Most people who think about chocolate probably don’t realize there is a local company that manufactures it — a company that is located in Somerville, Massachusetts, not that far from the Lesley campus. And as I discovered when I visited recently, Taza Chocolate has a unique and interesting story.
Taza makes a variety of stone ground, organic chocolate items, using traditional Mexican techniques; with cacao sourced from the countries of Belize, Bolivia, The Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and most recently Haiti. Just this past fall, Taza blended their first purchase of Haitian cacao beans into their products, thus labeling themselves as the first U.S. chocolate makers to use Haitian beans.
Taza’s co-founder Alex Whitmore had flown to Haiti in the summer of 2015, to meet with the farmers and leaders of PISA, an organization that strives to add more value to Haiti’s cacao, in order to finalize their first purchase of that country’s premium organic cacao. Whitmore felt that since they already sourced such a large fraction of their beans from the Dominican Republic, a country that is actually located on the same island as Haiti, there would be no doubt that Haiti’s cacao would be just as delicious.
The beans finally arrived at the Somerville factory in late July of 2015, after which Taza began blending their newfound Haitian cacao beans into a variety of their products including the classic Mexicano Discs and the Amaze Bars. (And, stay tuned for their new Origin Bar, which will be made entirely of 100% Haitian beans.)
Initially, Taza’s incentive for purchasing cacao beans from Haiti was to help the country financially, after it had suffered a catastrophic earthquake in 2010. By working with PISA, and the farmers through a direct trade agreement, Haiti’s cacao has increased greatly in both taste and sustainability. As a result of this improvement and their agreement, Taza opened the gates for Haiti cacao to the U.S. chocolate market. And, now their chocolate can be found in 2,800 retail stores across the U.S.
Taza’s policy is to create a product that is “good, but fair for all.” And with this motto, they have created a mission that strives to develop connections and relationships with the farmers in developing countries through the practice of “direct trade.” Direct trade is actually similar to “fair trade,” another well known practice that works to ensure that fair prices are paid to the cacao producers in developing countries. Yet, direct trade is actually a step up from fair trade. Under the Direct Trade Certified Cacao program, Taza Chocolate pays a premium of 500 U.S. dollars per metric ton above the market price; visits each cacao farm on an annual basis (which allows them to get to know the farmers on a personal basis); only buys from farms whose practices ensure fair and humane work (who do not engage in child or slave labor); and only partners with USDA Certified Organic cacao farms that practice sustainable agriculture. In an interview with the Boston Globe, Whitmore said, “It makes so much of a statement if you actually have an audit. It puts some teeth behind your words. We’re pushing the envelope and getting other chocolate companies to think about what they are doing. That’s pretty exciting for us.”
Not very many chocolate companies participate in fair trade, and even fewer in direct trade. Recently, various newspaper sources, such as the Huffington Post, have reported that some big name brands like Hershey’s have come under fire for buying cacao that was harvested at child and slave labor camps. And, due to this publicity, Hershey has just recently stated that they will be switching to fair trade by 2020.
Taza Chocolate is open to serve chocoholics every day of the week. It is located at 561 Windsor Street (about a 20 minute walk from the Lechmere T stop). In addition to selling a variety of products in their retail store, Taza also conducts a chocolate tour, which explains their “bean to bar process.” The tour costs only six dollars, and allows guests to actually see the process in the adjoining factory. It only costs six dollars, and these chocolate tours are fun, family friendly, educational, and informative. The tour guides are well trained, and knowledgeable about every aspect of the company ranging from the history of Taza Chocolate, to precisely how every single machine works in the factory, to information about the wide variety of products sold in the retail store. If you like chocolate, and if you want to visit a company that not only manufactures it but does the work ethically, Taza Chocolate is worth the trip.