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Chocolate and the Caribbean

Chocolate and the Caribbean

The history of cocoa in the Caribbean & which islands to visit to learn more…

The Caribbean is a huge source of inspiration for my work. Since creating my Windrush inspired collection in 2018, I’ve become fascinated with learning the culture and history of the islands. I am aiming to visit as many islands as possible to see and experience the nature, beauty, history and culture first hand. I’ve only ticked off one so far, but I’m hoping to have the opportunities tick off a lot more in the future. 🤞

Every so often, I thought it would be nice to share some of the culture, history and information that I learn about the Caribbean with you. This time, I’m covering everything that I’ve uncovered so far about chocolate & the Caribbean!

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CARIBBEAN & COCOA

The Caribbean’s history is closely linked to the beans from the cocoa tree. Many of the islands were colonised by European nations in the 17th & 18th century. Using enslaved African labour, they introduced a plantation economy to the region, mainly based on sugar, but also rum, cotton, coffee and cocoa.

Caribbean islands have a climate ideal for cocoa trees. Hot, rainy and tropical with lush rainforests. Cocoa trees grow best in these locations which are closer to the equator. The Caribbean islands grow the most rare and finest varieties of cocoa in the world, the Criollo and Trinitario. Islands Grenada, St Lucia, Trinidad and Dominica exclusively produce these fine varieties of cocoa. 

A BRIEF HISTORY OF CHOCOLATE

We have The Maya of Mesoamerica (what we know as South America today) to thank for our chocolate. They believed the cocao bean was divine, and used them for many rituals. Cocao beans were deemed so valuable that they were also used as a currency. The Mayans consumed cocao beans in a bitter, frothy drink. Drying and grinding the beans to mix with water, and sometimes chilli.

On a trip to South America in 1519, to establish more Spanish colonies, Hernán Cortés encountered the Mayan cocao drink and beans and brought them back to Spain. They became a hit in Europe. The Spanish first used the cocao drink as a medicine. Due to it’s bitter taste, people started to add sweeteners and flavours such as sugar, vanilla and honey which made the drink even more delicious.

In the 1600s, this cocao drink became a fashionable, aristocratic staple. However, cocao was difficult to produce in large quantities, so Europeans used enslaved African labour on plantations to produce it on Caribbean islands and on islands off the coast of West Africa.

THE CARIBBEAN & CHOCOLATE TODAY

Image of bars of chocolate stacked on a table

The cocoa industry in the Caribbean region has been experiencing a resurgence in more recent times. There has been an increase in the number of cocoa entrepreneurs in the Caribbean who are starting artisinal ‘bean to bar’ chocolate brands. The advantage that these brands have is they have full control over their production, and they do not need to import any of the raw materials needed to produce fine chocolate. They sell their chocolate locally and regionally at farmers markets, hotels, gift shops, cafes and tourist experiences. And there is plenty of scope for them to be able to export to larger markets in North America, Europe and Asia as artisanal chocolate is one of the fastest growing sectors in the global chocolate market. This has already began to happen as brands like the Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company can list Harrods as one of their stockists as of 2019.

CHOCOLATE TOURISM

If you want to learn more about cocoa and the Caribbean, there’s nowhere better than the islands themselves. Caribbean islands have a number of workshops and experiences where you can go on estate tours to see where and how cocoa is produced and even get the chance to make your own chocolate bars. Some hotels also offer spa treatments using cocoa!

I’ve listed a few different experiences and workshops that I’ve found below:

Dominica Caribbean Chocolate

Dominica

Known as the nature island, Dominica is better preserved that it’s neighbouring islands. Learn about the chocolate making process at various estates in Dominica such as Bois Cotlette Estate or Pointe Baptiste Estate.

Trinidad & Tobago Caribbean and Chocolate 

Tobago

Tour the Tobago Cocoa Estate on Trinidad’s sister island. Find out about the history of cocoa in Tobago, and the production process. Whilst you’re there you can also get a chance to taste their award winning chocolate bars and rum.

Barbados

Home of the Crop Over Carnival, you can also visit Barbados to find out more about cocoa and chocolate making on the island. Visit the Agapey Chocolate Factory and take a tour. Get a chance to taste delicious dark chocolate and learn about the bean to bar process.

 

Grenada

Grenada, also known as the spice island for their production of nutmeg, mac, cinnamon and other popular spices, is another island to learn more about cocoa. Visit in May to celebrate chocolate on the island at the Grenada Chocolate Festival!

Jamaica

Known for beautiful landscapes, reggae music & delicious jerk dishes, Jamaica is also a Caribbean destination to visit to learn more about cocoa. Visit one of the islands artisanal bean to bar chocolate factories like One One Cocao to learn more and see the production process close up.

 

St Lucia

St Lucia, home to World Heritage Site, The Pitons. Learn about the chocolate making process and make your own bar on Rabot Estate, owned by British chocolatiers Hotel Chocolat, Howelton Estate and go on a chocolate tasting journey on Foud Doux Estate.

Trinidad

The larger sister island of Tobago, Trinidad has lots of opportunities to learn more about cocoa, and taste delicious chocolate. Visit and tour a working cocoa estate and learn about the history of cocoa on the island at Ortinola Estate.

 

Martinique

Martinique is a slice of France in the Caribbean with beautiful tropical landscapes and beaches. Taste chocolate from local chocolatier Frères Lauzea, founded by Thierry Lauzea, the cocoa used to make the bars and truffles all grown on the island of Martinique.