Forget the Hurricane or Rum Runner. A cup of hot cocoa may not be the first drink you hanker for on a Caribbean vacation, but you might change your mind in St. Lucia.
St. Lucians began drinking cocoa tea, a traditional spiced breakfast treat, shortly after the British abolished slavery on Saint Lucia in 1833. The island's west coast town of Soufriere, near the iconic pair of Piton mountains, was home of a number of small, productive sugar, coffee, and cocoa estates. Tea leaves were hard to come by, but cocoa tea, technically more like a porridge than a tea, was a cheap and accessible snack. It's been a local delicacy ever since.
Though the drink is not steeped, it falls into the St. Lucian classification of tea as a hot drink. Cocoa pods grow rampant on the island and all-natural cocoa is found at open air markets, plantations, and hotels. The rainy season in the fall is the most popular time to enjoy the hot drink.
To learn more about the drink's rich history on the island, we spoke with Cornelia Felix, a tour guide at Fond Doux Holiday Plantation, a 250 year-old hotel and working cocoa estate in Soufriere.
Tell us about the history of cocoa production at Fond Doux.
Fond Doux was granted by King Louis XIV to the Devaux brothers in 1713. Through a succession of owners, the estate was sold to Kirby Lamontagne, the deceased father of Lyton Lamontagne, the present owner. From the time the plantation started, it's been making and serving all natural cocoa tea from scratch. Cocoa pods grow all over 135 acres.
How do you make it?
The cocoa pod is picked and then fermented for three weeks. The cocoa is roasted inside a clay pot with the sun. When it's fully roasted, we let the beans get cold and remove the shells from the beans. Then they go in a grinder to make the paste. Then we roll it on a flat surface to get the cocoa stick. We grate it once it dries and boil it for five minutes with water, nutmeg, cinnamon. Then we add in milk, strain it and add sugar to taste. It's been made the same way with the same ingredients since Fond Doux's founding.
Does everyone make it the same way?
Most St. Lucians have a sweet tooth. Everyone makes it slightly differently depending on the family recipe or native region. Some people add in more spices. It's passed down by generation. My grandma would add in a little dumpling to the cocoa tea. The older folks serve it with dasheen, breadfruit or sweet potatoes.
What is the general tourist reaction to cocoa tea?
We sell cocoa sticks and a recipe book at the gift shop. Our cocoa is much better then Cadbury or other brands. When tourists try it they say 'wow, this is much different from what we've ever had before.'