Have you ever dreamed of going to a chocolate farm and tasting a fresh chocolate fruit plucked straight from the tree? If so, this is your chance.
Of course you have! For those of you who are unaware, the name of the tree that produces chocolate is Theobroma cacao, and it can be found growing within 25 degrees of the equator. This places Hawaii on the very edge of the region in which it can be grown. Hawaii is the only state in the United States that is able to cultivate cacao, and the state actually has one of the highest concentrations of cacao farms that are accessible to tourists anywhere in the world, with a significant portion of these farms located on the Big Island. Additionally, there is a high concentration of chocolate makers in this area, with the majority of them producing chocolate in the same location, beginning with the cacao tree and ending with the chocolate bar.
Due to the high demand on the islands, Hawaiian chocolate can be difficult to track down outside of the islands. Cacao plantation tours are therefore one of the most interesting and unusual activities that you can participate in while on vacation in Hawaii. On each of these tours, in addition to tasting a fresh chocolate fruit, you will also learn all of the steps involved in making chocolate, the culture surrounding Hawaiian cacao, and how the production of chocolate in Hawaii contributes to sustainable farming practices in the surrounding area.
In contrast to the other chocolate travel guides that I have written, this one is more focused on farms than on shops; therefore, only addresses of shops that sell chocolate have been included.
- 1 Hawaiian Chocolate Culture
- 2 Big Island Travel Tips
- 3 Big Island Chocolate Shops (Retailers)
- 4 Waikoloa & Kailua-Kona Chocolate
- 5 Hamakua & Hilo Chocolate
- 6 Kalapana & Pahoa Chocolate
- 7 Hilo Chocolate & Cacao Festival
Hawaiian Chocolate Culture
The city of Honolulu and the island of Oahu as a whole receive much more tourism than the Big Island does; however, I would argue that the Big Island is a better destination for chocolate because of its abundance of cacao plantations. This region is home to the state’s greatest number of cacao producers and chocolate manufacturers than any other. Even though most of the farms are quite small when measured against the standards of the rest of the world, there are still plenty of trees available for demonstration and explanation.
Some of the farms even have a sufficient number of trees to conduct entire fermentations on their own, which indicates that they now have raw materials of a quality enough to be transformed into chocolate. As a result, Hawaii is the ideal location in the United States to acquire knowledge on chocolate. The Big Island in particular provides amazing opportunities to engage in one-on-one conversation with cacao producers and enlightening insights into the process of making chocolate.
It is important to keep in mind that the islands of Hawaii were produced by severe volcanic eruptions many thousands of years ago. On certain islands, such as the Big Island, there are still active volcanoes that make up sections of the landscape. The violent eruption of Mount Kilauea that took place a year ago caused a large number of people to be forced from their homes and caused significant damage to agricultural land. Cacao farms were located on some of this farmland; however, it is currently safe to travel to the farms and regions located on the southern side of the island.
The prices for farm tours range from $40 to $65 USD per person; however, many of the tours do not charge for children to participate. It is truly the ideal outing for families, and fortunately, each visit lasts the entire afternoon, on average clocking in at two hours and being jam-packed with tastings.
Big Island Travel Tips
Place names. The following is a map of the Big Island for anybody else who simply can’t seem to recall the differences between all of the Hawaiian cities that start with K. It is accurate to say that the Big Island is the largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago, but the island’s official moniker is the Big Island of Hawai’i. Do not allow the fact that the letters w and v in the Hawaiian language are pronounced the same way throw you off when you are trying to pronounce place names.
The Big Island is, indeed, rather large. It takes around an hour to traverse the island at any one of two or three sites, and it takes approximately two hours to go along either shore. This may not seem like a lot of time, but if you intend on stopping at more than one chocolate shop, it can really mount up! Be careful to get an early start on your days since most locations begin to shut around 4 or 5 in the afternoon.
Cell signal. Outside of Hilo, the service is quite terrible, and there are multiple spots along the highway where you won’t get any signal at all. This can be scary if it starts raining and your car hydroplanes, like mine did at several points, so make sure you download Google Maps on your phone before you start out and drive slowly. Also, if it does start raining, make sure you drive slowly.
Big Island Chocolate Shops (Retailers)
When you just don’t have the time to go on a Hawaiian chocolate tour, or you want a nice large selection of makers, you’ll want to visit a retailer. The shops below have a decently large selection of local Hawaiian chocolates, and are located across the big island. If you want to get to the local selection as fast as possible, ask about Sharkey’s or Pa’auilo Chocolate; they have the biggest distribution locally. Chocolate retailers are marked on the map in purple.
The Locavore Store
The smallest of all the chocolate retailers on the Big Island, Locavore sells only products made in Hawaii without making any exceptions. This indicates that those of you who have a passion for patronizing locally owned businesses but do not have the time to visit each one individually, this is the place for you to make your stop. Its location in the heart of downtown Hilo is another advantage of the establishment. When I went in, I happily filled an entire reusable bag with local honey, jams, and chocolates, spending close to one hundred dollars United States Dollars. Requesting a sample of anything that piques your interest is always a good idea because you never know what they might have in stock.
Address: 60 Kamehameha Ave, Hilo, HI 96720, USA
Hours: 9am-6pm, weekdays; 9am-5pm, Sat.; 10am-4pm, Sun.
Island Naturals (3 locations)
This Hawaiian business is comparable to Whole Foods, but on a much more modest scale. They have a large section devoted to fruit and prepared foods, as well as a separate section for chocolate and sweets, where a number of the neighborhood’s chocolate producers have set up shop. However, in contrast to the supermarket chain Foodland, they have a greater variety of “raw” and “super food” chocolates from the United States and other countries, in addition to a bigger overall assortment of organic foods.
Address: 1221 Kilauea Ave, Hilo, HI 96720, USA (Hilo location)
Hours: 7am-8pm, Mon.-Sat; 8am-7pm Sun. (Hilo hours)
Abundant Life Natural Foods
This is your neighborhood natural foods store, and everything in it is organic. There is a strong emphasis on vegan and vegetarian options, and you can also get ready-made meals to go. There is a limited selection of chocolates that are made locally, such as Sharkey’s and Pa’auilo Chocolates, as well as chocolates that are imported from the mainland and other countries. The fact that Abundant Naturals, or “Abundant Naturals” as it’s known around town, is located right in the middle of downtown Hilo, right next to Locavore, is its primary selling point. Because of this, it is the most convenient location for a chocolate stop as well as a lunch break.
Address: 292 Kamehameha Ave, Hilo, HI 96720, USA
Hours: Mon/Tue/Thu/Friday, 8:30am-7pm; Wed/Sat 7am-7pm; Sun 10am-5pm
Foodland (3 locations)
Although Foodland is primarily and first a huge supermarket, they also provide a range of regional American and Hawaiian chocolates that is far greater than what is often seen in a supermarket of this kind. If you are short on time but know that you will be passing by a Foodland in the near future, it is well worth your while to stop in and spend a few moments browsing the chocolate options available there. Be careful to inquire about whether or not they have a specialized area for Hawaiian chocolate bars, since they may have one on occasion. Be more precise and ask for “high quality” Hawaiian chocolates, and feel free to namedrop “Manoa” if they direct you to the Hawaiian Host chocolates. If they do, you may ask about them there (one of the easiest-to-find Hawaiian chocolates).
Address: 16-586 Old Volcano Rd #102, Kea’au, HI 96749, USA
Hours & Prices: 6am-10pm, daily (Kea’au location)
Waikoloa & Kailua-Kona Chocolate
The majority of Big Island visitors choose to stay in the Kona and Captain Cook areas, which are also home to a large number of military families. To everyone’s good fortune, there are also some stunning cacao farms waiting to be explored on the western side of the Big Island. It’s not just beaches, though those are lovely too. There are other things to see and do.
Original Hawaiian Chocolate
On the Big Island, you will not find an older chocolate factory that is still in operation than this one. Forastero milk chocolate, forastero dark chocolate, and criollo dark chocolate are the three varieties of chocolate that are sold at this store, which was established in the 1980s and uses only Hawaiian cacao in its bean-to-bar process. Currently, the shop sells these varieties of chocolate in an effort to highlight Hawaii as a whole.
When it comes to the production of their bars and other goods, the company makes use of both the cacao trees that grow on their property and cacao purchased from local farmers. As soon as you enter their shop, an employee will offer you a little paper cup with curated samples of each type of chocolate. I’ll let you judge the quality of the chocolate on your own, but I didn’t buy very much of it.
The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory only gives tours twice a week, but I wasn’t on the island on either of those days, so I was only able to go into their shop and buy some chocolate. Although it is on the shorter end of the spectrum of cacao tours, other visitors have only had positive things to say about their experience. All tours, which begin at 9 am on Wednesdays and at both 9 am and 11 am on Fridays, require that you make reservations in advance. The tours are held directly next to their shop and cost $20 per person to participate in.
Address: 78-6772 Makenawai Street, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii 96740
Shop Hours: 10am-3pm, Tue.-Fri.
Red Water Cafe
Red Water Cafe is primarily a restaurant, making it an unusual destination for someone who is passionate about chocolate. However, the food here is quite tasty, so it’s definitely worth checking out. However, the proprietor, David Abrahams, also makes his own chocolate from bean to bar, which he sells in the restaurant and incorporates into the dishes that he serves.
The chocolate by itself is delicious, with a strong chocolate flavor and an earthy undertone, but the kava bar has a bitter and numbing aftertaste. Although the chocolate is delicious and made in-house, the flourless chocolate cake is the item I would recommend ordering above all others.
Address: 65-1299 Kawaihae Rd, Waimea, HI 96743
Cafe Hours: 3-11pm, Mon.-Sat.
Since 2001, Una and Leon have had cacao trees on their property, and for much longer than that, they have been adding to their agroforestry plot. Each excursion on the farm lasts for two hours and covers the entire area of their productively farmed land. However, planted all around them, both above and below, are different levels of flora. The cacao trees can be found in the backyard. Every acre of land serves a specific function, whether it be for growing tall trees, coffee bushes, or ground-covering plants like turmeric or tomatoes. I’ll let Una tell you more specifics about how their plants interact with one another because she’s been taking care of the farm for more than four decades now.
At the conclusion of the tour, you will have the opportunity to sample some of the chocolate-based goods that the couple makes right there in their shop, including chocolate bars, dried banana slices, and macadamia nuts covered in chocolate. Tours can be arranged upon request with at least one day’s notice; they cost $15 and come with a $5 credit that can be applied to any purchases made during the tour. A word of advice: don’t use the address that Google gives for their farm because it won’t take you there; instead, pull over once you reach Green Mountain Rd. and follow the directions on their map from there. After confirming your booking, you will receive an email with the address.
Ocean Grace Farms
I’m not sure if I should include Ocean Grace on the itinerary, but I’ve heard that the family who runs the business is very kind, and that their tours are very comprehensive. Despite my attempts to get in touch with you, you have not responded to my messages.
However, if you will be in the immediate area and would like to tour a cacao farm in the vicinity, it is in your best interest to get in touch with them in advance. Marty and Nancy, who are husband and wife, are the owners of the farm and take primary responsibility for its care. After confirming your appointment, you will get an email with the address.
Kona Origins Chocolate
Cacao farming is the family’s livelihood. They have been making chocolate for more than half a decade, and they have been selling their wares at the Keauhou Farmer’s Market in Kailua on a weekly basis. In addition to the chocolate bars that they produce, they also sell fresh cacao pods, roasted coffee, macadamia nuts, and a variety of different fresh fruits that are in season from their farm. If you place an order on their website, you can get free domestic shipping on any of their chocolate bars, which range from milk chocolate with 51% cocoa content to dark chocolate with 75% cocoa content.
Address: Keauhou Farmer’s Market, 78-6831 Alii Dr, Kailua, HI 96740
Market Hours: 8am-12pm, Saturdays
Hamakua & Hilo Chocolate
The eastern coast of the Big Island, namely the region around Papaikou and the Hamakua Forest Reserve, is where the vast majority of the Big Island’s cacao is produced. As a result, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the majority of the Hawaiian chocolate tours are located along that side of the island. However, the east coast of the island is also home to a few tree-to-bar chocolate brands, though their farms aren’t really open to the general public. Notably, both Aloha Feels and Pa’auilo Chocolate are engaged in the production and sale of chocolate, although neither business now conducts farm visits.
This is a small storefront, but behind the counter is a large, open work area where the chocolate is made. It is easy to miss the business if you aren’t looking for it specifically, yet it is located right along the main street in the middle of downtown Hilo. When you first walk in, look to the left on the counter, and sample some of the chocolates that they have available. They have a variety of chocolates, ranging from 80% dark to 50% milk, as well as sugar-free options.
The store offers an extensive menu of chocolate and coffee-based beverages, as well as bags containing a variety of coffee roasts and small baggies containing chocolate-covered treats. They are in the process of developing a CBD product line based on cacao. Tom Menezes, the proprietor of the business, has been working with cacao for decades and is quite knowledgeable about the process of turning cacao beans into delicious chocolate. In addition, Hawaiian Crown operates a retail location on Oahu as well as a farm just outside of Hilo, which visitors can tour on Mondays, Wednesdays, or Fridays at 2:00 p.m. for a fee of $15 per person.
Address: 160 Kilauea Ave, Hilo, HI 96720, USA (shop location)
Shop Hours: 8:30am-5pm, Tue.-Sat.; 10am-4pm, Mon.
Mauna Kea Cacao Farm
Since spring of 2019, Mauna Kea Cacao, a relatively recent arrival on the scene, has been providing farm tours, which are now available in both English and Japanese. The young Hawaiian cacao farm was established in 2011, and through the devoted efforts of the owners, Susan and John, it has been expanded each year since it was first established. They take kids and adults of all ages through the laborious process of growing their own cacao and then making their own chocolate during the weekly tours that they offer.
The tour will take you across their gorgeous farm, where you will have the opportunity to pick and crack open your very own cacao pod. The tour is half a mile long. After that, you will be led over to the drying beds and shown any active cacao fermentation that is taking place while you are there. At the end of the class, you will have the opportunity to taste their cacao, which has won multiple awards, as well as some chocolates made by American craft chocolate makers. The cost of the tour is $40 for adults and $15 for children aged 6 to 17 years old. The tour lasts for 90 minutes. With at least a week’s notice, we can organize intimate private tours just for you.
Address: 10 minutes’ drive north of Hilo; address for GPS & directions emailed after booking is confirmed.
Hours: public tours offered at 10am & 1pm on Thursday (in English) and at 10am on Wednesdays (in Japanese)
Puna Chocolate (2 locations)
Puna Chocolate is expanding at an astounding rate, and the company now has three locations across the United States. During my visit to their shop in downtown Hilo, a very pleasant young man was managing the floor, which also features other Hawaiian-made handcrafts such as instruments and other types of sweets besides chocolate. You will be given a couple of samples of whatever they have chosen to open that day as soon as you walk through the door. This will give you a good idea of whether or not you would like to make an investment in a bar or two.
According to the color of their wrapper, the lineup from Puna features either a 70% dark or 50% milk base, and it also includes a wide variety of interesting local inclusions. The plain Dark Milk and the dark Honey Berry Wine were my two favorite varieties of the bars that I tried and ultimately purchased. They also have a bar that is 90% dark, which is neither sweet nor bitter and has a flavor profile that is predominately cocoa-based but in very limited supply.
Address: 126 Keawe St, Hilo, HI 96720, USA (Hilo location)
Hours:varied. Open at 9am Mon.-Sat. & 10am Sun; closed 6:30pm Sun./Mon, 7pm Tue.-Thu., 8pm Fri./Sat.
This 1000-acre farm, which was formerly known as Mahilani, is home to a number of cacao trees—enough, in fact, that they have been producing Hawaiian chocolate for a number of years. The estates actually produce cacao products such as cocoa butter, cocoa powder, and cocoa tea; therefore, they must have a large enough swath of cacao growing to warrant purchasing a cocoa butter press. Other cacao products produced by the estates include cocoa nibs, cocoa liquor, and cocoa nibs in tea form.
But, if I’m being completely honest, Lavaloha doesn’t have much of a presence other than their products, and I wasn’t able to find much information on their estates. They give tours of their plantation on a regular basis and even provide a little cart to take you from one location to the next during the tour. On the other hand, if you don’t have the time to visit their store, you can still find their wares for sale in a variety of stores located all over the island. There are four tours available each day, and the cost is $30 for adults, $5 for children ages 6 to 12, and children under the age of 5 are admitted free of charge.
Address: 1820 Amauulu Rd, Hilo, HI 96720, USA
Hours: 9am-5pm, daily
Hilo Shark’s Chocolate
On the Big Island, one of the most well-known brands of Hawaiian chocolate is called Sharkey’s, which is also known as Hilo Shark’s Chocolate. You may get their chocolates in stores located all around the island, but there is something quite magical about tasting a chocolate that has just been pulled out of the melangeur. Their farm tour takes you all over their cacao, coffee, and vanilla farm, which happens to be situated in the same location that produces the majority of Hawaii’s commercial cacao. It’s no surprise that the trees don’t want to go when the area is so lovely to look at!
Some of their cocoa trees are well over a decade old, yet they grow new saplings every month to replace the older ones. Some of these cacao seedlings may be seen at the entrance of their property; the owner, Tom Sharkey, is frequently referred to as the “Johnny Appleseed” of the cacao industry. Many of these seedlings will be planted on farms owned by other individuals. Several decades ago, the family business was coffee, but they eventually branched out into cacao, and then they extended into vanilla after that. They now collaborate with other nearby farmers to ferment and dry their cacao right there on the farm, which ultimately results in the production of chocolate.
You may buy Sharkey’s Chocolate from a variety of stores located around Hilo, as well as at the Hilo Farmer’s Market, their café located just north of Hilo, or after your farm tour at the farm itself. Other locations where you can get Sharkey’s Chocolate include.
Address: 1672 Old Mamalahoa Hwy #28, Honomu, HI 96728, USA (cafe address)
Hours: 8am-4pm, daily
Kahi Ola Mau Farm (Honoka’a Chocolate)
This is the first Hawaiian cocoa plantation that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing. Mike, the proprietor, offered me a private tour at one of their regularly scheduled tour times; however, if other people had signed up for the trip, I would have been accompanied by others. The first stop on our trip was at their little chocolate business, where the proprietor, Mike, prepares and tempers all of his chocolate by hand. As we made our way down and then back up the property, we were given information on the history of the farm, including its cocoa grove, white pineapple fruits, and many different types of cane grass.
Mike has a few different occupations, one of which is serving as the operations manager for Kuleana Rum Factory. During my visit, he was in the process of planting one of each existing cane grass varietal on his land, as a kind of living museum for sugar cane, including native Hawaiian sugar varietals. This was going to be his collection of native Hawaiian sugar cane varieties. Mike is able to tell you all about each and every tropical fruit that is grown on the farm, which includes coffee, bananas, miracle fruits, and pretty much every other tropical fruit that comes to mind. It would be a mistake to skip out on his “white pineapple frosty”! After confirming your appointment, you will get an email with the address.
Hamakua Chocolate Farm
In the native Hawaiian language, Hamakua translates to “breath of the God (or ancestors),” which is a reference to the trade winds that blow along the coast of Hamakua. They deliver copious amounts of precipitation and a perpetually tropical atmosphere, both of which contribute to the fact that this area is renowned for the abundance of delicious fruits and exquisite flowers it produces. One of the cacao farms on the Big Island that is easily accessible to visitors is the Hamakua Chocolate Farm, which can be found less than ten minutes north of Hilo.
They do not have a predetermined tour schedule, but rather try to accommodate tourists based on the requests they make. Since the winter months on the mainland are peak season, it is important to make reservations in advance during those months. The tours go for around two and a half to three and a half hours and include a walk around their farm, an explanation of how chocolate is manufactured, and some background information on the Hawaiian chocolate scene. If you would want to be even more in touch with the natural world, Dan and Berndt, the proprietors, also offer two rooms that you may rent. After confirming your appointment, you will get an email with the address.
Kalapana & Pahoa Chocolate
Despite the fact that the southeastern part of the Big Island is still recovering from the volcanic eruptions that occurred in 2018, it is currently safe for tourists to visit the area. In addition, there are two places in the area that are worth visiting, each of which has its own special appeal.
Maddy Smith, a former chocolate tour guide who is now producing her very own chocolate made from tree to bar, is the brains behind the Barefoot Chocolatini brand. Maddy collaborates with a number of different locations, including small farms located to the north of Hilo and the Hawaiian Sanctuary located in Pahoa, in order to provide a wide range of activities that are related to Hawaiian chocolate. Her home base is the city of Kalapana.
These tours include the Pahoa Cacao Farm Tours, the Hilo Chocolate Bar Crawl, and the Bean To Bar Chocolate Farm Tours. All of these tours have received overwhelmingly positive feedback, and for good reason. Maddy is very knowledgeable about the local chocolate and cacao scene as well as the process of making chocolate from tree to bar, and she offers visitors who are curious a good perspective on the topic. After the booking is confirmed, an email will be sent with the meeting place.
Check out the interview I did with Maddy to learn more about her.
Chocolate (Kokoleka) Farm
AT THIS TIME, THE FARM IS NOT AVAILABLE FOR USE. Even though she is one of the newest chocolate guides on the Big Island, Lynda, the owner of Kokoleka Farm, is not the least bit daunted by the responsibility of maintaining a farm. The majority of her cacao is around ten years old currently, but some of the younger trees were just planted in the last few years; this adds additional maintenance steps to the whole operation. During her tours, you will begin with a little history of the farm, but you will move on to tastings very fast after that.
During the duration of the trip, you will have the opportunity to sample seasonal fruits such as cocoa, passion fruit, and breadfruit, all of which will be harvested directly from the trees. The fact that Kokoleka is the only cocoa farm in Pahoa that offers tours at the moment makes it an exceptionally one-of-a-kind experience for those of you who traveled to the south in order to connect with nature. If you are interested in being close to nature but do not currently have lodging reservations, Lynda also has a room available for rent on her property. After confirming your appointment, you will get an email with the address.
Hilo Chocolate & Cacao Festival
This is the first annual festival that is only devoted to the Hawaiian cacao growers and chocolate producers who are located on the Big Island. It is currently in its second year. Participants in the event include almost all of the island’s chocolate manufacturers as well as a sizeable portion of the island’s cacao growers. The East Hawaii Cacao Association, which has been around for only about half a decade, is the one in charge of putting on this event.
Visitors may anticipate having access to a large number of samples of Hawaiian chocolate, as well as cacao producers from across the globe and informed individuals working in the Hawaiian cacao sector. Cacao saplings will be provided free of charge to the first 750 attendees, and there will be many opportunities throughout the day to take a tour of the cacao farm.
Festival Venue: Hilo Hawaiian Hotel, 71 Banyon Drive, Hilo, Hawaii
Date: Saturday, April 13th, 2019 (entrance is free)