Any chocoholic will attest that chocolate is more than a treat – it is a comfort food, something that will never let you down, something that improves your mood and can even induce romance.
Couple the satisfaction of that melt-in-the-mouth chocolate bar with the ultimate luxury holiday destination and you have a match made in heaven. This is exactly what the Caribbean provides. The islands of Barbados, Grenada, St Lucia, and Aruba are famous for being the go-to destinations for white sand beaches and glistening seas, but whilst you soak up the culture on your holiday to the Caribbean, be sure to sample the local cocoa delicacies, too.
The cocoa trade here is renowned internationally for producing some of the finest cocoa beans, providing the ingredients for many luxury chocolate companies around the world.
The history of Caribbean chocolate
Cocoa crop plantations were established in the Caribbean back in the 17th century and, in the 300 years since, the industry has grown immeasurably. Coming from parts of Central and South America, it was the Spanish who introduced cocoa to the Caribbean. When discovered, they chose to keep it a secret for over a century so it didn’t have to be shared – much like you do today with your favourite chocolate bar, hidden away in a secret part of the kitchen cupboard.
Here we have collated some of the best chocolate-based events, festivals, and Caribbean companies for you to discover on your next holiday. Read on to discover the Kenwood Travel guide to the Caribbean for chocolate lovers!
Chocolate festivals in the Caribbean
Grenada Chocolate Festival
Celebrating Grenada’s organic and ethically produced cocoa and chocolate, the Grenada Chocolate Festival is perfect for anyone passionate about this ultimate guilty pleasure. The festival celebrates its fourth year on May 12th 2017, which Sheba Augustine, a member of the festival team, says will be “a perfect experience for all those who have a passion for dark chocolate.”
This year, the theme of the festival is “Honouring our Chocolate Roots”. Sheba explains:
“It celebrates the hard work of the cocoa farmers who have nurtured and harvested Grenada’s delicious fine-flavoured cocoa. The chocolate industry is expanding on the island with several tree-to-bar chocolate factories, including the famous Grenada Chocolate Company established by the late Mott Green and Crayfish Bay Organic Cocoa Estate, and more recently, the House of Chocolate museum which has opened to great acclaim in the historic town of St Georges. It offers unique visitor experiences as you sample pure cocoa butter, cocoa teas, ice creams and even chocolate face masks.”
“You can learn how Grenada’s chocolate artisans craft their famous ethical “tree to bar” products, take a journey through the island’s rich history and visit cocoa farms nestled in its lush Caribbean rain forest, or be a cocoa farmer or a chocolatier for a day. Jam by the turquoise sea at sunset, and run through a cocoa forest! And when you are ready to relax and unwind, indulge in some authentic chocolate-inspired cuisine and luxuriate in cocoa-infused island life!”
Barbados Chocolate Festival
The Barbados Chocolate Festival, on April 1st, is one of the most exciting new events on the Caribbean culinary scene. Founded in 2015, the festival promises to indulge the senses as celebrated chocolatiers, pastry chefs, confectioners and mixologists demonstrate the many ways this unique ingredient can be used. Here, local, regional, and international chefs meet to celebrate their love of chocolate. Witness chefs making decadent chocolate creations right before your eyes, try your hand at making your own chocolate or enjoy a sophisticated wine seminar with a master sommelier.
Cocoa Innovation Festival
Founded by a family that makes all sorts of food products from cocoa, this festival occurs every year after carnival and celebrates cocoa in all its forms. This project is the first of its kind in Trinidad and Tobago, and was created in 2014 to allow the founder to fulfil the requirements to graduate from a programme in Event Management. This year, the festival will be occurring after Trinidad’s major Carnival. Marcia Guerrero from the festival explains:
“It is a perfect way to wind down from the weeks of partying; with great food in a perfect setting, the Lopinot valley, nestled at the foothills of the Northern Range on the island of Trinidad. The event features live music with a Spanish flavour. The choice of music ties back to persons of Spanish heritage tending to Cocoa estates bringing with them their musical instruments and traditional music.”
Of course, if you are visiting the Cocoa Innovation Festival, the main attraction will be the chocolate itself. However, there is more to enjoy than the artisan chocolate samples alone. Marcia explains: “Every year we try something new in terms of our cuisine. One feature which we will not change, though, is the suckling pig marinated in local herbs and spices infused with cocoa beans. This pig is roasted over an open fire with chocolate smeared on the skin.”
With its innovations in cocoa-infused savoury dishes, desserts and beverages having won several awards over the past 6 years, this festival is well worth a visit. What’s more, the festival has also invited local chocolate makers and women who craft artisan cosmetics using cocoa to sell their products. Marcia explains that this level of inclusion “allows guests to meet chocolate producers from other areas of the country. It also provides a glimpse into what’s available from the local chocolate community.”
Caribbean Chocolate Companies
Thanks to the warm, sunny climate, the Caribbean is the perfect place for producing a rich harvest of cocoa beans. These are widely regarded as having the best flavour of any beans across the globe.
The Caribbean is also known for its delicious fruits such as mango and papaya. These flavours are often mixed with chocolate by entrepreneurs, so, when you are on holiday in the Caribbean, make sure to look out for these innovative companies.
While North America, Australia, and much of Europe becomes increasingly obsessed with diet and healthy living, the people of the Caribbean maintain their belief that chocolate is a healthy indulgence. Now, it is the organic status of Caribbean chocolate that sets it apart, with many products created from bean to bar on the very same farm.
The durability of the cocoa bean has allowed companies in the Caribbean to create more and more products that are now being shipped worldwide. Today even spas use chocolate-based products for its therapeutic benefits when applied to the skin.
Exclusively using beans from the Rancho Quemado Estate in south Trinidad, Isabel Brash creates her chocolate in Woodbrook, Port of Spain. The former architect turned chocolatier creates treats that are a balance of form and function – as beautiful as they are delicious. Cocobel chocolates are exclusively sold on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago, where Isabel is soon to expand her kitchen into an exclusive cocoa café.
Isabel tells us why the chocolate from this corner of the world is so special:
“What makes chocolate so good coming from Trinidad and Tobago is the quality raw ingredient we have to work with – the cacao. Our breed of Trinitario was the first of its kind (hence the name), and although stock has been used in parts of Africa, Indonesia and other parts of the Caribbean, we remain one of the most desired destinations for quality and fine flavour cacao. We are certainly blessed with the golden bean!”
“Another point is that we have the best research centre for cacao right here on our island – the Cocoa Research Centre – so they are able to ensure that farmers are processing the beans to bring out the best quality to the nature of the cocoa.”
Agapey Chocolate Factory
The Agapey Chocolate Factory was founded with the aim of using Caribbean cocoa beans to provide high-end luxury chocolate to the world. One of less than 50 companies globally to still use the traditional chocolate methods and machinery of old, Agapey prides itself on selecting only the finest of beans for their products.
Agapey was established in Barbados, and uses the world-renowned and locally-grown Barbadian gold cane sugar, which is added to give a special flavour to their products. Rated as one of the best chocolate factory experiences in the world, their private tours will open a world of chocolatey delight on your Barbados holiday. Explore the factory and plantation, seeing the entire process of how chocolate is made from the humble beginnings of the little cacao bean.
The Agapey Chocolate Factory’s shop is just five minutes from the cruise port, enticing arrivals with the soothing aroma of fresh, creamy chocolate which few can resist.
Winners of the inaugural NCB Strength Award in 2008 and the Heart Trust/NTA Female Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2009, Chocolate Dreams began its life as a home-based cottage industry before expanding into a professional business in April 2004. Now, their range of chocolates includes everything from traditional chocolate truffles to coffee bark, and even tamarind balls dipped in chocolate.
The Green Monkey Chocolatier
With two boutiques on the island of Barbados, The Green Monkey Chocolatier’s flagship store and café can be found in Holetown. Inspired by French cuisine, their chocolates are bursting with not only their famous rich, dark chocolate, but also with quirky flavours and ingredients. Expect to sample chocolate with macarons, gourmet marshmallows and even jams, marmalades and more. Combining two of the Caribbean’s finest exports, Green Monkey also produce unique rum-chocolate truffles.
The Grenada Chocolate Company
The Grenada Chocolate Company was founded in 1999 by Mott Green, Doug Browne and Edmond Brown, three men with the dream of creating a cooperative for local organic cocoa farmers and chocolate-makers. The company created the concept of ‘tree-to-bar’ chocolate from their base in Hermitage, St. Patricks, revitalising the local economy and drawing in visitors from around the world.
Producing high quality organic dark chocolate from the world-famous Trinitario cocoa beans grown right on their doorstep, they have won international awards for their complex flavours and fine-flavoured organic cocoa beans. Reconfiguring many of their machines to become solar-powered, the GCC maintain their desire to forge a sustainable future for chocolate production.
You may be surprised to learn that French chocolate giant Hotel Chocolat actually has its roots in St Lucia. Near the former French imperial capital of Soufriere, the Rabot Estate houses a 140-acre cocoa plantation, where fertile soils and high altitude nourishes the company’s rare strains of cocoa bean. This is where the products you see on British high streets and born, with the cocoa beans shopped to Hotel Chocolat’s factories overseas. In the future, Hotel Chocolat is planning to build a chocolate factory in St Lucia itself, having already chosen a site which has seen high-profile visits from the likes of HRH Prince Charles.
Uses of Chocolate
Whilst particularly popular in St Lucia, each Caribbean island has made their own interpretations of cocoa tea for centuries. Traditionally made with a finger-sized stick of roasted, ground and rolled cocoa nibs, the chocolate is grated into the liquid to ensure a rich and wholesome chocolate-flavoured drink.
It may be called a tea, but really this drink is closer to hot chocolate in flavour and texture. But this is not your average hot chocolate – the dark cacao fragrance and nutty undertones of cocoa tea are something that simply cannot be resembled in a jar from your local supermarket.
Caribbean Chocolate Cake
When you order a Caribbean Chocolate Cake, you will discover that names can be deceiving, as this delicacy is actually a beer. Created by Siren Craft Brewery in collaboration with award-winning Cigar City Brewing in Florida, this dense stout is the perfect accompaniment to any beach barbeque.
Brewed with hops and hand-roasted cocoa nibs, Caribbean Chocolate Cake is an homage to the local beers that can be found around the Caribbean islands in bars, at celebratory chocolate festivals or on tours of the factories.
So, whether you are booking a holiday to St Lucia to escape the British weather, or you are searching for the perfect honeymoon destination, sinking your teeth into some Caribbean chocolate will make your break that bit more satisfying.