Bean To Bar: A Chocolate Lover's Guide To The CaribbeanApr 19, 2017
By: Melanie Reffes
Source: Marry Caribbean
The ultimate comfort food, chocolate is a romance-inducer, mood-enhancer and the gift that keeps on giving on Valentine’s Day. The champagne of cocoa, the Caribbean bean is feted for its fine flavor courtesy of the hot sun and green hills that makes planting and harvesting a year round affair. Check out our chocolate check-list and indulge this Valentine’s Day in a chocolate-infused massage, tours of cocoa plantations, classes in chocolate labs, chocolatey strawberries and gift-wrapped boxes of sweet seduction.
A self-proclaimed chocolate addict, Michelle Smith is living her dream as the CEO and founder of Chocolate Dreams. Based in the un-beachy capital city of Kingston, Chocolate Dreams started small and, with rave reviews from choco-philes, is on a roll. Melting a dieter’s firmest resolutions, the chocolate coffee beans, chocolate marshmallows and chocolate cake so good you’ll devour it with your eyes closed are winning rave reviews. "For Valentine’s Day, we craft customized delicious chocolate treats for couples of all ages," smiles Michelle Smith in her shop at Devon House in New Kingston, "we spread our love through chocolate across Jamaica and also into the hearts of people across the globe who are visiting our island on the holiday." If you're looking to stick with the theme, handmade chocolatey treats cleverly named for the holiday include ‘Love you Berry Much’, ‘Squeeze me Tight’ and the boozy truffles ‘Hot like Fiyah’. All are crafted with love in the factory on Roosevelt Avenue (15 minutes from the hotel district in New Kingston on the same road as the Bob Marley Statue) which is also open for perusing and sold at The Shoppes at Devon House. Chocolate Dreams also grace the shelves at Kingston’s Lochusan supermarket and the Progressive Supermarket in Montego Bay and should the urge for sweets strike on your way home, pick up a box at Sweet Surrender in the departure lounge at the Sangster International Airport (although we can’t guarantee you won’t eat them all on the flight!)
On East Camille Richardson Street in Philipsburg on the Dutch side of the island (next to Lama’s Guest House), Sweetie Pops - Epicurean Icery might have a fancy name but her sweet frozen treats are anything but fancy. Down-home deliciousness on a stick, Sweetie Pops is a labor of love for Shasa Lake who switched up her day job in corporate America, moved back to the island where she put her entrepreneurial skills to work and opened her pop shop less than a year ago. Open only Monday to Friday from noon to 4 p.m.; get there early for her all- natural creations like Blueberry Coconut, Soursop made with the spiny green fruit with sweet flesh and especially for the holiday, her love-at-first-bite White Chocolate Strawberry delight."With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching, my newest addition is made of milk, cream, white chocolate and strawberries and is the epitome of decadence," says Shasa Lake, Chief Chocolate Maker, "the strawberry compliments the chocolate cream which create fireworks of flavor on your taste buds." As un-guidebook as it gets in the capital city, the yellow, no frills shop with a few colorful stools out front is where Shasa makes the chilled treats and where those with a sweet tooth line up for a taste test on a sunny afternoon (or on Valentine’s Day!). Check her Facebook page for new flavors each week.
Straight up without ice is how a Brandy Alexander cocktail is served and when Senior Chocolate Liqueur is the main attraction rather than the more humdrum crème de cacao, it is divine dessert in a glass. Distilled at the century-old Landhuis Chobolobo near Fort Amsterdam in the capital city of Willemstad, Curacao Liqueur's chocolate liqueur is flavored with the dried bitter peel of the Laraha orange grown only on the island. With a bouquet of cocoa and notes of orange, cinnamon and ginger, the potent liqueur morphs a cocktail into a choc-tail with a single shot. Free tours of the family-run distillery are offered Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with generous samples of the chocolate variety and other sip-worthy flavors like coffee and rum raisin. The open-air Chobolobo Café is invites with liqueur-infused snacks and in the gift shop, stock up on souvenirs you won’t find at home like travel-size pouches of chocolate covered passionfruit, chocolate bites gussied up with liqueur centers and bottles of Senior Chocolate Liqueur.
Suites and sweets are the order of the day at the buzzed-about resort that salutes the sky high Piton Mountains. Jade Mountain is not only big on style, the resort on the southwest coast is also big on chocolate with tours of their organic chocolate estate, chocolate martinis on the cocktail menu, chocolate classes and pairings with wine. Start with thrice-weekly (USD$75 per person) Emerald Estate Tree to Bar Tour for chocolate immersion and move on up to the Chocolate Sensory Tasting in the Emerald Restaurant every Tuesday morning and for serious students; Discover Chocolate in the Chocolate Lab offered Tuesdays and Thursdays (USD$45 person) is a hands-covered-in-chocolate experience taught by the resort's pastry chef. For the diehards in the crowd, the vacation package called, of course, Chocolate Alchemy is a winner with chocolate cocktails, chocolate-themed breakfast in bed, chocolatey spa treatments, a tour of the Emerald Cocoa Estate and an interactive class in the chocolate lab where choco-philes create their very own personalized chocolate bar. For with an insatiable sweet tooth, head to the Jade Lounge on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. for 'Chocolate, Wine and Paradise' and you’ll master the fine art of tasting and matching two fan favorites.
On the high-rise strip fronting Palm Beach, a chocolate oasis awaits in the Larimar Spa in the Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort eight miles from the Queen Beatrix International Airport. Delightful enough that you may be tempted to taste it; the Choco Coco Facial moisturizes, exfoliates and softens skin with a picnic basket of locally-sourced natural ingredients. First up, masseuse Teresa Durango applies a scrub with cocoa powder and chocolate shavings, finely shredded coconut, sugar and aromatic oils that cleanse the face. Honey and yogurt is added to her therapeutic recipe for a soothing mask that renders the face as smooth as a baby’s bottom. Under the watchful eye of spa manager Alberto Cruz, the chocolate facial is on the A-list for savvy spa-goers. "The antioxidants in the chocolate protect the skin from pollution and keep the skin looking young," he says in the swishy spa, "the cocoa not only boosts the skin’s collagen, but also boosts your mood and gets you motivated." Chocolate facials can be booked from Monday to Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday until 2 p.m.
US Virgin Islands
Peace, Love and Chocolate is an apt slogan for the Belgian Chocolate Factory, the charming shop with the green door in Charlotte Amalie, capital city of St. Thomas. Easy to find in the downtown waterfront district, The Belgian Chocolate Factory is not for the indecisive. More than 70 unique kinds are made by hand in the petite kitchen in the back and lined up in a glass case for careful choosing. For the kids; there are milk chocolate turtles and fish and for the grown-ups, gooey goodies come in every shape and size. "Our best sellers include salted caramels, rum balls, chocolates filled with peanut butter and chocolates with nuts," says Gary Clark, owner, "as I’m still learning the business, I have yet to taste every one we make." Save a few shekels for a chocolate gift box or a souvenir you won’t nibble on in the middle of the night like a t-shirt or mug.
At the first interactive chocolate factory tour in The Bahamas, you’ll suit up in coveralls and a hair net as the resident Chocolatier at Graycliff Hotel on West Hill Street in downtown Nassau takes chocolate lovers into the factory for a look-see at the process that turns cocoa beans into yummy treats. Offered Monday to Saturday at 9:00am with additional classes Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 3:00 p.m. (USD$49.95 per person) , ‘The Art of Chocolate and Factory Tour’ includes a classroom lesson to learn how to create your own chocolatey work of art. For grown-ups who like to eat and drink, ‘Chocolate & Spirits Pairing’ offered Monday to Saturday is vacation pleasure at the hotel with history. "When paired properly, chocolate and spirits not only complement one another, they truly highlight the unique flavors in each item," observes Felice Pietrobon, chocolatier, "for me, nothing beats a glass of pinot noir and one of our signature dark chocolate and bacon bonbons."
Mingle with kindred spirits at the Casa Cortes Choco Bar, the island's first and only chocolate restaurant. Owned by the Cortes chocolate-making family; the restaurant is a chocolate tour de force in the turn-of-the-century yellow house at 210 Calle San Francisco in Old San Juan. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., everything on the menu from soup and salads to sandwiches and desserts are made with chocolate. Get there early as the sweet spot on the cobblestone street is packed on weekends with hungry brunch-goers digging into cheese and chocolate grilled on brioche bread and churros (deep-fried Spanish donuts) meant for dipping in a shot glass of dark chocolate. Don't miss the hot chocolate that is so good you’ll feel like a kid again. Colorful campy art on the walls keeps the chocolate theme along with antique metal molds used by the Cortés family since they first made chocolate back in 1929.