IT PRODUCES CHOCOLATE AS FINE AS SWITZERLAND’S
In 1908, São Tomé was the largest producer of cocoa in the world, with 800 plantations. But when the Portuguese left in 1975, the estates fell into decay. Today the remaining 150 ‘roças’ are shadows of their former selves. Some have been reclaimed by the rainforest. Others have been taken over as homes, where children slide down Escherlike bannisters with unruly glee, bats roost above doorways, moss stains the walls and tiny goats frisk on crumbling steps. Claudio Corallo’s immaculate laboratory, on the edge of the capital, is poles apart. Neat rows of cardboard-packaged bars line the shelves, alongside metal scales and jars of candied ginger, orange peel and boozesoaked raisins. Beneath a glass dome, a vat of bubbling chocolate emits a faint fizzing sound. Claudio meticulously weighs out slabs of 75% cocoa, then stirs them into steaming water, pouring out a cup that’s rich and fragrant without a hint of bitterness. An avuncular Italian, who was clearly born with a moustache, he has a warmhearted laugh and sprightly inventor’s eyes. He has been called the best chocolate-maker on the planet – and yet he doesn’t actually like chocolate. ‘I’m a farmer, not a chocolatier,’ he says. ‘My work is in plantations, not in kitchens.’ A reluctant celebrity, he is now the nation’s only grower, maker and exporter of fine chocolate, sending his prized bars to high-end department stores and discerning chefs across the world. He likens it to the work of a carpenter. ‘The secret isn’t in the type of wood or the tools. It is in the work, experience and attention of the carpenter.’
Claudio Corallo’s lab is open for tours and tastings (£3.50; claudiocorallo.com). Omali Lodge’s eight-hour ‘East Coast Experience’ guided tour includes visits to cocoa plantations (£85pp incl lunch; omalilodge.com).
The old sanzalas (living quarters) at Roça Água-Izé plantation Claudio Corallo’s high-quality chocolate Cocoa beans ready for export. LEFT Processing the beans Cups of Claudio’s cocoa. LEFT A traveller’s palm outside Roça Água-Izé