A Tour of Tobago Cocoa Estate

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Some of the best chocolate in the world comes from Trinidad and Tobago. The most prized species of cocoa, in fact, is named for Trinidad: Trinitario.  I make it a habit of seeking out single origin bars of chocolate from some of my favorite chocolatiers– La Maison du Chocolat and Valrhona, to name two, who feature Trinidad’s prized cocoa beans in their chocolates.  On our trip to Tobago recently, we had a chance to tour a relatively new cocoa estate, Tobago Cocoa Estate.

Tobago Cocoa Estate W.I. LTD was established 2005 by Tobagonian born Duane Dove, and is planted exclusively with Trinitario cocoa (TSH) fine or flavour cocoa.

For those of you unfamiliar with cocoa, there are three types of cocoa beans which are used in chocolate production today.  According to the site www.chocolate-revolution.com,  these are the Criollo, the Forastero and a hybrid between the two, the Trinitario. Criollo and Trinitario are often referred to as fine or flavour cocoa beans, while Forastero is the ordinary bean used for mass production. Over 90% percent of the world’s cocoa is bulk production, mostly from the Forastero bean. The remainder is fine/flavour cocoa, from most of the Trinitario and all of the Criollo varieties.

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Trinitario is a hybrid between the Criollo and Forastero trees and originated in Trinidad. Around 1678, Criollo trees from Venezuela were planted in Trinidad, and in the following decades they went on to produce some of the finest Criollo of the time. Then, in 1727, disaster struck. The exact reasons are still unknown and theories vary from fungi and disease to speculation whether the increasingly mature trees imported decades earlier were becoming more and more sensitive to Trinidad’s soil and climate, for which they may have not been suited. In any case, the crop failure of 1727 delivered a fatal blow to Trinidad’s cocoa economy, which was revived in 1756 with the introduction of the more robust Forastero from the Amazon region. The new variety was combined with the remaining Criollo trees, resulting in the new Trinitario variety. In the 19th century Trinitario trees were propagated across the globe and can be found in Venezuela, Ecuador, Cameroon, Samoa, Sri Lanka, Java and Papua New Guinea. Trinitario is the predominant fine/flavour cocoa and is the most likely bean to be found in high-quality dark chocolate today.

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Our private tour of the estate was a relaxed stroll through the beautiful grounds, which also included local produce such as mango trees, coffee trees, and local herbs.  Our guide was the manager, Harry, who lives full time on the estate.

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Harry is showing us the fresh fruit inside a cocoa pod.  Here’s a closer look:

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The fruit, which surrounds the seeds or beans which eventually get dried and fermented before being roasted and made into chocolate, tastes nothing like chocolate.  The tart-sweet flesh reminded me of a combination of mangosteen and jackfruit.  I asked Harry why people don’t eat the fruit.  One reason, he said, is because of its acidity.  The real reason, I suspect, is that one wouldn’t waste it on eating, when the seeds are the real previous commodity.

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The small structures behind the tasting room/gift shop in this photo below are the fermentation and drying buildings, the latter known as a “cocoa house”.  I didn’t know, and my husband had forgotten until seeing these, that his family had a cocoa house on the roof of their home of Fifth Company Village.  Long ago, they used it to dry cocoa beans for neighboring growers, but in his childhood, he only remembers it being used to dry other produce for his family’s personal consumption, such as mangoes.

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A lone cocoa pod:

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There’s also a traditional Tobagonian mud oven, which in past times was a popular way for a village to communally bake bread.  Few of these exist now, but the Cocoa Estate maintains one for when larger groups visit.  I am sad to not have had a chance to taste cassava bread baked in the mud oven.

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I was excited to see a small garden growing the triumvirate of herbs used in Trinidad’s savory green seasoning: thyme, chives and shado beni (culantro), pictured below.

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You may remember shado beni from my recent post on mango chow.

There was also a spiny fruit which resembled the Southeast Asian fruit, rambutan.  But this was something different: roucou, also known as achiote or annatto, used to add color to fish dishes and other food, and in other times as warpaint by local indigenous tribes.

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It was an interesting and informative tour, which culminated in a tasting of the estate’s dark chocolate.  Delicious. Tobago Cocoa Estate’s chocolates are available in Trinidad and Tobago and are made by French artisan Chocolatier Francois Pralus.

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Dark chocolate, as you know, is full of antioxidants called flavonoids.  A few ounces a day can be part of a healthy diet.  Here’s one of my favorite recipes using dark chocolate that is a surprisingly guilt-free pleasure, my Dark Chocolate Vanilla Pomegranate Parfait.

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What are your favorite sources for dark chocolate? What are some of your favorite recipes using dark chocolate? Please feel free to share links in the comments!

Cheers! 

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