Tobago

Tobago
Horizon at Sandy Point

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Chocolate dreams

The traditional cocoa farmer is something of a caricature - wizened, cocoa tea brown, craggy panyol features, at least 70, or just old. Their voices are loud as if accustomed to a life outdoors calling to each other through the trees, expecting to be heard and heeded. These are the stereotypical cocoa peonsDon Quixote-like who would have led their laden mules or driven pick up trucks down from the Northern Range plateaus and valleys to bring their beans to the Cocoa Board. They talk about the old days as if the hard times never were, as if the culture of cocoa could actually be recovered if only we were willing to turn back the clock and live the life again - that and some government subsidy might help!

There are many of those left. They turn up at coffee and cocoa seminars and meetings, and indeed they are the salt of the earth, fortunate for us that they have lasted long enough to pass the torch. For there is a  new breed of cocoa entrepreneur emerging, who with a little support, could show us the way to put Trinidad back at the centre of the world cocoa map. Mark Andrews is one of these. He too speaks of cocoa business and an estate, with intensity and certainty, but softly. He asks, "How many of us who have grown up in cocoa can say that we have tasted the chocolate made from our beans?"

It's an important question of a country that has traditionally shipped this agricultural product soon after harvesting, and not necessarily to the highest bidder. (A fair amount of our coffee, however, stays here.) As the French might speak of terroir, Mark knows the taste of Trinidad's flavour cocoa - in particular the beans grown on the Rancho Quemado estate. His business is at the start of the value chain that ends in the fine dark chocolate bonbons and bars made by Isabel Brash under the Cocobel brand. In Tobago, Duane Dove (http://www.rumchocolate.com/) has developed an ecotourism business for his estate that includes chocolate paired with rum as part of the experience. These are not the only entrepreneurs of the new style cocoa and chocolate business. Look for Mountain Pride dark drinking chocolate from the Tamana estate in central Trinidad, with its flavours of lemongrass and cinnamon. There are many coming to cocoa with a different business attitude today.

So that others might also be encouraged to be part of this business (with or without land), the Innovation and Enterprise department of the University of Trinidad and Tobago is working across the Caribbean on technology (all-terrain vehicles, improved tools); innovative practices (service teams skilled and equipped to move from estate to estate, to prune trees or pick cocoa; chocolate makers and chocolatiers) and a wide range of products.

There is attention too from the European CDE (Centre from the Development of Enterprise) to assist in cocoa business (as well as nutmeg in Grenada, mangoes, bee-keeping and coffee). They have identified Caribbean territories who are already known for fine flavour cocoa production - Belize, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamiaca, Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago. The CRU (Cocoa Research Unit) is excited about possibilities for new crosses - a tree that stays near five feet and bears giant pods with the finest criollo flavour?

The labour-intense cocoa-to-chocolate chain does not have to be a disincentive; there may be advantages in the very complexity of this industry. Not a one man enterprise, certainly not "fast food," but a service chain that involves and engages communities in search of livelihood and meaning.  Eco-estates, entrepreneurs for harvesting, fermenting, polishing ("dancing" the cocoa); roasting and winnowing; then the artful transformation from bitter bean to bonbon retaining all those allusions to sun and soil and sap. Festivals of cocoa and chocolate, eco-estate adventures. Tastes of Trinidad, indeed!

We say it takes a village to raise a child. We may yet redeem part of our children's future with the collaboration of new villages engaged in lucrative cocoa businesses.


The current catalogue and price list for Cocobel chocolates - soon available on its own website. (Price list at June 2011)

4 comments:

  1. ...that' great news to hear that T'dad is still growing cocoa, something worth looking into. Sicily is one of the best known for their chocolate, not like the usual smooth chocolate, but chocolate made where the sugar granule are not melted into the chocolate, they use alot of spices,chili, cinnamon, vanilla........

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  2. Is it true that the import tax on chocolate is much, much higher than on cocoa beans? For cocoa bean 3%, for finished chocolate 16% to the EU or something like that. We need to go all Ghandi about this!

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  3. Into the EU, the tax would have to be higher - to protect their own chocolate making industries. So they get to import our prime quality beans at a nominal tax, and slap higher taxes on our finished chocolate which would compete (very favorably I might add) with their blended and sweetened (and "bastardized") product. Isn't that always the way of the world? At this time, Cocobel is focused on the domestic market - so by the time she is ready for export, enough people may appreciate and be willing to pay the higher price!

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