As such, I've tempered my disappointment about canceled travel and events with closer-to-home adventures that have allowed me to re-discover my DC neighborhood and connect virtually with friends and family.
Given that I'm not going anywhere any time soon, when I saw that Taza Chocolate was offering virtual tours of their Somerville, Massachusetts factory, I jumped at the opportunity to take a virtual trip to learn more about one of my favorite chocolate companies. I am already a huge fan of their line of completely gluten-free and dairy-free products!
This online adaptation of their factory tour (via Zoom) not only includes a behind-the-scenes look at ingredients and processes, but also comes features a delicious and interactive component- a bean-to-bar tasting!
When exploring how chocolate is made, it makes sense to start at the very beginning, in this case with cacao trees. As a part of the tour, our guide shared videos of what cacao looks like freshly harvested, and the process by which the beans are fermented and dried for shipment. Believe it or not, right off the tree the beans and their sticky fruit taste nothing like chocolate!
Talking about the organic cacao used for their chocolate also presented an opportunity to discuss their commitment to fair farming practices, which go above and beyond fair trade standards. Not only does Taza have a commitment to fair payment for the product (with no middlemen), they also have labor and environmental sustainability standards too. See more all about this on their website.
For the taste testing portion, I was surprised by how different the cacao nibs from Ghana, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic tasted. Though seemingly all the same fruit, it was interested to contrast the nuttiness of the Ghanaian nibs to smokier Haitian nibs and tangy DR ones.
From the nibs the next steps into chocolate-making were demonstrated through their 100% dark baking chocolate (which contain no sweetener) and 70% couverture chocolate, which introduces a second ingredient: cane sugar. As I'm used to their gritty Mexican-style chocolates (more on that to come), it was interesting to taste the smooth flavors of the 100% and 70%, and compare the intensity of cacao flavor and fruity notes, especially with the later.
From the origins of chocolate, it was then interesting to hear more about how Taza came to be, and how Mexican-style chocolate sparked the company's creation and still influences how the chocolates are made today. With these disks being their original product, it was fun too to hear about how they sourced a machine to wrap their signature, but difficult-to-package, circle shapes.
Taza's signature chocolate texture is made using an Mexican granite stone grinder (which is chiseled by hand!). I could have watched the video of nibs getting ground into a peanut butter-like substance all day. This was definitely one part of the tour where we all were missing out on the smell of being in the factory!
By comparing tasting notes on the four disks- cacao puro, chili, cinnamon, and vanilla, it was interesting to see how the mix ins really elevated and enhanced the flavor profile of the cacao. Whether eaten on their own or used a hot chocolate base, they are endlessly versatile and delightfully unlike the European-style chocolate that tends to be the predominate style sold in the US.
Exploring beyond the disks, we also delved into their bars, which introduce variations on taste and texture. Of the three included in the virtual tour package, I particularly loved the buttery toffee, almond, and sea salt, and the fruity deliciously dark.
Here, it was fascinating to know what the standards are for even calling a dark chocolate a dark chocolate. To even be called a chocolate, the product must have at least 10% cacao by volume. In that case the other 90% would count any sweeteners, add-ins or dairy (or non-dairy) products. Taza's products weigh in much higher, and you can taste the difference a few percentage points make by comparing the different disks, bars, and beans.
And we couldn't leave without a look at one of their newest products- the almond milk chocolate bar. This offering also happens to be paleo, as they mix in coconut sugar and almond flour to replicate creamy milk chocolate.
As the product with the lowest percentage of cacao of the bunch (47%), this also made for the sweetest and creamiest of the included products. Though not normally a huge coconut fan, I really liked the nutty flavor and smooth consistency of the blend, which showed off the full range of textures of their bars (gritty, medium grit, and smooth).
I was really impressed with the virtual presentation of the Taza Chocolate factory tour, and it totally didn't dampen my desire to visit the factory in person whenever we get the green light to travel again. Our tour guide was fantastic and incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about chocolate. She was a more-than-capable guide through the world of cacao and Taza. Having the interactive chocolates to smell and taste, and a small group of fellow tour-goers also made the experience fun and memorable, as we compared tasting notes and it made the experience satisfy all five senses.
If you're looking for stay-at-home fun that combines chocolate and sneaks in quite a bit of learning too, I wholeheartedly recommend this virtual tasting pack. You can also order a version of the tour (the extra essentials), which includes extra disks and bars to expand your taste test.
Disclaimer: This review is current to the original publication date. Updates will be noted. Ingredients and manufacturing processes can change without notice. Each product should be reviewed for individual nutritional needs. Feel free to to contact me with any questions or comments. I purchased the product independently and this review is a reflection of my personal opinion.