11 February 2014

From Tree to Bar - Chocolate Making in St Lucia


I made chocolate today. Chocolate from the cocoa beans of the St Lucian trees. Pretty cool, eh?

We walked a short way down the road from Ladera to Hotel Chocolat - a hotel set high amongst the cocoa groves of St Lucia's oldest plantation, the Rabot Estate. This severely run-down estate was picked up and turned around by co-founder Angus Thirlwell back in 2006 and it now helps produces some of the finest and purest chocolate you could ever wish to taste.

Our oracle was a man called Cuthbert who talked us through the journey from tree to bar.


St Lucia has produced cocoa for centuries; the tropical climate and mountain slopes are ideal for chocolate growing plus the cocoa trees love the rich volcanic soil and shade. 


The first pods start to appear on the trees between 18 months and 3 years after the tree is planted and trees can actively bear fruit for 50 years. At first the tree will flower with tiny white and pink blossoms. About 5% of these will make it to become cocoa pods.


When the pods are red or purple in colour, they are still ripening.

Yellow pods are ready for harvest and can be chopped or just twisted from the tree.


After a rest period of a few days, the pods are cut open and the cocoa beans extracted.

The beans lie inside a rich white pulp. 


This pulp is often used in cocktails over here and Cuthbert encouraged us to give it a taste. Although it looked somewhat unappetizing it was actually very sweet and fruity; not disimilar to a lychee.

The collected beans are piled up in wooden boxes on site and covered with plantain leaves. 


They are left to ferment for 5 to 7 days.

A chemical change occurs in the beans which is essential for developing flavour and aroma.


After this time, the beans are dried in the sun for up to 2 weeks - this stops the fermentation process and helps to unlock their unique flavours. They are then inspected and sorted manually so that any bad ones are removed and only the very best beans are used.


The chosen ones are then sent off to the UK to be crushed, mixed with cocoa butter (edible vegetable fat extracted from the beans) and sugar to produce the delicious Hotel Chocolat chocolate that we know and love. Sometime soon this last process of producing the chocolate will be done in a factory on the estate but right now they just concentrate on producing those perfect aromatic beans.

That's not to say we weren't able to finish some chocolate on site ourselves though! Armed with a pestle and mortar, cocoa beans, cocoa butter and sugar we knocked up our very own bars.


Perhaps the consistency wasn't quite as silky smooth as the professional stuff but it still tasted awesome.

To ensure the estate is replanted with cocoa trees that give the highest quality beans, cuttings from the best trees are taken and grafted onto hundreds of new seedlings every week. In an exciting turn of events, I was allowed to graft my own tree which will be planted on the estate under my name and details! My tree will hopefully produce its very own chocolate one day!

What better excuse could I possibly need to return?


***

Today is our final day in St Lucia. On Wednesday we jump on a flight to Los Angeles. Although the weather has been a bit hit-and-miss here, we've had a fantastically relaxing time. The people are lovely and we've eaten like king and queen.

I look forward to coming back to see how my cocoa beans are coming along in around 3 years time!

19 comments:

  1. Hi Caroline, I always get excited when I see a new post from you and I know its not going to disappoint!! What an absolutely fab and fun thing to do, the chocolate must taste all the better knowing that you made it yourself. Also, I have that blue Zimmermann dress too!!! It's the perfect holiday dress. Can't wait to read your adventures in LA.

    Angie
    www.silverspoonlondon.co.uk

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Angie! I'm so glad you enjoy them!

      That's very cool that you have that dress too, I love it! I got it in the Netaporter sale and you're right, it's just the perfect little summer dress. So cute too :)

      xx

      Delete
  2. What a fun and interesting thing to do!! I'd love to see where chocolate comes from. Hope you have a fab time in LA and there's more sunshine for you!!

    Rosie xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank Rosie - as I understand it the weather is going to be much nicer in LA than it is here in St Lucia! Hurrah! xx

      Delete
  3. This looks amazing! Your blog really isn't helping my desire to book a holiday ASAP and escape the rain here - but funds won't quite stretch so I'm living vicariously through you where travelling is concerned right now haha!

    Safe trip to LA - can't wait to read all about it!

    Steph x
    Lay It Bare

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well as soon as you're saved up get on Last Minute.com and book yourself a lovely break! Sometimes we all need to recharge those batteries. xx

      Delete
  4. This looks amazing (as do you may I add!). What a wonderful, unique experience. I don't think I ever really think about where my chocolate accctually comes from. Have a great time in LA x
    myuniyears.com

    ReplyDelete
  5. Oh my gosh that last picture is stunning!!! Love your dress too - gorgeous lady! What an honour to have your own tree there now! To think, for years to come that will produce beans for them to help their business grow!

    How incredible to make your own chocolate too! Yummy. I knew the vague way they ended up with the bean, but I never knew it initially looked purple! How cool!

    Have an amazing time in LA lovely - you'll be pleased to hear that London is still grey, freezing cold and rainy! You're not missing much!

    Katie <3

    ReplyDelete
  6. So much love for that last picture of you! Sitting at my desk reading this green with envy xx

    ReplyDelete
  7. Oh My God I'm so jealous of you right now,making chocolate then hopping on a plane to LA! Glad to here you're having an amazing time, sorry to here about the rain on the last day but to be honest with a location like that, fantastic people and incredible food it's hardly that much of a mishap.
    Love the last picture too, so cute! xxx

    thiswomansstyle.com

    ReplyDelete
  8. This just looks INCREDIBLE! What an experience :) (Also, you look gorgeous)

    xo,
    Lela

    ReplyDelete
  9. OMG I loved this, really really interesting! I'm obsessed with Hotel Chocolat, I would have loved this, JEALOUS! The last picture of you is gorgeous, wow!

    Have a fantastic time in La La Land x

    ReplyDelete
  10. What a WONDERFUL experience!!!I love all these photos..especially the last one is amazing!!!<3 Enjoy yourself a lot honey!!!
    xoxo
    Martina

    ReplyDelete
  11. This is really cool Caroline!!!
    My grandma is a member of Hotel Chocolat and every month gets the tastiest box delivered to her door, I'm always so envious, but it's so exciting to see you actually making it!
    Beautiful dress too!!
    L xxx
    Beauty & a Cookbook

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hotel Chocolat is without a doubt my favourite chocolate brand so you really cannot understand how utterly jealous I am of your trip to their cocoa plant!!!!
    Just wow. (The shot of the man holding the tiny pulp is fantastic!)
    Looking beautiful as always my dear, love the dress!
    Have an amazing time in LA, it is a crazy city like no other!
    Emily xx
    My Ginger Bread Journey

    ReplyDelete
  13. Caz- this is truly an incredible experience; seeing the actual chocolate pods growing and then making the bars yourself. Wowee, what a great idea :)
    The pictures are stunning too, and really convey the wonderful day - as per, you're looking stunning. So brave of you to wear a backless dress.
    And that last shot, of you and the view - pretty please get that printed up big and put it on a wall at home. Absolutely stunning.
    x x x
    {The Lobster & Me}

    ReplyDelete
  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is my favorite post ever! So very interesting!

      Delete
  15. This brings back so many happy memories of making chocolate in Grenada on our honeymoon. Being me, I persuaded Dave that a cocoa plantation would be a better side trip than whale-watching and we both had a great time. Gorgeous pictures, too!

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for your comment!