Bean To Bar: A Chocolate Lover’s Guide To The Caribbean
by Melanie Reffes, Special for USA Today
Chocolate is one of those things that will never let you down. The ultimate comfort food, chocolate is a romance-inducer, mood-enhancer and edible fixer of everything else. Although every bite is paradise found, dark chocolate gets all the good publicity because it typically has less fat and less sugar than milk chocolate. The champagne of cocoa, the Caribbean bean is world-renowned for its fine flavor, which comes courtesy of the hot sun and green hills that make planting and harvesting a year-round affair. Check out our chocolate check list to the region and get ready to indulge.
A self-proclaimed chocolate addict, Michelle Smith is living her dream as the CEO and founder of Chocolate Dreams. Based in Jamaica’s un-beachy capital city of Kingston, Chocolate Dreams started small but is steadily growing its rabid fan-base of chocolate enthusiasts. 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. “Our best seller is our Cherry Surprise,” smiles Michelle Smith in her shop at Devon House in New Kingston, “these are plump maraschino cherries soaked in Jamaican white rum and covered in smooth dark or white chocolate.” Reasonably priced from USD$1.04 to USD$3 for a single piece, the gourmet goodies are Jamaican through and through. They’re made from beans grown in the parishes of St. Mary and Portland, infused with rum distilled on the island and coffee beans harvested high in the Blue Mountains, and hand-crafted in the factory on Roosevelt Avenue (fifteen 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 chocolates also grace the shelves at Kingston’s Lochusan supermarket and the Progressive Supermarket in Montego Bay. Should the urge for sweets strike on your way home, pick up a box at Sweet Surrender in the departure lounge at Jamaica’s Sangster International Airport, although we can’t guarantee you won’t eat them all on the flight.
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. For serious students of sweets, ‘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 ‘Chocolate Alchemy’ is a winner with chocolate cocktails, a chocolate-themed breakfast in bed, chocolaty 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 those 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 the 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 rendering 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 chic 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.
Straight up without ice is how a Brandy Alexander cocktail is served in Curacao, 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 Landhuis Chobolobo near Fort Amsterdam in the capital city of Willemstad, the chocolate liqueur is flavored with the dried bitter peel of the Laraha orange grown only on Curacao. 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 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, of course, bottles of Senior Chocolate Liqueur.
US Virgin Islands
Peace, Love and Chocolate is the apt slogan for 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 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 or kids-at-heart; there are milk chocolate turtles and fish and for the sophisticated palate, 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, if you’re dieting, a souvenir you won’t nibble on in the middle of the night like a t-shirt or mug.
On East Camille Richardson Street in Philipsburg on the Dutch side of the island (next to Lama’s Guest House), Sweetie Pops – Epicurean Icery serves up down-home deliciousness on a stick. Sweetie Pops is a labor of love for St. Maartener Shasa Lake who switched up her day job in corporate America for a move 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, Hibiscus-Strawberry, Soursop (made with the spiny green fruit with sweet flesh) and if you’re lucky; those decadently divine Chocolate Pops will be on the menu. 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 chocolate on a stick when the ingredients are at hand. “I use semi-sweet Ghirardelli chocolate, milk, sugar, and cream,” she says when asked for the recipe, “but I don’t include the amount of each ingredient as I would like to consider that a secret.” At USD$2.50 a pop, the pops are popular additions to wedding celebrations and parties on the beach. You can find out what’s on her menu by checking Facebook where she posts the flavors of the day.
At the first interactive chocolate factory tour in The Bahamas, you’ll suit up in coveralls and a hair net as the Chocolatier at Graycliff Hotel on West Hill Street in downtown Nassau. The tour takes chocolate lovers and Willy Wonka wannabes into the factory for a look-see at the process that turns cocoa beans into yummy treats. Offered Monday to Saturday at 9 a.m. with additional classes Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 3 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 chocolaty work of art. For grown-ups who like to eat and drink, the ‘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, Puerto Rico’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. 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, hot chocolate so good you’ll feel like a kid again, to-die-for churros (deep-fried Spanish donuts) for dipping in a shot glass of dark chocolate that shares a plate with a dark chocolate square and a chunk of cheddar for a burst of color. 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. 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.
For more images, view the article at The De Moines Register.