When Grenada Tourism Authority invited me to Grenada Chocolate Festival, I jumped at the opportunity – I felt like Charlie Bucket in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, when he unwraps his chocolate bar and discovers a shiny golden ticket inviting him to visit Willy Wonka’s factory.
Home to all three kinds of cacao bean (forastero, trinitario and criollo), Grenada is the perfect destination for a chocolate festival. Originally founded in 1996 by Mexican native, Magdalena Fielden (who originally came to the island to run True Blue Bay Resort), the festival celebrates the tree-to-bar chocolate production that Grenada has become so well-known for.
Taking place from 11th-19th May 2018, this year’s festival offered a varied range of chocolate-themed activities and events, from chocolate tasting, chocolate-inspired menus and chocolate-making workshops, to chocolate yoga, chocolate beer and chocolate self-care rituals.
- 1 Tree-to-bar chocolate production in Grenada
- 2 West Indies Beer Co.
- 3 Street Food Wednesday at True Blue Bay
- 4 House of Chocolate
- 5 Sunset cruise with chocolate & rum pairing
- 6 Chocolate tasting with Will Torrent
- 7 Where to stay for Grenada Chocolate Festival
- 8 Grenada Chocolate Festival 2019
Tree-to-bar chocolate production in Grenada
Grenada is home to no less than five tree-to-bar cacao farms, and we were lucky enough to visit three of these during our time at Grenada Chocolate Festival. All the chocolate produced by these estates is derived from cocoa grown by local farmers on the very same plantations, which means that they can monitor the flavour of the bean to create high quality, single origin chocolate – a step-up from bean-to-bar chocolate.
Grenada Chocolate Company
The first ever bean-to-bar chocolatier in Grenada, Grenada Chocolate Company in Hermitage, St. Patrick’s was founded in 1999 by anarchistic American, Mott Green, who emerged from his bamboo hut home deep in the tropical forests of Grenada to fuel his fascination with cocoa tea and ended up meeting his future business partners, Doug Browne and Edmond Brown. Together, they set up a chocolate factory founded on sustainable principles that would benefit the entire community.
What made Grenada Chocolate Company so special was that it worked with local cacao farmers to enable them to produce their own tree-to-bar chocolate at a fair price, instead of having to sell beans on to the multinationals for peanuts. Furthermore, the factory employed around 50 locals, all of whom were paid the same wage.
Sadly, Mott passed away in 2013 following a tragic accident, but his legend lives on to this day at Grenada Chocolate Company, where he is clearly very missed and highly respected. Today, Grenada Chocolate Company is still led by Edmond (sadly, Doug passed away in 2008) and it pays 65% more per lb of beans than the local price, attracting business from over 200 acres of local cacao farms.
As for the chocolate, Grenada Chocolate Company produces a range of bars containing different percentages of cacao, from 60% right up to 100%. Some of the bars are flavoured with the likes of nutmeg and sea salt. The factory also extracts its own cocoa butter from the cacao beans, adding this back into the chocolate to enrich the flavour. If you prefer, you can also create your own box of chocolates from a choice of bonbons.
It wasn’t just chocolate that we got to sample at Grenada Chocolate Company, however. During our visit, we tucked into the national dish of Grenada, oildown, consisting of fish cooked in a jerk pit to produce an irrestibly smoky taste (the dish can also be served with poultry or meat), along with callaloo, dumplings and root vegetables, washed down with a Carib beer and/or white wine.
Today, Grenada Chocolate Company offers factory tours and guided walks to the old plantation house free of charge, but donations are very welcome. Be sure to check out the gift shop while you’re there!
Located in Hermitage, St. Patrick’s, (just a short drive away from Grenada Chocolate Company), Belmont Estate is a fully functioning, family-run 17th century plantation offering guided tours of the tree-to-bar chocolate making process. The techniques used today are still the same as those used the past 200 years. For example, the farmers still use a cocoa knife (a long bamboo cane with a blade on the end) to harvest the cacao pods from the trees, and carry the beans on a basket on their heads. After harvesting, the beans are weighed into boxes according to batch.
Our interactive tour began with cracking open a cocoa pod to reveal the puply, white cacao beans inside. You can suck the outer layer from the bean and despite having a slightly slimy texture, they do taste pleasantly fruity and subtly sweet.
The cacao beans are removed from the pod and placed into hot wooden boxes covered with jute sacks and banana leaves to ferment naturally for six to eight days. Throughout this process, they are manually turned between different boxes on three occasions to ensure even fermentation. During high season (November to March), these boxes would be brimming with beans.
Following this, the beans are transferred to wooden trays sitting in direct sunshine to dry out for a further six to eight days, dependent on weather. The aim is for the moisture content to be reduced from 60% to 7.5%. To ensure the beans are evenly dried out the farmers step onto the trays barefoot and gently slide their feet over the beans, moving them around with their toes to ensure exposure to the air, in a traditional process known as ‘walking the cocoa’. Each tray stands on wheels and can be pushed undercover in the event of rain, or at the end of a day’s work.
Some beans are also dried out on wooden trays in greenhouses, and these need to be turned every half an hour using a rake.
After drying, it’s traditional to ‘polish’ or ‘dance’ the cocoa in two big metal pots, originally used for sugar cane juice. The dry beans are placed into the pot, wet slightly and danced on to give them a shine. The beans will then be sorted up to five times to ensure that only the best beans are used in the chocolate-making process.
From here, the dry beans are roasted in an oven and winnowed to crack the shell and separate the husk from the nib. The nibs are then broken down, and the conching and refining process begins. The chocolate then sets and sits for three months, before being heated and cooled in what is known as ‘tempering’, to create a shiny surface and achieve the desired texture. Once set, the chocolate bars are then hand-wrapped and labelled with a batch number for traceability.
Belmont Estate produces a wide range of chocolate, including 60% Milk, 60% Pure Grenada (with ginger, mace, nutmeg, cinnamon and cocoa butter), 74% Dark and 74% Sea Salt.
After your tour, pop in to the restaurant to enjoy a traditional Grenadian buffet lunch, followed by an intriguing selection of desserts including cayenne pepper ice cream and pumpkin swiss roll.
Oh, and don’t leave until you’ve bought your body weight in chocolate from the gift shop, naturally!
Crayfish Bay Organic Cocoa Farm
Owned by Kim and Lylette Russell, Crayfish Bay is a 200-year-old organic, tree-to-bar cocoa farm in St. Mark producing chocolate using upcycled equipment developed by Kim for a fraction of the cost of the machinery used by the multi-nationals – who Kim clearly isn’t very fond of.
The chocolate contains at least 75% cocoa solids and is roasted over charcoal to produce an intriguing smoky flavour. This was actually my favourite of all the tree-to-bar chocolate we sampled while on the island.
The Russells bought the estate in 2007 and after Hurricane Ivan in 2004, they set about repairing the damage and restoring the plantation to its former glory. You can still see signs of Crayfish Bay’s colonial past to this day, including a 200-year-old cast iron bridge that is actually the oldest in Grenada and the second oldest in the Caribbean.
Like a modern-day Willy Wonka, Kim is an eccentric character who believes employment is a form of slavery and sees himself as the custodian, as opposed to the owner, of his 15 acres of land. In his eyes, he is responsible for everything that depends on his land, “from grass and trees, to cacao and people.” Kim has given “absolute control” of his land to local people to farm on, with the only rule being that they must farm organically. When they farm cacao, Kim gives them the absolute top price for their beans, which is almost double what they can get elsewhere. Whereas most Grenadian farmers will earn around EC$150 per week, but Kim pays his farmers EC$5,000 to 6,000 per week for their beans. In August, the farmers can harvest bananas and take them down to the market and make enough to live off. According to Kim, this co-operative lifestyle serves to help lessen the unjust divide between the rich and the poor.
Today, you can visit Crayfish Bay for a guided tour and even stay overnight in The Little House, which can be booked via Air BnB. Make sure you try the cocoa tea!
West Indies Beer Co.
Local brewery, West Indies Beer Co. hosted a ‘Chocolate at the Brewery’ event during Grenada Chocolate Festival 2018. As we sat in the garden listening to the live band play, we sipped on chocolate beer, which took the form of a bitter stout with subtle chocolate tones. It was a too strong for me, so I stuck to the rather drinkable watermelon cider instead.
Street Food Wednesday at True Blue Bay
Every Wednesday, True Blue Bay Resort hosts a popular street food pop-up in Dodgy Dock Restaurant and Bar, attended by a number of local food vendors. For Grenada Chocolate Festival, the event was chocolate-themed and featured everything from chocolate martinis and chocolate coladas, to chocolate cake and chocolate chicken.
Although it didn’t contain chocolate, the mac n’cheese pie deserves a special mention. This was Caribbean comfort food at its finest; macaroni cheese topped with crunchy breadcrumbs, cheese and spices. I’m literally drooling at the thought!
House of Chocolate
You can’t go to Grenada Chocolate Festival (or Grenada at any time of year, for that matter!) without visiting the House of Chocolate in St. George’s, the capital of Grenada.
As the name would suggest, the House of Chocolate is dedicated to chocolate. You can buy chocolate produced by all of Grenada’s five tree-to-bar chocolate producers here, as well as the GDL’s A-MAZIN chocolate creme liqueur (liquid gold, basically), cacao nibs, chocolate-inspired clothing, chocolate skincare products, cocoa butter, chocolate cookbooks and much, much more.
While visiting the House of Chocolate, we were able to witness a cocoa tea-making demonstration. Made using cocoa balls, cacao nibs, coconut milk, cinnamon and nutmeg, cocoa tea is to Grenada, what English breakfast tea is to Britain. After tasting it for myself, it’s clear to see why it’s so popular!
Sunset cruise with chocolate & rum pairing
On our final evening in Grenada, we were treated to a private charter sunset cruise on a traditional wooden sloop affectionately named Savvy, courtesy of Savvy Sailing. In the 1800s, sloops were used for trading goods like cigarettes, rum and spices throughout the Caribbean.
Grenada’s sister islands, Carriacou and Petite Martinique became known for building these boats and the captain of Savvy, Danny is himself a boat builder from Petite Martinique, which is also where Savvy was built. The two-hour cruise set sail from Port Louis Marina in St. George’s Harbour and took us around the coastline, before anchoring to enjoy some chill-out time and watch the sunset.
A sunset cruise with Savvy Sailing is actually more affordable than you may think, priced at US$45 per person, with a minimum of six people per booking and a maximum of 16 people on-board per cruise. Private charter costs US$450. To book, please visit Savvy Sailing’s website.
Tri Island Chocolate
Sailing with Savvy was enough in itself to make me pinch myself to check I wasn’t dreaming, but we were also lucky enough to enjoy a chocolate and rum pairing session while on-board, with Tri Island Chocolate and Eastern Caribbean Rum.
Grenada’s youngest tree-to-bar chocolate producer, Tri Island Chocolate is a small batch production company owned by Aaron Sylvester, who moved to Grenada from London and set up Tri Island Chocolate back in May 2016 after inheriting a cocoa farm from his grandparents.
I met several people in Grenada who made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, and Aaron was one of them. In the space of just two years, he’s already managed to grow his cacao beans, produce chocolate, design and produce packaging, and successfully take his product to market. As far as I’m aware, no other chocolate producer in Grenada has achieved this in such a short space of time.
For 2018, Tri island Chocolate is offering a selection of three single origin chocolate bars including 56% dark milk chocolate, 75% dark chocolate with bee pollen inclusion and 80% dark chocolate. For more details, please visit the Tri Island Chocolate website.
Chocolate tasting with Will Torrent
I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to spend our last day in Grenada, than by chocolate tasting with one of the UK’s leading chocolate and pastry experts, Will Torrent at Mount Edgecombe Plantation, St. Mark. A former sugar cane, spice, coffee and cacao plantation dating back to 1763, Mount Edgecombe is now the site of an intimate five-star boutique resort sleeping up to 16 guests.
Before the chocolate tasting began, we took a guided tour of the old plantation house, wandered through the picturesque landscaped gardens and cooled off in the resort’s two idyllic infinity pools as we admired the unrivalled panoramic views over the Caribbean Sea.
The chocolate tasting took the form of a cocoa talk by Will, including nine samples of chocolate from Grenada’s five tree-to-bar chocolate producers – Grenada Chocolate Company, Tri Island Chocolate, Jouvay (one of Grenada’s longest-running cacao estates), Crayfish Bay and Belmont Estate – ranging from 60% to 100% cocoa content.
Will showed us how to taste chocolate correctly, enabling us to fully appreciate the smell, taste and texture. We placed the chocolate into our mouths without biting into it, then took a deep breath in through our nostrils before pinching our noses, closing our eyes, moving the chocolate around our mouths, and then keeping our eyes closed as we removed our hands from our mouths.
At this point, Hazel Lee’s ‘Taste With Colour’ chocolate tasting map was invaluable in helping me to distinguish the different tasting notes in the chocolate.
After polishing off all the chocolate, we managed to find some room for a hearty Caribbean lunch of jerk chicken and rice n’peas, followed by a helping of Will’s spiced rum and raisin chocolate brownies.
To top it all off, we even got to taste the artisan chocolates that Will had produced for the Royal Wedding; ‘Harry’ was a fragrant Earl Grey flavour, while ‘Meghan’ was a classic peanut butter and jelly combination.
Where to stay for Grenada Chocolate Festival
There are a number of choices as to where to stay while attending Grenada Chocolate Festival. Here are my top five recommendations to suit all budgets, ranging from the most expensive to the cheapest options – please note that the rates quoted are for the duration of the festival (31 May – 7 June 2019), may be subject to change and may not include taxes.
1) True Blue Bay Resort
As many of the activities included in Grenada Chocolate Festival take place at True Blue Bay Resort, you might wish to stay here in the name of convenience. During Grenada Chocolate Festival 2019, rooms are priced at £180/ US$238.15 per night for single or double occupancy; however, the resort also offers a discounted price for festival attendees, which is normally around 20-30% of the regular room rate.
Click here to book a room at True Blue Bay Resort
2) Petite Anse Boutique Hotel
Fancy a room with a view? Make a beeline for Petite Anse Boutique Hotel in Sauteurs, north Grenada. This family-run property is perched on a little cove above the wild, windy Petite Anse beach and has an enormous balcony looking out across the ocean, with excellent views of Grenada’s sister islands, including Carriacou and St. Vincent.
While at Petit Anse, we feasted upon mahi mahi fish that was so tender, it could’ve been mistaken for chicken, in a fruity sauce of pineapple, red onion and and garlic, teamed with fried plantain, nutmeg beans and rice with ginger, peas and peppers. Without doubt, one of my most memorable meals while on the island. The rum punch certainly lived up to its name too.
A one-night stay for two at Petit Anse during Grenada Chocolate Festival costs from £152/ US$200.
3) Mount Edgecombe Plantation
Alternatively, you may wish to stay at the aforementioned Mount Edgecombe Plantation, where rooms will be priced from just £114.10 / US$150 per night for single or double occupancy during Grenada Chocolate Festival 2019.
4) Blue Horizons Garden Resort
Nestled among lush green landscapes on a sloping hillside just 300 yards from Grand Anse Beach (voted one of the top ten beaches in the world), Blue Horizons Garden Resort is a boutique family-run resort boasting beautiful gardens and stunning views of the surrounding terrain and sparkling Caribbean Sea.
We ate breakfast like royalty at Blue Horizons’ La Belle Creole restaurant with the owner’s daughter, Mrs. Kendra Hopkin-Stewart, starting our day with typical continental West Indian dishes like conche souse, Grenadian caviar, saltfish buljol and fried bakes. During Grenada Chocolate Festival 2019, rooms at Blue Horizons start at £105/ $US 138.
Click here to book a room at Blue Horizons Garden Resort
5) Seabreeze Hotel
If you’d prefer to stay somewhere a little cheaper (think of all the extra chocolate you could bring home with the money you’ll save!) look no further than Seabreeze Hotel at Grand Anse. Decked out in vibrant shades with a small swimming pool at the front, Seabreeze is the perfect base for your Grenadian getaway. All of the sixteen newly renovated rooms feature air conditioning, free WiFi, refrigerators, sinks, microwaves, kettles and toasters. Some rooms also include stoves and ovens. The hotel’s location means that it’s practically sitting on Grand Anse Beach, just a two-minute walk away. Rooms start at just £38/ $50 per night. Read more in my upcoming hotel review.
Click here to book a room at Seabreeze hotel
Grenada Chocolate Festival 2019
Next year, Grenada Chocolate Festival will be taking place from 31st May to 7th June – essential dates for any chocoholic’s calendar! Although the schedule is yet to be finalised, you can check out the 2018 itinerary here. Tickets aren’t on sale yet but in 2018, a ‘Cocoa Pass’ including access to the majority of activities during the festival was priced at US$435 with transport, or US$384 without transport. Some activities are free to attend and you can also book activities individually if you prefer.
All of the venues featured within this post are open to the public year-round, so if you’ve already booked to go to Grenada, rest assured that you can still tick them off your chocoholic checklist!
Grenada Chocolate Festival aside, there are countless reasons to visit this beautiful island and I’ve barely scratched the surface in this blog post. However, I will be writing another post about some of the other attractions and restaurants we managed to visit during our five days on the island. Furthermore, I’ll be returning to Grenada in my own time next year to explore everything that the island has to offer, and I literally cannot wait – if I had it my way, I’d never come back!
You can fly to Grenada from London Gatwick with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic and prices currently start from as little as £492 return when you book via Skyscanner.
A big thank you to Grenada Tourism Authority for inviting me to Grenada! Special mentions go to our wonderful host, Rob Bates; the coolest CEO ever, Patricia Maher and last but by no means least, our amazing driver and guide, Roger Augustine.
What do you think of Grenada Chocolate Festival? What could possibly be more exciting than a chocolate festival in the Caribbean?! Let me know your thoughts in the comment box below – and don’t forget to pin this post for future reference!