Ice Agency travelled to St Lucia in the middle of January to sample chocolate making and natural cocoa plantations. We pride ourselves on having a knowledge of good quality chocolate for our Chocolate Fountains and as such felt it was important to see the production first hand.
St Lucia produces amazing chocolate due to the Cacao trees growing on rich volcanic soil. The chocolate has been produced for centuries and exported to Europe and USA. We based ourselves for the trip in the west of the island – perfect for forays into the Soufriere cocoa area and Piton Hills with its breath taking scenery and headyscents.
Spice Rum, Chocolate and Hummingbirds….
Travelling into the Soufriere which was established in 1746 and has changed hands between French and English over 100’s of years, we got the sense of history permeating the place. Slavery was prominent in the region and only ceased around 1834 following many uprisings. The statue in the main square celebrates the slaves rising up. The surrounding area contains rainforest with amazing hummingbirds, fresh water crabs and the occasional snake!!!
Liquorice, Molasses, Black Pepper flavours…
Visiting the Rabot Estate which provided chocolate for UK company Hotel Chocolat was an opportunity to see the full production of chocolate from bean to finished product. There are 3 main types of Cacao Bean – Forastero, Criollo and Trinitario (cross between the other two). Reading University has profiled the trees on the Rabot Estate as being Criollo rich leading to a high quality cacao.
Food of the Gods….
The Rabot estate nestles amongst the Piton Hills and was the perfect place to actually sample chocolate production. The pods are full of white flesh that surround the cacao beans. The flesh is amazingly delicious and of course I could not get enough of them!!!
Following harvesting the bean are fermented in wooden boxes and covered with banana leaf to ferment for up to 7 days, creating flavour and aroma. Vital for an amazing chocolate!!! Next is drying in the sun followed by roasting – this needs to be done right to avoid a bitter taste. Winnowing is next – a strange term but basically means the beans being shaken to separate the shell from the Cacao nibs. This is what is used to make the chocolate but you will often find the nibs used in cooking and cocktails – keep an eye out next time you visit a restaurant.
Hot, Humid and Conched…
The nibs are ground to make a paste with 45% cocoa and 55% cocoa butter.This is then mixed with sugar, extra butter and milk to create a smooth paste. To ensure the finished product has that silky smooth finish, this mixture is Conched – another term that has its origins way back and refers to the original shell shaped machines. Tempering follows to get the chocolate to crystalise correctlys with perfect sheen and texture!
Cacao Pod to Chocolate Fountain…
Many types of chocolate have subtle difference in taste. Its possible to Sweet, Bitter and Sour. With aromas there may be tobacco, coffee, oaked wine.
At Ice Agency we had more cocoa butter to our chocolate in order to create a finished product that runs smoothly in our chocolate fountains without the need to add oil – something others do but we refuse to. Our chocolate costs us more but the taste is very important to us. Try it – you’ll be amazed!!!
For more testimonials, please click here.