Thursday, January 7, 2010
Pre-Colombian Chocolate: Taza Stone Ground Chocolate
Massachusetts chocolate maker Taza Chocolate is part of a new wave of chocolate makers, making stone ground chocolate. What makes Taza's bars fundamentally different from many other chocolate bars is that they aren't conched. Cacao, as you may recall, is a bean or more precisely, a seed. Prior to the advent of conching, the combination of cacao, cocoa butter (the oil from the cacao bean) and sugar led to a grainy, rather gritty dessert. It would be similar biting into one of the chocolate tablets used for Mexican hot chocolate, and in fact, was mostly taken as a beverage.
In the late nineteenth century, Rodolphe Lindt, whose name is now synonymous with Swiss chocolate, invented conching. The technique is a sort of super mixing that can take place over a period of days to fully integrate the cacao solids and butter and produce the smooth substance that we think of today as chocolate.
Among domestic artisan chocolate makers, Taza is the first I know of that eschews conching. Instead, they use traditional Oaxacan stone mills to grind their chocolate. They source all of their beans from the Dominican Republic and sugar from Brazil, they include no additives and all of their chocolates are organic. Taza makes both bars and flavored discs for Mexican hot chocolate. I sampled a 70% bar.
Taza 70% bar, Dominican Republic ($7 for a 3 oz. bar at Cube on La Brea or $6.50 on line)
The 70% bar has a deep, chocolate and fruit nose, with the type of cherry scents you get in a many Dominican bars. If you haven't had this before, you might be shocked at the first bite. The texture that results from the stone grinding process is far different than the texture of other bars. It is grainy and you feel the gritty crunch of cacao and sugar in the bar. It takes some getting used to, but after a while, I found myself craving that unique mouthfeel, that crunch. The texture also makes you chew this chocolate and roll it around in your mouth more than you might normally do, which increases your exposure to the flavor.
Once you get over the mouthfeel, you can start to taste the chocolate, and boy is there a lot to taste. The cherry nose gives way to a deep, only slightly acidic taste with less fruit and more pure chocolate goodness. If you hold it in your mouth after crunching, it feels like the sugar granules dissolve first, giving you a burst of sweetness followed by a very pure chocolate explosion.
Taza is on to something very profound here. They have taken artisan, bean to bar chocolate making in a new direction and in doing so, created a truly unique and excellent chocolate.