Taza vs. Trader Joes Stone Ground Organic Chocolate

Has Trader Joe’s Copied Taza Stone Ground Chocolate?

Trade Joe's Dark chocolate vs. Taza Stone Ground Organic Chocolate

The new Trader Joe’s bar bears a striking resemblance to Taza’s stone ground organic bar

I really wasn’t planning to write about Taza Chocolate again so soon, but this summer something unexpected showed up in our local Trader Joe’s.  My wife soon came home with a bar of the round stone ground chocolate bars – immediately recognizable as a knock-off of Taza’s product.  At this point, I’d already decided to take a break from blogging for the summer so I could relax a bit and catch my breath, so I just shrugged it off.  Sure, I tasted a bit. “It’s edible” was my first reaction and left it at that.

Then along came a friend who, as soon as I stepped into his house, yanked a one of the new Trader Joe’s bars from the freezer and trust it towards my face: “Have you tasted this stuff?  It’s crap, right?”  “It’s edible,” I repeated chomping on a cold morsel, “but look guys:  the Trader Joe’s bar is $4.00 and the Taza Mexicano bars are $4.50 online.  Just buy Taza for another 50 cents, enjoy the real thing and be done with it.” I left it at that.

Yet another friend broke the news to me later in the summer and reminded me that companies sometimes private label their own product for sale at TJ’s and you would never know because everyone involved is sworn to secrecy (in other words, Taza may be making the TJ’s bars).  OK, OK!  I’ve decided to solve this mystery once and for all.

Is Trader Joe’s STONE GROUND ORGANIC CHOCOLATE as good as Taza’S?

Trader Joe’s has launched two new bars:  a 70% Extra Dark Chocolate and a Salt and Pepper Dark Chocolate.  Like Taza, they are made in small batches in a  rustic, stone ground style.  Like Taza, they are certified organic and kosher Pareve.  Like Taza, there are two round disks in a printed paper wrapper.  On the other hand, Trader Joe’s makes no mention of fair trade, but Taza is using a Direct Trade model, working directly with growers and paying a premium for their cacao beans.

If you’ve never tried stone-ground chocolate, don’t expect it to melt in your mouth – it’s not that kind of chocolate.  The texture is rustic, course and grainy.  If you are a meat and potatoes person who doesn’t like to try anything new, this chocolate is probably not for you.  On the other hand, ironically, I find the rustic texture both adventurous and endearing – a kind of genuine, down-to earth comfort food that you might find in a far away place.  What you get for this unusual texture is a less processed food that expresses more of the original flavor of the cacao bean.

Taza Stone Ground Organic Chocolate Vanilla Bean vs. Trader Joe’s Stone Ground Extra Dark Chocolate

What: Taza Stone Ground Vanilla Bean Mexicano (55% cacao).  This is the closest Taza get’s to a “plain” chocolate disk.  Ingredients:   organic cacao beans, organic cane sugar, organic whole vanilla beans, and Trader Joe’s Extra Dark Chocolate – 70% cacao.  Ingredients:   organic cocoa nibs, organic cane sugar.

Where to buy Taza Stone Ground Organic Chocolate Online.

WHEN:  November 3, 2012

OVERALL RATING:  TJ’s: 69   Taza: 80

AROMA:  TJ’s:  At first a familiar Taza-like aroma, plus burlap and pine.  Drier and more subdued than Taza.  Taza:  Berry, caramel, butter scotch,  a hit of evergreen, with a light floral scent.  More fruit than TJ’s.

INITIAL TASTE:  TJ’s:  More flat from the start, all the way through.  Could this be because of the lack of vanilla?  No peaks and valleys.  Just a touch of coffee at the start.  Taza:  Caramel, red berry, vanilla.

MIDDLE TASTE:  TJ’s:  Not much happening here.  Grass, mushroom. A little fruit.  Taza:  Strawberry, cantaloupe melon.

FINISH:  TJ’s:  Celery, green beans, green tomatoes, bell pepper and oak.  A spike of acid at the end.  Taza:  Ends in warm caramel and marshmallow with cocoa notes always in the background.

Texture:  both are typical of stone ground chocolate – rustic, grainy and crystalline.  Taza is a little more so due to the higher sugar content.

Yea, I liked the Taza better, much better.  The Trade Joe’s chocolate was flat with dull flavors all the way through.  I much prefer a roller coaster ride than a drag race.  Taza had more dimension.  Let’s move onto the flavored bars.

Taza vs. Trader Joe's Salt & Pepper Organic Dark Chocolate

Trader Joe’s had a better showing with their salt & pepper bar, but Taza still edged them out with a more vibrant and intense flavor profile overall.

What: Taza Stone Ground Salt & Pepper Mexicano (55% cacao).  Ingredients:   organic cacao beans, organic cane sugar, organic black pepper, kosher salt. Trader Joe’s Stone Ground Salt & Pepper Chocolate (54% cacao min.).  Ingredients:  organic cocoa nibs, organic cane sugar, organic cracked black pepper, kosher salt.

Where to buy Taza Stone Ground Organic Chocolate Online.

WHEN:  November 3, 2012

OVERALL RATING:  TJ’s: 73  Taza: 80

AROMA:  TJ’s:  Sour apple, light peanut.  Taza:  Bloody Mary mix, olives and coconut.

INITIAL TASTE:  TJ’s:  Apple, pear.  Taza:  Butter, toffee.

MIDDLE TASTE:  TJ’s:  Cinnamon toast.  Taza:  Buttered bread, roast, almonds, black tea.

FINISH:  TJ’s:  Sourdough bread, cinnamon, burnt cheese.  Pepper appears here, but not as intense or savory as Taza.  Taza:  Bacon, pepper.  The pepper comes on strongest at the end and, along with the salt, brings a savory effect.

Texture:  both have a similar rustic quality, but Taza seemed to crumble at the edges a bit (something I had not seen before except in this one bar).

I have to admit that TJ’s manufacturer did a decent job with this one.  The Taza chocolate was better, but I could eat the TJ’s salt and pepper bar if I had to (well, it’s been discontinued now, so I can’t).  The Taza was more vibrant and savory.

The local Whole Foods is charging $5.99 for Taza Mexicanos, but you don't need to pay any more than $4.50.

The local Whole Foods is charging $5.99 for Taza Mexicanos, but you don’t need to pay any more than $4.50.

LAST BITE:  Look:  I have nothing against Trader Joe’s – I’m one of their best customers, but I think it’s unnecessary to compromise on taste if the price is more or less the same.  I paid $4.00 for each bar at my local TJ’s, while the Taza bars can easily be found online for $4.50 at NewLeaf Chocolates.  Now, I did find that Whole Foods was selling the Taza bars for a whopping $5.99, but there’s no need to pay that much and it may be some kind of a Boston-area price due to the strong cult following here.

In the end, Taza is better and has a wider range of flavors and bars to explore.  If you really want to experience the best of Taza, try their 60,  70, 80 and 87% cacao  bars.  Although they have a similar texture to the Mexicano disks, they are refined a bit more and have a different proportion of cocoa butter to cocoa solids.  Then you can get a better feel for the real point of a stone ground bar – preserving the bright fruit flavors of the original cacao bean.

POSTSCRIPT – July 2013

Thanks for all the comments on this post.  Several people seem certain that Taza, in fact, had made the now discontinued TJ’s bars.  This is a distinct possibility as I pointed out earlier in the article, but nearly impossible to prove either way. I don’t consider myself a journalist, but I do need to deal with facts and that’s a fact that I cannot verify.  What’s important to note is that the bars did taste different, if for no other reason than they used different ingredients at a different time and had a different cacao content.  This can all be true even if Taza made both bars.  I tasted the bars side-by-side on more than one occasion taking extensive notes.  The differences in flavor were real.

Lastly, there were some reports that Trader Joe’s was using Taza’s “Direct Trade” claims in their label – certain proof that Taza made the bars.  Not true.  I scanned the back label from what might be last remaining TJ’s Salt and Pepper bar in the free world.  No mention of direct trade.  So for now, that’s that.

Back label of Trader Joe's Chocolate

There’s nothing about Direct Trade on Trader Joe’s chocolate label. Direct Trade is a model created and used exclusively by Taza where they purchase beans directly from the producers.


[1]  I paid for all of these bars myself.

18 responses to “Taza vs. Trader Joes Stone Ground Organic Chocolate

  1. Thanks Koko Buzz, for this very interesting review, I ‘m selling Taza in my shop and it does me smile if I read your feelings TrJ versus Taza.

  2. I dream of finding a stone ground chocolate without sugar. But until then I think I need to make my own! I can’t find any directions/recipes on how to using roasted nibs ( from Taza for example). I will add my own maca and splenda etc to sweeten, but never having made chocolate before I don’t want to just guess! any help would be much appreciated! thank you

  3. Both varieties of the stoneground chocolate are now $1.99. Thought you’d like to know.

    • Thanks Kate. I saw this price recently in our local TJ’s as well. My first reaction was that this is absolute proof that Taza is not making it, but on the other hand, there is rumor that it’s not selling well, so they are closing it out. I mean that’s quite a price cut. Time will tell.

  4. at our TJs its $1.49 per bar, and I haven’t seen it before today… For the price, I think it’s “good enough” (better than a lot of other $1.50 chocolate).

  5. Trader Joe’s doesn’t actually make anything. They work through third parties and rebrand. It’s all very hush hush. Given the ridiculous similarity and the fact that Taza’s product is extremely unique, it’s almost definitely the case here that Taza is producing the chocolate and you are comparing Taza to Taza. However, that doesn’t mean the difference is imagined. It could be that Trader Joe’s is buying older chocolate or chocolate that didn’t make the cut or something like that.

    • Hey Josh, thanks for comments. Yes, I agree that Trader Joe’s doesn’t make anything, but not all their brands are private labeled – for instance, you can find Valrhona chocolate at our TJ’s. Also, even if the product is outsourced (it is), that doesn’t mean that Taza made it . In my opinion, someone could emulate the Taza stone-ground process and make some disk-shaped molds (not actually that unique) and be up and running. Having said that, I did note the strong possibility that Taza did make these bars. The strongest evidence is that they are, like Taza, certified organic – not something easy to pull off. On the other hand, I did attend a talk by Taza in 2009 where they said they they had received calls from TJ’s wanting to tour their factory and they had refused the tour assuming that TJ’s would try to reverse engineer their product. So, why didn’t I just call Taza and ask them if they make the bars? Because there are only three possible answers to that question: 1) “No” (means no), 2) “Yes” (means yes) and 3) “No comment” (means yes). The last question would only embarrass the guys at Taza and I like them. Since they are bound by confidentiality, I don’t want to put them in the position of having to say “no comment.” As far as flavor – remember the dark chocolate bar vs. the vanilla is not a totally fair comparison since the cacao % was different and the TJ’s bar had no vanilla, so yes, they taste different. On the other hand, the salt and pepper bars have nearly the same cacao %, so the comparison is fair. I have to admit that after the TJ’s bars dropped to $1.99, I bought a bunch aof the salt & pepper bars and ate them almost daily until they went off the market. Since then I have been eating the Taza S&P bars for purely coincidental reasons. I can say beyond a reasonable doubt that they do taste different (could simply be the age of the bar), and I enjoyed the TJ’s bars just fine…at $1.99. Thanks – Walter

    • I was getting ready to say the exact same thing as Josh, so I totally agree with him. I have reviewed both the Taza and TJ bars and I strongly suspect that Taza makes the TJ bars. If that is true then it is indeed comparing Taza to Taza, even though there are evident differences in the taste.

      • Yes, agree, ChocoFiles – this possibility that Taza makes both was noted from the start in the original article. I’m glad that you too could discern some differences in taste.

  6. Was having a look at Taza’s website, and they discuss how they have a Direct Trade model with the Cacao producers, which matches the Trader Joe’s Direct Trade information on the packet. I think they may have been the same chocolate. I wonder why they tasted differently though??

    • Actually, there is no mention of Direct Trade on the Trader Joe’s bar. At least not on the one Salt and Pepper bar I have left (I bought many when the price dropped below $2). I will scan and post the image when I have time. Thanks.

  7. boringcommenter

    I have it from a Trader Joes employee that they were Taza, and that there was a pricing dispute, which resulted in the non-renewal of the contract.

    • Interesting. I think that even if they used different ingredients than their standard bars to reduce cost, it might still be hard to meet Trader Joe’s expectations. The bars need to be a lot cheaper for people to move away from the real thing and that wouldn’t make sense for Taza. (P.S. there is a fine line between a pricing dispute and a renegotiation. Renegotiation would be normal after TJ’s gained some experience marketing the bars, I assume).

  8. I want Taza to make the salt and pepper in a 70% or more dark chocolate. That’s why I started buying the TJ’s. Any hope?

    • We can always hope, but I don’t think it will happen soon. There are other darker Taza bars, of course, but none with these particular flavors. For their newer Mexicano disks, they are running at 70%.

  9. Dear Fred who’s comment I just deleted. Feel free to comment on the chocolate, but if you get personal or abusive, your comments will be deleted. I’d also like to point out that there are several books on writing style on the market (I’ve read a few) and they often conflict with each other. Hence, there is some latitude on how to “construct a real sentence” and for that matter what constitutes proper punctuation in some cases. By the way, I don’t have a proof reader nor do I get paid for this. If you want to talk chocolate, please feel free to comment again.

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