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BOSTON GLOBE – There are several good reasons to return to St. Lucia — it’s green, it’s gorgeous, it’s in the wonderfully warm West Indies — but we have the best reason of all: We’re going back to harvest our very own cocoa plants at Hotel Chocolat. Yep, in five years, our newly grafted cocoa plants will bear pods that will (if the chocolate gods are with us) produce some of the world’s most sought-after chocolate.
Now that’s a souvenir! In the meantime, we decided to do our bit to help St. Lucia’s burgeoning chocolate industry by eating our way around the island and sampling chocolate every-which-way, including beans, bars, martinis, cocoa tea, and chocolate spa treatments. Our chocolate-drenched trip included a visit to an organic chocolate plantation, a “sensory” chocolate tasting, and a tree-to-bar chocolate experience that culminated in making our own chocolate. Forget the beach: When it comes to St. Lucia, we’re all about the bean.
Cocoa fields forever
“The first time chocolate came on a ship from Spain to St. Lucia, the St. Lucians thought it was animal dung, and burned it,” said Wouter Tjeertes, director of pastry at Jade Mountain Resort. Fortunately, they realized the error of their ways. This Caribbean island was once a major banana producer, but farmers are starting to embrace chocolate in a big way. “St. Lucia has the best cocoa beans in the world,” Tjeertes says.
Drinking cocoa tea is an island tradition, and you can buy cocoa sticks as a souvenir, so why not gourmet chocolate? “Ninety percent of the world’s chocolate is made by small boutique makers,” and it’s extremely profitable, he adds. “We’re trying to raise awareness, saying, ‘Hey, folks! Let’s make chocolate out of these beans,’ ” says Tjeertes, who cops to eating chocolate every day for the past 18 years.
And that’s what they’re doing at Jade Mountain. This luxury resort, overlooking St. Lucia’s iconic twin pitons (mountains), maintains an organic farm called Emerald Estate, with 1,000 cocoa trees on property. “My dream is, in five years or so, St. Lucia will become the Chocolate Capital of the Caribbean,” says Tjeertes.
“Beans from here have a pleasant acidity and an extreme fruitiness,” he says. “This one,” he says, sampling a square of chocolate, “has a lot of dark fruit with a hint of banana, which combines beautifully with everything.” At Emerald Estate, they grow vanilla beans next to cocoa trees, which adds another element to the flavor of the chocolate.
And if you think that sounds more like wine-tasting chat than conversation about chocolate, you haven’t been to Jade Mountain’s complimentary “Chocolate Sensory Tasting,” a bean-to-mouth journey. In a small “chocolate lab,” Tjeertes leads guests through the process of chocolate production, with a focus on sampling.
First, you’ll take a taste of the bitter little bean that ultimately results in an Emerald Estate Organic Chocolate bar (which sells for $12 in the gift shop), along with samples of the roasted cocoa nibs, which are ground for 48 hours to achieve creaminess. Then, the chocolate is combined with organic cane sugar for sweetness.