One of the many reasons I was excited about our stay at Boucan hotel in St Lucia was the ‘Tree to Bar’ experience. I’ve always appreciated good chocolate (I mean, who doesn’t?!) and learned a bit about the chocolate making process when I attended a class at Bake with Maria earlier last year. So to be able to get to experience it in the flesh in St Lucia was incredible!
As I mentioned in my first post about Boucan, the hotel is owned by Hotel Chocolat and is located on the historic Rabot Estate. As you walk around the grounds, you’re constantly surrounded by cocoa trees, adorned with pretty red, yellow and purple pods, which will soon be made into chocolate.
We were given a tour by our expert guide Merle who was incredibly knowledgeable, walking us through the whole process from planting the trees and their maintenance on the estate, through to sorting the beans and making the choccie! We were shown how to carefully pick the pods from the trees, making sure the plant wasn’t damaged in doing so (no pressure, Tim!!)
Something that was particularly interesting, which I wasn’t expecting, was a tree surgery demonstration, showing how the plants are repaired and reinforced to make them as strong (and yielding!) as possible. We were each given the opportunity to splice our own tree (under the guidance of one of their experts!) which was logged in the book and would be planted. Apparently if we ever return, we can ask to see our tree and even get chocolate from it, if it has reached that stage!
The second part of the activity involved making our own chocolate – I really had no idea how strenuous this would be, especially in the heat! We were each given a boiling hot pestle and mortar, ground cocoa beans, butter and sugar.
We had to mush up the cocoa nibs until they formed an ice cream like consistency – this took longer than we all expected, and we were all sweating by the end of it! It was then time to add the cocoa butter, followed by the sugar depending on how dark/sweet you wanted it. It was then poured into a Hotel Chocolat mould and left to set.
All the while, Merle was sharing facts and info about the history of chocolate, both in St Lucia and around the world, which made the event even more interesting – I would have written some of them down if I hadn’t been breaking my wrists trying to grind down the cocoa!! But something that stood out for me was with regards to white chocolate, in that it doesn’t actually contain any cocoa at all, just cocoa butter, milk and sugar! Not rocket science really, but something I’d never really thought about before.
It was such a fantastic experience and if you’re planning on visiting St Lucia, you must do it! You don’t have to be a guest at the hotel, you can book onto an excursion with a travel company who will take you there. It’s well worth it!