August 2012

Issue Home >>


By now we know that Trinidad and Tobago is home to the coveted 100 per cent fine or flavour Trinitario cocoa—so called because it was conceived and came to life in our soil, a hybrid of the flavourful Criollo and hardy Forastero varieties.

Yet, few are aware that for 50 years we have also had bragging rights to one of the largest resources in the global cocoa and chocolate industry—the Cocoa Research Unit (CRU) at The UWI.

“The Cocoa Research Unit has been one of The University of the West Indies’ hidden treasures of excellence,” said Professor Dyer Narinesingh, former Dean of the Faculty of Science and Agriculture. “Hidden,” he continued, because not many in T&T know of “the pivotal role it has played in establishing cocoa industries, not only in the Caribbean but internationally.”

A leading authority in everything cocoa, researchers, scientists, farmers and chocolate makers throughout the world come to the CRU to take advantage of its first-class knowledge, skills and technology.

So it’s no surprise that on this, the jubilee of its “treasure,” The UWI is pulling out all the stops.

The CRU’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations kicked off with flair at The Spirit of Chocolate, a unique tasting experience starring Trinidad’s Trinitario cocoa beans. On July 21, investors and beneficiaries, all dressed to the nines, gathered at the Hilton Trinidad’s Grand Ballroom to learn about the Unit, its work and its value to the world’s cocoa and chocolate industry, and to experience its fine results at the tasting.

The evening began with an exhibition of cocoa.

The CRU, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Cocoa and Coffee Industry Board and the Tobago Cocoa Farmers Association were among those who set up booths. Pods, beans and a miniature cocoa house and cocoa-carrying donkey were on display and those who visited the CRU’s booth were given a rundown of the chocolate-making process, from bean to bar. As guests moved from one booth to the other, taking new knowledge of T&T’s cocoa and the industry with them, they sampled truffles, bonbons and other chocolate morsels, all made with Trinitario beans. Gina’s Chocolate Truffles, Violetta Fine Chocolates, Cocobel and Exotic Caribbean Mountain Pride were all front and centre, offering guests a taste of the fine quality chocolate that our cocoa can produce.

An opening ceremony followed, where Prof Narinesingh, Prof Pathmanathan Umaharan, Head of the CRU, and the Minister of Food Production, Senator Devant Maharaj spoke of the CRU’s accomplishments and its sterling reputation.

Then, the pièce de résistance: a tasting experience featuring five dishes, each pairing chocolate made from T&T’s finest cocoa beans with a meat or vegetable and a spirit, either rum, wine or beer; introduced by its creator, World Chocolate Ambassador, Chef Bart Van Cauwenberghe.

“The cocoa you have here is the top of the world, believe me,” Chef Bart affirmed, declaring his surprise that few people are taking advantage of it.

“Who is making the chocolate?” he asked.

“Nobody ... I was astounded.”

This tasting was meant to show how diverse chocolate is as a food, to highlight the quality of the cocoa that’s produced here and to open minds to new flavours.

“It’s a little bit bizarre” he said of the flavour combinations in each of the dishes, but he urged guests to give them a try as he ushered everyone to the tables.

As the evening ended, the room was awash with perplexity as guests walked from station to station sampling and trying to figure out exactly what they were eating. Chocolate was included in meals like Foie Gras (a mousse made out of liver), Chicken Coco, Fish and Sabayon and Shells (with smoked ham). There were also two vegetarian dishes: Passion in a Glass and Panna Cotta.

While there were some flavours that could be discerned quite easily, there were some that remained pleasantly enigmatic. By the end of the evening, all were certain of two things: they were eating the finest of fine chocolate and without the CRU this may not have been.