Bean to Bar: The Life and Times of a Fine Cocoa Pod

Serah Acham speaks to Lesley-Ann Jurawan owner of Delft Cocoa Plantations

Reprinted from UWI Today- April 2012

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Chocolate. Many of us simply need to see the word and we can taste it… thick, smooth, creamy. Perhaps you prefer yours richer  and darker, maybe sweeter, whatever your fancy, while you’re nibbling or sipping away, you couldn’t be less concerned with where it started. No. Not in Mr. Cadbury’s Birmingham chocolate factory. Right here in Trinidad and Tobago’s cocoa fields.

T&T’s Trinitario cocoa beans are among the world’s best. They’re the main ingredient for the finest, literally clamoured after by the world’s fine chocolate makers.

“Every chef would kill to have Trinidad beans and feature Trinidad cocoa because it’s known for the flavour profile. You can’t get that anywhere else in the world.” says Lesley-Ann Jurawan, owner of Delft Cocoa Plantations Violetta Fine Chocolates.

Our conversation has my head spinning. Ask one question and she partially answers two others and raises another. She’s apologetic. I’m quick to forgive. It’s not hard to do.

As owner of both a cocoa estate and a blossoming chocolate making business, Lesley-Ann takes on many roles, each requiring as much time and dedication as the other, “because cocoa is a really exciting industry to be in now. Every facet of it is developing,” she declares. “Yes, I make the chocolates but … my major focus is having an impact on the cocoa industry,” raising awareness of the superb quality of Trinidad’s cocoa and encouraging Trinidadians to take full advantage.

Take Valentine’s Day, she continues, when people flock towards the Cadbury section at groceries. “Little do they know that it’s using lower quality stuff compared to us.”

“The same way we know about mas and pan,” as a part of our cultural identity, she urges, we should “be aware and proud of the quality of cocoa we produce.”

Lesley-Ann and Delft crossed paths in early 2009 when her father acquired an estate in Gran Couva and needed someone to take the helm. “I found out kind of after the fact that he had gotten it and I did a lot of research to figure out what could happen with bean-to-bar.”

When she discovered what a future in chocolate could hold, she jumped in.

“I did a lot of theory where ever I could find it … Just any research I could get my hands on. Anywhere.” She registered for online classes at Ecole Chocolat, based in Vancouver, Canada, and then enrolled in its Master Chocolatier programmes which took her to Belgium and Switzerland.

Along the way she discovered the value of Trinidad’s cocoa. “People from all around the world would die to come and see what we have in our backyards. It’s the most amazing thing,” she says, recalling an experience while at class in Switzerland.

“They took out a frozen cocoa pod they shipped from somewhere in the world. They defrosted it, thawed it out and sliced it opento let people in the group taste it ... and they went nuts to be able to taste the cocoa pulp. It was insane, they were so impressed.”

In the end, she didn’t depart with just her diploma and new skills. Lesley-Ann left Europe with a vision for  Trinidad’s cocoa. Her studies in Belgium entailed a visit to a renowned chef, World Chocolate Ambassador, Chef Bart Van Cauwenberghe. He’s a taste designer, she explains, capable of performing feats such as picking out the flavours in a perfume after taking a whiff of it, and then creating a chocolate to taste like it. From his passion, she sensed he was the one to help her generate “the kind of interest and excitement I want to bring about for Trinidad cocoa.” She left Belgium in October 2010 at the end of her training and returned the following month to enlist his help in opening a cocoa and chocolate school.

“When I started doing the chocolatiering, the more I studied, the more I met young people from around Trinidad who want to do it badly but they don’t have the resources.” Coming from a career in teaching (she was a math and computer science teacher at Naparima Boys’ High School), she felt that others shouldn’t have to struggle to get started the way she did. “That’s my mantra in general,” she says, “nothing in life has any worth unless you can share it with people, so that really is the driving force behind everything that I do.”

 Add to that the fact that there is a lot of cocoa growing in Trinidad. So much, that when she gives tours of her estate, she shows participants the abandoned ones nearby and points out all the cocoa pods “just drying on the trees … and they cannot believe it!”

With this school, she says, she hopes to show that “going bean-to-bar,” or being involved in the entire chocolate making process, from growing and harvesting the cocoa pods, to turning the beans into chocolate, “can not only provide a sustainable lifestyle, but a comfortable lifestyle.” Hopefully, this will motivate the younger generation to get involved “and therefore create a supply again and that would have a lasting impact.”

Once she popped the question, Chef Bart “said yes immediately, because that’s where he wants to be as well—he wants to teach what he knows,” and is now her technical advisor with over 20 years of chocolate expertise under his belt.

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