The islands of the Caribbean are a bit like a box of Quality street – everyone is somebody’s favourite, and every one is a little different. Mustique is know for being the playground of the rich, the famous and the royals. Jamaica is known as being the cradle of reggae music. Antigua famously has a beach for every day of the year. And Grenada, being one of the lushest Caribbean islands with rampantly fertile volcanic soil, is known worldwide as the Spice Island. Its most abundant and famous spice export is nutmeg: Grenada supplies 40% of the world’s nutmeg. But recently it is another crop that is helping to push Grenada onto the world culinary stage: cocoa.
Cocoa trees are not native to Grenada and were introduced to the island in 1714 by French settlers, who found that the relatively mild climate and incredibly fertile volcanic soil suited the cocoa trees very well indeed. Soon cocoa plantations were flourishing all over the island and Grenada’s geographical location put it in a great position to export its produce to Europe to meet the growing demand for cocoa. By the 1760s, this little island was the world’s largest producer and exporter of ccocoa beans. The future looked bright, except for one small detail: as recently as the 1980s, 100% of Grenada’s cocoa crop was exported as raw cocoa beans – and agricultural produce never commands as high a price as a processed product. So while farmers were producing a quality crop, the profit generated by the cocoa beans once made into chocolate was bypassing the island’s cocoa farmers and lining the pockets of the chocolate manufacturers abroad.
But all that was set to change when Mott Green arrived in Grenada in the mid 1990s. Born David Lawrence Friedman in Washington DC and brought up on Staten Island, he was a frequent visitor to Grenada as his father taught on the island each winter. After dropping out of university, David moved permanently to Grenada and became known as Mott (a Grenadan version of his nickname, “Moth”), and adopted the surname Green to reflect his commitment to environmentalism. He realised the untapped potential of Grenada’s cocoa crop and thanks to his tireless efforts (more on that below), Grenada cocoa producers took their first tentative steps towards processing their own beans and producing high-quality chocolate on the island. Today the Grenada choolate industry is thriving and there are at least five tree/bean-to-bar cocoa estates operating in Grenada. Here are three that chocolate lovers need to visit.
The Grenada Chocolate Company
When Mott Green first arrived in Grenada, he lived a reclusive existence in a hut deep in the rain forest. He fell in love with the island’s cocoa tea and venturing out to buy it brought him into contact with the island’s impoverished cocoa farmers. He became deeply interested in their plight and the fact that all cocoa beans on the island by law had to be sold via the Grenada Cocoa Association to reach markets abroad. The farmers had no choice to whom they could sell and no power to negotiate on price as the price was set by the GCA themselves. Green had a vision of how the farmers could improve their situtation. He realized by making chocolate or other processed cocoa products themselves, rather than selling the raw beans, the farmers could increase the value of their beans and therefore their income. To this end, Green travelled to San Francisco to study chocolate production. A self-confessed tinkerer, Green acquired and restored old chocolate-making machines from Europe and built new ones from scratch, and by the late ’90s these machines had been shipped to Grenada.
In 1999 Green, together with Doug Browne and Edmond Brown, founded the world’s first chocolate making company in a cocoa-producing country, the Grenada Chocolate Company (GCC). The company was run as a co-operative based on the principles of organic production, environmental sustainability and non-exploitative employment practices, and started out in a small, unprepossessing house in the middle of the cocoa groves in Hermitage. The chocolate industry is rife with environmental and human exploitation but the Grenada Chocolate Company addressed this by using only organic growing practices; dealing directly with small cocoa farmers and paying them a higher than average price for their beans; and using sustainable solar and and wind power in the manufacturing process. Growing, processing and packaging of the chocolate all take place on the estate, despite the tiny premises.
Mott Green sadly passed away in 2013 (true to Mott form, he was electrocuted while working on solar-powered machinery for cooling chocolate during overseas transport) but since then the company has continued to thrive under the guidance of Edmond Brown. The co-operative now has over 200 acres of organic cocoa farms and pays 65% more per lb more for the beans than the Grenada Cocoa Association. The Grenada Chocolate Company produces high quality organic dark chocolate using the Trinitario cocoa beans that grow right on their own doorstep and the freshness of the beans used together with the company’s complete control over the fermentation process allows them to make chocolate with unique and complex flavours.
On the day we visited during the Grenada Chocolate Festival, we were given a tour of the cocoa groves by founder Edmond Brown himself. These are not the regimented lines of crops that we have come to expect of farms in the UK – the cocoa grovew look literally like a haphazard wild forest where cocoa happens to grow, interspersed with all manner of other edible plants – nutmeg/mace, bananas and pineapples – as well as the odd wandering goat! I was amazed by the biodiversity in the cocoa grove – the place was teeming with insects including the millipede that I found and the nest of tiny wasps that play an essential role in pollinating the cocoa flowers. Edmond also pointed out some unfamiliar plants – the spiky soursop and the blush pink wax apples that were almost too pretty to eat (but that did not stop us sampling a few straight from the tree – deliciously crisp and fresh!).
On our walk we also visited an old abandoned plantation house on the estate, the Hermitage Great House, which is slowly being reclaimed by the abundant nature surrounding it. The decaying but still salvageable house was purchased in 1765 by British merchants James and Alexander Baillie. The estate at the time consisted of the house, 400 acres of land, and ownership to 195 slaves. James Baillie spent 20 years sparing no expense in creating an opulent plantation home and planting extensive fruit and cacao trees on the estate. As late as 1860, The Hermitage was described as one of the finest plantations in Grenada. The house was occupied as recently as the 1990s and has stood its ground in the face of the 2004 and 2005 hurricanes, but has since sadly been abandoned to its fate. It is of some historical significance, not only as a fine example of colonial architecture (much of the once-magnificent stone and woodwork is still in evidence) but also because behind the house is one of Grenada’s few surviving slave pens, a dank, dark harrowing subterranean stone chamber where slaves were taken to be punished and “broken”.
From the cocoa groves we headed back to the Grenada Chocolate Company factory – located on a suburban street in a house that, other than the colourful signage, looks hardly any different to the residential properties around it. Here we met production supervisor Miss Joyce who sorts the cocoa beans by hand and looks like she could do this by touch alone if she needs to! What struck me was how simple all the machinery is – and the fact that the premises are no larger than an average suburban house – and yet, on these tiny premises the beans are fermented, dried, ground, processed into chocolate and packaged. We also visited the the on-site GCC factory outlet shop where you can taste and purchase organic cocoa powder, individual truffles, and their full range of chocolate bars:
- GCC 60% cocoa
- GCC 71% cocoa
- GCC 82% cocoa
- GCC 100% cocoa – almost savoury in its full-flavoured intensity
- GCC Nib-a-licious – crispy roasted cocoa nibs in 60% chocolate
- GCC Salty-licious – 71% chocolate studded with Caribbean sea salt – my favourite!
We finished our visit with a Grenadian lunch of oildown, a traditional celebration meal consisting of a huge pot of layered stew which includes breadfruit, callaloo leaves, dasheen root, green bananas, salted pig’s tail and snout (or salted fish), chicken, peppers, dumplings, potato, turmeric and coconut milk. The unusual name comes from the layer of coconut oil and meat juices that collects in the base of the pot. Unlike most stews where the ingredients are stirred and mixed during the cooking process, an oildown is packed in layers and left to simmer undisturbed.
GRENADA CHOCOLATE COMPANY VISITOR INFO
Although the GCC factory is not generally open to the public, the outlet shop has excellent video of the chocolate making process (as well as excellent chocolates!). The shop is open weekdays and Sundays 9:00 to 5:00. Please call in advance to request a tour of the cocoa groves.
The Grenada Chocolate Company Ltd.
Grenada, West Indies
Tel: +1 473-442-0050
Crayfish Bay Organic Estate
“Follow me”, commands the enigmatic, slightly dishevelled-looking man with the long silver hair and intense blue eyes as he grips his machete and strolls into the rain forest. We obey without hesitation… and if you think that this sounds more like a scene from The Blair Witch Project than a visit to a Caribbean cocoa plantation, then you clearly have never visited Crayfish Bay Organics – or met Kim Russell! Situated high up in the coastal hills of St Mark’s parish, well off the beaten tourist track, Crayfish Bay was once a sugar plantation named Non Pareil (“without equal”) which was converted to a cocoa estate by the British in the 1800s. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan devastated the estate and it was effectively abandoned until Kim and his Guyana-born wife Lylette happened upon it in 2007.
Disilluioned with western culture of consumption and having lived on neighbouring Cariacou previously, Kim had returned to Grenada to seek out a different and more sustainable life. He and Kim started farming on Crayfish Bay’s derelict, hilly 15 acres and discovered that the cocoa beans left behind by its previous farmers were of extremely high quality. With little experience in cocoa farming and production, Kim turned to local farmers for instruction. He could see the benefits of the cocoa farmers turning their beans into a finished product rather than selling the raw materials, but found that it was generally perceived to be too expensive to set up processing facilities – so Kim set out to teach the cocoa farmers what they could achieve on a shoestring budget. A self-taught engineer, he restored the estate’s original bean drying mechanism so that individual trays spread with cocoa beans can be pulled out into the sun to dry or slid under the roof if the weather is wet. Kim also built almost all the necessary machinery himself from scrap and recycled material – including his charcoal-fired bean roaster which he both designed and built. We got to see the roaster in action during our visit as Kim explained the process of chocolate making on a shoestring and railed against the evils of large chocolate corporations.
After the roaster, we moved on to the winnowing machine which looked suspiciously like a microwave. Which makes sense… because this is another of Kim’s homemade machines and does in fact utilise a modified microwave oven carcass! We also met Lylette who showed us how she tempers the Crayfish Bay chocolate by hand, a process that she can do by look and feel rather than thermometer and that can take up to eight hours per batch. This truly is hand-made chocolate and the polar opposite of the overly-sweet commercial gunk that fills most supermarket aisles.
From there, Kim led us up the hill and into the cocoa plantation. If you have any ideas of a cocoa plantation consisting of pristine rows of equally-spaced cocoa trees, think again. Here in Grenada, and especially at Crayfish Bay, the hillsides of the estate are dotted (rather than neatly lined) with cocoa trees, interspersed with plentiful mango, nutmeg and plantain trees. A monoculture this ain’t! Kim explained to us that the not only does the variety support the farm’s organic certification and his vision of sustainable biodiversity, but that the other trees also provide some necessary shade for the cocoa trees. Standing on a graceful 200-year old wrought iron bridge (the second oldest in all of the Caribbean) across a river, deep in the cocoa tree grove, Kim explained that although he and Lylette own the 15 acres that make up Crayfish Bay Estate outright, he sees himself as a custodian rather than an owner of the land and therefore responsible for the wellbeing of every living thing that depends on the land. Because Kim believes that employment is a form of slavery, he has leased and given total control of his land to the farmers who grow the cocoa, allowing them to grow whatever they like outside of cocoa growing season, with the only proviso being that they must adhere to strict organic practices. During cocoa season, Kim buys the wet cocoa from them, for 90% of the highest current cocoa price – meaning his farmers earn about 30 times more per week than other farmers on the island. This in turn enables them to invest in larger items like fishing boats which they can use to earn a living outside of cocoa season and achieve financial independence. Whether you agree with his philosophy or not, It is hard not to be inspired by his passion for and commitment to this island and its people, and by his willingness to get his hands dirty rather than try to bring about change at arm’s length.
After our walk through the cocoa trees, we were treated to a very chocolatey afternoon tea on the wooden verandah of the Tree House that Kim and Lylette built, enjoying decadent chocolate brownies, a tasting of Crayfish Bay’s 75% cocoa chocolate bars, and cocoa tea (a hot drink brewed from ground cocoa beans in the same way that coffee is brewed from coffee beans, but with added cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom).
CRAYFISH BAY VISITOR INFO
If you wish to visit the farm, call ahead to see when this will be convenient. During the Grenada Chocolate Festival, you can attend a day long workshop at Crayfish Bay to learn what it takes to be a cocoa farmer and chocolate producer. Both The Tree House and The Little House (2 bedrooms each and gorgeous sea views) are available to rent on Air B&B from $70 US per night as self-catering accommodation.
Crayfish Bay Organics
Grenada, West Indies
Tel: +1 473-442-1897
Of all the tree-to-bar estates on Grenada, Belmont Estate is the most geared to receiving visitors, and walking around the grounds it’s not hard to see why this beautiful estate set in the lush rolling hills of north-eastern Grenada is a firm favourite with tourists. Belmont Estate’s history dates back to the colonial era of the late 1600s when it started life as a sugar plantation. Estate owner Shadel Nyack Compton’s grand-parents, Norbert & Lyris Nyack, bought the estate in 1944 and were the first Grenadians of East Indian descent to own an estate in Grenada, at a time when only Europeans owned agricultural estates. The estate gradually produced less sugar cane and more spices so that nutmeg and mace were the main agricultural produce by the early 2000s when the decision was taken to develop their cocoa production over spice production.
Even before Hurricane Ivan devastated the plantation in 2004, spice production and profits had been in decline and so Shadel reconsidered the estate’s business strategy to identify more sustainable revenue streams. To take advantage of the estate’s heritage and beautiful hilly setting, agri-tourism was chosen as the best way to restore Belmont’s economic viability. This involved building a small thatched restaurant and the incorporating local culture, history and traditions into the estate’s daily activities by building a goat dairy, an organic garden and a musem of local history. Visitors were also offered the opportunity to tour the estate and chocolate factory and Belmont soon became a firm local and tourist favourite. Despite the estate’s tourist amenities being destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, Belmont rebuilt and expanded their facilities and the estate re-opened to the public in 2007.
Image courtesy and © Heather Cowper
Our guide Meshach explained that although some cocoa had been grown on the estate for over 200 years, it was only more recently that pretty much all production on their 100 acres was switched to cocoa. Since the late 2000s, Belmont worked in partnership with the Grenada Chocolate Company, supplying them with organic cocoa beans and housing their solar dryers on the estate. But in 2016 (also the year that Belmont’s cocoa was certified organic), they opened their own bean to bar factory only metres from where the cocoa grows and have been producing chocoolate and cocoa products under the Belmont Estate label ever since.
Meshach gave us a guided tour of the bean to bar process on the estate, starting by selecting a cocoa pod from a pile of many-coloured pods (every shade from golden yellow to a deep aubergine), hacking it open with his machete and offering us each a taste of the fresh beans. I won’t lie – the beans look tremendously unpromising, grey and coated in a slimy layer. But persevere and pop one in your mouth and you will be pleasantly surprised! There is not much to eat – it is more like sucking the last flesh off a peach pip – but the flavour is eluive and rather addictive, like the love-child of a lychee, a ruby grapefruit and a papaya.
Once harvested, all cocoa pods are split like this and the wet beans transported to the fermentary where the beans are drained of water, sifted and hand-sorted to remove debris like leaves, stones and bits of pod; and then placed in large wooden fermenting boxes. Meshach showed us the Belmont fermentary where the beans in their boxes are covered in banana leaves and jute sacks. Under their banana leaf blanket the beans heat up and ferment and they are moved from one box to another every 2 days to ensure even heat distribution. By the end of 5-7 days, the slimy pulp has disappeared and the beans are then moved to the large shallow wooden drying trays of the Belmont solar drying facility, designed and built by Mott Green. The trays can be pulled out to give the beans full sun, orrolled under cover to keep them dry if it rains. During the week or so that they are drying, farmers “walk the beans”, using their feet to allow even air flow between the beans and asisst in the drying process. I tried this for myself – not only a great meditative activity but also a good foot massage! To polish the beans the traditional way, visitors to the estate can also sometimes participate in “cocoa dancing” – dancing barefoot on the beans in large smooth copper pots. The entire process is reassuringly low-tech.
Image on left courtesy and © Fiona MacLean
We also visited the Belmont chocolate factory where the dried beans are roasted, cracked open and winnowed to remove the cocoa nibs from the inedible shell (the shells are used for compost). The cocoa nibs are ground to a paste to which sugar, milk and cocoa butter are added for milk chocolate; or only sugar for dark chocolate. The paste is set in 5kg blocks which is left to age in the aging room for around 3 months to allow the chocolate to develop a complex flavour profile. To ensure that the finished product has a crisp snap, smooth texture and glossy shine, the solid chocolate blocks are melted and then cooled to specific temperatures in Belmont’s tempering machine, finally yielding stable chocolate crystals. This stable chocolate mixture is then poured into moulds, set, wrapped and sold in the on-site shop. There is a dangerous tasting counter in the shop where you can sample all the chocolate that Belmont makes:
- Dark – 74% cocoa
- Milk – 60% cocoa (all the health benefits of dark chocolate in a lighter, sweeter option)
- Pure Grenada – 60% cocoa (Belmont Milk chocolate blended with organic cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and mace
- Sea Salt – 74% cocoa with sea salt crystals – my favourite!
- Cocoa powder, cocoa nibs, cocoa balls and cocoa butter.
As part of our visit we also enjoyed a generous Grenadian lunch buffet in the new large, open-sided airy restaurant. Hot food is kept hot on nifty pot stands over live coals and included local dishes like callaloo soup and fish stew. Desserts included cayenne pepper ice-cream, spiced brownies and pumpkin swiss-roll.
BELMONT VISITOR INFO
Belmont is open to the public 08h00-16h00 Sunday to Friday (closed Saturday) and offers visitors various tours through which to experience the estate, chocolate making, and local culture. Their flagship tour is the bean-to-bar tour which gives visitors an opportunity to touch, taste, see, smell and hear cocoa and chocolate, and to be involved in the transformation processes. This tour includes a visit to the cocoa fields for demonstration of/participation in harvesting, cracking and collecting cocoa pods and tasting fresh beans; a tour of the Grenada Chocolate Factory to learn about making chocolate; and lunch in the estate restaurant featuring dishes made from chocolate. Please reserve ahead to do this tour.
Grenada, West Indies
Tel: +1 473 442 9524
GRENADA VISITOR INFORMATION
The ideal time for chocolate lovers to visit Grenada is during the annual Grenada Chocolate Festival which was founded in 2014 by Magdalena Fielden. This nine-day festival takes place each year in May and offers a variety of chocolate and cacao themed events and activities including chocolate meditation and yoga; a street food festival; chocolate themed cocktails and meals; chocolate tastings with renowned international chocolatiers; cacao farm tours; chocolate making experiences; and of course visits to Grenada’s tree-to-bar estates.
Both Virgin Atlantic and British Airways offer scheduled flights to Grenada from the UK as follows:
- Virgin Atlantic: Monday and Thursday (Winter) Monday and Friday (Summer), making a brief stop in St Lucia in both directions.
- British Airways: Wednesday and Saturday (Year round), making a brief stop in St Lucia in both directions
I stayed in the Seabreeze Hotel, across the road from Grande Anse Beach, which features sixteen basic but newly renovated rooms with air conditioning, WiFi, refrigerators, kettles, toasters and microwaves; as well a sparkling pool – a very affordable option starting from as low as $50 per room per night. You can read Kacie’s full review here or visit the hotel’s website for more info.
SeaBreeze Hotel Grenada
Grand Anse Main Road
If you enjoyed this post, you will also enjoy 10 Things You Need to Eat in Grenada, or more of my travel posts. Or for some other perspectives on our Grenada trip, see Fiona’s post, Kaycie’s post, Heather’s post and Sharon’s post.
DISCLOSURE: I visited Grenada with complimentary flights, meals and accommodation as a guest of Pure Grenada but received no further remuneration to write this post. I was not expected to write a positive review – all views are my own and I retain full editorial control.
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