Cocobel's new packaging features Minshall’s Macaw Man

Some of the Cocobel packaging will be permanent additions while others would be a limited edition, but they will all be pieces that have a Caribbean feel. - Angelo Marcelle
Some of the Cocobel packaging will be permanent additions while others would be a limited edition, but they will all be pieces that have a Caribbean feel. - Angelo Marcelle

The idea behind Cocobel chocolate has always been a marriage of chocolate and art. In February, chocolatier and Cocobel founder Isabel Brash took that idea a step further by adding a new piece of art to the packaging of its chocolate bars.

Highlighted on the cover of the bars is artist and masman Peter Minshall’s Macaw Man – a chalk pastel drawing created in 1985 as part of the series Everyman – and on the inside cover, his poem I Am A Caribbean.

Asked about the choice of Macaw Man to represent the brand, Brash said, “It’s like you’re (Caribbean people) this rare creature with all these different things in you. With that piece, you know it’s a human, but we, like it, are special and evolved and a kind of hybrid, because we have the knowledge of all these places, though we come from a much smaller, intimate space where we all come together. Our history gives us that advantage where we could see through everybody’s eyes.”

Chocolatier and Cocobel founder Isabel Brash. - ROGER JACOB

She found many people did not realise the scope of Minshall’s work. And while he is celebrated more during the Carnival season, she believes he should be celebrated at all times.

Brash explained that her original idea was to change the packaging of the chocolate bars every year to highlight different local artists. Some would be permanent additions while others would be a limited edition, but they would all be pieces that had a Caribbean feel and matched the brand.

For some artists, the chocolate bars would introduce them to new people but it would be a travelling exhibition space for contemporary artists.

The first permanent edition of artwork for the bars, a girl of African descent by Brianna McCarthy, was commissioned for the brand.

She said the delay in following up the initial idea was because she had her daughter in 2016, the  year she launched the bars. Also, people “fell in love” with McCarthy’s image and associated it with the brand, so she could not change it.

“The brand has slowly grown and people became attached to Brianna’s Cocobel (which means 'brown beauty' in patois), so we will always have that, but we will also have interchangeable pieces coming in. Some of them will stay or go depending on the permissions we get from the artist or if it’s a more seasonal piece.”

Brash told Sunday Newsday with the pandemic, the two-year “lockdown” and with 2023 being the first full Carnival since then, she thought it would be a great time to do a second edition, using Minshall.

Peter Minshall’s Macaw Man and his poem I Am A Caribbean is featured on the new Cocobel packaging. - Angelo Marcelle

“I figured there would be a lot of visitors who have not seen his work, or there may be people who don’t even know he did art as well. We’re always sharing information, so the bars are about getting people to know these artists and use the bars as an exhibition space, especially as we intend to export more.”

Of the images by McCarthy and Minshall, she said, “They are provocative characters. For me personally, they draw you in and you wander what they’re thinking. You see yourself in them even though they look nothing like you. It’s a mood, a vibes.

“Cocobel is really family with Medulla (Art Gallery). Even when I first started making chocolate, art was always going to be part of the equation.

"Initially, I didn’t even want to brand. I was just going to make these chocolates to go with the exhibition openings and to go with the art.

“Because I was still doing architecture when I started making chocolate, I didn’t imagine I would go so deep into it, but everything lined up that way.”

Brand was working at a local architecture firm after finishing her masters in architecture in London in 2005. She started making chocolate as a hobby and, after much encouragement from family, friends and the man who pressed her cocoa butter, she registered the company in 2009.

Now, Cocobel is Medulla’s biggest patron, with the chocolate company giving the gallery a space to exhibit.

Medulla curator,Martin Mouttet,said he, Brash and Geoffrey Mac Lean made the space at Fitt Street, Woodbrook, into one of “a cross-pollination of ideas and discourse.” They host community outreach workshops on a variety of topics including mental health, domestic violence, the environment and refugees. And the exhibitions usually had an accompanying education element to them.

Brash said she would like to have five permanent art pieces for Cocobel’s five constant flavours, though all the pieces would be on all the flavours, so people would have the choice of collecting their favourite pieces while having their favourite chocolate flavour.

The five flavours are: Creme Creole – single-estate white chocolate with roasted nibs; 72 per cent Dark Chocolate – single-estate Trinitario; Coffee with Cream - single-estate milk chocolate with coffee; Maliaba – single-estate dark chocolate with guava cheese; and Felicity – single-estate milk chocolate with cashews, coconut and spice.

However, the edition with Minshall was released at the beginning of February, the same time as Cocobel’s new flavour, Couva, a 70 per cent dark chocolate with sugarcane jaggery, a type of unrefined cane sugar.

Brash recalled that Ved Seereeram, who owns a small sugar cane estate in Inverness, Princes Town, introduced her to jaggery over ten years ago. She described it as delicious, with the texture of fudge, but it says it has a high moisture level, which makes it difficult to use in chocolate.

Last year, she got a call from Seereeram saying he had worked out her “moisture issue.” So she experimented, making chocolate with the jaggery, and it worked.

“I called it Couva because I met him (Seereeram) in Couva and I’m from south. Also, I always remember seeing the sugarcane arrows on the drive home from visiting my grandmother in Port of Spain. I remember seeing them in the hills and feeling that sense of almost being home.”

Brash said she had not yet decided when the next edition would be released, but hoped it would be within the year.


"Cocobel’s new packaging features Minshall’s Macaw Man"

More in this section