This place and the people that work there held almost mythical status for me, their photos being all over our media and in our shops, and their story such an intrinsic part of that of Rococo. They are perhaps, one of the main reasons that I was attracted to work at Rococo in the first place. I’d used their chocolate for years previously, had won an Academy Award with a caramel dipped in their 60%, and had followed their progress and the sad loss of Mott Green, one of the co-founders and the inspiration behind this remarkable company. For me, spending time here, if you can imagine, was more akin to a pilgrimage than work experience or a holiday.
After taking probably our hundredth wrong turn on the maze of unsigned roads, we asked the locals for directions, and pulled up at the wonderful little multi-coloured factory, which sits in the middle of a residential road in the forested hills.
I met and talked with Jim, the manager, about all the great things about the company, the challenges facing them, and how I could help during my stay.
I wanted to experience the entire process. I sorted fermented and dried beans with Miss Joyce, who deftly picks through the mounds of beans to remove bad ones, or hard, empty shells.
A powerful jet of flame heats the machine while the beans rotate, then after the prescribed time, they are allowed to fall into a rotating cooler underneath. The smell of the roasting beans is intense and glorious. It’s not just a generic smell of chocolate, or cocoa beans in general, but is a unique, scent created by the origin, and the roasting time. Edmond is very careful not to over-roast, as Mott taught him how detrimental to the taste this can be.
Batch after batch of beans are successively roasted, cooled to around 30 degrees, and then carried upstairs in 12kg buckets to be fed into the hopper for winnowing – hard work in the tropical heat! Their winnower is one of the best I’ve seen, with very little shell left in the nib.
Buckets of rich, red-brown nib are then put into the mélangeur, to be roughly ground, with the appropriate amount of sugar for the percentage, then the resulting paste transferred to the refiner for conching. Again, the smell in this room is intoxicating as the just-roasted nibs are ground to a paste and then refined to create the chocolate we know and love.
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One of two things can then happen. The 82, 71 and 60 percentages are cast into eating bars or chefs bars, which are larger 227g bars which we use at Rococo to create our House Blend, and also some of our ganaches. The 100% is either cast into a bar, or put in a tank, which is heated then used to make cocoa butter and cocoa powder. Another impressive bit of kit, built by Mott, the Cocoa Butter presses reminded me of something you’d find in a centuries-old factory in Yorkshire. Heavy, black iron structures which are gradually fed with cocoa liquor, which is then put under hundreds of pounds of pressure, forcing out the liquid cocoa butter into a pot below, and making a solid cake of the drier cocoa powder, which is removed and packed as cocoa powder for the international market, or as ‘Smilo’ for Grenada. They can’t make enough to keep up with local demand!
Bars are cooled and then wrapped by hand, by a small team of packers including Laurel and Rashida, who also both work part-time in the bonbon shop as chocolatiers.
Cocoa butter is cast into cute little blocks, and cocoa powder packed into sachets. The factory also make the most amazing bananas, solar dried just outside with the driers built by Mott. I encouraged them to try other fruits – definitely mangoes!
Making chocolate in the tropics is always going to be a challenge, with the associated heat and humidity, but with a lot of ingenuity, and determination, the GCC do an amazing job. Where the occasional bit of air-con struggles, fans help, and in other rooms, the northerly breeze is a welcome relief when it catches you as it blows through the intense heat. Mott and Edmond were very astute in starting off the business refurbishing old machinery or building their own, or creating additions or tweaking every now and then. As the company grew, they invested in bigger machinery which would allow them to increase production.
As I finished my final day in the factory, all I could think was how I wanted to stay longer, but how lucky I was to have experienced it, and to understand the true value of the chocolate we’re all so fond of here at Rococo.
It was quite an emotional moment for me after so many years and so many stories. Bananas and other fruits give way to the cocoa trees, and I took several photos of pods with the Grenadian sunbeams striking them, which look almost artificially lit. Chatting to Kemron, I was struck by how engaged all the GCC staff are, as he spoke to me of harvesting with the Farm team, and the challenges of organic production. We’re resting the GruGrococo bar this year, but I look forward to the next series, as I can now picture the cocoa fields where it grows.
Read my next post to see what it’s like in the Company’s Bonbon shop.