Visit to Crayfish Bay Organic Cocoa Estate
This summer we were fortunate to spend a wonderful week staying with Kim and Lyette Russell on their organic cocoa estate at Crayfish Bay, Victoria, Grenada. We took our children with us and stayed in their guest accommodation which has to be one of the most idyllic locations I have ever stayed in.
For several years we used the Grenadan Organic Chocoate company as the main supplier of chocolate for the majority of our recipes. We were always a fan of its early unique flavour profile and so a visit to Grenada has been a long held dream for us.
Grenada is a lush green volcanic island in the Carribean and Crayfish Bay is to the North-west of Grenada. The island has a small but growing tourist industry set mainly in the South of the island at Grand d’ance. The North-west has little tourism and as we had arrived on carnival weekend we were grateful for Kim and Lylette’s offer to spend mealtimes with them as most places were in full on Carnival mode and there was no prospect of buying food. Though wild food was in abundance with a little guidance from Kim. We’ve never eaten so many mangoes!
Crayfish Bay is a 200 year old 15 acre cocoa plantation originally named Non Pariel (without equal). It was badly damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and has been carefully restored by Kim to the working cocoa plantation it is today. By any measure Kim would be considered a master craftsman and the detail he has put into the restoration of the plantation buildings is astonishing. The wooden cabin and decked area we stayed in were wonderful, sympathetically set into the forest hills overlooking the clear waters of the bay below.
The description of a plantation might conjur up the image of neatly arranged trees in rows. Whist this is often the case, the Belmont estate on Grenada for example, the plantation here is part of the rugged hill landscape. Cacao trees are dotted amongst plantain, mango and nutmeg in a landscape that looks almost unchanged in 200 years.
We were visiting outside of cocoa harvest time but the harvest here must be exhausting given the hilly terrain.
Kim has restored the original bean drying mechanism from 200 years ago and individual trays can be pulled out to dry or the entire roof slid off dependent on the weather.
Beans are roasted in a charcoal roaster again designed and created by Kim. The wooden handle of the roaster is beautifully carved as a whale. Kim plans to open source the roaster design such that farmers in developing countries might be able to produce their own chocolate to sell in their own markets, empowering farmers. Kim is passionate about improving the lives and money paid to farmers and explained to us how they manage the estate…
We have nominated two local people to manage the agricultural side of our business. They receive no wage but get 90% of the value of all wet cocoa picked, based on the highest price available for organic wet cocoa on the island. The same applies to any nutmeg they pick. They may plant as much other crops as they wish, on the understanding that they follow organic practices and these crops belong entirely to them. These crops feed the families and are sold locally which gives them much needed ready cash during the off season.
Kim added in his straight talking good humoured way…
The 10% we recover from the wet produce goes back into the farm in the form of taxes and tools. We find this to be an excellent system, where everybody is very happy and gets what they want, for us a good supply of beans and lands in prime condition, for them good income for several months of the year and independence….total respect both ways..
Kim is friends with wonderful Tony from HB Ingredients who as well as helping Kim to export to the UK has supplied Kim with the same cocoa grinders we have to experiment with their own bar making. Crayfish Bay cocoa has become known in the UK through bars made by the Pump Street bakery. Earlier in the year Chris from Pump street had visited and spent some time sharing ideas.
Kim and Lylette were keen for us to try some of their truly ‘Tree to Bar’ chocolate but the hot and humid summer conditions were making tempering a challenge. We were able to share some of our own experience with Kim and Lylette and offer suggestions for the next stage of the production room build. A few beers and some music usually helps with tempering frustrations and as Kim was a keen blues guitarist and harp player we spent a lot of time playing and singing the blues. We even took a trip with Kim to the local rum shack where we met Mr Big and friends and played the night away!
We spent whole days losing ourself in the Grenedan rainforest and Kim showed us a beautiful tranquil location to swim in and bathe in waterfalls and pools.
We loved exploring the plantation forest, though Kim cautioned us to wear boots in case of a chance encounter with a Mongoose. We were also careful at reaching up for things after he told us of his scorpion sting.
Crayfish Bay is a beautiful location and Kim and Lylette were wonderful hosts and passionate cocoa farmers. We’re hoping to work with them in the near future on some new ventures.