Journey to Chocolate

So how did we end up with a cocoa estate on a tiny Caribbean island? Our story is one with many little twists, turns, risk-taking and chance happenings.

Cocoa is not only an intrinsic part of my family's story and our island's history, but is symbolic of greater global economic and political inequality. We are just a microscopic atom in the wider cocoa organism.   

This is our story as it was and is today from my personal viewpoint. We are still evolving. We still have a long way to go.  

Words by Bobbie Garbutt,
4th generation Ramdhanny & self-taught chocolate-maker


It all started once upon a time in India

After the abolition of slavery, the Caribbean saw a number of East Indians migrating to the islands, largely as indentured workers. The majority landed in Trinidad and Tobago, though a small number arrived in Grenada. JJ Ramdhanny was the son of those East Indian immigrants, my grandfather's father (pictured above).


A fantastic man' Grandpa Ram

Though I never got to meet him, my grandfather is the key piece of the puzzle here. Born in 1901 to JJ and Jessie, a peasant farmer and daughter of money lender respectively, Lawrence Ramdhanny was an ambitious young man. At first he envisioned training to become a doctor, but his family didn't have enough money to send him to school. 

With no secondary education behind him, he took on extra jobs working the land. Eventually he trained as a pharmacist, though quickly realised it could only take him so far. So he stretched beyond his vocation, to become a successful businessman and commodities trader. Crucially included in those commodities were cocoa and nutmeg alongside copra, tonka beans, provisions and textile goods.


a world war spins family fortunes 

A risk-taker, my grandfather purchased nutmeg during the onset of the Second World War. Once the war ended, his risk-taking paid off—he struck big by waiting for cocoa and nutmeg to peak in value before selling. With this in hand, he and my grandmother Gladys were in a position to purchase L’Esterre in October 1949, a 70-acre cocoa and nutmeg estate, complimenting their expanding hardware business and growing family.

Their six children— my mother, aunts and uncles, continue their legacy, both through the hardware business and on the estate.


The good years

The family business blossomed. Right up until the mid 1960s, my grandfather enjoyed the freedom of finding his own international buyers of cocoa. So much so he even purchased cocoa from other small farms on the island. Most of the cocoa was bought by Rowntrees and Mackintosh's for their chocolate. During the season, between two and five thousand 200lb bags of dried cocoa beans were shipping every month. 
Cocoa was sold for competitive prices, negotiated between the buyer and seller. This mean the quality, productivity and consistency were always improving, and any profits were re-invested back into the estate. 


Things turn political

The Grenada Cocoa Association (GCA) was established in 1964 by the Government of Grenada, its purpose to ensure a secure market for all cocoa farmers of Grenada and to make way for a level playing field. In many ways this was a good thing so all farmers had a fair share, but this quickly stifled incentive for productivity and quality. With the buying price of cocoa controlled, it soon became more costly to produce the cocoa than to sell it.

It's difficult to pinpoint the exact factors that led to this as global events occurred during this time, but some would say this marked the beginning of the cocoa industry's slow decline on the island. Many cocoa farms at most operate at break-even or another business supports their cocoa production. In some cases, family's have abandoned their cocoa producing land entirely. 


how we continued

In the years proceeding the establishment of the GCA, the Ramdhannys continued to farm the land after Lawrence's death in 1990. His son Leslie, a trained agronomist looks after the land today. Like many farms, over the years the farm slowly went for profit to loss-making. Though we stayed faithful to the land, employing strict organic agricultural practices, continuing to intercrop, building soil and biodiversity with our long-standing 20-strong workforce of farmworkers. In 2017, we became organic-certified.


A new chapter


 Since the pandemic, I became more involved with the estate after the realisation that those 200+ acres of regeneratively farmed land and the longstanding farmworkers we employ must be continued and be rewarded for doing just that. Somehow with it's unique terrain, we created the perfect growing conditions for extremely bold flavour and high quality cocoa.

So we started exporting our cocoa again for the first time in 50 years, direct to chocolate-makers who value good cocoa and at fair prices to the farmer.


L'Esterre Chocolate is born


 I realised for this to really work, we need to be producing our own chocolate also. And so L'Esterre chocolate was born. Well nearly born. Call this first edit, the preview launch. Having learned the ways of cocoa processing and chocolate-making from our friends at Crayfish Bay plus a lot of trial and error, I started micro *micro* batch production of chocolate from my kitchen back in England. The cocoa is roasted into nibs in Grenada, before its journey to the UK where it's conched and hand tempered into chocolate buttons. We have a long way to go, but better to start small and know we're onto something good first.

So this is us, standing by our word in rewarding good agriculture, and ensuring good cocoa is shared with the world direct from those that grow it.