Chocablog Is Ten Years Old!

Chocablog is ten years old today!

Although I don’t get the chance to post as much as I would like these days, it’s safe to say this blog has changed my life in ways I couldn’t have dreamed of ten years ago.

If you’d told me when I started that I’d have my own chocolate factory and shop, and would have just finished writing a book on the subject, I definitely wouldn’t have believed you.

Chocablog Screenshot

Chocablog was launched with the help of my friend Karen, and I’ve had help from friends throughout the last ten years. Ten years ago I knew very little about the world of chocolate, but simply wanted to start a blog about something other than my life – an entirely uninteresting topic. Hard to believe, but at the time there simply weren’t any other blogs dedicated to chocolate.

There have been many milestones along the way, but one of the most important for me was meeting chocolatier Paul A Young, through is amazing PR Kate Johns. It was my first glimpse into the chocolate world and I found them both inspirational.

Kate is also the brains behind UK Chocolate Week, a celebration of all things chocolate. I’ve long since lost track of the number of amazing, talented people I’ve met through Kate and her team.

Chocablog has given me incredible opportunities to travel as well. I’ve visited the obvious chocolate destinations of Paris and Brussels many times, of course, but I’ve also been to chocolate festivals in Hawaii and Grenada, factories in Lithuania and Cleethorpes, and even visited a chocolate factory inside a prison in Milan.

Somewhere along the way, I discovered that my particular passion was the world of bean-to-bar chocolate. The extraordinary individuals who make chocolate from scratch are some of the best people I know. In 2013 I helped launch Cocoa Runners, now the world’s premier craft chocolate club. Last year, I decided to risk it all and have a go myself, launching my own bean-to-bar company Damson Chocolate, first making chocolate at home, then quickly signing the lease on a shop in Islington.

shop

The last 12 months have been some of the hardest and most rewarding of my life. I’ve barely had a day off – something my body hates me for – but I wouldn’t change a thing.

My first book on the subject of chocolate is due to be published later this year, and now I’ve just about finished writing it, I’m hoping to find more time to blog again. But if you don’t see another post until March 2026, you’ll know I got distracted somewhere along the line…


Want to help me celebrate? Try some of my chocolate! Use the coupon code CHOCABLOG10 at checkout to save 10% on your order!

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Why You Shouldn’t ‘DECHOX’ This Easter

Last week, a friend posted this somewhat dubious ad for the British Heart Foundation on Facebook. I’m going to ignore the childish innuendo for now, because I want to talk about the message behind the ad.

Dechox Ad

DECHOX for March” is a campaign by the highly respected British Heart Foundation to try to get us to give up chocolate for Easter.

The implication being that chocolate is clearly bad for your heart and giving up chocolate for a whole month will be a beneficial challenge.

Dechox Website

Except giving up chocolate is categorically not beneficial for your heart. Many, many scientific studies have conclusively proven that chocolate is beneficial to your heart, and can help prevent a whole range of other ailments. You’ll find links to just a few articles on the subject below.

The message doesn’t seem to have got through to the experts at the BHF though.

You might be thinking that the research only applies to intense, bitter, high cocoa solids chocolate that nobody really enjoys eating anyway. But you’d be wrong. Research has shown that even milk chocolate can be beneficial to the heart.

When I asked the BHF why they thought it was a good idea to encourage people to quit something that is beneficial to heart health, their response was simply that it was a “tough challenge”.

Of course, if you really want to promote heart health, eating a balanced and healthy diet can play a major role. Decreasing the amount of sugar you consume is generally a very good idea, but encouraging people to give up chocolate entirely is not. It reinforces the message that chocolate is somehow bad without explaining why.

Most of us could use help with improving our diets. But if you really care about your heart, don’t ‘DECHOX’ this Easter, but take the opportunity to switch up to better quality chocolate.

A little afternoon snack...

There are hundreds of craft chocolate makers producing amazing tasting chocolate these days. They use high quality, fine flavour beans, so even at higher cocoa percentages they won’t be bitter or unapproachable. For the milk chocolate lover, a great dark milk bar will last you at least a couple of days. You’ll consume less, but get even more out of it.

If you don’t know where to start, then take a look at my friends at Cocoa Runners. They have an amazing selection of bars to cater for every taste and a great recommendation system for finding the perfect bars for you.

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Belmont Estate And The Grenada Chocolate Company

Grenada Chocolate Company

One of the many highlights of the Grenada Chocolate Festival – and perhaps the thing I’d been looking forward to the most – was a trip to the Belmont Estate and the Grenada Chocolate Company factory in the village of Hermitage in the North East of the island.

The Grenada Chocolate Company have pioneered sustainable “tree to bar” chocolate making and have become a model for many small chocolate makers around the world. Their tiny factory is a brightly painted converted house in a residential road. I’d seen many photos of it, but getting a chance to actually visit the spiritual home of ethical chocolate making was a dream come true.

But before we could visit the factory, our tour took us to the nearby Belmont Estate. Belmont is a 17th century plantation that describes itself as an “Agri-Tourism Experience”, but most importantly it’s where the initial processing of beans for the Grenada Chocolate Company’s chocolate takes place. Cacao is harvested from the estate and neighbouring organic farms and brought to Belmont to be fermented and dried.

Belmont Estate

We were given the full tour of the estate. The chocolate making process was explained in fascinating detail by Dr. Darin Sukha of the University Of The West Indies. We started in the fermentation shed where the harvested beans begin their transformation into chocolate. Piled into large wooden containers complete with the pulp that surrounds them, this is where the chocolate flavours start to develop in the beans.

The piles of cocoa beans are left to ferment in their pulp for about a week, covered in banana leaves to keep the heat of the fermentation process in. Every couple of days, the pile is turned to ensure an even ferment. It might not look particularly appetising at this point, but it’s an essential part of the chocolate making process.

Fermenting Beans

After fermenting, the beans are dried naturally in the sun. This is done by spreading them out onto very large wooden racks that are mounted on rails and can easily be slid away under cover when it rains. To dry the beans thoroughly they need to be turned regularly, and this part is still done the traditional way.

Tramping The Beans

The process of walking up and down the beans, turning them with the feet is called tramping. Care has to be taken not to crush and break the beans, so the technique requires sliding the feet through the beans, rather than walking on top of them.

This might seem a little old fashioned, but it gets the job done and it’s a lot of fun for visiting tourists who want to get their feet dirty! There is another way to dry the beans though, and the Grenada Chocolate Company were pioneers of solar drying. This is basically just a large greenhouse where the beans are spread out on a table. With no room to turn the beans by tramping, a special tool called a rabot is used to turn the beans here.

A rabot, turning cocoa beans

After a quick cocoa tea, it was time to head out into the plantation and see how the pods are actually harvested – another part of the process that needs to be done manually.

Because of the way cacao grows, it would be impossible to automate the process. Although it can only grow in hot climates, the cacao tree likes a bit of shade, so is always grown with other, larger shade-giving trees like banana. Grenada is also an incredibly mountainous island with hardly any flat land, so simply getting to the trees can be a challenge in itself. There’s no substitute for a bit of skilled labour here.

Cacao growing in Grenada

After harvesting with a simple blade on a long pole, the pods need to be opened. Traditionally, this is done with a machete or cutlass, but for the inexperienced, this is a great way to lose a finger or three.

At Belmont, they use a special wooden mallet to crack the pods open instead. Once opened, the beans and pulp are taken back to the fermentation shed, while the empty pods can be used for fertiliser.

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The Grenada Chocolate Company Factory

In most parts of the cocoa growing world, the fermented and dried beans would then be packed into burlap sacks for transportation to chocolate factories around the world. However, the real value is added when the beans are transformed into chocolate.

The Grenada Chocolate Company is one of only a handful of chocolate makers that produce bars right where the cocoa grows, keeping more of the the revenue within the local community. Working directly with the farmers also means they can encourage good practice and have a direct influence on the flavour and quality of the chocolate right from the start. It’s a fascinating model that has resulted in some of the best chocolate in the world.

Grenada Chocolate Company

Given the worldwide availability of Grenada Chocolate Company bars, you would be forgiven for thinking it’s made in a big factory. In actual fact, every single bar is produced from start to finish in this tiny house. Solar panels in the garden power the process and a small, brightly painted van delivers the chocolate throughout the island and to the docs in St. George’s, from where it’s transported to chocolate shops around the world.

Roaster

Our tour is brief, but magical. First we are shown the old coffee roaster where the cocoa is gently roasted to develop the flavour and help release the papery shells. From there, the beans are broken and the shells are blown away in a custom-made winnowing machine.

Winnower

Grenada Chocolate Company use a combination of modern 30kg Cocoa Town and vintage Lehmann melanger. The Cocoa Town was in use during our visit and was full to the brim with chocolate. The acidity in the air as the volatiles were driven out of the chocolate made it quite difficult to breathe in such a small room, so we didn’t stay long!

Of course, the challenge with making chocolate in a hot climate like Grenada is that it has a tendency to melt! The heat is actually useful for the grinding and concheing process, but chocolate can only be tempered and moulded below 25°C, so that part of the process takes place behind closed doors in an air conditioned room.

Wrapping Station

Every bar is moulded then carefully hand wrapped in this small room, before being stored ready for shipping.

The process of making small batch chocolate is virtually the same wherever you go in the world, but making it in a hot climate is especially challenging. Thanks to the vision and dedication of the late Mott Green, the Grenada Chocolate Company have managed to transform this little house into the world’s most ethical chocolate factory.

Grenadian Dancing at Belmont Estate

After our tour of the factory, we returned to Belmont for lunch in their fabulous open air restaurant. We were entertained with traditional Grenadian dancing before dining on a truly wonderful chocolate themed meal, made with plenty of local cacao. Then there was just time for chocolate tasting with a selection of Grenadian chocolates and a spot of shopping at the Grenada Chocolate Company factory shop before heading back to our hotel.

I had such a wonderful time at Belmont and the Grenada Chocolate Company. Their efforts and investment have kick started a whole industry on the island. There is now a second bean-to-bar chocolate factory in Grenada, and the chocolate festival which hosted are visit was one of the best I’ve experienced. I can’t wait to go back, and spend more time surrounded by cacao and chocolate in Grenada.

Belmont Estate Photo Gallery

Grenada Chocolate Company Photo Gallery

Thanks to the Grenada Tourism Authority for organising our chocolate-filled visit to Grenada.

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The Grenada Chocolate Festival 2015

Cacao Rainbow

For anyone involved in the bean-to-bar chocolate industry, the Caribbean island of Grenada has a special meaning. It’s home to the Grenada Chocolate Company, probably the most ethical chocolate company on the planet.

Mott Green, founder of the company sadly died two years ago, but his vision of a company owned by farmers lives on. His tiny factory, built in a converted house on the island has been an inspiration for many.

Despite its small size, the Grenada Chocolate Company has consistently produced some of the best chocolate in the world. It’s farmer-owned model has helped create a whole new “tree to bar” category that helps keep the profits in the country of origin where they are needed most.

Grenada Chocolate Company

For me, Grenada has been a dream destination ever since I met Mott Green. I never had the chance to visit in his lifetime, but when I was offered the chance to visit the island for the Chocolate Festival this year, I jumped at the chance.

The Grenada Chocolate Festival is now in its second year and is a week long celebration of all things chocolate – and all things Grenada. The festival is organised by Magdalena Fielden of the True Blue Bay Resort Hotel, with events taking place at the hotel and around the island.

Along with a handful of journalists, we had the chance to experience everything the island had to offer. It’s safe to say that most of us knew very little of the delights that awaited us.

Grand Anse Beach

Grenada is a small, mountainous island here just about everything grows. Aside from the beautiful beaches, there’s very little flat land at all. It’s known as the Spice Isle, so I had expected to see plenty of nutmeg, cinnamon and tropical fruits growing. What I wasn’t expecting was to see cacao growing wild by the sides of the roads. You only need to travel 5 or 10 minutes inland and it’s literally everywhere.

For me, this really brought home just how much of an impact Mott Green had on Grenada. The cacao was always there, but it was either ignored or simply used to make the local cocoa tea. Mott’s vision, to create a high value product to sell to the world, helped transform lives. What’s more, it’s a vision that seems to be gathering momentum on the island.

Diamond Chocolate Factory

Last year, a second bean-to-bar factory opened on the island. Although not organic and part funded by American chocolate maker L.A. Burdick, Diamond Chocolate are producing bars and couverture from locally grown cacao for the local and international markets.

But it’s the festival itself that is most exciting for me. It’s not just great for us foreign chocolate lovers, but it’s a focal point for the chocolate industry on the island; a chance for everyone to come together, to learn and inspire each other.

Grenada Chocolate Festival

The excitement was apparent from the start. The opening party was a celebration of chocolate, cacao and Grenadian crafts. There was cocktails (including a rather lovely cacao pulp mojito), handmade chocolates, an array of locally made goods, live music and even a chocolate porter, brewed on site at the West Indies Beer Company’s microbrewery.

Our week was packed full of tastings, workshops, tours, meals and plenty of rum punches. It’s almost impossible to pick out the highlights. I’ll be writing separately about some of them, including our visit to the Grenada Chocolate Factory and Belmont Estate, and a fascinating tour of the Crayfish Bay organic cocoa estate.

Crayfish Bay

Back home in London with the festival over, I’m already longing to go back. It’s safe to say I’ve fallen in love with the Spice Isle and its people. But more than that, I’m excited for the future of the Grenada Chocolate Festival itself. It’s certainly the most exciting chocolate event I’ve ever attended, but it also has the potential to be a focal point for Grenada’s fledgling chocolate industry.

Cacao Pulp Mojito

Whether you’re a chocolate lover, or you’re simply looking for the ultimate tropical holiday, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Grenada. The island is beautiful, the people are wonderful and the chocolate is out of this world. So what are you waiting for?

Thanks to the Grenada Tourism Authority for organising our visit to Grenada and chocolate-packed trip to Grenada, to True Blue Bay Resort and Blue Horizons Garden Resort for hosting us, to everyone who made us feel welcome, and especially to Magdalena Fielden and her team for a fabulous festival.

This is the first in a series of posts on our Grenada adventure. Look out for more both on Chocablog and my food & travel blog Taste.Life over the next few weeks.

Grenada Chocolate Festival Opening Party

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