Tucked away in the stockyards of Somerville, Massachusetts, lies a chocolate paradise; if you don’t look closely, you may miss it. A shingle with a cacao bean hangs over the sidewalk. Welcome to Taza Chocolate.
From Mexico to Massachusetts
Taza has called this part of Somerville its home since it first opened in 2005. The company came from founder Alex Whitmore’s travels to Mexico, where he first tasted stone-ground hot chocolate. The company’s name honors that history: taza is part of the phrase taza de chocolate or a cup of hot chocolate.
Inside, aromas of warm, sweet chocolate welcome visitors. Large windows let visitors peer into the work rooms to see how the cacao beans get transformed into discs and bars of chocolate. No oompa loompas or chocolate rivers in sight, sadly, but visitors can stock up on their favorite flavors in the factory store. However, the real delight is in taking a tour of the factory.
What to expect during the tour
The weekday tour is chock-full of fun tidbits for foodies. For visitors with younger kids, weekend tours give them a chance to taste and explore. During the tour, you’ll learn where Taza’s cacao beans come from and how the soil and climate affect their flavors. Wine lovers may recognize this as terroir. Cacao beans from the Dominican Republic offer bright, acidic notes, reminiscent of raspberries — but not schnozberries. Beans from Haiti offer a rounder flavor profile, giving hints of coffee and banana. Beans from Ghana, which supplies much of the world with cacao, feature more brownie notes.
You’ll also get to see the stones that turn the cacao beans into chocolate paste. These stones, called molinos, include grooves that spiral out from the center. These 25-pound stones work to grind the cacao beans without losing any of their strong flavor. Take a look at the Taza logo and you’ll see one of these molinos. Even the shape of the chocolate hearkens back to these all-important stones. These discs, tasty when nibbled on their own, can also easily melt for making hot chocolate.
The result of using these stones is a chocolate with “grittiness” and a strong flavor profile. The grittiness is Taza Chocolate’s calling card. The result is unexpected, but not unpleasant. It makes tasting their chocolate a full sensory experience.
You’ll get plenty of opportunities to taste chocolate throughout the tour. Tour guides will walk you through the elements to pay attention to when tasting chocolate: the snap of the chocolate – which is the product of tempering it correctly – as well as the texture and aroma. At the end of the tour, tour guides bring visitors to a chocolate tasting bar that stretches across the back of the factory store. Large glass jars let visitors know what types of chocolate they can try. Their chocolates are dairy-free, soy-free, and gluten-free. There’s plenty to choose from, like Taza’s Wicked Dark line, which is 95% dark, or their Almond Milk chocolate bars, which include almond flour and coconut sugar. Or maybe chocolate and fruit is more your style? You can nibble on their dark chocolate and raspberry, which is made with raspberry oil, or coconut.
When to visit, how to get there
Visiting Taza and taking a tour of the chocolate factory on Valentine’s Day might not be an option this year — tours run Wednesday through Sunday — but it’s a great way to spend an afternoon, no matter the holiday. Drivers coming to explore Taza can find parking alongside the building. For those taking public transit, they can travel to Somerville’s Union Square; Taza is a ten-minute walk from there. Chocolate fans can also do a virtual tour. Running Saturdays and Sundays, virtual tours require getting a Virtual Tasting Kit full of goodies to try.