Pros: simple ingredients, responsible ingredient sourcing, ingredients certified USDA Organic
Cons: cultural appropriation, no information on packaging, no information on factories, expensive
I’ve enjoyed Taza’s chocolate in the past, but knowing more about the company, I’m much more hesitant to support them. I’m glad they’re supporting farmers, trying to mitigate the environmental impacts of cacao farming, and honestly creating really high-quality chocolate. However, their efforts for social equity don’t feel complete. They’re doing good by their farmers in South America and Ghana but are they giving back to the Mexican communities who they’ve learned their foundational technique from? Are they going to tell us more about the materials used for their packaging? Even though they have annual transparency reports, they aren’t very long or detailed at all. And that’s okay, but Taza also doesn’t demonstrate themselves to be “forward-looking”. Rather than addressing the controversy behind their “origin story” and laying out goals to be more sustainable in the future, it feels like they’re just trying to qualify their “woke-ness”. That’s not to mention that each chocolate disc (the size of the palm of a hand) is a whopping $5. With that type of profit margin, they could do more. Looks like I’ll be trying to find others brands for my stone-ground chocolate fix.
The Taza Super Dark Stone Ground Chocolate Disc is a certified vegan and gluten-free chocolate made of just two ingredients: organic cacao beans and organic cane sugar. While this might sound simple, it’s really not. Both cacao farming and sugarcane farming are notorious for their environmental harms and unethical labor conditions and wages. For one, pesticides are often misused or even overused in cacao farming. This damages the soil and yields lower quality crops, then pushing farmers to clear more land for cacao trees. Definitely not sustainable. Taza, on the other hand, uses all USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified cacao. This is not only healthier for consumers like you and me, but it protects farmers from being exposed to dangerous chemicals and their ecological surroundings from being destroyed. Taza’s partner farmers are also ensured to be paid a living wage. When I saw the second ingredient, organic cane sugar, I didn’t know what to think at first. One of the reasons is because sugarcane (the plant that cane sugar is derived from) is one of the most water-intensive crops on the planet, and it causes huge losses to biodiversity. However, Taza seemingly found a partner who is turning that on its head: The Native. Taza sources all of their sugar from The Native’s Green Cane Project, who has transformed the cane sugar production process completely; they invented a new way to mechanically harvest their cane sugar instead of burning the fields as is traditionally done, waste products are not allowed to leave their premises and are instead burned to produce steam which powers their mills, and they’ve actually seen an increase in the biodiversity of their surrounding areas. While I do wish that they found a way to make the sugar in a less water-intensive way or even found another type of sugar, cane sugar is one of the least processed and whole-food forms of sugar out there.
As mentioned before, Taza has done a pretty impressive job on the environmental side of things when it comes to the production and sourcing of their ingredients. However, the lack of information regarding the material the company uses for their packaging left me scratching my head. It’s not even mentioned in their annual transparency report! Strange. There’s even a blog post on their website about the different designs they’ve used for their wrappers but nothing on the wrappers themselves. And while there’s a lot of information about the partners farms from which their ingredients are sourced from, there’s little to no information about the sustainability of the Taza production factories in Massachusetts even though the production process of their stone-ground chocolate discs is relatively simple. This leads me to wonder if this hole in information is intentional because it’s not as glowing as other parts of their supply chain or if they just haven’t put much thought to it.
Here’s where things get a bit more interesting. Taza is admirable on many fronts; they’re the first U.S. chocolate maker to establish a third-party certified Direct Trade Cacao Certification program; they disclose the number of farmers, the number of female farmers, the farmers’ wages, and their most recent visit to the farm. They even pay a 15-20% premium for all of the cacao they buy. However, there are many things about Taza that are hard to digest. For one, their “origin story” screams cultural appropriation. The founder, a white man from Massachusetts named Alex Whitmore, was traveling in Oaxaca, Mexico, when he first learned about stone ground chocolate. Taza’s website claims that he then apprenticed under a molinero (miller) in Mexico to learn about the trade, but there’s no specification about how long he apprenticed for or under whom. I wouldn’t say this is inherently bad but it’s also unclear how the founder and the company itself is giving back to the community from whom they’ve taken this cultural practice and turned a huge profit. Also, the packaging on their chocolate discs specifically signal that the product has Mexican origins, even labeling the multi-packs with “Chocolate Mexicano” on the side of the package. This is definitely misleading as both of the founders are white with no Mexican heritage.
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