THE Alliance of Rural Communities (ARCTT) started offering its chocolate tours of Port of Spain on February 1. There’s the sweet on this tour – and the bitter.
Sweet: the opportunity to taste, in a two-hour experience, a variety of chocolate-made bean-to-bar in TT from our very own beans.
Bitter: the fact that it’s taken so many centuries for TT chocolate to be enough of a thing to have a whole tour built around it.
The debut city tour focused on telling the story of indigenous chocolate production, and sharing lots of chocolate samples to show participants how to properly taste chocolate.
Gillian Goddard, one of ARCTT’s directors, led the tour, guiding its participants through tasting squares of 60, 70, and 80 per cent chocolate at Uncorked, the wine shop on Tragarete Road where the tour began.
“Imagine we were a country that, for hundreds of years, grew cocoa. We fermented and dried it. We never ever tasted a chocolate bar from it,” Goddard said. “We (Suneaters Organics, the brand she co-founded) made the first full-sized bar four years ago. So now in TT for the first time we’re actually tasting chocolate made from our beans.”
It’s an exaggeration, as local confectioners had made bars and truffles before the recent TT cocoa revolution that’s blossomed in the past decade. And fine French chocolatier Valrhona has long made Gran Couva, a single-estate bar made from cocoa grown in Trinidad. But the point Goddard makes stands. For centuries, chocolate has been a European (and, later, American) product made with cocoa from the Caribbean, Latin America and Africa.
Large manufacturers “want everybody that buys a bar to taste the same (thing),” Goddard said. “You have to remove distinction. It’s like school uniforms. If you let those children wear whatever they want you would see all kinds of amazing outfits – but we homogenise it.
“Those big companies put their beans in school uniforms. You’re really squelching their individuality. You’re not going to get anything that’s going to wow you.”
Goddard explained, “There’s something called terroir in chocolate, which is also in wine. It refers to the understanding that the flavours that develop in the bean are influenced by the geographical conditions of the area, sunlight, rain, the quality of the soil, many things that we don’t understand.
“Chocolate is interesting. Yes, it tastes like chocolate, but it also tastes like other things. The other thing that our chocolate bars tastes like is fruit, in particular often dried fruit. That’s the undertone the southern Caribbean tends to carry.”
Some of the chocolate on the tour tasted like raisins. In others it was fragrant with traditional spices: tonka bean, bay leaf, nutmeg. A bar made with beans from Brasso Seco was flavoured with robusta coffee grown in the same district.
Goddard and her colleagues from ARCTT lead the loose crocodile striding from Uncorked to the Cocoa Pod, a chocolate café on Gordon Street, a few blocks away.
There she handed over hosting duties to proprietor Wayne Cezaire, who shared pieces of a rich double-chocolate fondant he had made with a flourless chocolate baking base he had invented. He poured tiny cups of maté, a pale gold tea made from the husks of cocoa beans, and small samples of his chocolate liqueur, made with Trinidad rum. Participants clamoured to buy squares of fondant and sample bottles of liqueur before they left the shop.
“What we’re trying to do is get people to spend money in TT on chocolate, on local chocolate,” Goddard told the participants. “When you circulate money within your community it makes a big difference.”
Back at Uncorked, Barbara Lowhar, 72, was one of the people who had taken the tour. “I grew up in Manzanilla and I remember cocoa trees,” she told the group. “We would pick cocoa and cut it and dry it and sweat it.” Her aunt made cocoa balls and sold them in the market. She used to climb the trees and suck cocoa. She told the Newsday, “This was an opportunity for me to relive what I remember from so many years ago.”
The Port of Spain tours will continue. ARCTT also proposes to offer longer tours of chocolate-making villages and cocoa plantations.
For more info: Alliance of Rural Communities of TT’s Facebook page.