The southern Caribbean island of St. Lucia is widely celebrated for its stunning tourist resorts, lush rainforest trails, and acres of banana plantations stretching from coast to coast, but the island also boasts a somewhat less expected attraction: chocolate.
St. Lucia even dedicates an entire month to this culinary delight — October is "Chocolate Heritage Month," and for the occasion restaurants and hotels across the country design special chocolate tasting menus, from savory chocolate dinners to wine and dessert pairings. Several hotels and restaurants also offer year-round chocolate experiences to showcase the island’s rich heritage of chocolate. If you’re looking to visit St. Lucia with chocolate in mind, Hotel Chocolat at Rabot Estate, located near the city of Soufrière at the foot of the Piton Mountains, has the most to offer. In 2006, British chocolatier Hotel Chocolat purchased the St. Lucian cocoa plantation Rabot Estates, revitalizing what was once a major industry in the West Indies. Production has been good for the island — the humid, tropical Caribbean climate and rich volcanic soil of the island provide an optimal environment for cocoa production, and Hotel Chocolat’s 80 acres of cocoa trees employ some 200 St. Lucian farmers. Cocoa beans native to the West Indies are of very high quality, particularly the Trinitario variety, and Rabot Estate is committed to maintaining the integrity of its beans by using only natural, organic growing methods.
Artisanal chocolate lovers will be familiar with bean-to-bar chocolate producers, who buy their beans directly from cocoa bean farmers and then process them at in-house factories. Rabot Estate, a cacao grower itself, takes this logic a step further, assuring strict standards of quality all the way down the line.
Every Thursday and Friday, Rabot Estate offered a unique "Tree to Bar" chocolate experience that was extremely instructive as well as enormously fun. Plantation manager Cuthbert Monroque took me through Hotel Chocolat’s entire chocolate-making process, beginning with ripe yellow pods hanging from plantation trees, then viewing the open-air fermenting and drying racks, and finally moving to the hotel, where participants grind the cocoa beans, mix up a chocolate liquor, and mold their very own chocolate bar. Afterward, creative dishes like tomato, chili, and cacao ravioli and cacao crème brûlée await as part of a uniquely chocolate-themed menu at Boucan restaurant, which overlooks the dramatic Gros Piton mountain and intensely green vegetation of southern St. Lucia. Here you’ll see how a chocolate bar is made by hand, starting from the pod.