The history of São Tomé, the Chocolate Island

The disturbing history of São Tomé: between discoveries and challenges
São Tomé, a small island housed in the Gulf of Guinea, has a rich and turbulent history that has shaped its development and culture over the centuries. From its discovery by Portuguese explorers until its independence, São Tomé went through periods of colonization, exploitation, the struggle for its independence and economic development.

The history of São Tomé dates back to the 15th century, when the island was discovered by Portuguese navigators, led by João de Santarém and Pêro Escobar, during their exploration of the west coast of Africa. They were captivated by its natural beauty, lush vegetation and agricultural potential. The Portuguese quickly established a colony on the island and began cultivating sugar cane plantations.

Over the following centuries, São Tomé became an important center of sugar and coffee production by exploiting the forced labor of African slaves imported in large numbers. These plantations prospered for many years, contributing to the economic growth of the island and the Portuguese metropolis. However, the slave trade and inhumane working conditions have left deep scars in Sao Tome's history. The island sadly became a strong point for the slave trade and "more than six million people were deported between the 16th and 18th centuries from São Tomé" as Antonio de Almeida Mendes (Lecturer in Modern History) tells us. from the University of Nantes). In 1595, following a mutiny led by a maroon slave and the growth of the sugar industry requiring ever more land, the colonists were forced to move sugar cane plantations from São Tomé across the Atlantic to the Brazilian Northeast region. The decline of the sugar industry São Tomé gave way to cocoa, which quickly became the island's main crop. A golden age of cocoa was thus born, propelling São Tomé as one of the world's largest cocoa exporters, and the island's economy has benefited.

Amador, leader of the "Angolares" mutiny of 1595 led by maroon slaves and self-proclaimed "king of São Tomé". An insurrection which was defeated the same year by the Portuguese.

The trade in cocoa, sugar and coffee continued until the 18th century, when Portugal officially took the decision, in 1761, to abolish slavery within its colonial empire. However, the situation of Sao Tomian slaves did not improve, despite the financing of the trade in raw materials by Portuguese banking institutions.

In the 20th century, the history of São Tomé took a new turn with the development of nationalist movements, claiming the independence of the island from Portugal. Years of struggle finally resulted in the independence of Sao Tome and Principe in 1975, making the island Africa's youngest nation.
Since its independence, Sao Tome has faced many challenges including economic, political and social problems, notably poverty, corruption and political instability. However, the island has also experienced periods of growth and development, thanks to the exploitation of its natural resources, particularly oil (exploration stage).

Today, São Tomé continues its development and wishes to diversify its economy and improve the living conditions of its population by promoting sustainable tourism. São Tomé thus preserves its natural charm, its lush nature and its unique history.

Pico Cão Grande de São Tomé “big dog peak”, sadly surrounded by a modern palm oil farm.

Chocolate Island
The history of cocoa in São Tomé dates back to the 19th century (1850). After the decline of the sugar industry, planters turned to cocoa as a new cash crop, imported in 1850 by the Portuguese from Bahia (Brazil). The island's ideal climatic conditions, with its fertile soil and equatorial climate, have proven optimal for the growth of the cocoa tree.

Planters initiated vast cocoa plantations, cultivating the renowned Forastero Amelonado variety. Cocoa beans were harvested, fermented and dried before being shipped to international markets. São Tomé quickly became one of the largest cocoa exporters in the world, even rivaling other cocoa powerhouses of the time such as the British Gold Coast (Ghana).

Cocoa fermentation cooperative

The rise of cocoa production in São Tomé is closely linked to the history of slavery and colonization. Planters depended on the forced labor of African slaves to cultivate and harvest cocoa beans in Roça (agricultural structure that controlled production).

Following the island's independence, the history of cocoa in São Tomé also went through difficult times. Price fluctuations in the global market, political and economic conflicts have had an impact on this industry. Despite these challenges, São Tomé has managed to preserve its cocoa heritage and maintain rarer but high-quality production. Today, cocoa remains an essential element of the economy and culture of São Tomé, even if productivity is much lower than that experienced during its history.

Over time, São Tomé has acquired a worldwide reputation for the exceptional quality of its cocoa. Chocolatiers around the world are fond of this aromatic cocoa with its unique taste, its delicate flavor with aromas of plants and berries.

Porto Alegre cocoa tree in the south of the country

Presentation of the Chocolaties of the island

  • Claudio Corallo
With 40 years of experience in coffee and chocolate production, Claudio Corallo has worked mainly in Africa, as well as in Latin America, notably in Bolivia. In 1974, at the age of 23, he went to Zaire. After four years dedicated to processing and exporting coffee, he acquired and developed two abandoned plantations in the center of the country. In a short time, production reached 880 tons. This coffee of exceptional quality has been exported and appreciated in several countries.

In the early 1990s, the political situation deteriorated in Zaire, prompting Claudio to expand his work to São Tomé and Principe. His goal was to apply his vast knowledge in coffee production to create excellent cocoa. His biggest challenge was overcoming the constant bitterness of cocoa. Convinced that this was partly due to defects in the production and processing processes, as well as the characteristics of the fruits, Claudio decided to create his own laboratory. It was only through his field experiments and testing different samples of cocoa from his plantations at each stage of processing into chocolate that he was able to fully understand cocoa and identify the errors that caused its bitterness.
  • Diogo Vaz

After its renovation in 2014, Diogo Vaz established a plantation fully certified in organic farming, respecting its heritage and ancestral know-how. Within this adventure, a passionate team works with dedication to introduce this unique chocolate.

Today, Diogo Vaz is one of the oldest orchards on the island. It engages in innovative investments aimed at continually achieving excellence. Between the two cocoa harvest seasons, the local team takes care of the trees, ensuring that each vintage is sublimated. Thanks to its history, its passion and its roots in the region, Diogo Vaz has created an exceptional cocoa with unique aromas.

Diego Vaz plantation in the north of the country

Natanional Geographic:


Barickman, BJ (1994) '“A Bit of Land, Which They Call Roça”: Slave Provision Grounds in the Bahian Recôncavo, 1780-1860', Hispanic American Historical Review, 74(4), pp. 649–687. doi:10.1215/00182168-74.4.649.


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