Today was a pretty interesting day. We went to a cocoa farm to see how beans are grown and then as a part two we went to a chocolate factory. The entire process is completely organic. Let’s start at the cocoa farm. The place we visited is called Belmont Estates. It is on the east side of Grenada, to which the locals refer to as “the windy side”. For a small fee, we enjoyed a very educating tour of the facility.
A couple of surprises: the estate does not just focus on cocoa beans. They also farm mangoes, bananas, nutmeg and a variety of other plants. Why? To help the cocoa plants grow. The banana plants are used to shade the cocoa plants from the brutally hot Grenada sun when the cocoa plants are young and small. Mango trees are planted in hedgerows to act as a wind break and nutmeg trees are planted amongst the cocoa to provide shade for the cocoa in the later years. As you can imagine, this place sent my sense of smell into hyper-drive. All of the fruits and nuts add another revenue source for the farm in addition to the cocoa beans.
The first step once the beans are harvested is fermentation. This is also known as sweating the beans. The objective is to remove the white pulp from around the bean. For about nine days they’re placed in large wooden bins and covered with banana leaves. This fermentation process begins when yeast converts sugars in the pulp to alcohol and carbon dioxide. The white pulp (which is actually quite tasty) liquefies, the bitterness subsides and the flavor and color develop.
After fermentation the beans are dried. They are moved outside to massive wooden trays. The beans are turned with a rake to quicken the process. Some farmers will walk on the beans rather than use the rake. Walking will turn the beans as a person shuffles their feet. Belmont discovered tourists don’t like to see bare feet on the beans so Belmont uses the rake method.
The beans are inspected and sorted by hand. Any discolored or cracked beans are removed. Then, the beans are graded, or sized in a big machine. The graded beans are placed in sacks and are ready for shipment. There is a relationship to flavor and size.
Belmont is in the beginning stages of making their own chocolate. In the past, they have focused just on the farming. This development is in the early stages and production is low right now. I imagine it will not take long to ramp it up. They have a gift shop. The shop is air-conditioned. We think this air-conditioning is a ploy to keep tourist inside the shop. Have I mentioned how hot it is here? From inside the gift shop, one can observe the chocolate kitchen and see the various products being made. They have free samples. We like free samples. Our favorite was cocoa balls. These are used to make cocoa tea. The balls are placed in water. The water is boiled until the balls melt. Some people add a little milk. We were told in no uncertain terms, this is not “hot chocolate”. We sampled some. The taste buds went nuts. We were sold and purchased a bag of cocoa balls. But alas, somewhere between the gift shop and the car, I lost my balls (you can insert your own joke here). I had to go buy more balls.
Following the cocoa beans, the next stop on our day of all things chocolate was the factory. I forgot to mention earlier in this post, we shared a rental car this day with two other friends, Rob and Regina. Rob was driving. Regina’s role as navigator was challenged because there are no road names or signs anywhere on this island. There is a map of the island. It has places marked on the map. But, no addresses. Signs are not necessary because the people who live here know where everything is. If a road does have a name, it still doesn’t warrant a street sign. And so what if a few tourists get a little lost, it’s an island; they’ll eventually find their way. This was the one time during the day we had to ask for directions. Regina, hailed a local who laughed at us when she said “chocolate factory”. Smiling, he told us it was more like a house where people make chocolate. He gave us directions but decided it would be better if he led us there because the route involved two intersections with no signs. He jumped into his car and we followed him back the way we came. Then, he pointed out a narrow road going up a hill, “It’s up there on the left”. We thanked him for his kindness and went up the hill where we quickly found the house where people make chocolate. As Rob parked I was amazed we even manage to get in the general area, let alone find The Grenada Chocolate Company.
This is not exactly Willy Wonka’s place. Imagine a two story house about 2,000 square feet (185 m2). The bottom of the house is converted into a Chocolate factory. I think the top of the house was an apartment or perhaps an office, or both. There were goats, dogs and cats everywhere. We asked a very tall man if he would give us a tour. We were greeted with a big Grenadian smile and welcomed in. We were treated to free samples and learned all about The Grenada Chocolate Company. We like free samples. Most of the tour was from the foyer where from this vantage point we could look into all the rooms. From this 100% solar powered factory house, they make about 1500 bars of chocolate every day and export them all around the world. The bars are wrapped by hand and boxed for shipment. The employees are allowed to eat all the chocolate they want.
This totally organic chocolate has a reputation of being some of the best in the world. Look at the ingredients. There is not a single chemical included. The real proof is in the taste. To find out more about the story of the Grenada Chocolate Company click here. They have a ton of interesting stuff on their webpage including some of the renowned awards they’ve earned.
I know I have said this before, but I am not a big chocolate fan. However, I now think it is because I have never had really great chocolate. When we tell locals we went to The Grenada Chocolate Company the first thing they ask is what variety did you like best. There is dark 100%, 80%, 70%, 60%, Salty-Licious and Nib-A-Licious Grenada Flavor. The Grenada Flavor has ginger and nutmeg. The locals really want us to say we like the Grenada blend the best. I might tell them this to their face but, I’m really just a regular sort of guy who likes his cocoa balls.
Thank you to all who sent us inquiries asking if we are safe. We are safe and were well below the wrath of hurricane Irma. We are on Grenada which is located on the lower edge of the hurricane belt. Although we are out of the main zone, we do watch the weather daily just in case we should have to move. We plan to stay here until November. This is when the storms begin to die down and Caribbean island cruising is once again safe. We have a few friends who lost boats in Martinique and the BVI. The destruction is horrific and it’ll be a very long time before life resumes to normal in these beautiful islands.