Reviving The Fine Flavor Cocoa Industry in Trinidad & Tobago

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Which single-origin fine flavor dark chocolate would you prefer? One that is mellow and smooth on the palate or one that is green aromatic? How about one that tastes like dried red fruit or bright fruit and herbal with sweet vanilla aroma? These are snippets of the tasting notes to describe four single-origin dark chocolate launched by the Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company at London’s famous department store Harrods last fall as part of National Chocolate Week.

Named the Trinidad & Tobago Single-Estate Chocolate Collection, the four single-origin dark chocolate included were produced not from bulk or ordinary cocoa beans but fine flavor cocoa beans from Trinitario cocoa trees that accounts for just 5% of the world’s cocoa production as its grown in a small number of countries.

Widely renowned as the world’s most exquisite cocoa hybrid, Trinitario cocoa trees were created after a natural disaster circa 1727 destroyed most of the cocoa industry in Trinidad. Then Venezuelan Forastero cocoa was introduced in Trinidad and inter-bred with remnant Criollo to produce a hybrid now known as Trinitario.

Currently, there are over 100 different types of Trinatario cocoa trees in Trinidad, and many can now be found elsewhere in the Caribbean including Dominica, Dominican Republic Grenada, Jamaica and St Lucia. Also, as far away as Samoa and Papua New Guinea.

Trinatario cocoa trees at farm in Tobago and opened Trinatario cocoa pod.

Four Trinidad Cocoa Estates

Each of the four single-origin dark chocolate in the Trinidad & Tobago Single-Estate Chocolate Collection takes the name of the cocoa estate in Trinidad where the fine flavor cocoa beans were harvested.

Below are the cocoa estate locations in Trinidad along with full tasting notes for each of the four single-origin dark chocolate included in the Trinidad & Tobago Single-Estate Chocolate Collection.

La Reunion Estate
Location: Established in the 1940s for research and to support the cocoa sector, the award-winning La Reunion estate with 200 hectares of land is located in Central Trinidad on the banks of the Caroni River.
Dark Chocolate Tasting Notes: Green aromatic notes with sharp citric acidity and mild floral aromas.

Ortinola Estate
Location: Leased to the famous Cadbury Brothers Birmingham between the 1890’s and 1920’s, the Ortinola Estate which currently has 7 of its 365 acres of land actively cultivated with Trinitario cocoa trees, is located in the Northern Range, Maracas Valley Trinidad.
Dark Chocolate Tasting Notes: Mellow and smooth on the palate, with tropical yellow fruit notes and subtle hay aroma.

Aripo Estate
Location: One of the smaller estates at only 5 hectares of land, Aripo Estate is located in the Eastern mountains of Trinidad.
Dark Chocolate Tasting Notes: Dried red fruit notes with slight bitterness linked to hazelnut and a savory finish.

Tableland Estate
Location: Currently around 30 acres with plans to expand to 50 acres, Tableland Estate is located in a rural district in the county of Victoria, South Trinidad on gentle rolling plains.
Chocolate Tasting Notes: Bright fruit and herbal notes with a sweet vanilla aroma and a long finish.

With the differing soil and terrain at these four cocoa estates in Trinidad representing north, south, east and west of the island, it’s not surprising that each single-origin dark chocolate has a yummy but oh so unique flavor. And with 70% minimum cocoa mass, the only other ingredients added to the chocolate are caster sugar, cocoa butter, emulsifier, and soya lecithin. My personal favorite having tried them all is the single-origin fine flavor dark chocolate from the Ortinola Estate which was indeed mellow and smooth on the palate.

Trinidad & Tobago Single Estate Chocolate SelectionTrinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company: Trinidad & Tobago Single Estate Chocolate Collection 2017.

Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company

The Trinidad & Tobago Single-Estate Chocolate Collection which is available online and at Harrods department in London is a product of the Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company.  And like coffee, wine or whiskey, these fine flavor cocoa ‘bean to bar’ products have provenance, and their unique flavors can be traced back to the products’ country, region and even estate of origin.

Other fine flavor cocoa products from the Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company include:
* 38% to 100% Chocolate 50g Bars: Milk Chocolate, Milk Chocolate with Guava, Dark Chocolate, Dark Chocolate with Nibs, etc.
* 100% Unsweetened Cocoa Powder 200g Pouch
* 38% to 70% Chocolate Tins: Milk Chocolate, Milk Chocolate with Guava, Dark Chocolate, Dark Chocolate with Nibs, etc.
* Couverture – 38% to 100% Chocolate 500g Bars: Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate
* 100% Fine Cocoa Nibs 200g Pouch

Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company: Award winning 70pc Dark 500g Chocolate Bar. Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company: Award-winning 70% Single Origin Fine Dark Chocolate 500g Chocolate Bar.

Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company was established five years ago by Ashley Parasram but only went to market with the range of fine flavor cocoa products in September 2015. Impressively, the company which plans to add new products and flavors has already won a few awards including two 2017 Silver Awards from the prestigious Academy of Chocolate.  One award was for their La Reunion 70% Single Estate Dark Chocolate ‘Bean-to-Bar’ and the other for their Steel Pan packaging. The steel pan packaging with the cocoa dancer is a nod to Trinidad who invented the steelpan as a musical instrument. The cocoa dancer is also inspired by a 5th May 1885 print of Frederick Street in Trinidad and is a nod to the traditional practice of “dancing the cocoa” which is done to polish the cocoa beans.
Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company: Founder Ashley Parasram. Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company: Founder Ashley Parasram.

Reviving Trinidad & Tobago’s Cocoa Production

Beyond creating fine flavor cocoa products for the high-end international market, one of the primary goals of the Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company, is to rehabilitate the Trinidad & Tobago cocoa sector increasing production from 500 tons of cocoa each year to 1,000 tons by 2020. This goal is ambitious, but realistic with hard work as, during the early 19th century, 30,000 tons of cocoa was produced each year in Trinidad & Tobago. Also, nearby Caribbean islands like the Dominican Republic currently produce 80,000 tons of cocoa each year though only about 40% of what they export are classified as fine flavor cocoa.

Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company: 100% Single Origin Unsweetened Cocoa Powder. Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company: 100% Single Origin Unsweetened Cocoa Powder.

Interestingly, Parasram who was born in Trinidad & Tobago but migrated with his family to the United Kingdom as a young boy didn’t even know that cocoa existed in Trinidad & Tobago until five years ago when a friend told him that the cocoa industry was in decline.

Intrigued, Parasram researched the sector then leveraging 20+ years of environmental science and sustainable development project experience working for such organizations as the UK Department For International Development (DFID) and the European Forestry Institute, to launch the Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company. Through his determined efforts, Parasram was able to set up a cocoa processing facility at La Reunion Estate with state of the art cocoa bean to bar technology and equipment from Brazil; the first in 400 years since cocoa arrived on Trinidad & Tobago. Parasram states,

“It has been five years from when the idea came to being when a friend suggested it. But it took three years to do due diligence and develop the project and then in January 2015 we got the financing secured.

Then within two years after securing the financing, we built a state of the art factory, secured international partnerships, launched a joint venture with Harrods, won two silver academy awards for our chocolate and packaging. Also Innovator of the Year Award from the Trinidad & Tobago Manufacturing Award.”

Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company_70pc Single Origin Fine Dark Chocolate in Tin. Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company_70pc Single Origin Fine Dark Chocolate in Tin.

This is no small feat considering the operational, political, cultural and institutional challenges one has to deal with while launching a business in the Caribbean. Thus, critical to Parasram’s success is support from the Trinidad & Tobago government which allowed the company to build the large-scale industrial cocoa processing facility at La Reunion Estate in exchange for sharing their learnings with other cocoa estate farmers.

Also partnering with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Cocoa Research Centre of the University of West Indies. Under a three-year program titled Improving Marketing and Production of Artisanal Cocoa from Trinidad & Tobago (IMPACTT), they have teamed up to “develop standards, a chain-of-custody system, a certification system and a range of marketing tools to aid growers in selling their beans for the highest value.”

Currently, the Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company works with twelve cocoa estates, but Parasram hopes to increase to twenty-five by the end of next year. In total, there are over 1,000 cocoa estates in Trinidad, and another goal is to create a genetic bank to identify all the Trinitario cocoa trees across the island.

Also critical to developing the Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company and increasing cocoa production in Trinidad & Tobago is attending regional conferences like Agroalimentaria. Held most recently in the Dominican Republic, Parasram participated as part of the delegation from the Caribbean Export Development Agency which is funded in part by the European Union and plays a vital role in promoting brands from the Caribbean like Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company. According to Parasram,

“It was a useful exercise attending Agroalimentaria to meet other producers from the region and learn from their experiences. It was also helpful to explore partnerships with people in the Dominican Republic – this related to rum and cocoa growers, understanding how the sector works there. Plus, I think realizing that you are not alone in trying to be innovative was a huge asset and quite encouraging. Also understanding where partnerships could be considered within the Caribbean. There was a genuine opportunity to look at things creatively and in an innovate way. So was pleased to be part of the group attending with the Caribbean Development Export Agency.”

Trinidad Fine Cocoa Company: Ashley Parasram at Agroalimentaria in the Dominican Republic. Trinidad Fine Cocoa Company: Ashley Parasram at Agroalimentaria in the Dominican Republic.

With the operational aspect of the business established, Parasram intends to spend the next twelve to twenty-four months increasing sales internationally and developing innovate products. So not just offering single-origin fine flavor chocolate for sale to local, regional and international markets, but also offering unique tasting experiences to educate people that cocoa can be used for mainstream cooking, not just to create chocolate. This includes launching a retail outlet at the Hilton Hotel in Trinidad which will have a tasting room but also getting involved with agri-tourism. Parasram states,

“You’ll be able to come down to Trinidad for agri-tourism, and I’ll introduce you to the grower of the chocolate you are eating. Now that is something Cadbury can’t do.

…Cocoa has been abused in the past hundred years by the Victorians and Swiss putting lots of sugar and milk into it. It doesn’t really need to be like that. Especially if its cocoa and chocolate products are made from cocoa beans from Trinitario trees which originated in Trinidad.”

Initially skeptical, I now agree after devouring a box with 16 pieces of the Trinidad & Tobago Single-Estate Chocolate Collection as the taste is indeed truly exceptional.  As such, remember, these can be purchased online via Harrods. You can also consider purchasing one or more of the Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company’s other fine flavor cocoa products online or at one of their outlet partners in Trinidad.  And for more information about the cocoa industry in the Caribbean, check out this article from the Caribbean Export Outlook magazine.

Chocolate from the Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company. Chocolate from the Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company.

Note: This blog post/article is part of a series featuring Caribbean entrepreneurs and businesses sponsored by the Caribbean Export Development Agency. Working together with the European Union, the Caribbean Export Development Agency supports the sustainable development of Caribbean brands ultimately to increase employment in the region, inclusiveness, particularly for youth, women and indigenous groups, and secure overall poverty reduction.

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Caribbean fine flavor cocoa is in high demand by the world's elite chocolatiers but it only accounts for 5% of the world production. Find out how the Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company is working to meet this demand by creating truly exceptional chocolate products while at the same time working with farmers to increase cocoa production in Trinidad & Tobago.

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Ursula Petula Barzey

Ursula Petula Barzey

Founder | Digital Content Creator at Caribbean & Co.
Ursula Petula Barzey is a digital marketing professional and Founder of Caribbean & Co. which has allowed her to reconnect with her Montserratian and Caribbean roots!