In the past five years or so, while most of us were looking the other way, a quiet revolution began in Trinidad and Tobago. In kitchens and hidden spaces across the country, local people were roasting, crushing, winnowing, and otherwise experimenting with the humble cocoa bean.
The cocoa (or cacao) tree found its way to Trinidad from South America centuries ago. During the colonial period, as Europe became obsessed with chocolate, we became thoroughly involved in growing, harvesting, fermenting, and drying the beans. But despite independence in 1962, despite a growing food-processing sector, despite being known as the producer of one of the highest quality beans in the world, we remained content to ship our complex beans overseas for others to add value — and for them to receive the resulting large economic rewards.
But recently there’s been a shift. Locals have begun making their own high-quality chocolate, and taking baby steps to penetrate the local market. And morsel by morsel, heavy-duty foodies have noticed what is unfolding, and given support to these new entrepreneurs. A “chocolate revolution” was born.
It’s indisputable that if you buy locally made chocolate products in T&T, they are unrivalled for freshness and flavour. There has been no lengthy travel across oceans. There has been no dilution of our fine beans with those of poorer quality — a common practice in the industry, to save money and yet produce a quality bar. There has been no possibility of incorporation of child labour, as T&T’s labour laws are strict — unlike those in other cocoa-producing countries. Trinidad and Tobago chocolate is chocolate you can eat with absolutely no environmental or social guilt. Our local trees are grown in sustainable forests, with minimal or no use of agricultural chemicals and using well-paid adult labour.
So where can you find these tasty and guilt-free treats? Start with some of the products of two community-based initiatives. Nestled in Trinidad’s Northern Range, between Arima and the north coast, the tiny village of Brasso Seco (population less than four hundred) boasts a community group that purchased a fifteen-acre cocoa estate, farms it organically, and manufactures products from the harvested cocoa and coffee beans. Not only should you purchase some of their ground chocolate or roasted coffee — you can also take a trip up to Brasso to see how cacao is grown. Add in a birdwatching or forest hike tour from local Carl Fitzjames, one of the Caribbean’s only bird-banders and an organic farmer, and your day will be complete. (Plus a youth group in Brasso is beginning classes in chocolate-making, so their bar should be available by Christmas 2014.)
And as of writing this article, the Lopinot community — another Northern Range village — is in the final developmental stages for their new community-branded Lopinot Chocolate Company. There’s no argument that the chocolate they are making is delicious. Rich with nutty undertones, creamy as a milk chocolate despite being sixty-five per cent dark, the Lopinot chocolate should soon win the reputation of a premier product. Contact village council president Donna Mora (+868 680 5423) or visit the Lopinot group’s Facebook page for more information.
Several small private companies have also become well-known among Trinidadian chocolate fanciers. Cocobel Chocolate (+868 622 1196, www.cocobel.com) is the most established. Tucked behind the Medulla Art Gallery in the Woodbrook neighbourhood in west Port of Spain, this chocolate studio, run by Isabel Brash, makes some of the most delicious creations. Want to taste a local flavour mixed with chocolate? Sorrel? Mango? Ginger? Brash has it somewhere in her collection.
Café Mariposa (+868 669 8647, www.mariposalopinot.com), a small family-owned enterprise nestled in the Guerrero family’s Lopinot estate, is creating more experimental foods with the cocoa bean than anyone else. You can try cocoa-infused bread pudding, cocoa (not chocolate) ice cream, and even cocoa pork. They also make their own seventy per cent dark chocolate bar. Meanwhile, under the Exotic Caribbean Mountain Pride label (+868 795 5732), Astrida Saunders has been experimenting with cacao for years. She makes a cocoa liquer, a traditional cocoa tea (in her case, raw pulverized cocoa formed into a pod shape), and dark chocolate. Saunders can be found on weekends manning her booth at the San Antonio Green Market in Santa Cruz, north-east of Port of Spain.
Soular (+868 318 2871, www.facebook.com/eatsoular) doesn’t produce chocolate bars, but they sell some of the richest cocoa nibs available, and a brewing cacao in the Mayan style. They also create chewy, irresistible dried bananas through a process learned in the South Pacific, when the owner of Soular sailed there a few years ago. And at Sun Eaters Organics (+868 696 4370, www.facebook.com/suneatersorganics) — my co-owned company, fairly new on the scene — the single estate dark chocolate bar is one of the fruitiest chocolate bars available locally. The La Reunion bean — from which the chocolate is made — has won multiple international awards for flavour. For Carnival 2014, Sun Eaters began collaborating with soca superstar Machel Montano to make a co-branded bar that launched during the Carnival season. Sun Eaters chocolate bars (and one of the most indulgent cocoa powders available) can be found at several gourmet stores, and the co-branded Machel bar is available in the duty free M Store at Piarco International Airport.
Where to buy the delicious chocolate products mentioned in the article?
• Arties Gourmet, LP 32, Morne Coco Road, Four Roads, Diego Martin: +868 637 9555
• The Happy Gourmet, Valpark Shopping Plaza, Valsayn: +868 223 7023
• The M Store, Piarco International Airport: +868 669 3064
• Malabar Farms Gourmet Shop, 115 Long Circular Road, Maraval: +868 628 7486 or 622 9309
• New Earth Organics, 80 Roberts Street, Woodbrook, Port of Spain: +868 622 3643
• Vanilla Bean, 145 Munroe Road, Cunupia: +868 223 9527
• San Antonio Green Market, Saddle Road, Upper Santa Cruz — Saturdays and Sundays, 6 am to 2 pm: +868 221 1196
• Upmarket, Woodbrook Youth Facility — monthly: see their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/UpMarketTT for more details
• Ah Piece: www.ahpiece.com
• Market Movers: www.dmarketmovers.com