Our cacao adventure in Trinidad and Tobago started about 2 years ago when asked to help cacao farmers on the island to find new routes to sell their precious beans. Trinidad (where the first Trinitario trees were planted) is holy grounds for cacao, an integral part of its history, culture and economics.For legal reasons, farmers can not export their beans directly. The wet beans are sold to an organisation that gives little incentive for the farmers to sustainably continue to grow. In 1920, cocoa was the highest contributor to the National Treasury with over 35,000 tonnes of fine beans harvested. Today the production has shrunk to fewer than 1,000 tonnes. Various problems, including a dwindling farming population and inefficient cultivation methods that yield a low price for cacao crops, are putting the future of this incredibly rich heritage in danger.
It takes madness, vision and dedication to change agriculture with decades of decline. I have plenty of both but met my match in madness in Ashley Parasram, British, born in Trinidad, expert in forestry, horse mad and founder of the Trinidad and Tobago Fine Cocoa Company. He had a dream and his dream was to built the first bean to liquor factory on the island. I flew to paradise (except for the mosquitos) to meet him, to visit farmers as well as syndicate the idea to the government that TT chocolate could be sold internationally. At times it felt like we were going nowhere. Eventually exhausted by a day of running around, we sat in a functional Chinese shack (seems to be more of these in Trinidad than anywhere else) and came up with the idea of the "steel pan" packaging with chocolate sticks representing the flamboyant flavours of carnival.
These tins are now in our boutiques and online, a testament that when farmers, artisans and entrepreneurs collaborate despite all the hurdles, the resulting chocolate is sensational and worth every effort and mosquito bite.