IT PRO­DUCES CHOCO­LATE AS FINE AS SWITZER­LAND’S

Lonely Planet (UK) - - São Tomé & Príncipe -

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

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