Horizon at Sandy Point

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Cocobel and the saga of Cacao

Now five years old, Cocobel is more than the finest quality chocolate made from Trinidad cocoa beans. Cocobel is now a brand with a domestic following and a growing international reputation. Like all excellent business brands, Cocobel's story is a journey that began with one person whose passion ignited a movement.

Maybe it started five years ago, maybe it started centuries before. Maybe the discovery of the magical beans enclosed in pods hanging heavy off the trunks and branches of forest trees belongs to the MesoAmericans four millennia before today. The secret of fermenting and roasting the beans; winnowing and grinding to a thick liqueur, has been passed on so many times that the secret of Theobroma cacao - the beauty of the bean - is now an archival memory in mankind's genes.

The Cocobel story begins with a young girl wandering the rich rainforest of her dreams, in which so many paths criss-crossed that it was hard to choose. Each led to another mysterious domain of knowledge and investigation. She chose the path of art and architecture, and then stumbled - quite by chance - upon the alchemy of the cacao bean.

At first she thought the transformation of the bean, upon her grindstone, was magic itself. Mystical, wild and raw, the complex seed yielded itself in flavours of the forest, bitter, loamy, floral and dark. Then she ventured to the estate where the beans were growing on ancient gnarled trees and learned that it was the estate, Rancho Quemado (scorched land) in oil-rich south Trinidad that held the secrets of her beans. In the geology of the place, there exists the possibility of oil wealth deep from the earth, and the riches of cacao upon its fertile soil.

Upon this estate, Cocobel inspired the replanting of hundreds of new trees at Rancho Quemado. Now, the cocoa peons aspire to restore the glory days - when cocoa was king - of two hundred years ago. Old-time skills are remembered; and innovative improvements invented. Although Trinidad may no longer be among the top producers of cocoa in the world, the island's Trinitario cocoa - developed from the marriage of forastero and criollo - dominate the estates across Africa and Asia. So why not here on the island where these hardy well-travelled clones originated?

The story of Cocobel now includes the revival of an estate and a community, of age-old craft in the growing of trees, harvesting and fermenting the pods. In this process, she is healing the rift between country and town, revealing the riches to be gained in working alongside nature. In her workshop, the cocoa is transformed into a medium to carry more than the alchemy of chocolate, to transport the story of the island, its people, its diversity of flavours.

Cocobel maps the herbs and spices and fruits of the island. Basil, mint, thyme, ginger from the hill estates of Paramin.  Sorrel, pineapples, passionfruit, mango, oranges from groves and valleys and wayside gardens all over the island. Whatever flavours are pleasing, she incorporates to accent and enliven the chocolate, revalidating time-honoured industries - aged rum, peppers and spices, tonka and vanilla. All reflect the harmonious blend of the people.

And so, Cocobel is five years old. She carries a responsibility beyond her years, for the restoration of pride in handmade; an appreciation for the benediction of sunlight and breezes and soil on food; and the alchemy to be wrought with Theobroma cacao (food of the gods) on its consumers and its producers. The magic has been tapped. The wild is waiting to be tasted, to re-awaken the senses.

Join the journey of Cocobel, at

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