Cocobel Chocolate’s 100 per cent locally made, artisanal, single origin chocolate has been pioneering Trinidad’s artisanal fine chocolate-making industry since 2008.
Cocobel Chocolate is made from world-renowned, “Fine Flavour” Trinitario cacao beans that are harvested, fermented, and dried mainly at Rancho Quemado Estate, deep south of Trinidad but also at La Deseada Estate, Santa Cruz in north Trinidad.
Catholic News interviewed Isabel Brash, Cocobel Chocolate owner/creator/managing director.
Q: How do you go from being an architect and having that very sort of traditional structured world to being a chocolate connoisseur?
I have to say at the root of everything is a love for my culture. So, it’s self-serving as well, as I’m a creative person and I think that’s my gift in a sense. It doesn’t have to be chocolate. It could be architecture, but it could be other things like designing.
I just love to create chocolate. Years before I had started, I noticed a French company selling chocolate and everything about it looked like our “Trinbagonian” culture, but it was a foreign company.
Worldwide the chocolate industry works in a particular way. The producing countries grow the cocoa and then the first world countries manufacture and sell it.
The thought that came up in my mind was – how come this is not made in Trinidad? Because everything else about it was Trinidadian, but it was a French company.
When I finished my studies and came back, it was something that I always pondered on. During the recession of 2008, I wondered what was the process of making chocolate and why nobody was making this locally?
So, I just started researching online, I ordered some books that I found on histories, and I got intrigued by it. We’re very industrial and very innovative and I just couldn’t understand why we were not producing more local chocolate.
My approach was more about using everything from Trinidad, such as sorrel and guava. It’s about exploring what we have here. We started by making truffles which involved all these different local flavours.
Q: How did you come up with Cocobel? What is the history or the story behind that?
That’s a whole long story. My father and I were trying to figure out a name for the company. My father said, “well, it’s Isabel and Coco, so Cocobel! I thought, “My God, that’s so cute.” But I just didn’t want it to be related to just me as I always say the company is about us, and I wanted everybody to relate to the name, but I still liked the sound of the name. Then my father went fishing with his friends from Paramin who speak patois and all the time they said, “Cocobel, that is a nice brown ting.” At that point, I thought the name had a cultural feeling to it, which fit well.
Q: Your flavours and combinations are unique and interesting. Can you tell us more about what inspires you?
How I see it is I’m just taking what I know to be Trinidadian and putting it into a form. All of my inspiration is from what I know, from my memories and from my experience being a Trinidadian. So that is the source of my inspiration. For instance, our bonbon is sorrel, and I use cloves and cinnamon in the ganache because that’s how my mother used to make sorrel when I was growing up. I recreate these memories and put them into a chocolate form because I want people to experience memory and go on a journey with the chocolate.
Q: Congratulations on your international awards. How did that come about?
I talked to a friend who’s a chocolate maker as well. And I always say, well, to get anything, you have to enter. I wanted to gauge the quality of my chocolate because the awarding body comprised of tasters from all over the world, and they give feedback even if you don’t win. So, I thought, okay, let’s send some samples. I think 2019 was the first time I sent, and we got a bronze, which was fantastic! We also got the recommendations on other chocolates, which was also great from a quality perspective.
Q: What’s the next step? You’re saying you want to export soon? What’s on the horizon?
Yes, we definitely are ready to expand by exporting mainly the bars and the products that have a longer shelf life. We have some exciting ventures on the horizon. I want the Cocobel space to be a jewel box in the sense of a local immersion experience. When you come into the environment, you’re getting full local chocolate experience!