If you go: Somerville, Mass.
Some Boston friends told me that Taza makes its chocolate right across the Charles River, in Somerville, a tiny city they described as a craft paradise. Forget Santa’s workshop; here’s where I’m doing my shopping.
Entering Somerville on the T subway from Boston’s Logan airport, I pass Revolutionary War murals and an auto-body shop emblazoned with patriotic graffiti. My destination: a drab, barracks-like building that looks suited for making saltines, not chocolate, the food of love.
But inside the confection-filled showroom, my senses revive while I wait for the factory tour. Children are welcome, but this is not Willy Wonka territory; the gritty chocolate is crafted for adult palates.
“Chocolate’s my lifelong passion,” said Alex Whitmore, a former anthropologist, yacht captain and chef who founded Taza. Cradling football-size cacao pods, he describes the ancient art of stone-ground bean-to-bar chocolate. In contrast to smooth and creamy European chocolate, Taza uses an ancient Mexican process that preserves a pleasurable grittiness and the deep, complex flavor of the cacao.
We examine a vintage, hand-cranked machine that roasts and winnows the beans, and authentic Oaxacan millstones that are used to grind the cacao. A 3,000-pound-capacity vat opens; whiffs of fermenting chocolate make me woozy.
The ample samples include cinnamon, guajillo chili, salted almond and biodynamically grown vanilla bean. Indulging feels like an act of eco-conscience after hearing that the ingredients come from farmer-owned cooperatives; that the chocolate is 100 percent organic, kosher, dairy-free, gluten-free, GMO-free and additive-free and boasts third-party-certified high antioxidant levels; and that the cacao chaff gets donated to farms. Taza even delivers by bike and visits events with a pedal-powered “Chococycle” display cart.
I take tiny bites, as instructed by Taza’s how-to-taste card. The divine gritty texture eclipses my memories of chocolates past.
Somerville brims with sensational small bites. Wedged between the Charles and Mystic rivers, it ranks second only to New York in artists per capita, according to Money/CNN’s Best Cities research. Once nicknamed “Slumerville,” it now boasts an All-America City Award and a census form that asks residents to rate their happiness.