Category Archives: Dominican Republic

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.

NOTES:

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

Taza Ups the Ante: Orange vs. Ginger Organic Dark Chocolate

Taza Orange and Ginger Organic Chocolate

New flavors from Taza – Orange and Ginger Organic Dark Chocolate

I’ve been searching for ginger-flavored chocolate that goes beyond the familiar Chocolove commonly found at upscale grocery stores and bookshops.  What do I have against Chocolove?  After all, when I conduct tastings in my chocolate class, Chocolove’s Crystallized Ginger in Dark Chocolate often rises up as a crowd a favorite.  Well, Chocolove uses Belgian couveture chocolate and I find much, but not all, Belgian couveture is overworked to the point of moving a bit too far down the road towards tastelessness.

The other American masters at melting couveture and blending with flavors – Vosges Chocolate – simply don’t have a ginger bar despite their prolific assortment of flavors.  Don’t get me wrong, you can get good results melting couveture (chocolate made in someone else’s factory and bought in bulk) into bars, but it’s got to be great couveture [1].  In contrast, Taza’s chocolate is organic and made bean-to-bar using a direct trade model of working with cacao farmers.  That’s the direction that I’d like to see things go – more control of the chocolate making though involvement in all parts of the process and more sustainable practices in an industry that has had a so-so track record over the last century.

Taza Orange and Ginger Organic Dark Chocolate

The color of the bars is nearly the same, but Taza seems to be investing in new molds with shallower letters (on top) that are easier to fill

When Taza introduced their new Stone Ground Mexicano flavors earlier this year, two bars that leaped out from the new offering were the Orange Chocolate Mexicano and the Ginger Chocolate Mexicano.  Those of you that have been following Taza know that the Mexicano disks were originally created with 55% cacao.  What you may not know is that they started this way so that people could enjoy them two ways: simply nibbling on the bars or mashing them up into a rich drinking chocolate – just like the tradition of solid bars made in parts of Europe and Latin America.

But the new bars depart from that original path by sporting a higher cacao content of 70%.  I asked Taza co-founder, Larry Slotnick, about the new direction and he explained:  “What became clear with the success of the mexicano discs was that folks were eating these discs much more frequently than melting them into a chocolate beverage. They found the chocolate flavor just so robust due to the quality of the cacao we use and the minimal refining, that even traditional ‘dark chocolate’ consumers were really wowed by the intensity.  Thus, we decided to expand the line with a tweak of the cacao percentage to give a wide swath of ‘dark chocolate’ eaters the minimum cacao percentage they often look for ….”  Placing myself squarely in this swath, I needed to give these new bars a taste.

Taza Organic Dark Chocolate Review

WHAT:  Taza Ginger Chocolate Mexicano.  70% Cacao. (2.7oz). Ingredients: Organic roasted cacao beans, organic cane sugar, organic ginger powder.   Taza Orange Chocolate Mexicano.  70% Cacao. (2.7oz).  ingredients: Organic roasted cacao beans, organic cane sugar, organic orange oil.

Where to buy Taza Organic Dark Chocolate.

WHEN: October 10, 2011

OVERALL RATING: Ginger: 82.  Orange: 85.

AROMA:  Ginger:  strawberry and, um, ginger.  Orange: tobacco, pine honeysuckle.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS:  Ginger:  strawberry, grass, herbals.  Orange: light citrus.

MIDDLE TASTE: Ginger: ginger, berry, citrus  Orange: clean orange – not sticky cream-sickle sweet, but crisp and clear.  Some cedar and berry.

FINISH:  Ginger: lemongrass, ginger.  The finish is the best part where the chocolate and ginger stop competing and come into balance.   Orange: citrus and cacao acid come into focus at the end.  Otherwise, the orange  is somewhat hidden by the chocolate until now.  Some grassy mushroom at the very end.  The ginger is a bit cleaner in the finish but you could say the orange has more complexity.

TEXTURE:  Both have the trademark Taza rustic texture that comes from their traditional stone ground method.

LAST BITE:  As far as the ginger bar goes, it’s not a substitute for Chocolove.  Which is only saying these are completely different bars with completely different styles.   The ginger bar get’s points for a clean finish and will appeal to those who enjoy more herbal notes.

For the orange bar, I was a little surprised by how light-handed they are with the orange flavor as if they wanted to avoid creating a clumsy caricature of a flavored bar.  I guess it’s all about the chocolate in the end and you don’t want to cover up something so good.  The verdict?  I liked the orange bar a tad more for the perception of complexity and balance of flavor, but I would place both in my top three favorite Taza mexicanos.

Notes:

[1] Couveture chocolate is normally used to prepare other confections such as truffles, bonbons and the like.  However, companies that are making blended bars remelt other people’s couveture and mold the new mixture into bars.  This chocolate often comes from Belgium since it’s the home of a few very large producers of couvture.  For more, see Koko Lingo.

[2] I paid for this chocolate myself.