Cocoa Pod growing on a Cocoa Tree at Hotel Chocolat in St Lucia

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In truth, all you have to do is say “chocolate” and we’re likely there. Upon discovery that the Caribbean jewel, Saint Lucia, offers a chocolate making experience that is also educational, and located at a place named Hotel Chocolat; there was no hard sell required for us. St Lucia Chocolate Tour? We’re in!

A brown banner that says Hotel Chocolat in front of green brush from the Cocoa Tree farm. Two large Cocoa pods are on a table along with two bowls of Cocoa Seeds.

We based ourselves in the Anse La Raye area of the island, which required a trek. Our resort set us up with a taxi. The ride was just a bit over an hour to take us over to Hotel Chocolat in Soufrière. Saint Lucia is very hilly and on mountainous terrain, so expect beautiful scenic views on winding roads. This was pleasant for me, but I’ve known many to become a bit queasy on these roads.

Upon arrival at Hotel Chocolat, we were warmly greeted by our two guides and a couple that would be joining us. We were given a brief introduction about what we would be doing on our St Lucia Chocolate Tour and then off we went!

The exterior of The Seederie on our St Lucia Chocolate Tour at Hotel Chocolat
First Stop: The Seederie. We grafted a baby Cocoa Tree

Where Does Chocolate Actually Come From?

First things first, let’s understand how cocoa trees are grown. “Where does chocolate actually come from?”

We began our St Lucia Chocolate Tour by answering this question. We entered the Seederie and in this lovely shaded area, there were rows and rows lined with baby cocoa trees. And mysteriously, they each had a date and a person’s name on them. What was this about?

Cocoa trees can withstand temperatures as high as 95 degrees and lows of about 55 degrees fahrenheit. They need a hot and humid climate to flourish, with lots of rainfall or irrigation.

Vibrant, bright green leaves of baby Cocoa Tree plants. A pile of Cocoa Tree seeds on a blanket - during our St Lucia Chocolate Tour
Inside the Seederie, a pile of Cocoa Tree seeds and baby Cocoa Trees everywhere on our St Lucia Chocolate Tour

Grafting a Cocoa Tree

To begin the tree-to-bar journey, first; we learned to graft a cocoa tree! Despite being a gardening enthusiast at home, neither of us had ever grafted a tree before. According to modern horticulture, tree grafting offers a wide variety of benefits and purposes: In this instance, I believe it was to aid in making the tree grow faster, more resilient, and on a larger scale, onto an already sturdy tree base.

The cool part is, afterward we can email or call Hotel Chocolat at any time and ask them to see how our cocoa baby is doing and they will give us an update or send us a picture. As it turns out, that is what the dates and names were for on each plant, and they will soon find out what a doting plant mama I am!

Exploring the Cocoa Tree Farm

Next, we went to look at the property’s orchard of fully grown Cocoa trees.

We walked down dirt trails in about 90 degree heat, showcasing tall, lush, green, towering cocoa trees.

The Cocoa Pod

And I present to you, ladies and gentleman, a cocoa pod! The trees grow these cocoa pods from their branches. When they fall off and become dark or black, they are no good (perhaps are diseased or were compromised by an animal). But when the pods turn yellow, they are ripe and ready for pick’n!

A bright yellow, ripe Cocoa Pod with Lots of Cocoa Beans exposed on the inside. As seen on our St Lucia Chocolate Tour.
A ripe Cocoa Pod cracked open the traditional way – the inside is full of Cocoa Beans

You can take your ripe cocoa pod and slice it open with a well-sharpened blade. But what’s the fun in that? You also risk damaging the cocoa beans. Our guide demonstrated the traditional way of cracking open a cocoa pod. Simply smashing it with just the right amount of force, in just the right place against a rock. Done properly, it cracks the exterior of the pod just enough for it to split in two halves.

Cocoa Beans

But wait, what is that white slime?

Our guides had us put a cocoa bean in our mouths to try the white slime, erh, I mean pulp. For me, it had very little taste and was just creamy and ever so sweet. This used to be considered a “waste” product in the pod but is now used as part of the fermentation process. It can also be used for yogurts, ice creams and drinks, among other uses.

The Fermentation Process

Here’s where things go from, “oh, I totally get that because I garden,” to a lot more science-y stuff. Up next? The fermentation process.

Traditionally, the cocoa beans are put in a container of some sort and are heated up (artificially or by the sun) and the cocoa pulp (white slime) imparts its flavor, aroma and sweetness to the beans, over a period of days. During the fermentation process, the beans should be aerated (as in you move them around) once or twice a day. Different styles of fermentation are being explored now too, like adding in spices (chili, for example) or fruits during the process.

After the fermentation process is complete, the cocoa beans need to be dried. The drying process should be done with care to protect the flavor integrity. It should not be done too fast, nor too slow due to chemical reactions and to prevent mold (again, science-y stuff). The beans can be sun dried or you can use a dryer.

The History of Chocolate

Would a St Lucia chocolate tour be complete without a little history?

Chocolate consumption all began in Latin America. It is there that the cocoa plant was first used to make “chocolate.” It was consumed during rituals. It was believed to have healing and medicinal benefits, give strength and was even used as an aphrodisiac.

The Mayans regarded it as a “Drink of the Gods.” Only back then, the drink had more of a bitter taste and was often mixed with chili and spices. The Spanish discovered Cocoa when exploring the Aztec civilization and brought it back to Europe. To make it more palatable to the Europeans they introduced another ingredient to the drink….. sugar. Soon, this silky treat started seducing all of Europe. It was consumed with immense popularity among the aristocrats. They loved this treat for both its health benefits and its decadence.

A black stone mortar, a piston, sugar, dried cocoa beans and cocoa butter
Our table setup to begin the process of making our own chocolate bar

Back then, chocolate was still being produced by hand which was a slow and laborious process. One that we were about to experience first hand!

Laid before us was the following: freshly made cocoa butter, fermented & dried cocoa nibs, and of course, sugar. Our tools? A swelteringly hot mortar fresh out of the oven, and a wooden pestle.

Ready to Make Chocolate?!

Step One: Ground your Cocoa Nibs

The first thing that needs to happen is you need to grind you cocoa nibs into a fine powder. Sounds easy enough, right? Do not underestimate the elbow grease required to make the cocoa nibs into that perfectly fine powder you’re seeking. Grind, baby, grind!

Step Two: Add in Cocoa Butter & Mix

Your mortar will still be plenty hot by this stage, so it will help melt the cocoa butter into your powder. Prior to this class beginning, the mortar was heated in the oven. The oil from the cocoa butter will help turn your paste into a nice, pourable liquid. But again, don’t underestimate the elbow grease required for this!

A hot mortar filled with the ground cocoa nibs and cocoa butter

Step Three: Sweeten to Taste

Now is the time to add in sugar gradually, until you arrive at your desired sweetness level. I added in the sugar, little by little, and ended up using the entire allotment from my jar. Even after doing this, it wasn’t too sweet, which is how I like it. The end product was about a 65% dark chocolate.

Step Four: Pour into Desired Mold

I’d melted chocolate before over the stove and poured it into different molds to make chocolate flowers or letters for cakes. But this was unique, as I had actually made the chocolate from scratch.

Me (brunette woman) pouring the melted cocoa mix into a chocolate bar mold on a wooden table.
The cocoa nibs, cocoa butter and sugar all melted and mixed and ready to be poured into the mold

This is where the mold must now be chilled. So we took this time to go enjoy some lunch at the hotel (this was included in the package fee). The food was actually really good, and the menu selection; cocoa was creatively incorporated in all the offerings.

Of course, at a resort with all things chocolate, we had to try their signature cocktails – a chocolate Bellini and chocolate daiquiri (specialty drinks are an extra charge). To be honest, I’ve had better ones in my travels, but it was certainly pleasant to sip on, while enjoying the ethereal view of the Petit Piton from the restaurant. Dining at Hotel Chocolat is worth it, for even just the view alone.

Afterward, we ventured back over to pickup our chocolate bars and here we are folks, the big reveal!

A rectangular chocolate bar, the one I created, that has an imprint on it that says Hotel Chocolat.
The finished chocolate bar after it cooled. This was so laborious to make, I didn’t even want to eat it!

A handmade – through traditional methods – cocoa tree to delicious 65% cocoa chocolate bar. I ate it sparingly. As promised, you will never look at or appreciate eating chocolate the same way after doing this!

Know Before You Go!

The entire tree to bar experience, inclusive of lunch, at the time of writing is $125 USD/per person. This is the “full experience” package, which is what we experienced. There are two other packages available that are partial experiences, the least of which costing about $75 USD that do not include lunch. So is this experience “worth it,” you ask?

Initially, I felt the price tag was a bit high, in all honesty. But in fairness, this is a unique experience. It is worth it, if you:

  • really love chocolate & the process interests you
  • value unique experiences
  • enjoy educational workshops
  • want to do something fun and different while in Saint Lucia

Our guides and all the staff were fantastic, and all in all, this was a very fun excursion. We learned a lot, left full and ended it on a very sweet note!

Have you ever made Chocolate from scratch or visited a Chocolate Farm? Is this an excursion that interests you?

Travel Tips & Resources to Help You Plan an Epic Trip!

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