Somerville Chocolate Factory
A Look Into the Making of Mexican Dark Chocolate
Taza Chocolate in Somerville, MA, may not be full of chocolate waterfalls and Oompa Loompas, but Amanda Mallen, the Retail Manager, says there’s still something special about working there. “Sometimes you see chocolate oozing out of the machines and it feels sort of magical.”
It’s not ordinary sweets that Taza makes, either. They specialize in stone-ground chocolate, a process the founder, Alex Whitmore, came across in Mexico. It produces a more intense, rustic flavor from the cacao beans. Inspired by Mexican traditions, he learned how to make the hand-carved granite mill stones and returned home to start the company with his wife, Kathleen Fulton.
It’s not an easy process, though. They do everything themselves in Somerville, from roasting to winnowing to grinding to refining. “On the scale that we’re doing it, there’s definitely a lot to master.” Mallen, who has been with the company for six years, says the machines can also be quite temperamental. Because of this, the workers must be in tune with the process, able to detect any hitches through sight, taste, sound, and smell.
All the hard work is certainly worth it. “I was just blown away by the chocolate,” she says. “We like the stone-grinding method because it really lets us bring out the flavors of the ingredients.”
And flavors there are. Mallen says that the rustic taste of the chocolate allows it to blend well with other ingredients, like cinnamon, vanilla, and even chili. “We do all of our own product development. We’re always experimenting with different things.” She says they’re especially influenced by Mexican traditions, which offers a more diverse spectrum of flavors. “It definitely makes you curious about tasting chocolates from different parts of the world.”
But what makes great chocolate? Is it the flavor? The texture? The quality of the beans? Mallen says, “I think it’s the flavor more than anything else. Definitely people who gravitate towards Taza are intrigued by the texture, but more than anything people are looking for good flavor.”
She does have a favorite, however. “I love the salted almonds Mexicano Discs. The discs are such a unique form of chocolate. We grind the almonds right into it.”
Dark chocolate is getting increasingly popular, with companies producing bars with higher percentages of cacao. “Because of our process, we can make a really dark chocolate,” she says. “Higher percentages of dark chocolate can be good for you. It’s full of antioxidants. I think people are trying to be more aware of what they’re putting in their bodies. It’s kind of a healthy indulgence.”
Still, it’s also important to be economically and socially conscious. That’s why Taza sources its beans directly from the farmers. “We work very closely with our growers because we look for a certain quality in our cacao.” Because of this close relationship, they can be sure that the farmers get a good deal and that they’re not using reprehensible practices, like slaves or child labor. That way you can enjoy your chocolate guilt-free.
It’s easy to think Mallen has the best job in the world, and you wouldn’t be wrong. “We all get chocolate benefits. Every week we get to sign up for chocolate to be delivered right to our desks.” But does she get sick of eating all that chocolate? “Honestly, I’ve been here for six years and I’m still eating chocolate.”
-By Ettractions Digital Content Editor, ALLISON BENNETT
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