It is an exciting time for Jamaica’s resurgent cocoa industry. Sir Hans Sloane’s chocolate milk may have brought the island’s cocoa to the world’s attention in the 1700s but the modern revolution currently taking place produces award-winning premium chocolate bars, cocoa by-products, sophisticated confectionary and collaborations with world-famous chocolate houses. The spotlight is once again shining on the island’s artisanal chocolate producers.
Feeling hot and bothered. Spoilt by the comfort of my own vehicle being serviced, the air conditioning in the rental car I am using is struggling to keep cool during an unusually oppressive heatwave. My wits barely contained, concentrating to avoid undisciplined taxi drivers, pedestrians crossing the road at whim, dodging newly dug potholes and uneven surfaces on Constant Spring Road, one of Kingston’s main arteries being upgraded. By the time I arrive at the CVM industrial complex, the security guard who vets me at the gate nods sympathetically. Car parked, I take a deep breath to settle the nerves and step out. My sweaty nose suddenly twitches, and my tired feet come alive following the scent coming from an unassuming doorway.
My name is Jacqui and I am a chocoholic
The door opens and I am greeted by Nadine Burie’s bright smile and warm embrace, my senses rocked by the sweet smell of cocoa and every bit of tension melts away. This triggers memories of my time at Le Cordon Bleu in patisserie class, tempering chocolate, preparing ganache, feeling joy when my chocolates turned out silken and lush. The cocoa haze permeates my pores, like a beloved perfume, my mouth starts to salivate and immediately bliss sets in. My name is Jacqui and I am a chocoholic.
Nadine is of Lebanese descent and originally from French-speaking Cote D’Ivoire in West Africa. A nation famous for its cocoa. Trained in Montreal, Canada, she relocated to Jamaica and has called the island home for several years. She now bounces between here and neighbouring Haiti due to her husband’s work with the European Union. Before her foray as a chocolatier and partnership with Café Blue, Nadine has been the go-to pâtissier for the island’s crème de la crème. Her delicate touch and ethereal fusions are pure artistry. This passion has been poured into her personal chocolate brand, Likklemore. Nadine’s heart is poured into every whimsical and beautiful creation she makes, each bite, pure chocolate heaven.
Behind me is a fridge filled to the brim with chocolates from around the world.
Nadine does not joke around. Barely sat down, she immediately brings me water and samples of her lovely chocolate, milk, dark, coffee, hazelnut plus delightful cocoa-rich fudgy textured muffins and banana bread. Nadine’s generosity knows no bounds, I ended up taking some home. Nadine is serious about Jamaican cocoa and has built strong connections and friendships with local cocoa farmers across the island. She could have easily invested back home in the Cote D’Ivoire, the world’s largest cocoa producer, but could not resist the otherworldly qualities of Jamaican cocoa. Behind me is a fridge, filled to the brim with chocolates from around the world. Years of research and development plus intense drive had laid Likklemore’s foundation before production was even a concept. Through glass doors in front of me, I witness dutiful staff in a sterile area, keenly focused on their craftmanship, perfecting two chocolate brands. We take a mini tour of the facility; Nadine introduces me to her staff and they each explain their function during the process from bean to bar. She even ferments her own beans. With a better sense and appreciation for the craft, we return to her office to delve further into the conversation.
Clayton Williams walks in. I feel instant glee. Clayton is an old friend I have not seen in ages. He is the main connector between farmers and buyers of Jamaican premium cocoa. He is an advocate for the Jamaican cocoa industry and pushes for farmers to receive fair prices for their cocoa beans. Clayton believes many opportunities are on the island once the right framework and structures can be put into place and hopes one day more young people will return to the sector. An Achilles heel of his is that we are not producing enough volume to keep up with the demand. I knew his innate knowledge of our local cocoa history would add nuance and background from another perspective. We discussed the popular growing regions of Jamaica, the eastern parishes of St. Thomas, St. Mary, Clarendon in the south and Hanover in the west, where microclimates most suitable for cocoa growing are present. Nadine spoke about the challenges and the rewards. Clayton shared the types of beans grown on the island, the pros and cons of each such as the highly sought hardy trinitario, the world’s most produced cocoa bean the forastero and the criolla, distinct flavoured, but susceptible to disease due to its delicate nature.
Jason’s transition from coffee to cocoa is a no brainer
Jason Sharp whom we have been waiting on while munching on Nadine’s addictive chocolate samples enters with his charismatic energy. Jason and his brother Richard are go-getters in the coffee industry, one of the main reasons our Blue Mountain coffee continues to receive starry accolades after decades and continues to be one of the best brews on the planet. Over the next hour, Jason and Nadine continue to educate me on the roots of this new wave of Jamaican chocolate manufacturing. They have partnered to create the wonderful bars proudly displayed on Café Blue counters islandwide. Jason’s transition from coffee to cocoa is a no brainer. Both crops complement each other, are grown in similar conditions and with his expertise in farming and international trade, his appetite for local produce is unmatched. The demand for high-quality chocolate is on the rise. Not only for the pleasure it gives us, but the antioxidant-rich heart-healthy benefits. Jason is on a mission to change the cultural mindset. Jamaicans are so accustomed to foreign chocolates being sold on the market and his vision is to normalize the presence and eventual dominance of locally made chocolate and their by-products such as cocoa powder, nibs and baking chocolate.
Jason went on further to explain that Jamaican agriculture on a whole is going through changes. Old ways make way for new innovations in productivity and the creation of value added products is becoming the norm. He insists the country needs to make agricultural education exciting for the young generation to return to it. Overseas experts are now teaching farmers how to convert their crops to cocoa, some are learning to use better equipment, others new processing techniques and last but not least, better packaging. The paper that wraps Nadine’s Likklemore chocolate for example is plant based and the outer packaging is made from recycled paper. The stickers are composed from cotton fibers. Sustainability is important to her and with this in mind, it did not make sense to build a brand such as Likklemore, without fully practicing environmentally sound actions from edibles to the wrapping. This is why Nadine disclosed that it took years to get it right, no room for compromise. Trust me, her chocolates were worth the wait.
Desmond Jadusingh is a colourful character. His stories are racy, his eyes twinkle which belies his generous heart
A couple days later, me and Martei my dear Danish Ghanaian friend and photographer, were back on the road again. This time a pleasant drive heading east to the parish of St. Thomas towards the Plantain Garden valley region, cane fields rolled by, a nod to the parish’s heyday as a major sugar producer. We go past the famous Bath Botanical Gardens and hot springs, the majestic royal palms standing proudly, a beautiful view of the Blue Mountain Peak in the distance. We glimpse crumbling yet texturally interesting colonial structures as we continued deeper into rural territory. We were on the hunt to find the best cocoa farmer on the island, some say the entire region and we find it hard to disagree. Desmond Jadusingh is a colourful character. His stories are racy, his eyes twinkle which belies his generous heart. It is no wonder the surrounding villagers look up to him and the international chocolate community adore him.
A returning resident, he lived in the UK for years and raised his family there. As luck would have it, he heard that his former family land was up for sale. Definitely a moment of serendipity, he grabbed the chance and risked it all financially to reclaim his ancestral legacy. Desmond met us on the main road by a typical countryside corner shop. He jumped into the back of the car and guided our directions as we drove off the main road and deep into the interior as we headed towards his land, the world renown Bachelor’s Hall Estate. The largest cocoa farm in Jamaica. Acres of cocoa trees enveloped us as the landscape became greener and cooler, majestic looking plants in their prime which had seen many years to young budding suckers. Cocoa beans of glorious shapes and colours ranging from sunny yellow to purple hued and ruby red adorned the trees.
He cut pods open to let us sample the fruit which reminded me in texture of soursop, but sweeter with a little tang. Delicate and delicious
Farmer Jadusingh is a maverick. Once upon a time, farmers merely sold the raw product. He decided to further educate himself and others on post-harvest processing. Over the years through his personal savings, loans and various grants to assist costs of technical support, he has invested in specialized equipment and began to dry and ferment his own beans. This gave him control of the unique taste profile of his single estate origin cocoa beans. A class of its own. He used his trees to show us the various stages of a cocoa pod’s lifespan. He cut pods open and let us eat the fruit which reminded me in the texture of the soursop but sweeter with a little tang. Delicate and delicious. We toured sections of Jadusingh’s farm where he dried and sorted his prized beans. His building structures are climate-friendly, blending in with the natural surroundings and constructed by his hands and those of his team’s using local wood and other indigenous materials.
Jadusingh’s exclusive cocoa beans are in high demand and not only sought out by local chocolate artisans but well respected amongst famous European and North American chocolate houses such as France’s Valrhona. Outstanding chocolates made over the years with his Bachelor’s Hall Estate cocoa have won multiple awards in various categories. He showed us these premium products and allowed us to taste a few. Seriously delightful treats, we felt grateful for this kind gesture, a perfect pick me up on a hot afternoon. Chocolate folks are truly the nicest you will encounter.
At his insistence, after touring the farm, we ventured further up into the hills to visit the neighbouring Johnson Mountain district and met some of the farmers he works with. Cooperation amongst the locals have had a positive impact on the collective fortunes of the community. Witnessing the camaraderie amongst Desmond and the other farmers, I could see why he remarked that the gamble to return home to Jamaica was the right one. The impact he has had on his local community is profound.
Still on a high from visiting Likklemore, Café Blue and Bachelor Hall Estate, we started making plans in our schedule to fit in a third and final stop. There was one person I was dying to connect with, award winning Nick Davis. He is the mastermind of One One Cacao, an award winning chocolate brand. What sets Nick’s chocolate apart is that it is dairy free and vegan. He was intentional that people who suffered from lactose intolerance or other allergies such as himself could enjoy a bar of chocolate without worry. Nick is also an intellect. He is passionate about the island and all the conceivable opportunities it possesses. Nick is one of numerous first, and second generation, Jamaican descent individuals from the Diaspora who have returned to help build the island’s economy.
A different day, another parish. This time on the tourist corridor of the North Coast in St Mary. A villa by the sea. An Airbnb experience. Not the place you would expect to find a cool chocolate lab. It was here, sitting on a sea wall, looking out over the views of the gorgeous Caribbean Sea, that I experienced the most intellectual conversation on chocolate. Nick has a brilliant mind. A BBC journalist, he also wanted to pursue his dream of becoming a chocolate maker from scratch. A humble soul, he will not label himself as a “chocolatier”, but to everyone who crosses his path, we view him as one of the best. Like the others we met, Nick sources his beans for One One Cacao products from all over the island. However, he goes even further to research the heritage and history of the places he buys from.
A natural storyteller, Nick will share the tale behind each bar, interspersed with cocoa facts and trivia
He is constantly perusing archives to study cocoa’s past in the Caribbean to increase awareness and find solutions on making cocoa thrive in the present and future. He laments that many of the young generation are not exposed to the history of cocoa. Nick believes cocoa is always evolving and needs to be nurtured to its fullest potential. A natural storyteller, Nick will share the tale behind each bar, interspersed with cocoa facts and trivia. He often collaborates with other chocolate makers to exchange new ideas, learn updated skills as well as returning to forgotten techniques. He regularly attends food festivals abroad to keep up to date on current trends. Nick recently took a trip with Likklemore’s Nadine and other local chocolate artisans to represent Jamaica in Belgium at the Salon du Chocolat, the largest annual chocolate event in the world.
Walking into Nick’s climate controlled chocolate lab, there were One One Cacao branded crocus sacks filled to the brim with beans and notes of their origin. Once again, we sampled chocolate, but this time he took us through the different regions. An informal process, similar to blind wine tasting. Like grape varietals, cocoa carries different flavor profiles. It was an education of the best kind, unexpected and appreciated, my inner culinary student still curious. For novices, imagine being able to make your own chocolate treats with stunning sea views. This is what you will be able to do with Nick’s Airbnb chocolate making experience. You never know what you will end up infusing your cocoa with from coconut milk to fruity sorrel.
Food security is crucial to Nick, he speaks about it any chance he can get. He believes the island should be producing and exporting more than we import and echoes the sentiments I heard before from Nadine, Clayton and Jason, that Jamaica needs to strengthen value-added production. He admits there are challenges facing farmers such as the replacing of old trees with new and a pesky disease threatening some plants which have had to be cut down to prevent the insidious spread. There is unused, available land perfect for growing and reaping cocoa and he hopes developers with the capital, patience and vision to do so, will grasp the opportunity. Nick yearns to see more solid investment in the cocoa industry to educate and attract future cocoa farmers. He stresses that increased chocolate manufacturing in origin countries will provide more employment.
As fortune would have it, a small farmer from Trelawny, the parish of Nick’s family origin passed by to sell some beans. It was not a parish I had associated with cocoa until Nick shared that it was. I loved this moment of coincidence watching the farmer handing over a sack of his freshly picked cocoa pods to Nick. It was symbolic of the fact that our local cocoa sector is not this slick, well oiled machinery but an evolving organic industry where the players in chocolate come from all walks of life from small farmers to large landowners. A motley crew of unique characters united in vision, confident and excited about the future of Jamaican cocoa. What a sweet feeling!
Outside of the brilliant folks featured in this piece, there are other amazing chocolate brands on the island who deserve a “shout out” and it would be remiss of me not to give them an honourable mention. A few years ago, I wrote about the award-winning French’s of Mount Pleasant Chocolatiers for my business, Kingston Kitchen. I had mentioned that theirs was a marriage made in chocolate heaven as Averell’s grandparents were cocoa farmers and his Ugandan wife Helen’s family were also involved in cocoa in the East African nation, neither of them knew that when they met in London. One of the first to resuscitate Jamaica’s almost dormant cocoa industry at the time, Averell and Helen have gained numerous accolades for their award-winning chocolate. Pioneer chocolatier, the beautiful Michelle Smith of Chocolate Dreams, opened the first chocolate boutique a few years ago at the historic Devon House property, her signature chocolate creations are popular with Kingstonians, patrons can also purchase her legendary treats at her factory’s location elsewhere in Kingston. Pure Chocolate is a premium chocolate brand run by a Dutch Jamaican husband and wife team, Rennae Johnson and Wouter Tjeertes. Before you even taste their beautiful chocolate, their stunningly packaged chocolates draw you in. Art in themselves, the covers feature drawings by local artists. Pure chocolate company prides itself on fair trade practices. Their products are available at fine purveyors islandwide and popular amongst pastry chefs.
To learn more about these individuals and brands, watch our accompanying Nyam & Trod videos which shows the drying, sorting, fermenting and other details around the chocolate making process. Their websites are linked below.
Jacqui ‘JuicyChef’ Sinclair, founder of Nyam & Trod, is a British Jamaican award-winning chef, writer, and food culturist. She is a co-founder of Kingston Kitchen, an annual food event supporting food artisans. Jacqui has been an advocate of the Meatless Monday Global movement in Jamaica since 2011. Jacqui’s work has been featured in such publications as the Huffington Post, the Jamaica Observer, Saveur, The Jewish Post and numerous blogs. She has appeared on the Travel Channel’s ‘Bizarre Foods’ with Andrew Zimmern and Food & Wine’s Jamaica episode with Kwame Onwuachi.