Raising the bar

James Burns, owner of local chocolate brand JB Chocolates, is very meticulous when it comes to sorting cocoa beans. Photo courtesy JB Chocolates
James Burns, owner of local chocolate brand JB Chocolates, is very meticulous when it comes to sorting cocoa beans. Photo courtesy JB Chocolates

If you visit one of the local artisan markets or any of the gourmet shops around the country, you are sure to find a local chocolate. But who are the chocolatiers that are taking bean to bar and making waves in all things chocolate? The Oxford dictionary defines a chocolatier as “a maker and seller of chocolate”, and they are popping up in the local entrepreneur industry in spades. It’s certainly no surprise as our cocoa – specifically Trinitario cocoa beans – has been described by a manufacturing profile for cocoa and chocolate products produced by UWI St Augustine, as “widely sought after in the world’s cocoa and chocolate market because of its distinct flavours, which can range from fruity to floral”. The question is, how are we using this to our advantage onshore? Do locals love local when it comes to chocolate?

Meet chocolatier, James Burns, who owns local chocolate brand, JB Chocolates. Burns, from Gran Couva founded JB Chocolates four years ago, turning it into a now renowned local chocolate brand with over 14 different flavours. The brand has also partnered with international brand, Starbucks to not only have its chocolate bars sold at branches nationwide, but to also use Starbucks coffee to create an exclusive chocolate bar for the coffee giant.

James Burns, owner of local chocolate brand JB Chocolates, in the middle of his chocolate-making process. Photo courtesy JB Chocolates

Burns says what interests him about chocolate is the fact that you can do so many things with it. “From roasting and building many different flavours to when you’re actually making the chocolate. You can make a chocolate bar, a truffle, ganache.” He also believes that you can also explore the artistic side of chocolate. “You can paint, decorate and sculpt chocolate. There are many windows into chocolate-making and that is truly what keeps my interest.” Burns adds that there are a quite few local chocolate-makers who are making great strides to get the high quality of our cocoa and by extension, chocolate, recognised internationally.

But what about locally? Are we making great strides here at home? Burns says yes. “Over the last couple of years, Trinis have become very educated about chocolate and have developed such a lovely palate and even craving for it.” And the distribution reach that JB Chocolates enjoys is indicative of that. The brand can be found in many chains, gourmet shops and cafes, such as Full Bloom Coffee and Starbucks, around the country. JB Chocolates also participates in local artisan markets such as Green Market in Santa Cruz.

JB Chocolates Coconut Milk Chocolate. Photo by Michelle A Eng Leang

As for the future, Burns said, “I would like to see more places opening up that are ready to receive cocoa, and the facilities that are not in the right conditions and standards get help from the government, or if private parties come together for things like fermentation boxes and drying sheds. And also for people to invest in their cocoa estate instead of clearing the land to build apartments. There is so much that we can do locally for our chocolate.”

Burns sees a lot being done for local chocolate-makers and chocolatiers. “We are working together with the Cocoa Research Centre and UWI, and both provide a great help. We are at a very good stage for the development of local chocolate and I think what we need to do more is focus on reviving our cocoa industry to what it used to be. Let’s stop clearing land and building apartments and start reviving estates and planting more cocoa and making Trinidad the home of great cocoa once again.”

Here’s a taste of some of the many chocolatiers and chocolate companies producing artisan chocolates, truffles and bonbons around the country.

Philippa’s Garden

A family-based chocolate business, Philippa’s Garden is based in Arima. The brand uses cocoa beans from a single cocoa estate in Brasso Seco, Paria.

Bon bons from Philippa's. Photo by Michelle A Eng Leang

Philippa’s lines includes bon bons, truffles and chocolate bars and have featured local flavours such as sorrel, ponche de creme, fruit cake and more. Philippa’s has also collaborated with brands such as dianne’s Tea Shop in Maraval, which features the brand’s bonbons and truffles under a house brand. Philippa’s can be found at most gourmet shops including Adam’s Bagels and Uncorked.

Gina’s Chocolate

Gina's heart-shaped chocolate bon bons. Photo by Michelle A Eng Leang

Gina’s Chocolate is named after owner, Gina Sonja Hardy, who began taking orders for her homemade chocolate in 2008. Since then, her chocolate has made it to the shelves of most gourmet shops in the country and has even been served to former US president Barrack Obama at the Fifth Summit of the Americas, and to Queen Elizabeth II at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit, both in 2009.

Gina's Midnight Hummingbird chocolate bar. Photo by Michelle A Eng Leang

Hardy, who is Singaporean, is now based in TT and has more than 50 flavours of chocolate, including passion fruit and soursop bonbons and passion fruit truffles with varieties in orange, prosecco, guava and raspberry.

Omarbeans Organic

A family-run business, Omarbeans Organic is a tree to bar chocolate business producing high quality, small batch artisan chocolate. Using single estate cocoa that is harvested in Brasso Seco, Paria, its chocolate bars are 65 per cent for dark chocolate and 70 per cent for milk chocolate. Its flavours include ginger, sorrel, mochaccino using local coffee, orange and more.

Chocolate bars from Omarbeans Organic. Photo by Michelle A Eng Leang

On its Facebook page, the brand says, “We showcase our local fruits, herbs and spices in our 65 per cent and 70 per cent inclusion bars and we are always looking for new and tasty combinations.” The brand is “passionate about the environment and the environmental benefits conferred to the eco-system by the traditional multi-cropping of cocoa plantations with fruits trees, herbs and spices and are proud to be a part of the resurgence of the cocoa industry as a value-added industry in TT.”

The Brasso Seco Chocolate Company

As the name suggests, this brand produces hand-crafted, high-end dark chocolates in, you guessed it, Brasso Seco. Bars can be found at the cashiers in Massy Stores nationwide, as well as the gourmet and specialty shop circuit.

Chocolate bars from The Brasso Seco Chocolate Company. Photo by Michelle A Eng Leang

The Brasso Seco Chocolate Company is part of the Alliance of Rural Communities which is a network of chocolate companies as well as other community-based organisations that promote organic produce, indigenous catering and community ownership.

Cocobel Chocolate

Isabel Brash is the chocolatier behind Cocobel and its artisanal chocolate creations. Brash works on her creations at her chocolate kitchen in Woodbrook, Port of Spain and uses the beans from the Rancho Quemado Estate in south Trinidad.

Chocolates from Cocobel. Photo taken from Cocobel's Facebook page

Cocobel’s bonbons and chocolate bars combine taste and design as they are equally pleasurable to look at as they are to eat. The brands flavours include cashew cocoa crunch, dark sorrel, guavas and cream, mango pepper and ponche de creme.


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