GRENADA—On this farm, the crops grow wild in the humid heat along jungle paths, while farmers carry long cutlasses, the swashbuckling local term for machetes.
The payoff for the trek on Aaron Sylvester’s family farm is sweet: large, brightly coloured cacao pods infused with the flavours of the spices, fruit and coffee trees growing around them.
Nutmeg gave this country near Trinidad in the southern Caribbean its nickname: The Spice Island. Now, Grenada is switching its flavour profile.
By pushing tree-to-bar products made from locally grown cacao prized for its earthy, rich, spiced-fruit flavours, Grenada is rebranding itself as The Chocolate Island. That’s good for visitors like me who can’t get enough of the stuff. But it’s even better for cacao farmers.
Sylvester is one of the newest growers and a chocolate visionary. The 37-year-old former London-based music promoter saw great potential for the industry while exploring the island’s annual chocolate festival during visits home. He decided the time was right to return for good to start Tri Island Chocolate, a permaculture cacao farm and chocolate maker.
Held each May, the Grenada Chocolate Festival feels like every kid’s wish come true, with tastings, tours and chocolate for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Plus for adults, there are luscious chocolate cocktails.
Tri Island is the fifth and newest bean-to-bar chocolate maker on the island. Grenada is a longtime cacao grower, exporting the raw product to some of Europe’s biggest manufacturers. But there is a new push for recognition and ownership among these chocolate producers.
“The products don’t say ‘made in Grenada.’ I am all about changing that,” Sylvester says.
There’s a cachet to the excellent dark chocolate bars from founding organic and sustainable maker, Grenada Chocolate Company, along with Belmont Estate, Jouvay Diamond Chocolate, Crayfish Bay and Tri Island. The bars are sublime and almost impossible to find off the island famed for its white-sand beaches and lush, green mountains. Paradise wrapped in chocolate? Yes, please!
You’ll want to eat as much chocolate as you can while you are in Grenada and boast about your find by bringing treats home.
Tours of estates and farms give visitors lessons in harvesting the cacao pods filled with large slimy seeds that are fermented, dried and polished by workers “dancing” barefoot on the beans.
Tours at Belmont also include the organic garden and there’s a fine restaurant on-site.
Or you can take an excursion with company Savour the Spice Tours and hit several places in a day.
In historic downtown St. George’s, drop in at the House of Chocolate mini-museum and store to buy bars and fanciful handmade bonbons.
Sylvester is focused on seeing chocolate tourism flourish in Grenada. For Tri Island, he envisions a tree-to-bar processing area next year, where visitors can customize and create their own chocolate bars. He has plans for accommodations, tours, experiences and also for making cocoa butter shampoo, soap and body products.
If you happen to be in Grenada in May, check out Chocolate Fest. Most events are held at the island’s funky-chill True Blue Bay Resort, where I took workshops in making cocoa skincare products and teas after an early morning chocolate yoga class in an open-air pavilion overlooking the turquoise sea.
Then I dropped into Georgetown’s Spice Market to talk to Miss Gemma King. If anybody needs a cure, Miss Gemma can provide the local spice or food to fix you up. And that includes chocolate.
“Chocolate is very good for your heart, eh?” she said as she wrapped up my purchases.
Good for me and good for Grenada.
I was a guest of the Grenada Tourism Authority, which did not review or approve this post.
When you go: I flew to Grenada from Toronto on American Airlines and Caribbean Airlines. Both required a connecting flight.
Where to stay: I stayed at the family run Coyaba Beach Resort which fronts onto the island’s justifiably famed Grand Anse Beach. A basic and comfortable hotel, the staff was excellent, friendly and eager of help. Looking for luxury? Check out Spice Island Beach Resort, with deluxe bungalows that boast private beach access or your own secluded pool, with elegant oceanfront dining room.
Where to eat: BB’s Crabback Caribbean Restaurant makes fine seafood dishes and a fantastic rum punch. Patrick’s Local Homestyle is the place for a typical breakfast of fried bake and salt fish souse, while The Aquarium does an excellent Sunday barbecue dinner.