Friday, 11 July 2014

Product Review: Taza Chocolate Mexicano

What happened was, I was searching the internet for American candy suppliers in an attempt to find some Black Jack Gum.

This is the shit I was looking for.
Black Jack Gum is the first ever flavoured chewing gum. It tastes like aniseed or "black licorice". It was made mildly famous when Christian Slater's character chewed it in Pump Up the Volume.

I never tracked down the gum, but the search results included this chocolate called Taza, which is Spanish for "cup", as in una taza de chocolate ("a cup of [hot] chocolate").

And the photos made it clear it was defo Mexican style chocolate.

I thought "WTF, I've never heard of this brand". And it turns out that's because Taza is made in America, in Massachusetts, the most un-Mexican place on Earth.

So naturally I had to investigate.

This is nothing you can't find out from the company's own website, but basically the founder, Alex Whitmore, was travelling in Oaxaca (yay!) and discovered real Mexican chocolate. So he decided to bring it on home to MA.

If there's one thing I can dig, it's people being inspired by real Mexican food and wanting to spread it around the world.

Taza Chocolate is not just Mexican style chocolate made in the US. For instance, the main Mexican brands of chocolate (Ibarra and Abuelita) are actually very sweet and tend to be made with cacao extracts rather than pure cocoa beans.

Taza has more in common with the revival in authentic chocolate, probably best represented in the UK by Willie Harcourt-Cooze's "artizan" cacao.

What Taza does is source excellent cacao and other ingredients, but process them in a Mexican way (including stone-grinding) and with Mexican or Mexican-inspired flavours.

The result is a product that looks a lot like the classic disc of Mexican chocolate and acts like it too. For instance, you cook up a pot of Taza chocolate in water, rather than milk (you can use milk if you want to though).

So I had to try this, and I figured their Sampler would be my best bet. It comes with a variety of their flavours:

  • Cinnamon - classic, though in Mexico it would also have some ground almond
  • Vanilla - Vanilla is native to Mexico, and I checked: it uses real vanilla, not that artificial extract
  • Guajillo - one of my favourite chiles
  • Salt and Pepper - ???
  • Orange - I HATE chocolate and orange together, but that's a personal preference
  • Chipotle - nuff said
  • Ginger - How can you go wrong?
  • Dark chocolate - just the pure unadulterated stone-ground goodness

By now I've brewed up several pots of this chocolate (but not the orange, because yuck!). I also tried eating one whole, as their website suggests you can do this.

I always brewed it Mexican style, with water, whipping it with a whisk until it goes all frothy, just like in Como Agua para Chocolate.

For comparison, I used Ibarra and Cool Chile Company's own Mexican hot chocolate as benchmarks.

The cinnamon had the classic flavour you'd expect. It much more chocolate-y (in the sense of real, high-cocoa solid chocolate flavour) than Ibarra and on a par with the Cool Chile Company's product.

The vanilla was absolutely gorgeous.

The chipotle flavour had a nice heat, but I found the smokiness didn't come through very well, which is a shame.

The ginger was pretty much perfect.

I'll get Mrs MexiGeek to try the orange one.

All in all, this is actually a superior product to Ibarra and Abuelita, which are now widely available outside of Mexico. I'm not sure it trumps the Cool Chile Company's chocolate, but it's less gritty and comes in a wider variety of flavours.

By the way, one reason you really should be drinking Mexican chocolate is it's actually kind of healthy.

I'm not even joking. This kind of high cocoa solid chocolate brewed with water instead of milk leaves out two of the three things that make chocolate bad for you: oil and dairy fat. There's still a certain amount of sugar, but sugar burns off quickly, and it's natural sugar, not those chemical sweeteners that cause cancer in lab rats.

If this product became more available in the UK, I could really see it taking off. Plus it's just wonderful to see more people being inspired by Mexico and turning it into their life's work.