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Mention the Cayman Islands and most people think of investment banking and diving. Us? We think of chocolate.

It all began when a sign for Icoa Chocolates enticed us into one of the Seven Mile Shops, on West Bay Road in Grand Cayman. The mouth-watering aroma of molten chocolate permeated the air.

Icoa Chocolates owner Shruty Nakhwa
Icoa Chocolates owner Shruty Nakhwa
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Shruty Nakhwa met us at a glass counter, filled with trays of beautifully decorated chocolate treats. A native of Bombay, India, Nakhwa moved to Canada in 1972. She attended Malaspina University - College, on Vancouver Island, where she learned the art of making hand-dipped and molded chocolates.

Nakhwa then moved to Toronto and worked at Wemyss Patissier-Chocolatier in Richmond Hill, which supplied chocolates to the King Edward Hotel. Before long, the King Edward offered her a job. At the same time, a friend told her about a job opening at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cayman. She applied and was hired.

Restaurant menu

After a year at the Hyatt, Shruty Nakhwa opened her own chocolatier in a small white building in George Town, the capital. She later moved and expanded the shop into a café.

Among the breakfast items on her menu are egg and cheese croissants and berry muffins. Drinks range from pineapple orange guava juice to cappuccino.

For lunch, sandwiches, like grilled eggplant with goat cheese, and salads, such as traditional Scottish salmon caesar, are popular.

Gourmet chocolate

Nonetheless, chocolate is what lures most people into Icoa Chocolates. What makes her products so special are the unique flavour combinations that evoke her tropical surroundings. Key lime zest adds tang to white chocolate in her top-selling Cayman key lime creations, shaped like scallop shells and tiny lobsters.

Making coconut truffles
Making coconut truffles
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Dark and milk chocolate enrobe a Cayman honey, cinnamon and nutmeg filling. Passion fruit and white chocolate combine decadently in luscious hearts that caress the taste buds.

It was impossible for us to pick one favorite. Should it be Cleopatra — a pyramid-shaped pistachio mousse on a cinnamon-praline base, a coconut truffle — coconut cream, coconut rum and white chocolate, enrobed in snowy coconut flakes, or Earl Grey, a dark chocolate melt-in-your-mouth delight, redolent with the fragrance of the delicate brew?

Fortunately, Nakhwa packs her chocolates in boxes of eight, 18 and 30. "All my packaging is made of biodegradable, recycled materials," she says, showing us the finely shredded driftwood and tissue. "Many of my customers are so environment-conscious that they bring back their old boxes for refills, rather than asking for a new box."

The company's name also reflects the environment. "Icoa, the Venezuelan goddess of water, was worshipped by the native Indians of the Paria peninsula, because she watered their cocoa bean trees," she explains. "My logo depicts the cocoa bean tree and the sun and water, which it needs to survive."

Mail order chocolate

Today, Shruty Nakhwa supplies chocolate to major hotels in Grand Cayman, as well as several restaurants. After enjoying Icoa chocolates on the island, tourists frequently develop cravings for them once they've returned home. As a result, Nakhwa runs a thriving mail order business.

Shruty Nakhwa holds trays of chocolates.
Shruty Nakhwa holds trays of chocolates.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Doesn't the Caribbean sun melt the chocolates before they arrive? Apparently not, according to Nakhwa. "I courier them by FedEx, and since I keep getting repeat orders, I assume there's no problem," she says. "I recently shipped 700 chocolates to Minnesota for a wedding."

Chocolate gifts

For special occasions, Nakhwa creates new combinations. "On Valentine's Day, I made a chocolate called Cupid, with crushed roasted walnuts and dried calimyrna figs, enveloped with dark chocolate," she says.

"For Mother's Day, it was an acorn-shaped treat called Aaron, with rice crisps and hazelnut paste smothered in milk chocolate."

Because Icoa chocolate contains no preservatives and only natural ingredients, Shruty Nakhwa recommends keeping them no longer than 10 days.

Not a problem. Our challenge is keeping them longer than 10 minutes!


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