On my last venture out of the country, I found myself on the beautiful isle of St. Lucia (September 2019). My permanent travel bug finds me occasionally (more like often) searching Skyscanner flights to 'everywhere', with the cheapest destination featuring temperatures of nineteen degrees or more usually becoming my next trip. This time St. Lucia came up pretty high on the list and I couldn't resist. I learnt so much about the culture (which I'll speak about in another post) and was inspired tremendously.
A particular ingredient I discovered more on during my visit was cocoa. My mother and I visited the Fond Doux Plantation in Soufriere, which has grown, harvested and exported cocoa for over two hundred and fifty years. The cocoa industry thrived in the 1700s (during servitude) but had taken a back seat for some time when St. Lucia became one of the top international producers of banana. Changes to trade agreements with the UK took place in the early 1900s, the industry collapsed and the ten thousand banana farmers on the island reduced to one thousand almost instantaneously. This gave opportunity for cocoa to make a come back. There are still many other local cocoa farms around St. Lucia and the resurgence of cocoa means many on the island are now incorporating into their cooking once again - a classic local favourite is cocoa tea. Given some time, St. Lucia may be back in the top few international producers along with Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Ghana and Indonesia.So, as many of us love chocolate in its many forms, I wondered how familiar we are with the story of its origins and the stages of its life from cacao pod to cocoa bean to hot chocolate and the rest.
The earliest history of chocolate can be traced back to ancient Mesoamerican civilizations living in the heart of Central America, first cultivated by the Olmecs. The later establishments of the Mayans, then Aztecs continued to worship this ingredient. Columbus began expeditions to Central American in 1502 where it was then known by natives as 'the drink of the Gods'. Aztecs used cocoa beans as a form of currency to trade with, to which they did with Columbus, thus, began the movement of cocoa outside of the Americas.
Hernán Cortés, a Spanish Conquistador, brought about the destruction of the Aztec Empire in the 16th-century because of greed. In search of Aztec gold which he failed to unearth, he realized the economic potential of cocoa and began his seize of what he now decided was liquid gold. To capitalize Hernán Cortés and other Spaniards, set up cacao plantation in Mexico, Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru and the island of Jamaica plus the island of Hispaniola with Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Cocoa has remained within the islands ever since.
Whilst in St. Lucia, our hotel breakfast had some amazing local food and drink for guests to enjoy. As a foodie, this was heaven for me. When I go away, I don't want a 'shiny' experience set up for me because I have travelled from afar, so eating a drinking seasonal produce and dishes was perfect for me. Cocoa tea was a regular feature so, of course, I brought some back to try at home.
Here is my recipe below.
1/5 cocoa stick or 50g gram good quality dark chocolate (min. cocoa solids 70%)
1 cinnamon stick
4 pimento seeds/allspice berries
1-2 bay leaves
sweeten to your preferred taste, I used agave
250ml water +11/2 tsp (7.5g) cornflour
250ml milk of your choice, I used coconut milk and oat milk