Here’s the thing: They make incredible chocolate on the island of Grenada. But they don’t eat it. Grenadians rarely grab a candy bar on the fly, and “we don’t eat chocolate desserts,” says Addie St. Paul, who guides Savor the Spice culinary tours. Instead, islanders satisfy a sweet tooth with coconut or ginger fudge (no chocolate involved), sweet breads, and, for special occasions, black cake, a boozy fruitcake.
But for those of us who never met a fudgy dessert we didn’t like, a visit to Grenada is a chocolate-drenched journey of deliciousness. The island, located southwest of Barbados, is evolving as the chocolate capital of the Caribbean. Cacao trees have grown on Grenada since 1714, when the French introduced them to the island. But until 1999, all of Grenada’s cocoa beans were exported and processed abroad. A fellow called Mott Green — considered the godfather of Grenada chocolate — launched the Grenada Chocolate Company that year, and organized a cooperative of cocoa farmers and chocolate makers. Farmers saw the value of making chocolate and cocoa products on their own turf, and the island’s bean-to-bar movement took hold.
In the past 20 years, “the chocolate business here has expanded significantly,” says Francine Stewart of the Grenada Tourism Authority. The island, population 110,000, is home to five chocolate factories. Now there are bean-to-bar tours, a chocolate museum, a chocolate festival in May, and a resort with its own answer to Taco Tuesday: Cocoa Thursday.
Grenada may be a small cocoa producer, compared to, say, West Africa, but its product is uncommonly fine. “Grenada is one of only 10 countries in the world that has 100 percent fine-flavored beans,” says Shadel Nyack Compton of Belmont Estate, an organic cocoa farm here.
Why is it so good? Like growing grapes, producing good cocoa beans is a matter of climate, soil, and terrain. Grenada’s soil is volcanic, so it is very fertile. Plus, “Chocolate picks up the flavor of anything that grows near it,” says St. Paul. In Grenada, known as “The Spice of the Caribbean” — that means nutmeg, mace, saffron, ginger, and cinnamon. Some of the most flavorful chocolate sold here is enhanced with local spice. Another factor: The chocolate is made from fresh beans rather than beans that have been shipped half way around the world and might be months or even years old.
At this writing, nobody’s offering a chocolate-themed tour of the island, but you can definitely DIY. Here are some elements to include on your Grenada Tour de Chocolate.
Try a spot of cocoa tea
“Locally, we mostly use chocolate for cocoa tea,” a beverage you’ll encounter throughout the Caribbean, says Addie St. Paul. They make this flavonoid-rich brew with cocoa balls made from grated cocoa and spices (cinnamon, thyme, or bay leaf), steeped in hot water sweetened with milk and sugar. Cocoa balls are sold in bags, at grocery stores and at the House of Chocolate (see below). Cocoa tea is an aromatic beverage, and tastes like one part hot cocoa, and one part spiced tea, as opposed to the thick chocolate-y-ness you’ll find in a cup of, say, L.A. Burdick’s hot cocoa. (Fun fact: New Hampshire-based L.A. Burdick’s Handmade Chocolates is a partner of Grenada’s Diamond Chocolate company.) Cocoa tea is readily available at local restaurants and at the Spice Market (Friday and Saturday) in St. George’s.
Or try a chocolate beer
At West Indies Brewery (www.westindiesbeer.com), Grenada’s first and only craft brewery, they make a beer called “Chocolate Mongoose,” flavored with Jouvay Chocolate produced by the Diamond Chocolate Factory. It isn’t bad. While you’re there, do a tasting and sample some of the 30 to 35 beers available on any given day — plus some “secret beers” and ciders made from pomegranate and mango. Their beers are also available at bars and restaurants on the island.
Sample a to-die-for dessert
Grenadians may not be big on chocolate desserts, but that doesn’t stop their pastry chefs from turning out an amazing variety of swoon-worthy creations for chocolate-craving guests. We tried as many as we could, and they were wonderful, but one disarmingly simple dessert stood out: The gluten-free brownies baked by award-winning pastry chef Nelcia Mapson of Silversands Grenada Resort (www.silversandsgrenada.com). Mapson won the silver medal for the chocolate in the Taste of the Caribbean competition, and took the bronze for Pastry Chef of the Year. Her brownies, made with potato starch and toasted pecans, are wondrous. Although the dessert menu at the Silversands is “evolving,” Mapson says, we’re hoping those brownies will be part of it. Or consider the Grenadian chocolate and banana tart.
Take a bean-to-bar tour (sampling allowed)
The air smells of roasting cocoa beans at the Diamond Chocolate Factory (www.jouvaychocolate.com) — as it should: They’re growing 3½ acres of cocoa beans on property, along with vanilla and black pepper, and they turn it into beautifully-wrapped bars right here. Fifteen-minute tours (offered every day) reveal the process from bean to bar — picking, fermenting, drying, and tempering. Surprisingly, a cocoa bean pulled straight from the pod tastes fruity. The actual process takes six weeks. All of their chocolate is dark, ranging from 60 percent to 100 percent chocolate (a 70 percent chocolate bar is composed of 70 percent cocoa and 30 percent cane sugar). The last stop on the tour is the chocolate shop — bars infused with nutmeg and ginger, cocoa nibs, and related products such as cocoa butter, cocoa powder, and cocoa tea. It’s easy to get carried away.
Family-owned Belmont Estate (www.belmontestate.net) is also open for touring — and for sampling and buying their superlative organic chocolate. A former coffee and sugar cane plantation, the estate has been creating fine chocolate since 2017. It makes organic white and dark chocolate here, and a dark-milk bar; the top-selling Pure Grenada bar is made with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and mace. The chocolate is aged three months, which reduces acidity “and balances the flavor of the chocolate,” says Nyack Compton, the company’s managing director. It’s a little pricey, but exquisite.
Visit the House of Chocolate
We were hoping it was an actual house made of chocolate — but then, that would melt in the Caribbean sunshine. Instead, it’s a veritable chocolate museum, stuffed with local bars, cocoa tea, cocoa butter, and other products. It also operates its own chocolate-making operation. A staff member will take you through a short bean-to-bar explanation, but the real lure here is all things chocolate, including locally made ice cream and gifts for chocolate lovers. www.houseofchocolategnd.com.
Stay at the hotel that invented “Cocoa Thursdays”
Move over, Taco Tuesdays! At colorful and funky True Blue Bay Boutique Resort ($190 per night; www.truebluebay.com), Thursday nights are all about chocolate. Its rock star chef, Eric Vasson, whips up a chocolate-themed menu, featuring delicacies such as chocolate-seeped ribs and chocolate-nutmeg mousse. The resort’s Dodgy Dock bar is also home to a street food festival on Wednesday nights, featuring traditional Grenadian dishes such as oil down, the national dish — a stew of breadfruit, green bananas, vegetables, salted meat and sweet potatoes in coconut milk with turmeric. And of course, there’s an array of chocolate treats — no surprise, since the resort’s owner, Magdalena Fielden, founded the first Grenada Chocolate Festival, in its seventh year.
Mark your calendar for the Grenada Chocolate Festival
A shame it’s timed to run right before swimsuit season (May 1-6, 2020), but a worthwhile caloric splurge, this festival celebrates the island’s favorite bean. Learn everything you ever wanted to know about chocolate, and then some, and try chocolate every which way, including chocolate yoga and chocolate-and-rum pairings. If that’s not island fun, we don’t know what is.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com.