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Gran Couva – Cocoa and La Vega

Termites on a Tree 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”) -

Valrhona Chocolate from the Caribbean“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.

La Vega HutsAnd 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)-

La Vega - Nurseries Pachystachy La Vega - Butterfly

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10 Comments so far (Add 1 more)

  1. My Grand parents are from Chickland and had a Cocoa, coffee, and citrus Estate and we used to love to go there for holidays because I learn to dance in the Cocoa and coffee beans. My great father used to lived on the Estate and grandmother used to lived the village it was fun in those days, but my mother sold the estate to some whiteman I forgot his name but he and his family still lived there. Growing up drinking homemade cocoa tea as trini call it and drinking fresh orange juice was good and healthy.

    2. yasmin ramsingh on January 30th, 2011 at 11:15 pm
  2. waay i real behind on reading ur blog

    thought you were having a give away

    3. Lilandra on January 30th, 2011 at 11:42 pm
  3. Hi Yasmin, Happy New Year – as you mention Chickland – was this near the Ajoupa Estate?

    Lilandra – yeah, but 3 months after I bought it?

    4. Chennette on January 30th, 2011 at 11:55 pm
  4. :-)Like we plan this one. Great minds lol….I think it’s a pity that all those luxury bars made from our chocolate don’t make it back to our shores that’s why I am so excited by what Isabel is doing.

    5. wizzy on January 31st, 2011 at 12:24 am
  5. My Grand Father worked for the Cocoa Board in the 50′s and 60′s and did a lot in his short life to develop the resistant flavorful cocoa & Coffee Trinidad and Tobago still has growing today. His legacy was to leave the Family with an Estate in Manzanilla and I spent many a summer ‘dancing’ coffee and cocoa, running thru fields of coffee and citrus. The Main house’s roof also slid open to be used in peak season for drying coffee, but we used it in the July August school break months to sleep under the stars on clear nights without having to be really be out doors. It was fabulous. Thanks for evoking these precious memories and yes this is some of the best cocoa ever! :-)

    7. ~Melissa on January 31st, 2011 at 1:31 pm
  6. Memories , memories….we used to dance the cocoa and coffee beans when we went for holidays in Penal by my mother’s sister. Of course the roofs of the houses slid open for drying. They also planted rice but we were not allowed in the watery paddy fields, only when the paddy had to be dried and threshed , were we allowed to help…..
    I had forgotten about those days….lol …thanks Chennette. The days of making coconut oil and ghee for home use were up to my mother’s and my time….
    Lol Cocoa tea and coffee tea…….and maar with sugar and milk and some hot rice in the bowl…

    8. trinimom on January 31st, 2011 at 6:13 pm
  7. We’re so fortunate on this little island, to make an impact with these rich little beans that we have, I guess we’re like that fairy tale, Jack and the Beanstalk, and the giant is the big industrial Europe… Fii fie foe fum….

    9. Tamarind Ball on January 31st, 2011 at 9:27 pm
  8. Your photos might end up in the Newsday :)

    I work so close to Gran Couva but haven’t been there in years – La Vega, I mean. I think I had the Gran Couva coco when I was around 10 or 11 and remembered the big deal people was making about it. It was delicious.

    I love the blue sky photos – how do you consistently get them? :)

    10. aka_lol on February 4th, 2011 at 6:16 pm
  9. @Wizzy – Isabel needs a website though :-) so people can express interest!

    @Melissa @Mom – good that I triggered cocoa-dancing memories for other people :-)

    @TamarindBall – if you visit Wizzy’s blog, she has this great post on a local chocolatier, who uses local cocoa http://breakfastlunchdinnerandpunch.blogspot.com/2011/01/from-architect-to-chocolatier.html

    @aka – I generally point the camera up ;-) but seriously, I can’t take credit for the sky – when it’s a nice day, even the old kit lens can manage. (Although I dropped the camera with that lens a couple days after this, and it doesn’t quite focus at the ends of its range…sigh… camera still works though!)

    11. Chennette on February 5th, 2011 at 1:56 pm
  10. amazing that it took a trip to Belgium to find Grand Couva.

    I live in the US now and it is very difficult to find good rum; Agnostura and Fernandes need to be a little more enterprising.

    My grandmother left many years ago and I was surprised when a Trini I met, after asking her surname, Immediately asked if I was from Mayaro or Grand Couva. I had to respond neither.

    13. Nick Bagshawe on February 5th, 2013 at 11:12 am

3 Trackbacks

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Gaston Rampersad, Chennette. Chennette said: new post – Gran Couva, #Trinidad – #chocolate and scenery http://bit.ly/geaNxX [...]

  2. [...] cacao, the weather, the soil…converge to make some of the finest cocoa in the world”: Lifespan of a Chennette tells the delicious story. [...]

  3. [...] Gran Couva and La Vega Estate [...]

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