Winnowing Room. Sacks of beans are stored in this cool temperature controlled room where the roaster and the winnowing machines are housed.
Raw cocoa beans are manually poured into a large roasting machine that was affectionately named Clifford (named after the dog in the children’s cartoon Clifford the Big Red Dog). Our tour guide mentioned that until recently they were using a smaller roaster (which you can see in the back), but with increased demand for Taza chocolate the roasting process in the smaller roaster was very time consuming so they had to invest in a larger roasting machine.
In the roasting machine the beans are lightly roasted at a very low temperature, approximately 235°F. During this process the beans start developing their cocoa aroma and flavor.
From the roaster the beans are then poured into the winnowing machine. At the winnowing machine the cocoa husk (the shell of the cocoa bean) is separated from the nib (the inside of the cocoa bean). The winnowing machine does this by breaking the roasted cacao beans, while a ventilator vibrates and shakes the husk off the cocoa nibs. The husk particles are then deposited in a tray, while the cocoa nibs continue down the conveyer belt where the nibs are dropped into large drums. Since the husk is bitter, this process eliminates the bitterness from dark chocolate. The cocoa nibs are then taken to another room where they are ground into paste.
Until I went on this factory tour I didn’t know what the word winnow meant. The word winnow is a verb, and it means to “fan away unwanted particles from a main grain.” Another meaning for winnow in the dictionary is “any process of separating or distinguishing valuable from worthless parts.” The word winnow can also be used interchangeably with the word sift. Who new I could get a vocabulary lesson from this interesting chocolate tour? After understanding what the word winnow means, I recalled my Mom and Aunties back in India sifting unwanted stones and husk particles from rice and lentils. I know now that they were winnowing lentil and rice 😊 Here are some images of the many ways people winnow all over the world.
After the winnowing process, the chocolate nibs are ground into a paste in molinos, which are Mexican stone mills from Oaxaca, Mexico. The molinos turn the cacao nibs into coarse paste called cocoa liquor. We found out that these molinos were especially shipped from Mexico for use in the factory as the owner felt the unique stone ground flavor of his chocolate could only be achieved with these Mexican molinos.
The cacao liquor (cocoa paste) is then transferred from the molinos into a mixing tank where it is combined with cane sugar and flavoring.
The last stage of the chocolate making process is tempering, which refers to the precise raising, lowering, and raising of the temperature of liquid chocolate. The tempering machine heats and cools the chocolate to create a specific crystal structure to ensure that the chocolate has a higher melting point. I wondered what it meant for chocolate to crystallize and have a high melting point. I found out that when making chocolate bars tempering is an important part of the process because cocoa butter can crystallize. The tempering process controls the crystallization of the cocoa butter to get a high melting point; having a high melting point is important because that is what assures that chocolate won’t melt in our hands when we handle it.
After tempering, the chocolate is then pumped into molds and are placed on a table that vibrates. This process evenly distributes the chocolate and removes any air bubbles. The molds are then sent to a cooling room to solidify.
Once the chocolate is solid, Taza Chocolates are wrapped and packed into recyclable boxes and shipped around the country.
This was one educational and fun factory tour. I learnt so much about the artisanal chocolate making process. Even the tutorial on how cocoa beans are grown, dried, and fermented were enlightening. This tour really gave me a better understanding of how chocolate is a true world cuisine. To have it be grown in the rain forests of South America and harvested by local farmers there, to shipping all the way to America where Taza takes these cocoa beans and converts them into chocolate for us to enjoy – wow! The journey this chocolate has taken from start to finish is pretty amazing.
With every bite I take of a Taza chocolate I know now that farmers in South America have given their heart and soul into harvesting great quality organic cocoa beans that make up this delicious chocolate bar.
For more information on Taza Chocolate in Sommerville, Massachusetts take a look at their web site. Taza Stone Ground Chocolate These are the web sites I referenced for information on What is tempering and crystallization in chocolate? What is winnowing in chocolate making? The meaning of winnow The Taza chocolate making process