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Taza Chocolate – Remembering the Roots

When you first bite into a Taza Chocolate Mexicano disk, you immediately realize that you have not bitten into any ordinary piece of chocolate. Rather, the particularly granulated and grainy texture that you feel in your mouth, along with the raw and vibrant taste of stone ground cacao temporarily bring you to the Latin and South American origins of the beans that went into this bar. Indeed, Taza Chocolate likes to describe their chocolate making process as “bean to bar”, meaning that the entirety of the chocolate, starting from the raw whole cacao beans to the final product, is made in their Somerville, Massachusetts factory. In an ethnographic analysis of this bean-to-bar company, Taza Chocolate proves itself to be a chocolate maker that adheres to principles of promoting high quality and authentic taste, a transparent process, and a fair supply chain, all of which bring a needed focus and appreciation back to the origins of the chocolate we consume. For this reason, Taza Chocolate is a company that one can consider to be a part of the solution to a problem that exists in today’s chocolate industry: forgetting the hard work of those that provide the foundation for our chocolate.

Taza Chocolate was founded in 2010 by Alex Whitmore, who on a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico in 2005, fell in love with the culture of stone ground chocolate that he found there. Watching the skilled workers “stone-grinding cacao for chocolate in a tradition that had been handed down for generations”, Whitmore was inspired to bring that tradition to America (Rooney). He apprenticed under a molinero, or miller, in Oaxaca and learned to hand-carve the granite mill stones that are now the special part of the Taza chocolate making process. Meanwhile, his wife and co-founder, Kathleen Fulton, began designing the wrapper that would represent and hold Taza Chocolate (seen below). Five busy years later, Taza Chocolate was born and became the only producer of 100% stone ground, organic chocolate in the United States.

(The Emily Rooney Show – Production of WGBH)


The mission of Taza Chocolate is “To make and share stone ground chocolate that is seriously good and fair for all” (Taza). In the dual parts of their mission: “seriously good” and “fair for all”, Taza has become a leader in using the quality and ethicality of their products to empower and respect those often overlooked workers at the very front of the supply chain. Looking first at quality, Taza has seen success as a maker of “seriously good” chocolate (Taza). Their products are now available all over the country and internationally, in specialty, natural and gift stores. Fine restaurants have used Taza Chocolate in their kitchens and numerous major food publications have featured the company. But these are just outward indicators of what goes on behind the scenes. For one thing, their “seriously good” chocolate seeks to remain true to its cacao origins and acknowledge where it comes from through proper and authentic taste. While other chocolate makers may do as they please to conform to the tastes of the consumer masses, Taza Chocolate caters to the genuine recipes and processes of the geography and culture within which it was conceived, and as seen above, does not come at the expense of consumer satisfaction.

Within their set of core values that come below the overall mission, Taza Chocolate’s first value is: “Keep the bean in the bar – Let each ingredient speak loud and proud” (Taza).

Taza Chocolate Mission



Their own website elaborates on this the best, “Cacao is so complex in flavor that we want to let it speak loud and proud. That is why we do less to bring you more. We stone grind organic cacao beans into perfectly unrefined, minimally processed chocolate with bold flavor and texture” (Taza). In many ways, by not letting too much human intervention get in the way of the cacao, we are taken a few steps closer to the actual cacao beans and better able to appreciate all of its natural qualities and surroundings. One way of describing this kind of appreciation is terroir. As written by Bill Nesto, the author of the journal article Discovering Terroir in the World of Chocolate, terroir is “the web that connects and unifies raw materials, their growing conditions, production processes, and the moment of product appreciation” (Nesto 131). Factors like geography and climate play a role in expressing this quality of terroir in agricultural products such as cacao. In the beginning of his article, Nesto criticizes chocolate makers for not better understanding terroir: “He had lost faith in the business of chocolate. When he purchased cacao – the raw material – from merchants and even from individual farmers, he had no assurance of provenance or quality” (Nesto 131).

This is precisely the problem of lacking awareness and appreciation for the origins of chocolate that Taza Chocolate is working to solve. They do so through both a rigorous and transparent sourcing process. As written on the company website, “Before we can make delicious stone ground chocolate, we need to source superior cacao beans. We couldn’t do what we do best without cacao farmer partners who do what they do best: grow exceptional organic cacao” (Taza). Thus, Taza Chocolate set up their own model called “Taza Direct Trade”. Through this model, Taza Chocolate maintains a direct relationship with each of their cacao farmers. According to Taza Chocolate’s Five Direct Trade Principles, they “work exclusively with USDA certified Organic cacao farms that practice sustainable agriculture” and “physically visit each cacao farmer cooperative at least once a year to build long-term sustainable relationships” (Taza). In 2010, the company decided to develop the Taza Chocolate Direct Trade Certified Cacao program, which takes their own trade practices and makes them third party verified, further showing their commitment to their farmers and customers. In this annual certification process, Quality Certification Services (USDA-accredited organic certifier) checks to make sure that Taza Chocolate is maintaining their direct relationships with its farmers and also purchasing high quality cacao beans. Specifically, Taza Chocolate sources “only the highest quality of cacao beans – 95% fermentation rates or more and dried to 7% moisture or less” (Taza). Additionally, Taza Chocolate is also very transparent about where their cacao comes from. They currently source from three countries, the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, and Belize. Within these countries, Taza has defined relationships with six suppliers, including a cooperative of small scale cacao producers, an independent organic farm, and a newly formed rural economic development enterprise. Taza Chocolate even goes as far as to publish an annual Taza Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report, which presents very detailed information and metrics about all of their cacao sources. As Alex Whitmore puts it in the video below, “This is something that not everyone does, we don’t have to do it, it’s not necessarily part of our program, but it’s something that we like to do as an organization so that we can continue to have a very meaningful dialogue about your trade relationships with our community and theirs”.

Looking at all of these different initiatives, it becomes clear that Taza Chocolate is making huge improvements in elevating those that work at the source of our chocolate, shining a light on both the quality of their work and the quality of the cacao they farm.

Not to mention, all of this not only allows the consumer to appreciate the terroir of the chocolate, but also the fundamental Mexican culture that inspired Taza Chocolate. In an increasingly globalized society of rising big businesses, it is a problem that culture can actually be slowly forgotten. Biting into a chocolate bar can either illuminate us to its cultural origins, or blind us to the important customs and traditions from which that food sprung. History is a great place to start. Marcy Norton, in her paper Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics, talks about the transfer of chocolate tastes from one culture to another. Although she is primarily arguing against this perspective, she does point out that “a significant claim made in the cultural-functionalist vein is that Europeans initially found chocolate repugnant, so they doctored it until it matched the sensibilities of their palate” (Norton 669). Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe also talk about how Europeans removed parts of the culture behind Mesoamerican chocolate. Some examples include: “whites insisted on taking chocolate hot rather than cold or at room temperature, as had been the custom among the Aztecs…Old World spices more familiar to the invaders, such as cinnamon, anise seed, and black pepper, began to be substituted for native flavorings” (Coe and Coe 115). Rather than allowing this kind of cultural callousness persist, Taza is a forerunner in upholding cultural sensitivity and respect. Rather than taking the process he experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico and appropriating it into something of his own, Alex Whitmore kept the process of Taza Chocolate authentic to the people that initially taught him the trade. In describing the stone ground chocolate making process, Whitmore’s company states that they use “authentic Oaxacan stone mills called molinos to grind our cacao, with granite millstones hand carved by co-founder Alex. These stones minimally refine the cacao beans, capturing all their vibrant flavors and allowing tiny bits of cacao and organic cane sugar to remain in the finished chocolate” (Taza).

By adhering to principles of promoting authentic and high quality tasting chocolate, as well as being very transparent with their sourcing and production process, Taza Chocolate brings the focus back to the typically forgotten farmers and culture where chocolate begins its journey. However, the company does not stop there. In addition to making consumers more aware and appreciative of these aspects of chocolate, Taza Chocolate also treats their cacao suppliers fairly and supports those suppliers that treat their workers fairly. Going back to their Five Direct Trade Principles, Taza Chocolate takes action to promote fair and ethical treatment of their supply chain. In terms of compensating their farmers, Taza Chocolate pays “a premium of at least $500 USD per metric ton above the New York International Commodities Exchange (NY ICE) price on the date of invoice directly to cacao farmers” (Taza). As pointed out by Carol Off in her book Bitter Chocolate: Investigating the Dark Side of the World’s most seductive sweet, cacao producers that sell to the commodity markets are often subject to the whims of the boom and bust cycle: “cacao values rode the market roller coaster will little regard for economic reality…commodities exchanges in London and New York became the custodians of lives of Ivorian cacao producers thousands of miles away” (Off 117). As such, farmers who have little education and no access to the financial markets are tossed around and lose large sums of money. With these strains, they then resort to unethical practices such as child and slave labor to make ends meet. By paying a premium price above fluctuating commodity prices, Taza Chocolate ensures that these farmers are able to make a living wage to support their families. Along with compensating their suppliers appropriately, Taza Chocolate only buys cacao from farmers that “ensure fair and humane work practices” and never buys cacao from farmers that engage in any form of child or slave labor (Taza).

Taza Chocolate is undoubtedly making large efforts to be a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem that we see in today’s chocolate industry. Rather than allowing consumers to blindly focus on the end product of the chocolate itself, Taza Chocolate pushes consumers to acknowledge the environment and culture from which the chocolate has come. Often forgotten farmers and food artisans are brought to the forefront instead of being relegated to the archives of unseen histories. Their work is respected and appreciated. Indeed, Taza Chocolate gives growers “an alternative to producing low quality cacao for unsustainable wages” (Taza). This alternative is a win-win strategy, one that gives growers the opportunity to produce top quality cacao at sustainable wages, all the while leading to delicious, authentic tasting chocolate. And it tastes even better knowing that the farmers whose hands grew the cacao are being treated with fairness. Taza Chocolate’s operations may still be in its nascent stages, but it is exciting to see even a small company lead the entire chocolate industry towards a more ethical, and might we say, delectable future.

Multimedia Sources:





“About | Taza Chocolate.” N.p., n.d. Web. 2 May 2015. Accessed at: <;

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Nesto, Bill. “Discovering Terroir in the World of Chocolate.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 10.1 (201): 131-35. Web.

Norton, Marcy. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review 111.3 (2006): 660-91. Web.

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. New York: New, 2008. Print.



Snickers Male Sexism

With the increasing prevalence of gender stereotypes in the marketing that is bombarded at us today, there is commonly a focus placed on the female side of the problem. Particularly in the realm of chocolate advertising, women are often portrayed as individuals highly influenced by chocolate’s seduction, as well as objects of desire acting to enhance the attraction of the chocolate itself. However, it is important and revealing to also acknowledge a parallel issue that lies on the opposite end of the gender stereotype spectrum. With a series of chocolate advertisements released by Snickers, a brand of chocolate made by Mars, there is ample evidence to show that men are stereotyped as loud, impolite, dumb, shallow brutes who overly care about satisfying their carnal desires, to name a few. A close analysis of these advertisements brings to light many of these negative and demeaning messages about men.

Figure 1
Figure 1.

In the following Snickers advertisement, a male construction worker wearing a yellow hardhat is shown with a statement above his head and a punchline below. The man appears to be quite rugged and burly with his facial hair and noticeable occupation. The brown background color caters more to a masculine audience and also conveniently matches well with the color of a chocolate Snickers Bar. By stating the underlying premise that “you’re not you when you are hungry” (Figure 1), this advertisement claims that men generally do not greet attractive women with polite silence. It is obviously not true that all men act this way towards women, but yet this advertisement negatively puts the male gender in this category, possibly targeting an audience that is proud to call this stereotype truth. Two similar ads released as part of the same campaign are no better.

Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 2. / Figure 3.

As seen above, men in these two instances seem to be depicted as shallow and highly sexually driven creatures. Whether it’s the emphasis on undressing a woman or engaging in multiple relationships, both likely for the sake of sexual endeavors, it is rather unfair to say that this is just “who we are”. Elizabeth Plank, a Policy Mic writer, describes a Snickers commercial that aired in Australia and again had this same theme. Construction workers are shown shouting empowering statements to women as a parody of what they would actually say were they not hungry. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the controversial video has been made private, but her criticism of it is telling, “On the other, the men are portrayed as presumably idiotic, disgusting and flat-out predatorial in their natural state” (Plank). David Gianatasio from AdWeek also lashed out at the ad, commenting, “By saying blue-collar guys ‘aren’t themselves’ when they’re being polite, it pretty clearly implies they’re otherwise a bunch of misogynistic boors” (Gianatasio).

Figure 4
Figure 4.

In an effort to combat this damaging stereotype of men rendered for the sake of selling a chocolate bar, my partner and I decided to redesign the first advertisement referenced in this post. Instead of using the existing face, we replaced it with an image of a more common and potentially more sophisticated looking man. The statement above his head has also been reversed, now implying that “rude cat calls” are not the default greetings for women, but rather the exact opposite. The new ad does not play on a degrading male stereotype and works to respect those that strive to treat women with respect.

In many ways, the problems found in this ad campaign done by Snickers are representative of a larger systemic trend plaguing chocolate advertising that crosses both gender and class boundaries. Emma Robertson describes the overall phenomena in her work Chocolate, Women and Empire, saying “Adverts offer ways of using commodities such as chocolate to say things about ourselves, our families, our social world. They also position us in relation to that product as gendered, classed, and raced beings” (Robertson 19). In the advertising for this particular product, we not only see a male stereotype at play, but other underlying themes as well. Milk chocolate, the type used in Snickers Bars, is commonly cited as favored among the working classes, as compared to dark chocolate being favored by higher classes (Robertson 29). The chocolate bar form is also often associated with consumers who are busy and on-the-go, implying a working and non-domestic lifestyle catered towards men (Robertson 24). Jane Dusselier points out in Candy, and the Construction of Gender,that “while women’s candy was seen as a dainty, sensual treat, men’s candy was marketing as having more of a purpose to its consumption” (Inness). For Snickers, the purpose of chocolate seems to be unleashing natural crude male qualities against women. Indeed, these problems are just two sides of the same sexist coin. Women on one end, men on the other. It will be nice to see the day when a bridge can begin to cross this chasm.



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Figure 4) User created content



Dusselier, Jane. Bonbons, Lemon Drops, and Oh Henry! Bars: Candy, Consumer Culture, and the Construction of Gender, 1895 – 1920 (13-50), in Sherrie A. Inness (ed.) Kitchen Culture in America (2001) Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Gianatasio, David. “Construction Workers Yell Messages of Empowerment to Women in Snickers Stunt.” AdWeek. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.

Plank, Elizabeth. “This Offensive Snickers Ad Accidentally Shows Exactly How Sexism Hurts Men.” Mic. N.p., 27 Mar. 2014. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.

Robertson, E. (2009): Chocolate, women, and empire.  Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

The Paradoxical Selflessness of China’s Chocolate Market

The experience of eating and purchasing chocolate in our western society can often be defined by our individual love for its taste and its self-indulgent nature. It would make sense that in trying to extend this experience to the Chinese marketplace, the “Big Five” producers (Ferrero, Cadbury, Hershey, Nestle, and Mars) should try to replicate many of these same factors. Interestingly, China’s adoption of chocolate as something not primarily for oneself was rather backwards when compared with our traditional western practices, so much so that some may even consider it paradoxical. Yet it is this paradox that reveals that power of a specific culture to shape the experience of chocolate into one that is suitable for its audience.

In the taste arena, chocolate was very foreign to the Chinese palate. As described by Lawrence Allen in his work China and Chocolate: East Meets West, China had gone through a period of austerity from the 1950’s to the 1970’s. During this time, “people became accustomed to a limited range foods that were predominantly indigenous…variety was not only limited, it was also highly seasonal” (Allen 27). As such, existing populations found “the taste, texture, and particularly the sweetness of chocolate too foreign and extreme” (27). Frank McCafferty, a senior manager for chocolate product development in Asia, describes the dichotomy between westerners’ and China’s tastes well: “In the U.S. it has to be sweet, sweet, sweet, more sugar is better — not in China” (Doland). Thus, rather than embracing the rational attraction of its sweet taste, the Big Five had to take a much different strategy and promote chocolate as a “foreign and exotic curiosity” (Allen 23). The means to do this would be through the Chinese culture of gift giving.

Trends revealed that Chinese consumers were not largely buying chocolate for themselves. Not only does this support the idea that the fundamental chocolate taste was not playing a major factor in consumption, but also that chocolate for self-consumption was a rather underdeveloped market, again defying much of our traditional views on the self-indulgent nature of chocolate. For other established chocolate markets, the gift-giving purpose of chocolate only accounted for less than 10 percent of total sales (Allen 27). This was not the case in China. With over half of chocolate sales attributed to gifting, Allen puts it well when he writes, “Chocolate gift sales do not require the purchaser to have a taste for chocolate – only that he or she be willing to pay the price” (26). In this way, it almost appears that the inherent food qualities of chocolate were secondary to its role as a good gift, a symbol of “prosperity and fashionable good taste” (Allen 26). As seen in this media post by Shanghai Jungle, the author writes about how much of the success seen by Ferrero in China can be linked to its good gifting qualities, such as a the company’s premium gold packaging as seen in the image below from a Hong Kong shop.

Chocolate: A Gift That Conveys Love

Come 2008, despite economic challenges in China, Ferrero was doing well with the sales of their gift boxes outperforming the overall growth of the chocolate market. However, the development of their self-consumption products remains “elusive” (Allen 204).

It’s helpful to keep in mind that China’s chocolate market is still very young. Chocolate has only been around for a little over 20 years, as pointed out by the reporter in the following news video.

Yet so much of the market has been shaped by chocolate’s introductory role as a high end gift. The Godiva store shown in the video is just one example of the Chinese desire for chocolate as a luxury item for social interaction, rather than an everyday candy for personal enjoyment. Possible reasons for this are the geographic, demographic, and logistical barriers of reaching the masses in China. While high-end “first tier” cities have been tapped into, “consumers who lived beyond third-tier city standards were physically, culturally, and financially inaccessible for chocolate” (Allen 35). Indeed, this is just a start. Starting with China’s major cities, it will be fascinating to see how demand for chocolate will evolve over these next few decades and spread out to the masses. In many ways, the development of a selfless gift giving chocolate market not revolving around its good taste and personal satisfaction is highly paradoxical. But it does show a side of China’s gift-giving culture that chocolate has helped to illuminate.

Multimedia Sources:





Allen, Lawrence L. Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers. New York: American Management Association, 2010. Print.

Doland, Angela. “Who’s Winning China’s Chocolate War?” Advertising Age. N.p., 8 Dec. 2014. Web. 13 Mar. 2015.

Keeping it Real

When Columbus and the Spaniards encountered cacao in the New World, it was not at first favorable to their tastes. Mistaking cacao for almonds, the conquistadors initially realized the value that this plant held for the Mesoamericans and appreciated cacao as a form of currency. However, when it came to tasting the food itself, they were “at first baffled and often repelled by the stuff in the form of drink” (Coe and Coe, 1996). As published by the Milanese historian and voyager Girolamo Benzoni, one of the first Europeans to describe cacao: “It [chocolate] seemed more a drink for pigs, than a drink for humanity. I was in this country for more than a year, and never wanted to taste it” (Coe and Coe, 1996).

Figure 1. Columbus receiving the chocolate drink

As seen in the depiction to the left, the exchange does not seem most friendly with Spanish swords at the ready. How then, did this initial aversion towards the taste of cacao, a “drink for pigs”, eventually transform into a booming demand for cacao in Europe?  While some may think that it was only the Europeans actively changing the native food into something of their own desires, this gradual assimilation of chocolate was in fact accomplished by the Mesoamericans playing a heavy role in being the ones to educate and help Europeans along in their adoption of cacao.

As described in The True History of Chocolate, the “invaders would have little to do with the foodstuffs which they found in ‘New Spain’, unless there was no alternative (Coe and Coe, 1996).  Indeed, they began bringing over beef cattle, milk cows, wheat, chickpeas, and other Old World fruit trees such as peaches and oranges to satisfy their existing taste preferences. The Mesoamericans, while accepting some of these new imports into their culture, still did their job of spreading their culture to the Europeans. In Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics, Marcy Norton states how, “Spaniards learned to like chocolate because of their continued dependence on Indians” (Norton, 2006). The keyword that Norton uses here is “dependence”. She points out that “despite their social position at the apex of the social hierarchy, colonists in sixteenth-century Mexico were enveloped within an Indian cultural milieu and were susceptible to native acculturation (Norton, 2006).  Thus, although seemingly in a position of power, the conquistadors were still subject to the powerful cultural force of the Mesoamericans, making them into “unwitting students of native teachers”. Within villages, women played a major role in “acculturating Spanish men to Indian dietary and domestic practices” (Norton, 2006). They were often the ones preparing the cacao and consequently helped their husbands become accustomed to its consumption. The Mesoamerican marketplace was another institution in which the natives were able to effectively pass on their culture of cacao to the Europeans. Looking at lists of goods sold at these marketplaces located in Mexico City, Tlaxcala, and Coyocan, one can find cacao, chocolate, and the gourd containers.

Figure 2. Marketplace at Tlaxcala

By browsing these busy marketplaces, as seen to the left, and communicating with native vendors, the Europeans in the New World came to appreciate and become more knowledgeable of this Mesoamerican product.

By the early 17th century, travel between colonial ‘New Spain’ and the mainland had increased and cacao was beginning to diffuse into Europe. This chocolate, however, was not altogether converted into a European version, devoid of its Mesoamerican roots. Rather, Norton brings out a wealth of evidence to show that the opposite was actually true. In various European legal documents describing chocolate, much of the original Mesoamerican spices were deemed essential to the makeup of chocolate itself.  Other European legislation sheds light on Spanish appreciation for the traditional chocolate flavoring agents such as vanilla (Figure 3) and mecaxochitl.



Figure 3. Vanilla, a traditional Mesoamerican spice for chocolate

Indeed, Norton says it well: “Spaniards assimilated the cacao complexity in its entirety, and tried to maintain the sensory sensations that went with the traditional chocolate even across the ocean divide” (Norton, 2006). Contrary to some beliefs, the evidence shows that Europe did not completely reinvent cacao, at least not at first. Rather, the Mesoamericans played an influential role in making sure that the traditional beauty of their food was lost. While the last several centuries may show otherwise, it is comforting to walk into a chocolate shop and see those chocolates that strive to remain true to its original recipe.


Multimedia Sources


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Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Norton, Marcy. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review 111.3 (2006): 660-91. Web.