Source: San Juan Estate
Type: Single Estate
Province: Gran Couva
Tasting Notes: vanilla, classic chocolate
Cacao from the San Juan Estate grows under a canopy of banana trees and Immortelles—a nitrogen-fixing tree that floods the forest with brilliant vermillion flowers at the end of the rainy season each year. Immortelles are affectionately known as madre de cacao for the way Trinidadian cacao thrives beneath them. The San Juan Estate is one of the oldest estates in Trinidad, tracing its operations back to 1870. Situated near the town of Gran Couva, in the Montserrat hills in the center of the island, the estate offers an ideal landscape for growing cacao—famous for the free-draining sandstone soils that are so ideally suited to cultivation that they’ve garnered the nickname “chocolate soils.” The microclimate lends itself to reliably consistent fermentation and drying.
San Juan Estate may be old, but the story of cacao in Trinidad is much older. In the late 17th century, Spanish monks who were on a colonizing mission landed in the Montserrat hills, and promptly began cultivating a delicate varietal of cacao called Criollo. Between 1727 and 1733, a blight wiped out the country’s entire crop, and new stock was brought from the Orinoco basin in eastern Venezuela.
These new plants—surmised to be a variety of Forastero cacao called Amelonado, based on recent DNA testing—were hardier and more disease resistant than the Criollo, and the two varieties crossed and thrived. While some controversy remains around the question of whether or not Trinidad was the site at which this new hybrid, Trinitario, first occurred—rather than, say, in the lower Amazon from where the Spanish may have carried the hybrid up the Orinoco—we do know that Trinitario’s success on Trinidad inspired more genetic crossings in cacao-growing regions across the world and popularized Forastero propagation.
At the turn of the 20th century, after another widespread blight, scientists planted a set of experimental seedlings collected from the Western Amazon by a plant geneticist named F.J. Pound, cultivating them on select farms across Trinidad. Some of the heartiest cultivars were crossed with the robust Trinitario, and the resulting hybrids were classified as Trinidad Select Hybrids (TSH), and soon spread to plantations across the globe. Trinidad is still home to the prolific cacao research center, the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture, where this type of research still takes place.
The San Juan Estate is planted principally with TSH varieties, but the older clones have recently been swapped out for newer clones that offer the benefit of higher yields and better immunity, while maintaining the flavor notes that Trinidadian cacao is known for. The estate is also famous for continued practice of traditional techniques, including grading cacao with an antique machine from 1905. For many years, the estate has slated their export exclusively for Valrhona, but a recent surplus created by the higher yielding hybrids has made their cacao available to new markets. We’re excited to work with cacao of such an interesting lineage and much-loved flavor.
The bar we make this these beans is creamy and chocolatey, with notes of chicory, honey, and a touch of vanilla.