The month of September is upon us and what was most famously known as Virgo Season, can now brag of another astronomical event within its 30 days: Trinidad & Tobago’s 1st National Month of Cocoa and Chocolate. A real life chocopalooza! Brought to you by Destination Chocolate Trinidad and Tobago (an affiliation of people, communities and organizations showcasing local chocolates, cocoa products and chocolate related activities); a complete exploration, innovation and demonstration of the local chocolate market and the industrious chocolatiers within it.
Within this month there are scenes and sites for every chocolate maker and more importantly every chocolate eater. Workshops, booths, children’s activities, chocolate taste training, chef demonstrations, cocoa inspired recipes and products ranging from the smallest of nibs to the creamiest of butters are on sale along with the very plant that’s at the base of it all. World Cocoa and Chocolate Day is specifically highlighted with a 2 day public expo (Sept 28-29) hosted by the Cocoa Research Centre. This is the seventh installment of this annual celebration which fosters an environment for the masses to engage with the experts and stakeholders within the cocoa industry, to not just be enlightened about cocoa and it’s many uses but also to excite them about the many opportunities that can be born from this wonder food.
It is no secret that Trinidad and Tobago has an interest and a need to diversify its economy. No longer can solace be taken in a future being funded by national oil and gas reserves. As is the case with all finite resources, the finish line is not an abstract concept but a very real destination and as such T&T must create other sources for innovation, investment and economic growth. Therefore, it is easy to understand why events like these are necessary, not just to tickle the taste buds but to promote public awareness, attract investment and ultimately serve as a grand showcase for the unexploited potential that the industry holds for Caribbean and local economic diversification.
To some, these findings about cocoa, both the market and the plant must seem surprising, however the industrialization of this natural resource is not new to these shores.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, Trinidad and Tobago was renowned as one of the largest cocoa producers in the world, producing upwards of 35,000 metric tons annually.
Unfortunately it didn’t last and with grandiose dreams of quick oil wealth, the focus shifted from agriculture to energy and steadily the market and its profits declined until our present moment where the country produces a mere 1000 metric tons per year.
With the veil lifted from our eyes, the nation strives to revive our re-emerging cocoa sector with a two pronged approach. Similar to some of our favourite chocolate confectioneries, the recipe is simple:
- 1-cup artisanal
- 1-cup entrepreneurial and
- Varied accouterments to strengthen the flavours.
In other words, while culture and tradition is what propels the quality and the artistry of the local cocoa and chocolate industry, it must go hand in hand with sustained investment and buy-in from all involved parties; farmer to financier.
Walking around and experiencing some of the delights offered at the various events, it is easy see that the far reaching financial impact for the country and the region is not the foremost thought of the attendees. Most are simply taken with the deliciousness of it all.
Particularly known for its rich flavour is the Trinitario; a locally developed cocoa strain that is among the top tiers internationally for its quality and taste. Along with contented sighs , pride is another common thread in the air. Where once Trinbagonians loved to boast that our cocoa was responsible for some of the world’s most famous chocolate creations, we can now boast that our very own products occupy our own space not just in the shadows of the manufacturing process but in the spotlight; our taste and our essence from bean to bar.