Mmm, chocolate! If that quote doesnt bring to mind a scene with two sisters savoring the scent of decadent chocolate, then chances are you dont have a toddler or have yet to experience the joy of watching Disneys “Frozen.” When I finally have time to myself, nothing is better than curling up with a good book and a steep cup of hot chocolate on a wintry afternoon, which Ive learned can include rain, sleet, snow, bomb cyclones, or even 50 degree weather! As a California transplant with a toddler in tow, I am doing my best to adjust and get to know the Boston area. Im here as a student working towards my graduate degree in international relations and a certificate in sustainability at Harvard Universitys Extension School. Naturally, I was drawn to join a club to meet like-minded peers and the Harvard Extension Student Environmental Club welcomed me with open arms. The HESEC  is an inclusive group where people come together to discuss and bring light to environmental issues inside and outside of Harvard and its surrounding communities. Back to chocolate! Our club tours local venues to figure out what measures they take in order to maximize their efficiency, minimize their global footprint, and embrace our global community. These engaging tours are an effort to educate and inform our members of the sustainable measures that local companies are implementing. I was inclined to take one of our planned tours for HESEC early, as I had a rare block of free time. So, I ended up at Taza Chocolate Factory in Somerville, Mass. 

Taza Chocolate

This companys supply chain is absolutely transparent, recognizing the value in a Direct Trade approach, which means that they a) know exactly which farm your cacao beans are grown and harvested and b) ensure that their supply chain is sustainable. One factor to consider when we purchase any product is the value; not just the purchase appeal or superior quality, but the ability to stand behind a product because you believe in how it was manufactured and want to support real farmers and their livelihood. It warms my heart knowing that Taza not only manufactures chocolate in such an authentic way, but that it truly takes care of the people within its supply chain, unlike other mass-produced chocolate vendors. The difference is clear, as Taza claims,  unrefined, stone ground chocolate from bean to bar. Our unique chocolate-making techniques are all about minimal processing, to let the bold flavors of our organic, Direct Trade Certified cacao shout loud and proud. I was eager to learn more and walked in ready to go with the full intention of tasting a variety of morsels while learning about the types of beans, means of production, and what makes this chocolate factory stand out from the rest.

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Okay, so I did not walk into the fantastical land of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and a bunch of super sweet candies hidden in a rainbow explosion. Instead, I entered the doors of rustic Taza Chocolate Factory, enveloped by warmth while the bitter dark chocolate aroma delighted my cold nose and uplifted my mood immediately—a stark departure from the frigid temp outside. I was greeted by a friendly young lady who checked me in and encouraged me to hang my coat (and the other 50 items required in the Boston Winter Wonderland Bundle-Up package). Soon after, we were introduced to our tour guide who told us the story of the companys inception (I wont ruin the surprise but it has something to do with hot chocolate). He provided tidbits of chocolate while he explained their country of origin and their varying processes of manufacture. He also explained the history and function of the factory, the tools and machines that they utilize, and what makes them stand apart from other chocolate companies. We were there on a day when they were producing the chocolate right in front of us and my favorite fact is that the cacao nibs (those little pieces from the cacao beans that have been roasted and taken out of the husks) are actually a superfood! Filled to the brim with minerals such as magnesium and antioxidants, cacao has a positive effect on moods and contains Phenylethylamine (which helps students like myself to stay alert and focused). It can even act as an appetite suppressant!

Health benefits aside, the most valuable takeaway is their supply-chain model and the company’s treatment of the individuals who choose to work in the chocolate industry. To know that Taza created the chocolate industrys first third-party certified Direct Trade cacao sourcing program, to ensure quality and transparency for all underlines their focus on sustainable business practices and sets a modern standard that guarantees quality while ensuring profitability, all while being sustainable. In fact, they even provide a Transparency Report each year  to document every farm in every country where their beans are treated and how the local farmers all benefit from this means of production. In 2018, it is more important than ever to get to know what we are buying, putting into our bodies, and where our money is going. Taza actually pays more than the market price, which points to the fact that businesses can be more sustainable, maximize deliciousness, and all while ensuring we as consumers are giving back to those who work so hard to provide for us.

If you live in Boston, arent able to make it to Somerville in the near future, but would still like to try their hot chocolate, they have a hot chocolate bar in the Boston Public Market,. If you are anywhere in the United States, you will probably be able to find their products at a Whole Foods, or any natural food store near you.  Lastly, you can check out their website for recipes and information about the types of chocolates they offer, how to go on a tour by yourself (my style), and ways to enjoy the guilt-free (for the most part) deliciousness of their chocolates. Sounds like a sweet deal.

Header image courtesy of Taza Chocolate.

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