You can’t go far in Saint Lucia without stumbling upon a chocolate plantation; the island is home to countless, still-functioning estates from its heyday as a leading cocoa producer back in the 1700s.
Fond Doux Plantation & Resort, Jade Mountain’s Emerald Estate and Hotel Chocolat are just a few of the spots offering a variety of activities and tours. The chocolate lab at Jade Mountain allows guests to take part in guided tastings and truffle making, Fond Doux’s heritage tour walks guests through the production process including harvesting and drying the beans, and the bean-to-bar tour at Hotel Chocolat takes visitors out to explore the fields where they can watch farmers at work and later create their own custom chocolate bars.
While cocoa has long been an important part of the country’s history, it took a backseat to the banana industry in the nation’s modern economy. In the late 1980s, Saint Lucia was one of the world’s biggest exporters of bananas, but changes to trade agreements between the United Kingdom and Saint Lucia in the early 1990s meant the industry all but collapsed—the number of banana farmers on the island fell from about 10,000 to a little more than 1,000 today.
The demise of the banana industry resulted in a revival of the country’s cocoa production as farmers, looking for alternative revenue streams, shifted their focus back to the island’s chocolate roots. Growing cocoa requires at least 60 inches of rainfall per year and Saint Lucia’s tropical maritime climate, with an annual rainfall of up to 150 inches, more than delivers on this.
One of the most notable boosts to Saint Lucia’s cocoa industry comes from Hotel Chocolat. The British chocolatier bought the 140-acre Rabot Estate near Soufrière (Saint Lucia’s original French capital), opened the boutique hotel and restaurant, Boucan by Hotel Chocolat, in 2011, and plans to open a chocolate factory on the property by 2019. But it’s the company’s cocoa program that truly shines. Through the program, farmers are offered technical advice and assistance to produce cocoa. They are subsidized with cocoa seedlings sold to them for about $2 per plant (it’s typically about $5 to produce one seedling), and the beans are then bought back from the farmers at a higher than average rate.
“The program is a means to encourage farmers to go into cocoa production,” says Methodius Faucher, Hotel Chocolat’s Estates’ overseer. Hotel Chocolat has sold nearly 30,000 seedlings—there are about 140 farmers involved with the program—and paid about $620,000 for the resulting beans. “This program [makes] a significant contribution to the Saint Lucia economy,” says Faucher. More farmers join the program each month and Faucher says Hotel Chocolat still needs to produce 46,000 seedlings to meet local demand.
This resurgence of Saint Lucia’s chocolate industry means that chocolate has stretched beyond plantation tours. Spas are incorporating cocoa—hailed as an anti-oxidant and powerful moisturizer—into various body treatments, including the spas at Windjammer Landing and Sugar Beach resorts, which offer luxurious cocoa and chocolate body scrubs.
Cocoa is also finding its way onto the menu at some of Saint Lucia’s best restaurants. The Windsong Restaurant at Calabash Cove serves a Ravioli de Choiseul made with local pork and a coconut and cocoa sauce, and Jade Mountain recently partnered with local Antillia Brewing Company to create the Imperial Chocolate Stout. Traditional cocoa tea—made from grated cocoa sticks—is also an island must-have, pick up a cup from a local vendor at the Castries Market.
[This story appears in the August 2018 issue of WestJet Magazine]
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