We spent all of January touring islands in the Caribbean. A particularly memorable visit was our stop in Grenada and a visit to The Grenada Chocolate Company. We have carried their bars for years but actually going there and meeting the individuals behind them makes you taste the bars in a whole new light. Grenada is a ridiculously beautiful island filled with warm and inviting people. That they have an abundance of cacao seems to be almost an unfair distribution of riches.
It is 27 degrees out at eight in the morning as we arrive in Grenada's capital, St. George. Our contacts at the Grenada Chocolate Company have sent a driver to pick us up and we are thrilled to meet Michell, who is charming, knowledgeable - and female. Which makes her a rarity among Caribbean taxi drivers. The drive north to the cacao farm and processing centre is a long one, so we are treated to a full island tour plus plenty of insights into Grenadian life, politics, religion, food and so much more.
In a few weeks Grenada will celebrate their independence day and houses are decorated with green, red and yellow striped banners in preparation. Even the tree trunks and rock walls are brightly painted. Grenadians are a very proud people. After an hour of steep switchback roads, Michell stops at a waterfall so we can stretch our legs and we chat with the vendors who have set up tables here. There is always a small congregation of merchants at every little roadside clearing and pull-out. They are selling fruit gathered from the forest and we snag a couple of delicious "golden apples" - which are a local delicacy like a cross between a mango and a pear. They point out "red sorrel" growing wild and explain how they make a drink by steeping the bright crimson, fleshy blossoms of this native shrub. We buy little baggies of this and enjoy the tart, citrusy beverage on our drive. As you'd expect there is also a vendor selling chocolate, but this is the homemade variety. Just roasted cacao ground into a rough ball and sweetened with a bit of sugar. It is for making hot chocolate drinks out of and each bag of chocolate balls comes with a few shavings of cinnamon bark, a couple of bay leaves and some nutmeg to add a bit of spice to the drink. Everywhere here there are nutmeg trees. Grenada produces almost half the world's supply of nutmeg and mace, which are the seed and seed casing of a non-edible fruit.
Leaving the little group of vendors we are excited to see our first cacao tree growing along the road. Equally thrilled to see the second, third and fourth. Then we realize there are thousands of them, interplanted with banana, nutmeg, palm, and taller hardwoods. Grenada has cacao the way Victoria has cherry trees.
Roads in Grenada are narrow, winding, and extremely poorly marked. It is just assumed that if you're driving you know where you are going. All roads are two way even though they are barely wide enough for one car. When two vehicles meet, as happens about every thirty seconds, they have to negotiate a delicate dance to inch past each other. Often one car is on the edge of a cliff while the other is pressed up against the side of a mountain. In towns, driving is further complicated by cars parked along both sides of the street, throngs of people, random farm animals and stray dogs everywhere. Horns are used to indicate whether you want to go through or whether you're letting the car coming at you go first. Horns are also used just to say "Hi". In between telling us stories about Grenada, Michell was constantly honking hello at people she knew or getting honked at herself. Calls of "Mich'-Mich" or "Hey Baby" would be answered with something back from her in Creole. And a horn honk. It appears she knows about half of the ninety thousand people on the island.
We stop at the first chocolate maker on our route, Jouvay, for a tour and tasting. Really nice stuff here, especially their deep, earthy 75% and extraordinarily complex 100% bars. We hike out into their nearby farm to taste some fresh picked Trinitario and stock up on bars to bring home. These folks will be a regular feature now at The Chocolate Project. Back in the van we continue north, passing scenic beaches, small fishing villages and agricultural towns. Eventually, we reach our final stop: The Grenada Chocolate Company. It is a very small, brightly painted house with the chocolate making operations on the ground floor and living quarters above. One of their head chocolate makers, Kaciann, meets us and gives us a lengthy tour while her young son runs about taking pictures with our camera. In the front room there are sacks of cacao that have just arrived and are waiting to be spilled out onto the sorting table. Each bag bears a tag with the names of the farmers who have contributed fruit to that lot. After sorting, the beans move next door to the roasting room which features an old ball-type drum roaster. Next the roasted beans get poured through a hole in the floor down to a vacuum powered winnower that separates the nibs from the husks. Like everything here it is solar powered and designed to be as energy efficient as possible. The nibs proceed in to the vintage stone melengeur, which breaks them down into cocoa liquor. Some of this liquor goes to a press which extracts the cocoa butter but most of it is conched and blocked up for future tempering and molding into bars.
In a very small side room we see a plastic folding table and two plastic lawn chairs. This is the wrapping room where two of their staff would normally work encasing each finished bar in foil wrap and then a paper outer label. By hand. One at a time. Today is Saturday though, so everyone has the day off. It never ceases to amaze us when visiting these places how, although their equipment and buildings are far from modern, they still manage to produce world class chocolate. We move next door to the tasting room where Kemron, who is another of their chocolate crafters, leads us through a sampling of all their bars. After many hours of patiently answering all our geeky questions, our hosts bid us farewell and we begin the long drive back. We are buzzing with chocolate and the combination of sun, scenery, tropical air and a truly warm and gracious reception has us happily aglow.