Trinidad and Tobago’s Cocoa Guru

Tennille Alleyne, writing for T&T’s Guardian, profiles Astrida Saunders and her homegrown cocoa enterprise.

Nestled in the heart of Santa Cruz is a cocoa workshop. It’s where Astrida Saunders, (a 43 year old mother of two) works on weekends and nights assiduously churning out hundreds of packs of cocoa (for drinking), cocoa liqueurs and cocoa butter under her brand, Exotic Caribbean. A Tamana native and self-proclaimed “country girl”, Astrida was born to a mother who was teacher and a father who worked as a policeman. Together, they owned an agricultural estate where they worked part-time many moons ago, with the main fruit being cocoa. Astrida decided to follow in the family tradition of agriculture when she decided to pursue her degree in Agricultural Management at the United World College in Venezuela. Therefore it was no surprise that three years ago she decided to get into the cocoa business once again as a means of occupying her time as her children got older. Fortunately for this “cocoa-connoisseur” her one-time hobby has turned into a burgeoning cottage industry.

“Cocoa has always been in the family,” Astrida explained, “but I must say that it was Barry Joelfield (who was once the manager of the Cocoa Board) who gave me the inspiration when he said the value of the cocoa is in the bean. I then decided to make drinking chocolate but I did not have a clue about how to do it.” Inspired by her new idea, she decided to take a trip to the countryside to learn the process of making traditional drinking chocolate. “In the countryside people grew up on cocoa tea so they had the secret on how to make it. I really tapped into the knowledge of the older generation,” she said. Soon thereafter, Astrida and her brothers showcased their cocoa-making skills at a festival hosted by the Ministry of Tourism where people began to ask about actually buying the product. “I realised that there was a demand for it, so I decided to produce it for sale.”

As with any small business, Astrida began to make the drinking chocolate on a small scale in her home kitchen using the beans from her parents’ cocoa estate. She distributed them to nearby plant nurseries and souvenir shops where the response was phenomenal. Soon nationwide supermarkets jumped on board. “I felt if these large supermarkets sold them, I could not do it in my small kitchen, so I decided to renovate my home and invest in some machines with the money I made from selling the chocolate,” Astrida said. At that time, distribution expanded to the airport and Tobago. Ever the innovator, she then decided to diversify the flavours using orange peel, ginger, mint, lemongrass and chilli, noting, “The flavours I chose are the typical flavours you would get in the countryside and I decided to infuse them in the chocolate.”

Always ambitious, Astrida decided to expand her product line once again into a specially made cocoa liqueur. “Because of the positive feedback, I said that I wanted to stay within cocoa industry. When I was growing up, people always made homemade wines and liqueurs, so I drew from my childhood experiences.” Astrida worked with CARIRI and UWI to develop the liqueur which has been a runaway hit since she began to produce it. “I taste-tested it on friends and then gave out samples at World Food Day. The response was just great.”

Encouraged by the positive feedback, Astrida showcased her product at the Taste T&T Culinary Festival; it was sold out in record time. She also makes cocoa butter on a small scale by request. Although making the products takes hard work, the cocoa guru admits that it’s quite therapeutic and helps to keep her mind going. Overall, her products have had a global reach as she has showcased them at the Fancy Food Festival in Washington and she is due to leave shortly to showcase at the Food and Beverage Festival in Miami. Her cocoa products have also been featured at the Natural History Museum in London.

In just three years, Astrida’s success has exceeded all imaginable expectations. For her brand Exotic Caribbean, this is only the beginning of great things to come. “I would like within the next 5 years to have my products marketed commercially and also exported. I would also like to have my own traditional chocolate shop,” she says hopefully. “I am always working towards growth and I want to retire doing this. I want to be Astrida Saunders – someone who did something for cocoa in Trinidad and Tobago.”

For the original report go to

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