The Rebirth of Chocolate in Jamaica
On Thursday, May 26th, I headed off to Jamaica again for business, but this time, with the hubby. I had just been there a few weeks before to learn more about a chocolate business opportunity. Following my first trip, I realized just how special this project was and here is why.
The Rebirth of Chocolate
When most of us are sleeping, Jamaican farmers have already picked their cocoa pods from the trees and carefully removed the seeds for pickup. Only this time, they are getting paid for their labor and fine flavored product. But that wasn’t always the case. As in many countries, unfair trade practices often impact the farmers.
It wasn’t until a special soul decided to make a difference. Mordecai Lorenzo Buckly, CEO of Cacao DeJamaique (CDJM) is reshaping the Jamaican cocoa industry with the support of his business partner, Adriana Montalvo, her husband, Mike, and Massy Distribution, the largest distribution company in the Caribbean. Together, they are restoring faith back into the farmers (and country). They are not only reviving the Jamaican cocoa industry and purchasing cocoa beans, they have already launched a chocolate brand in Jamaica – the only chocolate bar made with 100% Jamaican cocoa.
Born in Saint Mary Parish, Jamaica, Lorenzo decided to leave the banking industry in Chicago to help his people and make a difference. I had the opportunity to meet Lorenzo and learn his why through conversations and a memorable trip to one of CDJM’s drying facilities in Clarendon. They have another drying facility in Lorenzo’s hometown of Saint Mary Parish. For Lorenzo, it isn’t about the chocolate or future products; it’s about helping his people have jobs and seeing their labor actually evolve into Jamaican products that they can feel proud of. He spends the majority of his day driving in the countryside working with the farmers and collecting beans, while also acting as the CEO.
Thursday in Kingston
We checked into the Spanish Court Hotel in Kingston on Thursday. I had already stayed in this charming Spanish colonial-style hotel during my first trip. They have an amazing complimentary breakfast and rooftop bistro with friendly staff. Shortly into checking in, I went into a meeting with Lorenzo, Adriana and the CEO of Massy Distribution. I admit I was tired from a day of travel, but nothing adrenaline didn’t fix. I took the stage with my notes in hand and presented my marketing vision for CDJM. That night, my husband and I were invited to attend the 18th Annual Jamaica Observer Food Awards. In my opinion, it put the South Beach Wine & Food Festival to shame. CDJM had a booth there with innovative treats, such as: shrimp and chicken infused with their chocolate. What a fun night! We went from breathtaking booth to booth, filled our bellies and had our fair share of drinks.
Friday in Clarendon
Friday morning rolled around and I was so excited to introduce the hubby to the breakfast (egg white omelet, fresh fruit, pastries, cold cuts, to name a few.). We went a little overboard at breakfast before we checked out and jumped into Lorenzo’s pickup for our road trip to Clarendon. Shortly into the drive, the CEO of Massy called Lorenzo to express how excited he was after our meeting and to have me on the team. Since I happened to be in the car at that moment, Lorenzo passed me the phone. The CEO expressed his excitement and even said something like, “I’ve never been at a loss for words with any professional, and you left me at a loss for words.” I will forever be grateful for that humbling call.
Feeling Irie with my hubby by my side and fresh air hitting my face, I looked over to the hubby and could see how proud he was of me (as he always is). We drove up the mountains surrounded with views too beautiful to even be appreciated on pictures. After almost two hours, we arrived at the CDJM Clarendon drying facility, and I went snapchat happy. The facility is tucked inside miles of greenery and surrounded by clean air. This piece of paradise is where CDJM chocolate is born.
After the farmers have harvested their cocoa pods from the tree, the beans must be carefully fermented to produce the very best flavors. I admit I had no clue about this process prior to experiencing it. As with a lot of chocolate out there, chocolate made from unfermented cocoa beans does not have the same flavor as chocolate from fermented cocoa beans. The farmer plays a vital role in this process. They first have to carefully remove the beans from the pods to ensure that they are not injured. The beans have a white mucilage-like coating around them, which provides a food source for the bean as it germinates and the sugar needed as the basis for the fermentation process. The beans are then scooped in the fermentation boxes or “sweatboxes” before they are transferred over to the drying process; this is where the beans are spread out on mats to sun dry for over a week. There is no electricity in this process and it requires tender loving care to ensure fine flavor. I can honestly say that CDJM has this process down to a science, which is probably why their chocolate is so high quality.
My Getaway at The Trident Hotel
Later that night, we arrived at The Trident Hotel in Port Antonio. Adriana and her husband had stayed here once before and had nothing but amazing things to say about it. The hubby and I had both agreed to turn this business trip into a Memorial Day weekend getaway, and after some persuading, I convinced him to stay here with Adriana and her husband. Truthfully, even with a special rate, it was a little out of our price range for a weekend getaway, but after our stay, we both agreed it was worth every penny. “I’m laughing inside remembering the night I did my sales pitch to stay here.” In the end, the hubby made our getaway happen (as he always does).
Nestled on the beach, this breathtaking open-air property has 13 oceanfront villas, a private beach, and staff ready to pamper you 24/7. With their retro modern design, each spacious villa is equipped with a bedroom, bathroom, living areas, and a private terrace with pool offering a retreat like no other. At check-in, Executive Assistant Manager, Lij Keith, greeted us. One night, the hubby and I listened to live Jazz at one of the dinning areas and I asked Lij if he ever goes home to rest. As with the rest of the hotel staff, they were always in sight to make sure we had everything we needed.
Saturday was our first full day on the property. We enjoyed the yummy breakfast, which was included, before heading off to the private beach for a day of water activities and relaxation. I smile inside remembering my hubby on the standup paddleboard. He works so hard and deserved every moment of this weekend getaway. I was, however, a bit jealous that he didn’t require teaching lessons on the paddleboard like I did. The beach attendants, Arthur and Akeem were always available to make sure we had everything we needed. Music speakers, beer, cooler with ice, food, you name it! Arthur was even showing a couple how to swim – talk about service! CDJM staff, Alea and Dracia joined us that day. I thought it was really cool that Adriana and her husband invited them for the day as a way to thank them for their hard work. They were even invited to spend the night in their own villa.
Sunday at Frenchman's Cove
On Sunday, Adriana and her husband, and my hubby and I headed off to Frenchman’s Cove beach just minutes away. They refer to it as paradise - I agree! The beach is unique because the river meets the ocean for an amazing sight you just have to see for yourself. Even on a rainy overcast day, we enjoyed the view, yummy food and drinks with new friends. As one of my favorite wine quotes says, "The best wines are the ones we drink with friends."
Monday back in Kingston
Sadly, our getaway ended early on Monday. I will forever be grateful to my hubby and The Trident Hotel for giving me a memorable getaway. Getaways like this, give me even more drive to work hard for memories you just can’t share through writing and pictures. I highly recommend The Trident Hotel for your next vacation. On the road again, we headed back to Kingston that afternoon for a week filled with marketing efforts and meetings. The hubby flew back on Tuesday morning and I stayed until Friday. The rest of that week, I conducted my first focus group, sat through several marketing meetings, met Lorenzo’s lovely family, and visited nearby fishing village, Hellshire Beach for the best fried fish I've ever eaten (what an experience). I highly recommend visiting this spot if you are ever in Jamaica. On Friday evening, I arrived back to Miami exhausted, but eager to put together the marketing proposal and implementation plan for CDJM.
The CDJM Marketing Proposal
On Wednesday, June 8th, and after three full days of brainstorming and back and forth with my marketing team, we submitted a proposal. You'll just have to stay tuned for my next post on CDJM...