Chocolate island celebrates its cocoa-related heritage

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SOUFRIÈRE, ST. LUCIA-Sweat trickles down our faces as we smash cocoa nibs with a stone pestle in a blazing hot mortar on the veranda of the Boucan hotel. The Tree-to-Bar experience at the British-owned hotel, which starts with cutting a cocoa pod and ends with creating your own chocolate bar, is helping promote St. Lucia’s chocolate heritage.Though this lush Caribbean island has produced chocolate and grown cocoa trees in its rich volcanic soil since the early 1700s, most chocolate has been eaten locally or mixed with chocolate from other tropical countries. Companies such as Hotel Chocolat, which built the Boucan around a 250-year-old cocoa plantation near the original French capital of Soufrière, aim to change that by celebrating local, estate-grown chocolate.Related story:How to eat, sleep and party in St. LuciaAfter 10 minutes of pounding, I’m convinced the hard brown bits of cocoa bean will never resemble the satiny slurry our iron-armed guide Merle Busette quickly produces.Article Continued BelowThe woman to my right calls it quits, the guy across the table takes over his young son’s mortar and an elderly woman happily passes hers to her daughter as Busette regales us with chocolate lore and reminds us the Aztecs smashed cocoa beans with a stone to prepare a drink for emperor Moctezuma, served in a golden goblet.Though hardly fit for an emperor, we all eventually produce a thick grainy liquid, finished with a knob of beige cocoa butter and sweetened with icing sugar to taste. Following Busette’s lead, we pour the paste into a thin plastic mold and cover it with a strip of waxed paper emblazoned with our names. While we head back to the lobby to check out the chocolate-infused cocktail menu and admire the view of the island’s Gros Piton mountain, she whisks our hard-won bars to the fridge to set. The “tree” part of the tour is more relaxing. Wandering along a jungle path on the 57-hectare plantation, we learn a cacao tree has a mind of its own. Pods sprout haphazardly from the trunk and along the branches, growing from a pin prick-sized yellow flower to long, leathery footballs streaked with yellow or burgundy.

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