Eat Chocolate, Help Taza

Taza Chocolates

Some of Taza's many totally unique Mexican-style chocolate products. Supporting a local business in need is delicious. // flickr/QuintanaRoo

Located in Somerville (just a short walk from Inman Square), Taza Chocolate is a local company which has been gaining some serious buzz for itself in recent years over what they’re doing: not only do they make 100% organic chocolate bars, they’re also the only 100% stone-ground “bean-to-bar” company in the United States. They receive shipments of dried cacao beans, cane sugar, and vanilla beans. Everything else is done in Somerville. The good news is that they just recently finished totally renovating their factory and brand new storefront. The bad news? Almost immediately after repairs were finished, the factory was badly damaged by the flash flooding which ripped through Somerville and much of the Boston area on Saturday, July 10th, causing millions of dollars in damage (the local police department saw almost its entire fleet of vehicles and its headquarters destroyed). They could use a hand right now. In the form of you buying some chocolate.

In an effort to raise cash now for repair costs, Taza is offering Taza Dollars to customers, advance gift certificates which will can be used at their factory store when it opens a month or so from now. There’s no direct monetary gain for you here; since it’s a 1-for-1 exchange between your dollars and “Taza Dollars,” they’re asking you to recognize your investment, in the form of cash, as a long-term one in the company and in the community.

They’ve probably earned the right to do this; Taza is an important local producer whose goods are sold all across the continental United States, as well as in Canada, the UK, and Germany. They’re a rapidly-growing Massachusetts business that is garnering acclaim from places like Gourmet Magazine. Supporting Taza means voting for high-quality, progressively-produced products, and it also means encouraging them to stay local — they may have started here, but they’re growing, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll stay forever.

Taza Chocolate -- Stone Wheel

One of the hand-grooved stone wheels which grinds Taza's chocolate beans. // Flickr/QuintanaRoo

Taza is also important as a model for a new wave of businesses which specialize in exotic products — chocolate, coffee, etc — that are earnestly focused on their environmental impact and on fair treatment of the growers they purchase from. The sustainability movement too often goes hyper-local; not only is eating locally not always possible or even desirable, to do so is inherently insular. We are a passionate, curious race, and probably can’t sustain ourselves when we’re all scratching at our backyard grass for bugs and worms. When they outlaw cacao imports, only the outlaws will eat cacao. Or the very rich. Either way, we should not desire such a future.

Sustainable international trade is real, and it has a future. That future, I hope, is in companies like Taza, who deal with exotic products as though they were local: by not adulterating the goods with additives, not destroying their environment by encouraging harmful growing practices, and respecting and fairly paying their growers. There’s no getting around the fact that this is a higher-impact process than growing kale. That’s why it costs more, and that’s why you eat less of it.

The problem with most chocolate in America is that it’s very far removed from the original, natural form; this makes it more difficult for consumers to remember that it comes from cacao, which grows on trees in tropical forests. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars, for example, what many people consider to be a relatively basic chocolate product, is anything but; it contains large amounts of added sugar, milk and milk fats, vanillin and other artificial flavors, and emulsifiers like Polyglycerol Polyricinoleate and the ubiquitous soybean lecithin. When you forget that the product is originally single-source, you forget that it takes time, and that there are environments and individuals out there who need to be compensated fairly for the work they do. Not coincidentally, it also allows companies to find cheaper substitutes, drop the price, and encourage you to eat more of it. Taza’s bars contain cacao, sugar (about half that of Hershey’s), cocoa butter, and vanilla beans. They also cost much more — in the neighborhood of $6 or $7 a bar. It’s worth it.

Taza is hoping to change the perception of a chocolate as a daily candy to a special food; their bars are notorious for their texture, which are filled with a sort of fine grit which becomes evident as they melt in your mouth. People used to silkier, European-style chocolate can find themselves taken aback or totally turned off by this fact. It’s essentially discovering a new food, and hopefully, a new appreciation for chocolate itself.

Do yourself — and Taza, and Boston — a favor next time you’re out shopping for a treat. Pick up a Taza bar; if the spirit so moves you, invest in them now, and pick up the chocolate later. We should care about supporting our local economy through good times and bad. Taza is in a good place, but they’ve been hit with some rotten luck. Help them shape a better future for us.

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