Karen, our Head Chocolatier has just come back from Grenada. This is what happened over an amazing two week visit…
After almost 10 years of using and enjoying Grenada Chocolate Company’s chocolate, and wondering whether I’d ever see the source, Chantal suggested I book for a trip to Grenada to coincide with the 2017 Chocolate Festival.
As Head Chocolatier here at Rococo, a trip to Grenada was not just a chance to see cocoa growing, and experience a different culture, but to watch the original Tree to Bar company in action, learn all about the chocolate making, and hopefully, in return, teach the team in the Bonbon shop some chocolatier skills.
Grenada is an incredible country. Visually, it’s stunning. The population of 109,000 live in this tiny island country barely 25 miles long. Each coast is a slightly different climate and coastline, the dwellings vary, as does the abundance of fruits. The coastline quickly ascends into rainforest covered mountains, topped with clouds which occasionally decide to burst and drench you with a tropical downpour.
The roadsides are lined with trees dripping with mangoes, which you can pick up from the floor and tear open to eat the sweet or acidic flesh. Huge breadfruit trees bear their big, lime-green round fruit, nutmeg trees can be found everywhere, dropping their bright-red mace encased nutmeg shells to the floor.
Cocoa is everywhere. Small and larger trees, pods of all sizes growing at odd angles from all over the trunk and braches. Green ripens to yellow, red to orange, and the trees are covered with every stage of growth, from flowers to ripe pods. This past year’s combination has meant a constant harvest, so it’s been a good year. Large bunches of bananas and plantains are interspersed. This incredibly productive vegetation combines with the wooden dwellings of the locals, which some are no more than shacks, and the people sit in their porches, or gather at local shops and bars, spending their time and the long hours of heat and darkness, deep in conversation and local gossip. Everything and anything is painted the bright red, yellow and green of the flag of Grenada – from lamp posts to rocks and fences!
If you make sure to greet people and smile hello, they will frequently start to talk to you, often for quite a while! I heard tales of ‘the good old days’, of Cocoa Tea and salt fish cakes for breakfast, environmental changes and the unreliability of the seasons these days, of the various types of mangoes you can find (our taxi driver pulled over on what was their mother’s day, and picked me two Julie mangoes, telling me they were his mother’s favourite), the lack of Grenadian pre-colonial history taught in schools, and the problems with politicians – some issues are the same wherever you go!
Our first place to stay, Mango Bay on the West Coast, was a few isolated cottages, with some of the most delicious food I’ve ever eaten, cooked by the chef, Kiddusi, who turned out to be from Hermitage, and to be Edmond’s (from the Grenada Chocolate Company) cousin. For three days and nights, he brought us food cooked from mainly local ingredients – expertly spiced and deeply flavoured Callaloo soup (a Grenadian speciality), followed by sweet potato and thyme bake, or spiced quinoa and chickpeas, always accompanied by perfectly caramelised, slightly chewy fried plantain and a thick, tasty portion of spiced greens and vegetables.
Breakfasts were eaten alongside the twenty or so Iguanas who live down in the rocks, and consisted of ginger pancakes or baked coconut cake with nutmeg syrup, accompanied by herbal teas from the garden – mint, ginger, bay : all incredibly potent.
We drank freshly squeezed soursop, passion fruit or tamarind juice, and topped the meal off with ginger or chocolate cake: this is truly vegetarian heaven. Time it right for dinner, and as the chorus of Tree Frogs break out, you’ll see the fireflies flitting between trees.
Following a couple of days of isolation I headed to the bustle of the main town. The House of Chocolate in St George’s, has a small museum of the history of cocoa in Grenada, and serves great hot and cold drinks, cookies and brownies. Their iced cocoa tea blended the traditional Grenadian version of hot chocolate with ice cream. Wandering round the vibrant local spice market, I bought large pieces of rolled cinnamon bark, nutmeg, and chatted to the vendors about recipes and the traditional uses of the spices.
I timed my trip to coincide with the Grenada Chocolate Festival, set up four years ago by Magdalena Fielden, a Mexican living in Grenada for the last 20 years. She has learned more and more about cacao and chocolate in the last few years, establishing the House of Chocolate a couple of years ago, and using the Festival to build international recognition for Grenadian Chocolate.
Recipe for Grenadian Cocoa Tea (serves 4)
Place 3 large bayleaves (Grenadian if you can get them – they’re very different to ours), a stick of cinnamon, five or six cloves and half a grated, or a full chopped nutmeg in a pan of water – about 500ml.
Simmer for twenty minutes, then whisk in two traditional Grenadian cocoa balls, or 100g Grenada Chocolate Company cocoa powder. (You can use other cocoas, but it honestly won’t taste as good due to the characteristics of the origin, and the way the flavours work together).
When the cocoa balls have melted, or the cocoa powder is fully whisked in, add 100-200ml full fat milk.
At this point you can either sweeten with sugar to taste, and drink as traditional cocoa tea, or wait till the liquid cools, and blend with good quality chocolate ice cream, such as our SnowflakeXRococo Sea salt Milk chocolate or for dairy-free, the Chocolate sorbetto.
My next post will cover the festival, and after that my time at the Factory…