Gran Couva is internationally known for one thing (at least) – Trinitario cocoa. Gran Couva is part of the Montserrat hills in the Central Range of Trinidad, where the combination of the trinitario cacao, the weather, the soil (the things the French collectively call “terroir“) converge to make some of the finest cocoa in the world. Valrhona, the French chocolate manufacturers, make a single estate chocolate bar from cocoa sourced from Gran Couva, named “Gran Couva” of course! The “chocolate de domaine” is not just from a single estate, but a single harvest year!
I had the good fortune when I was in Brussels a couple months ago to happen across a Valrhona store. It was actually on my last night there, and it was cold and raining and I was holding a cup of Godiva thick hot chocolate and bags, just waiting to get back to the hotel. And I peered out through the hood of my coat, through the rain and saw it. I’d never had the opportunity to find this elusive Trinidadian fine-flavoured cocoa from these fancy European dealers – we don’t actually get them back in T&T. And there it was in the window – a bar of Gran Couva 2010. Yay!
I went in and immediately sought out the single estate bars and asked for 5 bars (I figured the family members might want some too). She poked around, went into the window and emerged with 2. That’s all they had. She was unfortunately so busy trying to figure out if I was Arab, Indian or Pakistani, that she kept ignoring my telling her that I was from the Gran Couva place. So no, I didn’t want Venezuelan chocolate, not this time. As I was cashing though,my eyes alit on a “Caraïbe” bar, of which there were lots more, and I packed up quite a few of those. The Caraïbe bar, is still trinitario cocoa beans (T&T developed these particular fine-flavoured, pest resistant beans some time ago) but made from cocoa sourced from different islands of the Caribbean (including Trinidad), so I am assuming at least from Grenada and Tobago. I like the words on the Caraïbe (which Valrhona calls “Balanced and Velvety”) –
“Dans les îles et sur la côte de la mer des caraïbes, les hommes ont cultivé depuis des générations les cacaoyers Trinitario sur de riches sols de limon argileux surnommés “terre à chocolat”. L’assemblage de ces cacaos donne à Caraïbe un nez exceptionnel prolongé, à la dégustation, de doux arômes de fruits secs.”
“For generations, cacao trees have been grown in the shade of banana trees in the Caribbean, on rich clay loam soils often referred to as “chocolate lands”. A unique blend of Trinitario beans gives Caraïbe its exceptionally long nose and sweet aromas of dried fruits.”
The grand words for the Gran Couva bar?
“Nous sommes dans les caraïbes entre Venezuela et Grenade. Le soleil de Trinidad se lève sur Gran Couva. Les hommes de la plantation ouvrent à la machette les cabosses et en extraient les précieuses fèves de cacao. Le premier “chocolat de Domaine” est né.
The Trinidad sun rises over Gran Couva. Harvesters from the plantation open cocoa pods with a machete and remove the precious cocoa beans. The first “Chocolate de Domaine” has just arrived.”
Ah, chocolate It was lovely!
Of course, Gran Couva is not just a site for cocoa. Although you should try to visit a cocoa estate (it’s still on my list, so let’s say it’s something we ALL have to do for 2011!). The Central Range is a beautiful place to drive through. It’s not all rolling hills of (abandoned) sugar cane fields down here – although I find those just as beautiful. As you venture away from the coast, the hills grow higher and the cocoa trees start appearing along the sides of the road. In addition to some teak (much of the centre of the island were teak plantations – tall broad-leafed trees which provide excellent shade and strong furniture). If you’re used to the rugged lushness of the Northern Range, driving into Gran Couva and beyond will be a little different in parts, but it’s well worth a drive.
And if you want a day out in the Central Range, you could consider stopping into La Vega Estate, which is a big nursery and recreation park, with man-made ponds/lakes and gardens for picnics and whatnot. All in sight of some of that lovely Central Range scenery.
I have no affiliation with La Vega, mind you. It was just part of the recent whirlwind tour I took my friends on last month. It was a beautiful sunny day, to enjoy the scenery, the butterfly garden (small and we passed it twice before realising…), the bamboo grove, rivers and meditation garden. And it’s open 7 days a week.
More photos from La Vega in Gran Couva (and in my Flickr set)-
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