Tag Archives: technology

Taza Chocolate and TCHO: A case study on the evolving applications of direct trade

When someone says “direct trade”, we’re inclined to think “ethical practices” and, in the context of our class, “Taza Chocolate”. Generally, direct trade in the chocolate industry is a form of sourcing where companies work directly with the farmers who provide their cacao, often paying above market price (Martin, Lecture 10). However, it is important to note that direct trade can serve purposes beyond fostering communication within the supply chain or paying farmers higher wages. By contrasting Taza Chocolate with TCHO, pronounced “choh”, I hope to demonstrate direct trade’s evolving applications. Instead of emphasizing direct trade as a platform to promote ethical practices, as Taza does, TCHO focuses on the role of technology to empower their farmers to improve their product’s taste. Although TCHO and Taza are both companies striving to change the way chocolate is made, they utilize direct trade in vastly different ways, signaling that there is not yet an industry-wide interpretation of what direct trade means.

As background, Taza Chocolate was founded in 2005 by Alex Whitmore and Kathleen Fulton after a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico (About Taza, 2015). Whitmore loved the traditional stone ground chocolate he had tried on the trip and decided to start Taza with his wife, Fulton, as a way to bring this style of chocolate to the United States (About Taza, 2015). Today, their chocolate is known for its minimal processing, use of traditional Mexican stone mills, and gritty, unrefined texture (About Taza, 2015). Below is a video produced by Taza detailing their unique chocolate process.

Whitmore and Fulton opened the Taza factory, seen in the video above, in Somerville, MA in 2006 and continue to operate from this location today (About Taza, 2015). Their products can be found across the United States, most notably in Whole Foods. Overall, the company has three main aims: 1) produce a unique tasting stone ground chocolate, 2) promote ethical cacao sourcing through direct trade, and 3) create a certification for direct trade that can be used throughout the chocolate industry.

In contrast, TCHO is much less about a founding story and much more about their business model. In fact, they are so much less about how they were founded, that you have to look at the third to last question on the bottom of their FAQ page to figure out who founded TCHO. Here, you will find that they were founded by Timothy Childs, a NASA space shuttle contractor, and Karl Bittong, a 40-year chocolate industry veteran, in 2005 (FAQ, 2017). They are based in the San Francisco Bay Area and are self-described as a “Silicon Valley start-up meets San Francisco food culture” (Our Vision, 2017). Below is a video produced by TCHO that gives a brief overview of their company.

TCHO produces high-end chocolate centered on the flavor of the cacao it comes from. Rather than focusing on the percentages of cocoa in each bar, TCHO creates dark chocolates based on cacao flavor profiles (Our Vision, 2017). TCHO believes that its chocolate is bringing to life terroir, or the characteristics imparted on cacao by where it is grown, similar to how terroir is used with fine wines (Nesto, 135). For example, its “Fruity” chocolate is single source from Peru, its “Citrus” bar from Madagascar, its “Chocolatey” bar from Ghana, and its “Nutty” bar from Ecuador (FAQ, 2017). TCHO wants to educate its consumers on how to taste chocolate with emphasis on how cacao can impart such differing flavors. TCHO even put together an interactive taste wheel for its consumers to understand TCHO’s thought process when making each bar.

In comparison to Taza, TCHO’s process, while important, is not their proudest achievement; rather, it is the high-quality beans they source from across the world. Like Taza, their products can be found throughout the United Sates, most notably in Whole Foods, Wegmans, and on private label at Starbucks (FAQ, 2017). Overall, TCHO has three aims: 1) create products that cultivate the terroir of cacao beans, 2) use direct trade to help farmers improve their product, and 3) employ technology every step of the way.

The clear commonality between Taza and TCHO is that they both utilize direct trade to source their cacao beans. However, how they advertise and promote their direct trade methods are significantly different. For example, Taza’s emphasis is on constructing a uniformly accepted definition of direct trade for the chocolate industry. In fact, they created the first direct trade certification program for the industry, Taza Direct Trade, that they certify all their products with (Taza Direct Trade, 2015).

The Taza Direct Trade program calls for 5 commitments including, 1) develop direct relationships with cacao farmers, 2) pay a price premium to cacao producers, 3) source the highest quality cacao beans, 4) require USDA certified organic cacao, and 5) publish an annual transparency report (Taza Direct Trade, 2015). More details on these commitments can be found here. Overall, these commitments hit all the key tenets of direct trade; however, they are vague, incomplete, and, in effect, don’t do enough to prove ethical practices. This isn’t to say that Taza doesn’t have an ethical sourcing program, only that Taza Direct Trade is not a foolproof certification program.

For example, how does one define “develop direct relationships with cacao farmers”? For Taza Direct Trade, this means that company staff must visit their farmers at least once per year and provide flight receipts of these trips (Taza Direct Trade, 2015). But, does this really mean that a company has good relationships with their farmers? Providing flight receipts isn’t a personal or appropriate indicator of productive relationships like, for example, feedback or comments from the farmers themselves would be. Taza, as a certified Taza Direct Trade company, makes up for this by detailing their trips and relationships with their farmers in their transparency reports, but it is unclear if other companies certified under Taza Direct Trade would go through the same effort.

Similarly, what does “source the highest quality cacao beans” mean? As Taza Direct Trade explains, their requirement is that the beans have an 85% fermentation rate or more and are dried to 7% moisture or less (Taza Direct Trade, 2015). While these are important factors, they aren’t sufficient measures for high-quality cacao as they miss other crucial aspects such as growing conditions, pH levels during fermentation, or sorting efficiency (Martin, Lecture 4). Again, this isn’t to say that Taza’s cacao isn’t high-quality, only that Taza Direct Trade does not have a stringent enough standard.

However, Taza Direct Trade does make a significant contribution to defining direct trade with its transparency report requirement. Direct trade is all about companies being personally involved in every step of the supply chain. Because of this, physical requirements, like providing flight receipts, to detail personal relationships are not adequate. As alluded to before, the transparency report allows companies more creativity and flexibility in showing consumers these relationships. Taza’s transparency report from 2016 does an excellent job of illustrating this point. By using personal details and compelling stories, this report clearly demonstrates that Taza has direct relationships with each of their farmers.

While I am convinced Taza is a direct trade company, I am not convinced Taza Direct Trade is the right certification for direct trade. In fact, a traditional certification may not be appropriate for direct trade right now at all. Because of direct trade’s emphasis on company built supply chains, it appears that company communication, like Taza’s transparency report, is really the most effective means to prove direct trade. In contrast to Fair Trade, where companies aren’t involved in every part of the supply chain, certification can be useful because it signals to companies that a certain level of quality is ensured with their cacao providers (Martin, Lecture 10). Because direct trade companies are active with all their suppliers, they are personally ensuring quality. In this sense, direct trade companies should focus on demonstrating their relationships with their farmers to their consumers, like with Taza’s transparency report, rather than seeking a uniform certification. A vague list of commitments can be applied to direct trade companies, but it doesn’t follow the essence of direct trade.

TCHO just does this with its commitment to direct trade, “individuals and companies have the power and responsibility to act directly to make a better world, not just buy a logo” (TCHOSource, 2017). TCHO makes it clear that they participate in direct trade not only because it is ethical, as Taza does, but because it is a mutually beneficial system for them (TCHOSource, 2017). Unlike Taza, TCHO details not only their relationships with each farmer, but the ways in which they help each farmer to produce a higher quality product. Whereas Taza pays a premium price to farmers because it is part of their ethical commitment with Taza Direct Trade, TCHO pays farmers more because they produce a certifiably higher-quality product that garners the price premium.

Key to TCHO’s mutually beneficial relationship with their farmers is their use of Flavor Labs. Because TCHO’s chocolate is produced to capture the natural flavor of cacao, TCHO buys cacao with the best natural flavor. But, to do this, they need farmers to understand what these natural cacao flavors are. However, cacao farmers have often never tasted chocolate (Off, 7). To train their farmers, TCHO installs Flavor Labs, 10 across the world so far, where farmers can make small batches of chocolate from their own cacao to learn the flavor profile of their beans (TCHOSource 2017). By understanding how to taste chocolate and cacao, farmers learn the lexicon essential to talk about the quality of their product (Stuckey, 140). Because farmers have the knowledge to understand the goals for their cacao, like “fruity” or “nutty”, they can actively work to create a higher-quality product themselves. TCHO’s chief chocolate maker, Brad Kintzer, gives a brief overview of how these Flavor Labs create a mutually beneficial direct trade system for TCHO.

Besides giving their farmers access to Flavor Labs, TCHO gives their famers strategies to improve their cacao. For example, fermentation and drying are crucial stages in cacao processing where most of the flavor profile is determined (Presilla, 108). While most farmers don’t have access to extensive tools and practices to improve or monitor their fermentation practices, TCHO gives their farmers tools to measure variables such as pH, temperature, and Brix (TCHOSource, 2017). Interestingly, these are some of the exact measurements for high-quality cacao that were missing from Taza Direct Trade’s commitments. TCHO continues to follow their farmers through cacao processing and helps them set up solar drying stations to reduce the moisture in the beans and to continue developing flavor (TCHOSource, 2017). Finally, TCHO gives their farmers a cloud-based software, Cropster, that allows them to upload their data concerning fermentation, drying, and flavor so that they can track their cacao and so TCHO can communicate with their farmers and give them adjustments as conditions change (TCHOSource, 2017).

Cropster confronts Taza Direct Trade’s requirement that company staff visit farmers yearly to ensure direct relationships. Is it necessary for TCHO staff to visit their farmers yearly if they are communicating through Cropster almost daily? Similarly, if the farmers have been trained in the Flavor Labs and have the tools to improve their cacao themselves, what is TCHO’s role when they visit? TCHO’s business model takes away the need to visit their farmers yearly, pushing back against Taza Direct Trade’s limited and rigid definition of direct trade. TCHO’s technology-based model also allows them to have far more direct trade relationships, an argued weakness of direct trade in general (Martin, Lecture 10). Not only does TCHO have more direct trade relationships than Taza, but they also span more of the cacao producing region worldwide. While Taza is confined to South America, TCHO has farmers across South America, Ghana, and Madagascar (TCHOSource, 2017). TCHO’s model makes their farmers more independent, sustainable, and profitable, a key goal of direct trade and ethical sourcing, but also gives TCHO access to the highest quality beans.

Overall, Taza and TCHO both accomplish the key tenets of direct trade. They have personal relationships with their farmers, pay price premiums, and source high-quality cacao. However, while they are both direct trade companies, they utilize direct trade very differently. While Taza focuses on creating an industry-wide certification program, Taza Direct Trade, TCHO is more company oriented, focusing on the technological advancements they can provide their farmers with. While neither company’s use of direct trade is unambiguously better, TCHO’s direct trade method conflicts with the Taza Direct Trade certification in a way that suggests the interpretation of direct trade is still evolving. Because of this uncertainty, it seems that for today’s direct trade companies, it is less important to create a unified certification program, as Taza is doing, and more important to further explore the beneficial aspects of direct trade. In fact, this may be the reason that no other direct trade company has become Taza Direct Trade certified or created a certification program of their own (About Us, 2015). Altogether, TCHO demonstrates that direct trade is a practice that can provide higher quality beans and increased profitability, signaling that the applications of direct trade expand beyond just an ethical practice.


Works Cited:

“2016 Transparency Report.” Taza Chocolate, 2015, https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/2016-transparency-report. Accessed 4 May, 2017.

“About Taza.” Taza Chocolate, 2015, https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/about-taza. Accessed 4 May, 2017.

“FAQ.” TCHO, 2017, http://www.tcho.com/faq/. Accessed 4 May, 2017.

“Flavor Focus.” TCHO, 2017, http://www.tcho.com/tchois/flavor-focus/. Accessed 4 May, 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Lecture 4: Sugar and Cacao.” Aframer 199x. CGIS, Cambridge, MA. 25 Feb., 2017. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “Lecture 10: Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization.” Aframer 199x. CGIS, Cambridge, MA. 5 Apr., 2017. Lecture.

Nesto, Bill. “Discovering Terroir in the World of Chocolate.” Gastronomica Vol. 10, No. 1 (Winter 2010), pp. 131-135. Online.

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. The New Press, 2006.

“Our Direct Trade Program Commitments.” Taza Chocolate, 2015, https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0974/7668/files/Taza_DT_Commitments_Aug2015.pdf?2533070453853065353. Accessed 4 May, 2017.

“Our Vision.” TCHO, 2017, http://www.tcho.com/tchois/our-vision/. Accessed 4 May, 2017.

Presilla, Maricel. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Ten Speed Press, 2009.

Stuckey, Barb. Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good. Free Press, 2012.

“Taza Direct Trade.” Taza Chocolate, 2015, https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/taza-direct-trade. Accessed 4 May, 2017

“TCHOSource.” TCHO, 2017, http://www.tcho.com/tchosource/. Accessed 4 May, 2017.



“Taza Chocolate ‘Bean to Bar’.” Taza Chocolate, 2012, https://vimeo.com/33380451.

“TCHO.” TCHO, 2013, https://vimeo.com/50330693.

“TCHO Chocolate Factory Tour: How Farmers Help Boost Flavor.” San Francisco Business Times, 2017, http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/video/50cTl3dDq8a0Iv_aMWVc9xGlDjkP27XC.






Churning into the “Chocolate Age:” How Industrial Age Technologies Created a New Chocolate Era

You may be surprised to find out that the chocolate that we know today is a relatively new, tasty discovery- one that came about from the Industrial Age.

When the Industrial Revolution took place, the world revolutionized with it, and industries of all kinds were forever altered. The chocolate industry, still in the Mayan age, sprouted into a new field and its effects can still be traced today. The technology in the Industrial Revolution provided the tools to advance the field of chocolate, which allowed for mass consumption and commercialization, giving way to the “Chocolate Age.”

Chocolate’s “God-Like” Beginnings

Cacao was considered the “food of the gods,” and was treated as such: before the Industrial Age, chocolate was made the traditional way that the Mayans made it with a long, drawn-out process of cracking shells and traditional grinding to create a bitter chocolate drink (unlike the chocolate of today) (Szogyi, 1997).


Modern Mayan woman demonstrating how her ancestors

would grind cacao (Smithsonian)

This treat was considered to be a drink that was both a commodity and spiritual experience; although it was available to the masses, the wealthy certainly had more access to the treat because they could afford it. Cacao was taken as such a serious product that the Mayans used its seeds as currency; further, it was used to promote fertility and life, and cacao pods are found all over elite and ancient artifacts, temples, and palaces. Clearly, these uses and techniques demonstrate how luxurious chocolate was to them; these processes stayed this way even during the era of the Aztec empire and many centuries later (Horn, 2016 & Szogyi).

The Industrial Difference

This process of chocolate was so revered that it essentially did not change until the Industrial Age with a ground-breaking invention for grinding that used the newly-innovated steam and hydraulic process; in 1778, Doret, a Frenchman, invented a hydraulic machine that grinds cocoa beans into a paste (Beckett, Horn). Before then, the process of grinding was long and tedious and this machine allowed the process to become easier to create for the masses. Soon after, more inventions came along for grinding that further made consumption more popular. For instance, Dubuisson invented a steam chocolate grinder in France because it was even cheaper to replicate than Doret’s product, which allowed for an even higher level of mass consumption of chocolate. The Industrial Age created the environment to allow for this change – without steam and hydraulics, and the friendly and booming business atmosphere for support, Doret and Dubuisson would certainly not have been able to create these inventions. Where would be chocolate be today? One could reasonably predict that we could have eventually have had these technologies, but it is safe to assume that it would have taken the chocolate industry much longer to reach its glory.

The steam engine and hydraulic system are considered staples of this Industrial Age with new technologies across the boards for trains, factories, and buildings, but we can also appreciate how these technologies allowed for the advancement of chocolate technology. The value of chocolate significantly decreased because it was accessible to everyone; from here on, it was no longer an “elite” product or just a “food of the gods,” but, rather, a food for everyone. Thus, the Industrial Age that changed the world on so many fronts quickly churned into the “Chocolate Age” as well.

The idea of the mass consumption of chocolate from the Industrial Age can be traced along the later part of the history of chocolate. Quickly after the revelation with the cocoa beans came a new way to make chocolate an even more accessible product with commercialization – via “dutching” (Squiciarinni & Swinnen, 2016). In 1828, Van Houten, a Dutch chemist, invented a method to press cocoa by separating the cocoa butter by pressing it with alkali, making the matter soften up enough to produce cocoa powder, which was light and fluffy; unlike the current chocolate of that time, dutching made chocolate highly digestible, which would attract new consumers and open up a whole new market for chocolate – just like these technologies helped do so in other industries such as the construction field (i.e. making materials more affordable and attractive for building).

Van Houten’s cocoa press (World Standards)



Additionally, cocoa powder was the secret ingredient needed for the chocolate industry and companies to seamlessly make solid chocolate bars and coat them as well as bring in new flavors such as white chocolate. From there, a second wave of the Chocolate Age had been set and was about to take place.


A Second Wave of the Age – Mass Commercialization and the Chocolate Bar

With the mass consumption of chocolate from these new Industrial technologies came mass commercialization. Quite simply, we can see that chocolate companies would not be what they are today without this commercial influence; specifically, the dutching process sparked a spread of commercialization across Europe, which allowed for the worldwide chocolate industry we have come to know and love. For example, Cadbury, one of the largest chocolate companies today, and Joseph Fry (founder of what is known as Mondolez International today) bought the dutching press; these two companies are credited to be the first companies to create and sell the chocolate bar. They also made the chocolate bar a highly accessible treat with aggressive advertising; this marketing scheme raked in millions of dollars for these companies (Beckett, Horn). It was the catalyst behind the beginning of giant factories built to keep up with this demand.

Thus, the chocolate bar became (and still is) a symbol for a quick, delicious treat for everyone and anyone.


Fry’s chocolate bar packaging (Foods of England)

Moreover, the dutching system then inspired the chocolate exportation business that brought chocolate on to an international stage – a few decades after the start of the chocolate bar, the Van Houten presses became powered by steam engines, and, just like with the Dubuisson’s steam engine, came with another Chocolate Revolution. The mass consumption and commercialization of chocolate began in European countries such as Germany and France, which eventually led its way to the United States (Beckett, Szogyi). These countries then started their own chocolate giants such as Hershey’s and Nestlé, which embody the same mass consumption and commercialization ideals that have advanced the history of chocolate along and allowed it to further churn.

Without the Industrial age, chocolate would just not be the same. It is literally unrecognizable from its Olmec and Mayan roots. From the Industrial Age, the Chocolate Age churned on and on – all starting with the advancements in steam and hydraulics.



Beckett, S.T, et al. Industrial Chocolate – Manufacture and Use. Wiley Publishers: Hoboken.

Horn, Jeff. The Industrial Revolution: History, Documents, and Key Questions. (2016). ABC-CLIO: Santa Barbara.

Squicciarini, Mara P & Swinnen, Johan. (2016). The Economics of Chocolate. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Smithsonian. Retrieved from http://newsdesk.si.edu/releases/power-chocolate-reveals-true-roots-celebrated-food

Szogyi, Alex. (1997). Chocolate: Food of the Gods. Greenwood Publishing Group: Westport.

The Foods of England. Retrieved from http://www.foodsofengland.co.uk/chocolate.htm

World Standards. Retrieved from http://www.worldstandards.eu/chocolate%20-%20history.html




Dear Silicon Valley: Chocolate Entrepreneurs Wanted

When most people think of the word “entrepreneur”, they usually think of a person who works in the startup/ technology space, but entrepreneurs are best characterized by their willingness to disrupt established industries with innovations. Most theoretical economic reasoning would assume that the market for chocolate is an established and outdated market that cannot be disrupted by new ventures, but by examining the history of modern chocolate two things become clear: 1) the industrial revolution lead to a oligopoly in the Chocolate Market and 2) lucrative opportunities are currently present that would help bring chocolate back to its original roots.

Chocolate, in one of the oldest candy products known to the human race, with its origins dating beyond 1,000 BC (Coe 35), but the rise of modern chocolate has created a product that greatly differs from how our ancestors of the human race viewed Cacao. Along with the obvious differences between a processed candy and an organic food, one thing that most people do not realize is that “during nine tenths of its long history, chocolate was drunk, not eaten” (Coe 12). Even once European explorers “discovered” chocolate, it was still enjoyed as a drink throughout Europe. “The sixteenth-century Spanish conquest of Central America diffused chocolate around the world, as a hot, sweet, and mildly addictive stimulating beverage” (Clarence-Smith 6.1). Unlike most beverages, the chocolate beverage is unique insofar that “no product has ever been discovered to match the subtle taste of cocoa powder” (Clarence-Smith 6.3). Originally, the costly measures of producing the chocolate beverage were so high that it was not a drink that was enjoyed by the masses, but rather it was a drink enjoyed by the social elites. In Europe, the consumption of chocolate would take place publicly and privately by the wealthy, but in North America, the drink was less prevalent in the public. Even though chocolate was not available outside the home “despite the rarity of places of public consumption in British North America, drinking chocolate was available and was consumed by the well-to-do” (Clarence-Smith 6.9). This long history of chocolate as beverage and its scarce availability quickly changed with one man: Milton Hershey.

Milton Hershey was the first person to successfully produce candy by using technology from the industrial revolution. “The industrial revolution… changed chocolate from a costly drink to a cheap food” (Coe 232). Hershey’s success had two major implications. First, his mass production of chocolate candy allowed for chocolate to have a lower price. At this lower price, the average person was able to experience chocolate for the first time. Secondly, by being the first kind of mass produced chocolate, Hershey set a standard for the market of chocolate.

The major issue with Hershey’s industrialization of chocolate is that it created a new form of chocolate that dramatically shifted Cacao away from its original roots. The graph below depicts the complicated process in the making of chocolate.


This complicated graph shows how far chocolate went from its origins. Chocolate was produced in this multi-step process because the industrial revolution technology could not produce a more simple method, but with our current technology, it could be possible to more easily mass produce a chocolate beverage that is closer to Cacao.


The tale of oligopoly is best seen from the makings of Mars company. Forrest Mars met his father, Frank Mars, in the summer of 1924 while selling cigarettes in Chicago. At the time, Frank was making $60,000 per year, which is the equivalent to $837,336 in today’s dollars (Brenner 54). Frank used his large income to start mass producing chocolate candy, which his son helped market across the country. If Frank did not have such a large income, it would have been impossible for him to invest in creating a chocolate candy bar. Since such large amounts of money were needed to buy the technology used in the industrial revolution, only a small number of firms were able to seize the opportunity to mass produce chocolate. The dramatic amounts of money made it nearly impossible for anybody else to enter this market. “The Hershey Food Corporation…. and… its arch-rival the M&M Mars Company, controls about 70 percent of the American candy market” (Coe 253). The result of the oligopoly in the Chocolate Market, produced as a consequence of the industrial revolution, is that a few firms enjoy control of the market and have produced chocolate candy instead of chocolate beverages.  The graph below depicts the global market for candy, and it is clear that a small number of firms, dubbed “the big 5”, control a majority of market share. Since technology has advanced and Venture Capital is now available to entrepreneurs, a new company that brought back the chocolate beverage could be commercially successful by penetrating the oligopoly and this could be achieved at a relatively low cost.



Entrepreneurs should now enter the market for chocolate with a new manufacturing process that is now possible since there have been increases in technological knowledge. By disrupting the chocolate market, entrepreneurs could be successful in producing an organic chocolate beverage that is closer to Cacao, altering the real cost of chocolate so that farmers receive a larger portion of sales, and challenge the oligopoly in the market for chocolate.




Works Cited

Brenner, Joel Glenn. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World on Hershey & Mars. New York: Broadway, 2000. Print.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.

Swinnen, Johan F.M., Mara P. Squicciarini, and William G. Clarence–Smith. The Economics of Chocolate. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. Print.


The Real Cost of a Chocolate Bar and Pie Graph comes from a slide show in the African Americans Studies Class 119x at Harvard College.


The Chocolate for the Masses image comes from the Coe book.



The Long Intercontinental and Multiethnic Career of the Mesoamerican Metate


Figure 1: A Traditional Mesoamerican Metate and Mano

          In order to create their sacred chocolate drink, pre-Columbian Mesoamerican women kneeled on the ground to pulverize roasted beans with a mano on a curved grinding stone called a metate, which together act as a horizontal version of a mortar and pestle (Mcanany and Murata 12).  During this “gendered labor”, women added damp corn masa as well as other spices, “such as chile pepper, vanilla, and annatto”, to the cacao (Mcanany and Murata 12).  Originating as early as 7000 BCE, these grinding stones are some of the oldest domestic tools in the Americas (“Metate”).  This simple invention spread hand-in-hand with the popularization of cacao in Europe.  Due to its involvement in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican chocolate production and its persistence as a pillar of Latin American food traditions, its pervasive adoption by Europeans, and its influence on the modern, niche chocolate industry, the metate proves to be one of the most important artifacts in the history of chocolate.

Enjoying “an amazing intercontinental and multiethnic career”, metates rank among the few elements of the chocolate-making process that Europeans did not alter (Presilla 26).  In order to appeal to a European audience and “cross the ethnocentric taste barrier” between Mesoamericans and Europeans, chocolate had to undergo a hybridization process (Coe and Coe 114).  This hybridization changed or modified nearly everything about the chocolate-making and chocolate-consuming processes.  Instead of following Aztec customs of drinking chocolate at cold or at room temperature, Europeans “insisted on taking chocolate hot” (Coe and Coe 115).  In regard to the recipe, Europeans regularly sweetened the drink with cane sugar, and invaders introduced “Old World spices”, such as cinnamon, anise seed, and black pepper, in place of native Mesoamerican flavorings (Coe and Coe 115).  Europeans even replaced the method of obtaining the greatly desired froth of the drink.  While native Mesoamerican women customarily poured the liquid from one vessel to another from a height to achieve frothiness in the drink, Europeans used “a large, wooden swizzle-stick called a molinillo”(Coe and Coe 115).  Despite all these changes during the European adoption of chocolate, the metate was embraced by Europeans in the same capacity as it was used by Mesoamericans.

The age of mechanization of chocolate manufacturing in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries made the metate obsolete, yet the device continued to be used in Latin America as a symbol of tradition and in Europe by artisanal confectioners.  Beginning in the sixteenth century the Mesoamerican invention of the metate and the technique perfected by the Aztecs and Maya of grinding up roasted cacao beans on it “travelled everywhere that cacao was turned into chocolate” (Presilla 180).  The metate instantly became a popular device in Europe; “The metate became as much at home in Spain, France (where it was called “the Spanish stone”), and the Philippines as in Mexico” (Presilla 26).  Figure 2 shows a carving from de Blegny’s 1687 treatise, depicting a European man using a metate to grind heated cacao beans.  This depiction is notable because European men took up the craft of chocolate-making in European, which was viewed as a woman’s task in Mesoamerica.

Screen Shot 2017-03-09 at 4.35.59 PM.pngFigure 2: European gentleman grinding cacao beans from de Blegny’s 1687 treatise

The industrial revolution marks a shift away from using the metate in favor of machine processes in the late 1700s, such as M. Doret’s hydraulic machine to grind chocolate and form a paste.  However, this transition to machine-based chocolate production took time, and cacao beans continued to be ground by hand (Coe and Coe 227).  The “ancient ways of making chocolate” persisted in “isolated pockets within Southern Europe” (Coe and Coe 233).  Confectioners in southern France in the 1870s continued to use metates as did the Romanengo chocolate establishment in Italy, which “still had stones to grind the cacao” as late as 1989 (Coe and Coe 233).  In fact, the industrialization of the chocolate industry made many consumers distrust the quality of the chocolate they purchased, which bolstered the artisanal chocolate industry and its use of metates as the artisanal chocolate was perceived as purer.  For example, Catalan chocolate makers in Spain encouraged observers to witness the chocolate being made with the metate to demonstrate to the buyer “that the chocolate he is buying is true-stone ground chocolate, made according to a procedure which…makes it more difficult to add adulterants” (Coe and Coe 233).

Figure 3:  Preparing Drinking Chocolate Near Oaxaca, Mexico

Today, many Latin Americans pay homage to their ancestors by using the traditional metate in making chocolate, and the niche chocolate industry often derives their techniques and tastes from this ancient style of chocolate production.  As shown in the video of Figure 3, a Mexican woman from Teotítlan Del Valle makes a traditional chocolate drink using a mano and a metate over a flame.  Alex Whitmore, CEO of Taza Chocolate, “brought a taste of Mexico to Somerville”, Massachusetts by making “authentic stone ground chocolate” (Hofherr) (Figure 4).  After apprenticing with Mexican molineros and “learning their ancient chocolate-making secrets”, Alex decided to use simple rotary stone mills derivative of the metate to create a chocolate with a “gritty, rustic texture” and be “one of a handful of companies in the country that are bean-to-bar chocolate makers” (Hofherr).  Taza and its rival companies symbolize a retreat to the roots of chocolate production and the traditional tools involved in the process.

taza_chocolate_mission_largeFigure 4: Taza Chocolate Mission

          Ultimately, the metate proves to be one of the most important instruments in the history of chocolate.  From its humble origins in the Maya and Aztec civilizations to its widespread adoption all over Europe, the metate enjoyed “an amazing intercontinental and multiethnic career”, transcending vastly different cultures and enduring the test of time (Presilla 26).  Due to the longevity and geographical range of its use and to the influence it has on contemporary niche confectioners, the metate helped shape the history of chocolate as we know it today.

Works Cited

A Mexican Metate, or Grinding Stone. Digital image. Mexicolore. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.            <http://mexicolore.co.uk/images-4/482_03_2.jpg&gt;.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and              Hudson, 2013. Print.

Hofherr, Justine. “CEO Desk: How Taza Chocolate’s founder brought a taste of Mexico to             Somerville.” Boston.com. The Boston Globe, 23 Feb. 2016. Web. 8 Mar. 2017,                               https://www.boston.com/jobs/jobs-news/2016/02/23/ceo-desk-how-taza-                               chocolates-founder-brought-a-taste-of-mexico-to-the-east-coast

Le bon usage du thé, du caffee et du chocolat. Digital image. Rachellaudan.com. Rachel Laudan,           18 July 2010. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.

Mcanany, Patricia A., and Satoru Murata. “America’s First Connoisseurs of Chocolate.”               Food and Foodways 15. 1-2 (2007): 7-30. Taylor & Francis Online. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.

“Metate.” Mexicolore, 8 Mar. 2017, http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/aztecs/artefacts/metate

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate Revised: A Cultural and Natural History of                        Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print.

Taza Chocolate Mission. Digital image. Taza Chocolate. Taza Chocolate, n.d. Web. 9 Mar.                   2017.

Wilmo55. “Preparing drinking chocolate near Oaxaca, Mexico.” Youtube. The Sunday                     Supper Project, 25 Apr. 2010. Web. 9 Mar. 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?               v=GlAg7zIR57k>.

Why did chocolate become unhealthy?

During the pre-Columbian era, Ancient Aztecs enjoyed a darker and thicker chocolate drink that had a much higher cacao content than the hot chocolate and chocolate bars we enjoy today. Ancient codices such as the Chilam Balam and The Ritual of the Bacams, as IMG_3048 (1)seen to the right, display the medicinal powers of cacao and their belief that chocolate could heal skin eruptions, fevers, and seizures (Martin 68). In contrast, the over-consumption of our milkier and fattier chocolate today is associated with thoughts of nutritional diseases such as diabetes and obesity. An increase in medical knowledge, genetic and environmental changes in cacao, increased technology, and changes in chocolate recipes are all potential causes to explain this nutritional change of chocolate.


Ignorance to Knowledge

The increased knowledge in nutrition that classifies chocolate as both healthy and unhealthy helps transition us from the Ancient Aztecs’ idea of healthy medicinal cacao to today’s unhealthier view of chocolate. The French physician Daniel Duncan published a treatise in 1703 suggesting that chocolate can be healthful if it is taken in moderation (S. D. Coe and M. D. Coe 204). So he agrees with the Ancient Aztecs’ views but moves towards contemporary views as he claims that too much chocolate will make the “blood too sharp, too “hot”, and too thin” (S. Coe and M. Coe 204). As we continue increasing our nutrition knowledge and move from this basic understanding of health as a balance of opposites we may be able to identify unhealthy eating habits that is beyond simply the quantity of chocolate you consume. For example, we may find that consumption of chocolate with different foods is unhealthier than others. Therefore, one consideration as to why chocolate is seen as unhealthy today is that chocolate has always been unhealthy in excessive quantities but it is simply our increased medical knowledge that helps us realise its unhealthiness.


Environment: decreasing use of Fine Cacao

An increase in knowledge may be a reasonable potential cause to some extent, but the ingredients that the Ancient Aztecs and the Baroque Europeans used were fundamentally different and healthier than what we use today. Fine cacao (Criollo and Trinitario cacao-tree varieties) has more flavour, more aroma, and a lower yield than bulk cacao (Forastero cacao-tree variety) (Amores, Butler, Ramos,  Sukha, Espin, Gomez, Zambrano, Hollywood,  Van Loo, and Seguine 5). Bulk cacao is used in 93-95% of today’s global production, which is much more common than fine cacao’s global production of 5-7% (Martin 40). Fine cacao and bulk cacao is not well classified nor fully understood today, but if the common logic that high quality foods are generally healthier than low quality foods, such as a lean steak from a free-range cow is healthier than meat from a factory-farmed cow, we can suggest that today’s chocolate is unhealthier because we use lower quality cacao beans. This lower-quality-cacao reason for unhealthier chocolate is driven by environmental reasons as bulk cacao beans are being used because fine cacao is endangered, not because its flavour is more popular.


Sweet Tooth: decreased cacao content and increased fat content

In addition to cacao beans, which is the primary ingredient in chocolate, historic chocolate differs to today’s chocolate because today’s chocolate recipes use additional ingredients that make it tastier but unhealthier.  In 1879 Daniel Peter created the first milk chocolate bar and in 1930 Nestlé launched the white chocolate “Milkybar” (The Nibble). Though these are definitive events that mark momentous inventions, they demonstrate the gradual decrease in the percentage of cacao used in chocolate products. Sugar, cream, and other fatty dairy unhealthy ingredients are used in today’s chocolate products in substitution for the previously high volume of cacao used. It is likely that our natural desire to fulfill our sweet teeth drives the market to continue producing chocolate products with lower cacao content, since these higher fat content products are more popular and have a higher demand, as shown below.



This figure illustrates the preference of white and milk chocolate over the healthier dark chocolate. The smallest section represents that 10% prefer white chocolate, the largest section presents a 70% preference for milk chocolate, and the darkest section represents a 20% preference for dark chocolate.


Technology & Competitive Market: adulteration and preservatives

As technology and mass production develops, the quality of chocolate products has decreased and unhealthier and more unnatural ingredients are being used. As technology advances, such as Van Houten’s 1828 introduction of the hydraulic press and Rudolphe Lindt’s 1879 invention of the conching process, less and less chocolate is made by hand. Today, few chocolate products are made by grinding cacao nibs on a metate. As technology develops and more machinery is used in the creation of chocolate products, the quality of chocolate decreases. The healthiness of consuming mass-produced chocolate is challenged as some products are adulterated with gum, potato starch, and veal suet instead of cocoa butter. Using machinery also increases the likelihood of impurities being found in products. For example, in the mid-1800s, 39 out of 70 samples of chocolate were found to contain traces of ground bricks in Britain (Martin 19). In addition to machinery, the competitive chocolate companies fight to produce cheap chocolate with longer shelf-life by altering the products’ ingredients. They produce chocolate with preservatives and replace natural ingredients, such as sugar, with artificial ingredients, such as artificial sweeteners, as illustrated below. Therefore, the recent increase in technology and today’s competitive market result in unhealthier and lower quality chocolate products that have been adulterated and contain impurities and unhealthy and unnatural ingredients.


This Hershey’s product is an example of the various unnatural, unhealthy, and artificial ingredients present in one single chocolate product.



In conclusion, many factors can explain why chocolate has become unhealthier over time. As we increase our understanding of nutrition we understand that chocolate is unhealthy in excessive consumption, the changes in the environment prevent us from using high quality fine cacao, our innate “sweet tooth” drives the market to produce fattier products, and the competitive market and technological advances produce low quality unhealthy products. Though these are all reasonable potential explanations, some are practically less useful in improving our health. For example, increasing our nutritional understanding allows us to realise how much chocolate consumption is of concern, but unless we resist that urge to indulge we will continue to become an unhealthy population of chocolate consumers. Therefore, we should continue to increase our understanding of nutrition, care for the environment more, support smaller local businesses and not fuel large competitive chocolate companies, but more importantly, we should fight our sweet tooth’s desires if we want to be healthier.


Works Cited

Amores, David Butler, Gladys Ramos,  Darin Sukha, Susana Espin, Alvaro Gomez, Alexis Zambrano, Neil Hollywood,  Robert Van Loo, and Edward Seguine. “Project to determine the physical, chemical and organoleptic parameters to differentiate between fine and bulk cocoa.” INIAP 15 Aug. 2007:  5. Print.

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. “The True History of Chocolate.” Thames & Hudson 2007 (1996). 204. Print

Martin, Carla. “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food Lecture Slides 2016. Lecture 2: Mesoamerica and the “food of the gods”” 2016. Slide 68. Retrieved from: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B_kGt6Sj1X5bYUY0UWg0Y1h2TTA&usp=sharing

— “Lecture 5: Popular sweet tooths and scandal” 2016. Slide 19. Retrieved from: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B_kGt6Sj1X5bYUY0UWg0Y1h2TTA&usp=sharing

— “Lecture 7: Sugar and Cacao” 2016. Slide 40. Retrieved from: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B_kGt6Sj1X5bYUY0UWg0Y1h2TTA&usp=sharing

“The History Of White Chocolate”. The Nibble. The World’s Best White Chocolate. 1 April 2008. Retrieved from: http://www.thenibble.com/zine/archives/best-white-chocolate2.asp#history Retrieved 11 March. 2016.


The Molinillo: A case study in cultural diffusion

To purchase a molinillo in this day and age requires scouring gourmet and artisanal shops, such as the high-end retailer Dean and Deluca, specialty chocolate shops like Taza Chocolate, or — to perfectly underscore my point — a novelty website called “Uncommon Goods.” But there was once a point in time when the molinillo was in fact very common, and was the primary tool used to create the coveted frothy foam in a chocolate beverage. The molinillo is a perfect example of cultural hybridization and how all technological inventions and cultural practices are socially-embedded.

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Figure 1. A modern molinillo, sold by the specialty store Dean and Deluca.

For the Aztecs, the foam was thought to be nourishing and representative of the soul, and therefore was considered the most important component of the drink. The foam thus became ritualistically significant and sacred, and was incorporated into Mesoamerican rites during weddings, burials, and celebrations. The molinillo is a prime example of cultural hybridization upon the meeting of the Old and New Worlds: the Spanish invented the molinillo to recreate the aromatic, frothy texture in the chocolate beverages of the Aztecs, who achieved this consistency through a laborious pouring process. Thus, the preference for the taste and texture was acquired through cultural diffusion, but the mechanism, tool, and process for achieving the effect was completely reinvented, in accordance with the capacity and culture of the Spanish.

This diffusion is not one-sided – while the Spanish inherited the preference for a frothy chocolate beverage, some in the New World also adopt the practice of creating it with a molinillo tool. Sophie Coe quotes Francesco Carletti (1701), an Italian explorer credited with bringing chocolate back to Italy for the first time and breaking the Spanish monopoly, describing the preparation practices of people in the New World: “They drink the chocolate in these [vessels], mixing with a stick which they spin with the palms of their hands, it makes a red foam, and as soon as made they put it in their mouths and swallow it in one gulp with great pleasure and satisfaction” (p. 91).

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Figure 2. “Old drawing of an American Indian: At his feet a chocolate-cup, chocolate-pot, and chocolate whisk or ‘molinet’ (From Traitez Nouveaux et Curieux du Café, du The, et du Chocolate. Dufour, 1693)” (Knapp, 2006).

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Figure 3. “Native American Indians roasting and grinding the beans, and mixing the chocolate in a jug with a whisk (From Ogilvy’s America, 1671)” (Knapp, 2006).

These old drawings of American Indians show the utilization of this Spanish technology. The use of the molinillo became widespread among the people of the New World, to the point that Spanish physician and author Bartolome Marradon, in a visit to Mexico, wrote: “The usage of chocolate is so familiar and so frequent among all of the Indians, that there is not a square or market where there isn’t a black woman or an Indian woman with her aunt, her Apstlet (which is a clay vessel), and her molinillo” (Marradon, 1618, p. 431-433).

Ultimately, what we can take away from this exchange of ideas and culture – the Spanish acquiring a taste for a Mesoamerican frothy chocolate beverage, and the indigenous people of the New World adopting Spanish technology to create that same frothy beverage – is that our societal preferences and tastes are ultimately quite dynamic. The diffusion of culture illustrates how culture is not simply a static end product, nor is it a linear narrative of changes permeating in one direction, but is instead a constantly evolving and recursive process of diffusion, production, and adoption.



Carletti, Francesco (1701). Ragionamenti di Francesco Carletti Fiorentino Sopra le

Cose da lui Vedute ne suoi viaggi. Florence: Stamperia Giuseppe Manni.

Coe, Sophie D. (1989). The Maya Chocolate Pot and its Descendants. In Jaine, Tom

(Ed.), The Cooking Pot: Proceedings (pp. 15-21). London: Prospect Book Ltd.

Knapp, Arthur (2006). Cocoa and Chocolate Their History from Plantation to

Consumer. eBook.

Marradon, Bartolome (1618). Dialogo del uso del Tabaco… y de chocolate y otras

bebidas. Sevilla.

Norton, Marcy (2006). Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization

of Mesoamerican Aesthetics. The American Historical