Bittersweet: remembering Mott Green

Franka Philip remembers the late Mott Green and his vision for Grenadian chocolate

Mott GreenThe Grenada Chocolate Company headquarters in Hermitage. Photograph courtesy Celia Sorhaindo / Tropical Ties Dominica

In the past, when friends visited Grenada, they brought back quaint little packets of nutmeg and spices with some cocoa balls. We’d usually take out the cocoa, and toss the nutmeg into a spice bottle in the cupboard. The cocoa would be grated and made into delicious cocoa tea — and that was as far as Grenadian cocoa went for me.

Fast forward a few years to London, and I’m shopping in a supermarket, where among the posh chocolate brands like Green and Black’s and Valrhona sat a chocolate bar from Grenada. The Grenada Chocolate Company’s brightly coloured wrapper — depicting the Caribbean Sea framed by branches laden with yellow and orange cocoa pods — put a smile on my face, because it looked so much like home.

The seventy-one per cent dark chocolate bars were impressive, and I felt they more than held their own against more popular brands. I did a little research about the company behind this chocolate, and discovered it was run by a hugely passionate American man who had fallen in love with Grenada. I didn’t know much more about Mott Green and the grand vision he had for Grenadian cocoa until recently, when, sadly, I read his obituary — and discovered that the idealistic driving force behind the Grenada Chocolate Company had developed a system of farming and manufacturing chocolate that was quite revolutionary.

Mott Green was born David Friedman in Staten Island, New York. He studied for a degree in engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, but dropped out months before graduation. Embarking on a bohemian existence, he lived in abandoned houses with groups of anarchists and helped feed the homeless by getting food that would otherwise be dumped by restaurants. While living this bohemian dream, he put his engineering skills to use, and Green assembled appliances and systems based on solar power in the neighbourhoods where he lived.

According to the New York Times, Green’s love affair with Grenada began as a child, when his father, a doctor, took the family to the island for several winters while he taught at the medical school there. He cemented this relationship in the mid 1990s, when convinced by a Grenadian friend living in New York that he should visit. After arriving with very little money or material things, it was only a matter of time before Green fell in love with Grenadians and their cocoa. Green himself started to produce his own cocoa balls and cocoa tea in his bamboo house in Hermitage, which would become the base for the chocolate factory.

After studying the techniques Grenadian farmers were using, he became convinced that fine chocolate could be produced on the island. In 1999, he and his business partner Doug Brown established the Grenada Chocolate Company. “My progression,” he told D magazine in Dallas in 2012, “was activist, love Grenada, love cocoa, love machines and tinkering, making chocolate, and doing it all without hurting the land.”

The Food Programme on BBC Radio 4 had been following Green for several months before he died to make a documentary about the chocolate and his vision. In many cocoa-producing nations, farmers and workers have been exploited by middlemen working for chocolate producers across the world. In some ways, the Fairtrade movement has tried to address this imbalance, and, as Green told The Food Programme, his vision was to create a co-operative of cocoa farmers and chocolate makers so they could benefit directly from cocoa farming.

The Grenada Chocolate Company pays cocoa farmers twice the going rate for their cocoa, and all the workers in the factory are paid equally. This seems like a simple and obvious idea, but it was new, and it was the first time that any country grew cocoa and produced chocolate for export. Usually, cocoa farmers sell their beans to companies who make the chocolate and then distribute it around the globe. So rather than boasting that their cocoa beans go into some of the finest chocolate in the world, Grenadians can lay claim to producing top class chocolates themselves. “I wanted to create a group of self-empowered cocoa makers who would be in control of the whole supply chain,” Green told the BBC.

Since he and his team had control of the entire process, they were able to experiment with how they fermented the cocoa beans and therefore determine the flavour they wanted in their chocolate. “It’s interesting how so many chocolate makers don’t get involved in the fermenting process,” he said. “The fermenting part affects the flavour so much. It puts us in the interesting position of being able to make the most of our beans, flavour-wise.”

As any cook knows, working with chocolate in a tropical climate is not an easy thing. The Grenada Chocolate Company’s award-winning chocolates especially fascinated chocolatiers in Europe. Chantal Coady of Rococo Chocolates was the first to sell the bars in Britain. When interviewed by The Food Programme, she marvelled at how Green and his team managed to create such excellent chocolate in tropical conditions.

“It’s extremely hot and humid. To make chocolate, you need very controlled, almost laboratory type conditions, a constant temperature of about eighteen degrees C to align the crystal structure to make a chocolate bar. It’s very difficult when you don’t have good electricity, and when you’re starting with a temperature of almost thirty degrees outside, it’s almost impossible,” she said.

Green built the machines to suit the small scale of the operation. He used exercise bikes to power one of the mills and solar power to run the operation. According to the New York Times, Green’s company only recently became profitable. This was due in part to the opening of a shop in Grenada that sells treats made from its chocolate.

Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper noted that, with a weekly output of less than three hundred pounds, Grenada Chocolate Company chocolate is some of the most expensive in the world. (A bar of Grenada dark seventy-one per cent costs £5.50, or US$8.37). But it won many fans for its bold flavours, which Green attributed to Grenada’s volcanic soils, and the walls of his factory featured numerous awards in the category of best dark organic chocolate bar from the London-based Academy of Chocolate.

Green’s tragic death, as a result of an accident while fixing electrical equipment at the factory, shocked many. Chantal Coady said he was “taken at the prime of his life.”

“Mott was truly a son of Grenada. He came in, shook the place up, and he cared so deeply about the country. They definitely claim him as one of their own,” she said.

Mott Green’s vision — for making top-class chocolate that benefited the people of Grenada — is his legacy. And it’s not just for Grenada, but for cocoa producers all over the world who want their people to be empowered and in charge of their destinies.

 

  • Vanessa Kimbell

    Beautifully written. I was the reporter for The Food Programme. It was such a shock when he died, but it is great to see that the company is going strong. I think Mott would have been really pleased about that.