Planning A Chocolate Day
We enjoyed a lazy week in St. Lucia. There was not a long list of things we wanted to visit on our vacation. But the top of the list was to make chocolate in St Lucia at the Hotel Chocolat Boucan on the Rabot Estate.
David had celebrated his birthday with chocolate on our Caribbean cruise and again on our stay at the Sandals Resort in St. Lucia. He would top this off with a chocolate day! A chocolate stop at the Chocolat Hotel in Copenhagen had been our first exposure to Hotel Chocolat. We were excited to visit the spot where the chocolate came from.
We arranged with the resort to get a driver for the day. Our driver Hyacinth picked us right up at our door. We were not sure exactly what we were doing for the day, so we packed for options. Lunch at Hotel Chocolat was a given. We planned to do the chocolate tour and make chocolate in St. Lucia. But we were not sure if we would have time to stop at a waterfall on our visit south.
The Drive Between Castries And Soufrière
It was a great drive through the hills of St Lucia between Castres and Soufriére. Hyacinth did a great job of answering David’s questions and adding other interesting facts about St Lucia. The flowers were in bloom. And we saw the bright colours of St. Lucia we remembered from our first visit to this colourful island. Goats were tied up at the side of the road, dogs lay in the shade and chickens wandered freely. It was a lazy day in St. Lucia.
We lost track of how many times we went up and down hills. Or around hairpin turns. When we got to the top of the hills, here were great panoramic views. David snapped away pics as we drove. But we stopped a few times to get better pictures.
And then we pulled over with the crowds for our first good view of the Pitons. Off in the far distance we could also see a small plume of smoke coming out from the volcano. This was a popular spot for people to visit the sulphur springs.
We went through small fishing villages along the way. Hyacinth took us through towns to the water so we could get a good view. In the small town of Anse La Raye, we stopped to get pictures of the small local church and a great wall mural.
If you head south to Soufriére, there is much to see after you make chocolate in St Lucia.
Lunch At Hotel Chocolat
We arrived a little bit before lunch so we got to wander around the resort. It was a small spot with several different areas to escape to. The main building had a great endless pool. With the most awesome view!
The bar menu had a great selection of chocolate drinks. I immediately selected the Salted Caramel Chocolate Daiquiri. David had cold drinking chocolate. It was a great way to start our day planned to make chocolate in St. Lucia. The restaurant had a great view out over the Pitons.
The lunch menu had a good selection of dishes flavoured with cacao. We chose our meals to be light because we made sure to check out the dessert menu first. Our bread came with chocolate dipping sauce. My beef was cooked in a chocolate sauce. And the chocolate lava cake oozed with warm chocolate. Not a drop got left behind.
Our lunch at Hotel Chocolat was a great start to tease us before we left to make chocolate in St. Lucia.
An Overview Of Cacao On St. Lucia
After lunch, we joined a few other people to meet our tour guide Cuthbert Monroque. The hotel could not have asked for a more passionate or enthusiastic guide. He just oozed with his desire to share every nugget of cacao information with us. When he didn’t think you were paying attention, he quickly pulled you back in. He finally slowed down to move at the speed that David was taking pics.
The first part of our cacao tour was to see the cacao production steps. St. Lucia had moved from sugar cane to bananas and was now starting to produce cacao in some quantity. A new chocolate factory was in the planning stage at this estate. A small amount of cacao is grown on the estate but about 99.5% comes from local farmers. Locals are sold cacao plants at subsidized prices and the estate buys back the crops.
There are 3 types of cacao beans. Over 90% of the worlds product is the robust Forastero bean. Criollo is the finest and most expensive but almost extinct at this time. Trinitario is a hybrid of Forastero and Criollo. The trees at the Rabot Estate were genetically profiled and found to be a Criollo-rich Trinitario. This means we were at a great spot to make chocolate in St. Lucia!
A Tour Of The Cacao Trees
We wandered along the road and looked at the various types of cacao being grown. The fields were dense green. Coconut, breadfruit and other trees were planted with the cacao trees to provide shade. Smaller trees provided nitrogen to enrich the soil.
We saw pods of different colours and sizes. There were ripe pods ready to be harvested. Some of the pods had gone rotten on the trees. A lot of research and grafting was being done to create fungus resistant plants. There were pods with holes in them. The rats suck out the middle but won’t eat the beans. While cacao beans are very healthy for humans, the theobromine in chocolate is poisonous to animals.
The cacao trees first have flowers blooming and then baby pods develop. The flowers are pollinated by ants that move between trees. It takes 6 months from flower to small pod to full size.
The cacao trees are well shaded to retain moisture. But they do still need rain. They only grow in the equatorial zone (+ or – 20 degrees latitude). When the rainfall is too high, the fields are pared down to allow more drying. Or more rot occurs. It can take 18 to 36 months for a tree to bear fruit after it is planted. And can then bear fruit for about 50 years.
Creating The Best Cacao Trees
A large part of the facility is devoted to research and creating better hybrids. Cacao root stock is grown from beans in a greenhouse.
The root stock reaches a certain height after about 3 months. A better stock is then grafted onto the root stock. We saw a great demonstration of how this grafting was done.
And then each group was given their own root stock and grafted their own plant. We put our names on our plant and it would be planted on the estate. You could contact Hotel Chocolat to get updates on how your plant was doing. At some point they are looking to create a chocolate club which would let you subscribe to get chocolate from your plant.
From Tree To Bean
When the beans turned colour they were ready to be harvested. Two harvests are done each year – in May to July and again in October to December.
The pods get cracked open to review the pulp with the beans inside. We got to taste two different pod contents. One was citrusy and the other (the expensive one) had a sweeter more complex taste.
The pulp and beans are put under plantain leaves and left to ferment for 5-7 days. They are turned 3 times during this period. The fermenting pods smelled very much like wine must at harvest time. During the fermentation, the beans develop flavour and aroma.
The nibs are laid out on the ground to dry. This stops the fermentation and allows the flavour to continue developing. If it rains, they must be covered up. After drying, the beans are roasted. The beans are cracked and the coffee nibs extracted. We got to try a dry nib.
The nibs were then crushed and ground through rollers. The resulting liquid was about 45% cacao solids and 55% cacao butter.
We were almost ready to start to make chocolate in St. Lucia once cacao process reached this point.
After a short break we moved on to make chocolate in St. Lucia. Each person was given the basic ingredients for dark chocolate – cacao solids, cacao butter and powdered sugar . The amount of sugar determines the chocolate percentage. Milk is added for milk chocolate. White chocolate has no cacao nibs.
For the first task, we ground the cacao solids in a hot pestle until it was fine powder. It took some arm strength to get it fine enough. The hotel uses a mechanized “conch” to grind, mix and gently heat their chocolate.
The next stop was to add cacao butter and keep stirring until it is liquid. This produced “bitter water” that was originally produced by the Aztecs. Then sugar was added to taste. For our final step, the liquid chocolate was poured into molds and put in a fridge to set.
We tasted the 72% that had been “conched” by the hotel. It was a much smoother liquid. Our bars had far more grit in them. But they were still chocolate! It was a fun task to make chocolate in St Lucia.
Production chocolate is tempered before it is finished. Cuthbert showed us how this was done. The liquid chocolate is cooled and heated to exact temperatures to crystallize the cacao butter and leave a shiny texture to the chocolate.
Plan To Make Chocolate In St Lucia at the Chocolat Hotel Boucan Estate
If you visit St Lucia, make sure to plan to make chocolate in St Lucia at the Chocolat Hotel Boucan Estate. It is a great drive south to Soufriére with great scenery and many stops along the way. We wanted to spend most of our day at Hotel Chocolat to do the chocolate tour.
But next time we will stop to visit the volcano, sulphur pools or mud baths. There are several waterfalls to visit. Most tourists visit Toraille Waterfall so they can swim in the water. The Diamond Waterfall in the botanical garden is much more stunning but you can’t swim there.
Did you make chocolate in St Lucia? Did you get a great chocolate lunch or dinner when you visited?
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Now this is my kind of place! You have me craving (actually I am eating) chocolate while I read and now off to go look at trip prices lol
LOL I know how you feel. It is a good thing I did not include a copy of the menu at the Chocolat Hotel. You would have drooled for sure. It was a great experience to learn a little more. And our guide was so passionate about the whole process. Make it that much more fun. Thanks for sharing our delicious adventures! Linda
Adding this to the tippity top of my bucket list. That view from the pool is unbelievable. The people look amazing and ummm… CHOCOLATE!!! I have taken several coffee tours and loved each of those experiences but chocolate sounds even better.
We were so glad we planned to do both the tour and enjoy the great chocolate food at Hotel Chocolat. We did not stay here but it looked like an awesome place to consider for our next visit to St Lucia. Glad you enjoyed the chocolate tease! Linda
St Lucia looks amazing and making chocolate from scratch in the place they grow the beans would have been a great experience.
Julie, It was indeed great to see the whole chocolate process through virtually every step. I had never seen the inside of a cacao pod before! And to actually grind the nibs to chocolate was a treat. We were so glad we did the tour as well as enjoying the Hotel Chocolat for the day. Linda
I had to rush to get a bar of chocolate now!!!! What an experience really to see how it all is made. The grafting process seems interesting yet similar to the process I have seen for the mango trees. Excellent pictures documenting the whole process.
Indriani, You made me laugh when I read this comment. I can tell you that my chocoholic husband actually did not clean out the last drop in his chocolate cup before we left. He found it hard to admit that Hotel Chocolat beat him! The whole process was very interesting to watch. We grafted our own treee and can get updates as it grows. Maybe some day we will go back to get chocolate from it. Thanks for reading about our adventures. Linda
My first experience with “real” cocoa – straight from the pod – was on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. I couldn’t believe that such a large pod was needed to protect such small cocoa beans. It was such a delicious, aromatic experience and I’d love to expand upon it and do something like what you did.
Vanessa, It was certainly great to see the whole process. I was surprised when I tasted the slimy pod that it actually had an interesting taste. Not chocolate, but sweet. I will look to do this when we finally make it to Hawaii!! Linda
Now that’s my kind of place. I loved the architecture and design of the hotel. As a choco lover, i would love to stay here. So beautiful. And how can a drop be left behind when the chocolate looks so delicious. 🙂
Hotel Chocolat certainly did look like a great place to stay with stunning views. We only visited for the day but wished we had seen more. If you like dark chocolate, it was amazing. We had so much chocolate that even my chocoholic husband finally called “uncle” ?
What a great experience! Firstly – that pool with the view of the mountain in the backdrop is heavenly! As for the chocolate making – fantastic to see the process from start to finish. When we lived in Fiji, we came across the cacao fruit for the first time in our lives and decided to see if we could make our own chocolate. Our first attempt failed. Then we tried a second time, laid all the beans out under banana leaves and they started to ferment. They were close to getting ready (just before Christmas) then my husband had a terrible accident and we had to fly back to NZ for 3 weeks. By the time we returned, they were well and truly past the point of being able to use them! Such a shame.
Juliette, It is cool that you actually tried to participate in the full process – even if it got interrupted. Thanks for sharing your experience! We had seen and heard pieces of this story, but this was the first time we got an in-depth walk-thru of the process. Hotel Chocolat has a great food and drink menu so you can sample lots before or after your tour. The chocolate bars we made were so gritty it did not compare to the professional bars. A great hotel to visit or stay in if you are even in St. Lucia. Linda
This sounds like my kind of experience! First off, that salted caramel chocolate daiquiri with that view of the Pitons is heavenly! How cool to learn the ins and outs of how chocolate is made AND getting to try it yourself. We recently went to a chocolate museum in Malaysia, but what you did is so much more immersive! I didn’t realize St. Lucia was known for chocolate production. Now I really want to go! Thanks for sharing this 🙂
Jen, The hotel chocolate offerings for food and drink was great if you are a chocoholic. The views made that part of the experience worth the trip alone. We had the most animated guide. He truly loved his job. He made sure we learned as much as we could during our several hours with him. I was so glad I did the full tour (you can do only half of the tour if you want). We knew there was a Hotel Chocolat in St Lucia but this was the first time we visited. There used to be more cacao production but there is now a very concerted effort happening to revitalize the industry. The new factory should up production quite a bit. Definitely a spot to stop on a visit to St. Lucia! Linda
I am already craving for a chocolate now. Dark chocolates are my favorite and making them on your own in Hotel Chocolat Boucan Rabot estate will be super fun. I will not feel like leaving that place for sure. You have documented the place and process really nicely. Great post.
Suruchi, I know what you mean. I was having cravings when I wrote the blog post! The chocolate tour was a great thing to do at Hotel Chocolat. We learned so much we didn’t know. Helps when you have a great guide! Linda
Yum! This sounds like a really fun experience! A chocolate themed day is right up my alley. The Salted Caramel Chocolate Daiquiri sounds super delicious and the cacao flavored dishes sound really interesting. Would love to take the tour to see how chocolate is made too. I always love doing those kinds of things! The views of the Pitons are amazing too-such a pretty landscape!
Jenna, It was a really fun way to spend a day in St. Lucia. It was great to add the tour onto a great educational day. The view of the Pitons were the icing on the cake! Linda
Seems pretty interesting – learning to make chocolate from fresh ingredients. But what sounds even better is the idea of a menu with a great selection of chocolate drinks and foods. I love the sound of Salted Caramel Chocolate Daiquiri, so unique and must be yummy, for sure!
Medha, We originally planned to go to Hotel Chocolat just for their great chocolate menu. Our lunch was chocolate at every course. But we were glad we decided to add on the tour. It was great to learn so much more about where our favourite chocolate comes from! Linda
I want to stay at Hotel Chocolat! The drive there had great views and the property looks so comfortable. The Salted Caramel Chocolate Daiquiri and lunch menu sound perfect. So interesting that the theobromine in chocolate is poisonous to animals
Sherianne, We definitely want to stay at Hotel Chocolate the next time we visit St. Lucia. It was great to visit. But I would love to spend more time. Linda