By Alexander Britell
“Cocoa absorbs the flavor of anything around it,” Wendy Anne tells me.
That’s the thing about cocoa, the fruit whose fermented seeds are the basis for chocolate — terroir is paramount.
Whether it’s mango or papaya or nutmeg, everything in a cocoa tree’s environment will end up, in some manifestation, in the bean — and, eventually, in the bar.
It’s no surprise, then, that a place called the Spice Isle would produce some of the globe’s most exciting cocoa — and some of its best chocolate.
The story of Grenadian chocolate goes back to 1714, when cocoa trees were first introduced to the island. The industry grew to the point that, by the 1760s, Grenada was the largest producer and exporter of cocoa, responsible for about 50 percent of British West Indian cocoa exports. In 1772, Grenada exported 343,400 pounds of cocoa.
But while Grenada’s colonial history was filled with cocoa growing, for centuries, little of it actually found its way into chocolate.
Things changed, however, in 1999, when Mott Green, Doug Browne and Edmond Brown banded to create a cooperative for cocoa farmers around the island and created Grenada’s first modern “tree to bar” integration in a factory in St Patricks.
What became the Grenada Chocolate Company put Grenadian chocolate on the map, and paved the way for what has become a serious industry on the island. (It should be noted that this fruit is normally called cacao. In Grenada, though, they call it cocoa. But when you make stuff that tastes this good, you can call it whatever you want.)
Today, there are now four major chocolate companies on the island: the Grenada Chocolate Company, Jouvay, Crayfish Bay and, notably, Belmont Estate, which is officially launching production this fall.
The latter is a full-fledged destination in its own right, home to a 17th-century plantation with an organic farm, a garden, a terrific restaurant and cocoa processing facilities.
It’s a way to experience authentic cocoa production and see the process unfold from harvesting to fermentation to air-drying and polishing and, more importantly, to see how the beans turn into chocolate, both dark and milk chocolate — the latter the only of its kind produced in Grenada.
“We have a wide variety of fruits and spices and that’s what makes our cocoa so special and unique,” says Wendy Anne Collins, the chocolatier at the House of Chocolate in historic downtown St George’s a veritable museum of chocolate that’s also home to its own chocolate-making operation, with cocoa-accented tours and educational sessions.
That concentration of growers and producers has made Grenada into what’s almost certainly the Caribbean capital of chocolate, with an industry that isn’t just world-class in quality but also decidedly tourist friendly. (There’s even an annual Grenada Chocolate Fest that includes seminars, farm tours, street food, beach parties and even chocolate beer.)
Travelers can visit each chocolate company for tours and tastings, from Jouvay’s Diamond Chocolate Factory to the Crayflsh Bay Organic Farm.
Grenada’s cocoa industry is an organic, energetic, creative thing, a meaningful, ethical contribution to the island’s economy and something that, most importantly, is all about the people who make it.
So what’s the secret? What makes Grenadian cocoa and chocolate so good?
“It’s nothing fancy,” Wendy Anne says. “It’s just the quality of the bean and the land around it.”
And everyone around it, too.