February 14, 2017 marks the 10th anniversary of the first sale of a Taza Chocolate bar! Founder Alex Whitmore shares his reflections on this special occasion:
Taza founder Alex Whitmore wraps his first batch of bars in February 2007.
Ten years ago on this Valentine’s Day, I sold our first Stone Ground chocolate bar. I charged the customer $5, and I had just wrapped it by hand that morning. I had spent the whole day and evening before our first factory open house event feverishly working to get the chocolate made and molded in time for our first public event. My wife, Kathleen Fulton, had designed the packaging, and worked with Shelley Barandes across the hall at Albertine Press to get our packaging made in time. She was helping out wrapping more bars so we could sell them to the hoards who would overtake our original little space at 561 Windsor Street -- where we still operate today, in a much larger space.
We had spent the previous year and a half building out our first production space, which was about 1,600 ft2 on the second floor of the building, one floor above where my desk is today. It was a very modest operation of machines I had cobbled together. Two molinos from Mexico, a roll refiner from a bakery supply company in Ohio, a 300 lb capacity chocolate tank from New York, and a small tempering machine from an old candy factory in Missouri.
During the time that we were building out the space, we sold chocolate drink mix and fancy chocolate bars that we bought from a European importer at local farmers markets so we could learn about what it takes to sell chocolate products. We used those farmer’s market tents to promote our first big event, a Taza factory open house on Valentine’s day, where we would be revealing for the first time to our customers our very own Stone Ground chocolate bar.
I had spent the entire holiday season making batch after 20 lb batch of terrible chocolate on this makeshift equipment. Some of it was over-roasted in the coffee roaster we were renting time on in Jamaica Plain (I had an agreement with the local ice cream company that also had their own house-roasted coffees that I could roast my beans for a machine fee of $20/hr). Other batches were scorched by misuse of the stone mills during the grinding process. I had yet to perfect or understand completely how to tune the molinos for optimum performance.
Finally, I had come up with a bar that I liked, and when I shared it around with others, they liked it too. It was totally unique, and clearly very handcrafted. It was delicious. A 75% cacao formula, made with cocoa beans from Mexico and Costa Rica, with 5% added cocoa butter and a little bit of vanilla bean. Eventually, this first bar went on to be reformulated with Dominican beans to become our classic 70% Dark Stone Ground Chocolate Bar.
Since then we have developed and launched many chocolate bars and treats. Some were successful and others weren’t, but every time we made them better than the last. Our quality has improved dramatically, and we have optimized and standardized manufacturing processes and ingredient purchasing. We’ve developed Direct Trade sourcing relationships with growers in the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Belize, and our newest origin, Haiti. And through it all, we have continued to be guided by our original mission, which still inspires us today: to make and share stone ground chocolate that’s seriously good and fair for all.
I am very proud of what we have built and the great team we have here at Taza and can’t wait to see what the next ten years brings!
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