Hawaiian Chocolate & Cacao Culture

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Visitors to the farm have traveled from all over the globe, and their demographics vary from small groups of people on a corporate retreat to young families and individuals on vacation. The need to know more about the provenance of their food is something that all of them have in common. They are interested in learning all there is to know about its past, from the tree to the bar. They inquire as to who selects the pods and whether or not the farm makes use of any pesticides. Where are the various pieces of equipment obtained?

Maddy does not always know the answers to the questions. However, she is quick to let you know if she is unsure about anything, and she is happy to search up the solution or ask a local acquaintance. Because there is a lot of information to learn about cacao and chocolate, and beyond that, there is a lot of information to learn about Hawai’i and how its many different microclimates effect all of the minute intricacies of manufacturing chocolate. Although it would take a number of lives to learn all there is to know, it does not imply that individuals do not endeavor to accomplish this goal.

Maddy has only been on the Big Island for the last four years, but in that short amount of time, she has seen a rise in the amount of interest shown by farmers in the process of cultivating cacao. In part, this may be attributed to the mainland’s artisan chocolate culture having an impact, but it’s also because consumers are taking a greater interest in all aspects of the food they eat. Because we now have easier access to knowledge, the influence that the food we eat has on us is much more readily apparent, which has stoked a desire inside each of us to have a deeper understanding of this subject.

After all, you are the product of your diet.

However, even the marvels of creation may become tedious to contemplate if they are only presented in the form of a sequential list of stages. It seems that the tales we tell about the things we eat have grown more interesting to us than the foods themselves. This may be due to the fact that we have gotten less intrigued with the foods themselves. “Every time I leave a chocolate maker or cacao farmer, I am re-inspired and amazed by all the many ways people accomplish the same thing,” says Maddy. “Every time I leave a chocolate maker or cacao farmer, I learn something new.” Her function is distinct from that of the other creators she collaborates with and the customers she guides on tours of the studios. It is not need to invent anything in regard to this chocolate recipe since Maddy is the storyteller who bridges the distance between them.

The breadth and depth of her narratives are improved with each new nugget of information that she absorbs on chocolate and cacao. Everyone in her audience, regardless of whether they were locals or tourists, always left having acquired at least one new interesting statistic or number regarding chocolate and cacao. For instance, the vast majority of people are unaware of the fact that chocolate may be made at home, despite the fact that this is a hobby pursued by many of the state’s cacao producers. Because of this, they are able to increase the value of their harvest, which they can then sell on the local market.

Even while there are more than a dozen individuals who make chocolate only on the Big Island, the most of them operate incredibly tiny businesses, and you may not even be aware of them if it weren’t for people like Maddy. During her chocolate bar crawls, she takes guests on a tour of the chocolate shops that are located in the tranquil town of Hilo. They are led through the different processes involved in the production of chocolate over the course of a few hours and given the opportunity to sample chocolate that was produced using a range of Hawaiian cacao terroirs.

There are now only approximately a half dozen distinct growing zones in Hawaii producing enough cacao to identify and promote as independent Hawaiian cacao origins. These regions are all located on the island of Hawaii. However, Maddy and her coworkers in the cacao industry are working hard to alter that in the coming years, with the goal of making Hawaii the Napa Valley of Chocolate (although with a few flights in between).

Since people often travel for food and wine, it stands to reason that they would also travel for chocolate. Maddy’s plan calls for the creation of a cacao farm map as well as an established cacao road. Along this route, tourists will be able to stop at a variety of various farms without any restrictions. It wouldn’t be too difficult to make and sell quite unique chocolate terroirs on the same island, given all of the characteristics that play a part in the taste of chocolate, as well as all of the varied things you can do with cacao.

Maddy is optimistic that they will be able to create something really unique and memorable throughout all of the islands because to the many opportunities for local food and drink pairings, as well as sampling of Hawaiian and worldwide chocolates. In a very short amount of time, both tourists and residents will no longer be required to ponder the origins of the components that make up their chocolate. However, one of the challenges that Maddy’s has had to face is a lack of background information on Hawaiian chocolates.

As a result of the pitiful quantity of foreign and mainland American handmade chocolate accessible in Hawai’i, customers have no alternative reference points for either the price or taste of other small-batch chocolates. This is a problem for both the chocolate industry and consumers.

Maddy is now working on a solution to that issue in the form of a chocolate subscription box; however, the business of distributing chocolate is a new venture for her. Cacao has been grown in Hawai’i for a number of years by farmers and chocolate manufacturers with whom she has been collaborating, but the island’s demand for the crop is only now beginning to increase. It is a gamble to include international chocolates in the mix, but so was relocating to Hawaii four years ago, which improved her family’s chocolate tale in a positive way.

If there’s one thing that Maddy’s experience with Barefoot Chocolatini has taught her, it’s that you should always go for the things that make you happy, even if they scare you.

“You have to determine where your very lowest point is in order to be able to rebuild with a solid foundation.”

The pursuit of the truth is Maddy’s primary motivation. She is interested in knowing the complete, unvarnished truth about whatever it may be. Consequently, what initially consisted of an interest just in unprocessed cacao has developed into a wider interest in the fruit as a whole as well as the connection that humans have with it. People evolve along with their shifting perspectives and realities. But that initial glimmer of joy has kept her on a meandering road, trying to find a middle ground between telling the truth and following her search of happiness. A pursuit that does not necessarily need her to choose one over the other at all times for her.

at least in situations when chocolate is involved.

Paradise. The vast majority of individuals have this conception of Hawaii. Pineapples may be seen here, along with palm trees that swing in the breeze when the wind blows. Macadamia nuts and hula dancers may pop into our heads sometimes, but in general, we picture a tropical beach setting rather than a rain forest. However, these photographs just scratch the surface of the possibilities that Hawaii has to offer, as well as all of the numerous one-of-a-kind activities that can be done on Oahu and the Big Island. In addition to this, they pay no attention at all to the colonial past that was instrumental in the formation of the state of Hawaii in the first place.

In point of fact, pineapples, macadamia nuts, and sugar cane aren’t even native to Hawaii; rather, they were introduced there by colonists hundreds of years ago. This is true for the majority of items that are growing on the Hawaiian islands. Over the course of many decades, landowners of varied sizes have made several attempts to introduce additional exotic tropical plants that are capable of growing on the islands. Theobroma cacao is one example of a plant that has been introduced to the islands on multiple occasions.

Cacao, which is the more popular name for the plant, is currently produced and processed into chocolate on at least four of the Hawaiian islands, making these chocolates some of the only ones that can be considered really American.

How Cacao Got To Hawaii

The story of how T. cacao got to Hawaii is more interesting than it is significant in any other way. Dan O’Doherty, a cacao researcher and consultant, claims that during the American Civil War, a botanist brought over samples of the tree for investigation somewhere in the middle of the conflict. The samples were obtained from two different criollo varietals; one was sourced directly from Mexico, while the other was collected in the Philippines. It found out that Hawaii had the ideal environment for growing cocoa, so the trees continued to bloom even after they were planted there.

During the following century and a half, many major corporations, including Hershey’s, made attempts to establish cocoa plantations on Hawaii suitable for commercial production (i.e. cheaply). This did not work. Because at the same time that Hawaii was establishing a name for itself as a beachside paradise, it was also gradually moving away from its history as America’s tropical cornucopia. Cane sugar, which is a partner crop to cocoa and was formerly farmed in Hawaii but has since been abandoned for the most part, is one of the crops that has been abandoned.

Around the time of World War I, there was some early interest in growing cacao in Hawaii for commercial purposes. After the war ended, however, that interest kind of faded away… For the greater part of a century, there was a relative lack of noise.

Dan O’Doherty, Cacao Services

The last sugar cane mill in Hawaii shut down only a few years ago, and only the last dredges of cane sugar made on Maui are still being sold in a few locations throughout the Hawaiian islands. However, in contrast to Hawaii’s now-defunct sugar cane industry, the Hawaiian cacao industry is finally experiencing a genuine renaissance. Modern Hawaiian cacao farmers are approaching the industry with a different goal in mind after a number of failed attempts to cultivate Hawaiian cacao in the same manner that they cultivated Hawaiian sugar cane.

Instead of producing a low-cost commodity, they are working to create something that the people of Hawaii can take pride in: chocolate.

Watching Hawaiian Chocolate Making & Cacao Farming

Cacao Cultivation On Hawaii

Before around ten or twenty years ago, Hawaii did not actually have any cocoa plantations that were used for commercial purposes. However, due to the fact that the University of Hawaii has kept some cacao plants in their nursery for the sake of their own research, the cultivation of cacao has persisted on the island of O’ahu throughout the course of many decades. However, commercial planting ventures seldom survived beyond the few years that their momentum and seed money carried them.

What these major firms had not yet grasped was that Hawaii is not the location to plant vast quantities of a crop that can be produced for a reasonably low cost. The production of bananas, coconuts, and sugar cane had all run their course before being transferred to other locations. Both land and local labor are prohibitively expensive in Hawaii due to the state’s geographical isolation and its status as one of the wealthiest nations on the planet.

Because of this, the Hawaiians were forced to either find a use for their cocoa or give up on it altogether, which many of them did. They weren’t generating enough money off of the sale of the dried cacao beans to cover their rent. Cacao, to paraphrase what Dan would say, was not and mostly still is not a commercially viable commodity.

If you were to manage a cocoa farm in Hawaii simply for the purpose of growing cacao, it would result in a loss of money for you. Cacao, on the other hand, has only recently begun to get the attention of farmers as a potential crop for their farms.

Tom Menezes of Hawaiian Crown Chocolate in Hilo, which is located on the Big Island of Hawaii, was one of the first Hawaiian farmers to begin growing cacao on his own property on a large scale. He did this in the early 1990s. Tom began seeking for business partners once he came to the conclusion that manufacturing chocolate was the best option for him. Because he was unable to locate any, he began producing his own after spending a period of two years doing research and development in preparation for the introduction of his brand in the middle of the 2000s.

This documentary from the Chocolate Garage will tell you more about Tom and Hawaiian cacao. You can also watch the documentary, which is linked above, by clicking on the video. Please utilize the map that is provided below as a reference for the rest of the article since I know that I’m not the only one who gets confused by all of the different names of the islands and towns in Hawaii.

Tom Sharkey, a farmer who used to grow coffee but now grows cacao, can be found just up the road from Hilo, along the Hamakua coast of the Big Island. In an attempt to raise the overall quantity of cacao that is cultivated on the island, Sharkey and his son Erin have been giving out cacao seedlings to local farmers for the last several years. The two now create their own chocolate from cacao that they cultivate on their property and obtain from surrounding farmers. Many of the adjacent farmers wouldn’t be cultivating cacao if it weren’t for the Sharkeys, therefore the Sharkeys are largely responsible for the spread of cacao farming in the area.

The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory, which is located on the Kona side of the Big Island, is often attributed with being the driving force behind the chocolate frenzy that spread across Hawaii. But despite the fact that they have played a significant part in educating consumers about Hawaiian chocolate, they have not contributed nearly as much to the expansion of cacao on Hawaii.

Dole Foods has been one of the most significant influences in Hawaiian cocoa, despite being an unexpected player in this space. The agricultural behemoth has been cultivating some cacao on their holdings on Oahu for many years; at one point, they even gave up on the trees for a time; but, a little more than ten years ago, they picked up the trade once again. Following the production of some chocolate using cacao beans produced in Hawaii, which turned out to have an exceptional flavor, the firm began focusing more on the potential of cacao on Hawaii.

Around the same period, perhaps ten years ago, Dan O’Doherty made his entrance into the Hawaiian cocoa scene when he was a masters student at the University of Hawaii. In recent years, he has genetically identified a number of unique cacao varieties that are produced on Hawaii, constructed a research farm on adjoining property, and launched his own cacao consulting firm.

Because there wasn’t much going on in the Hawaiian cocoa landscape outside of a few farms trying to produce on a bigger scale until recently, Dan focused the majority of his efforts on the overseas market. This, however, is changing at a quick pace, and Dan has been keeping himself busy with local business. Cacao was grown on a modest scale at a handful of the Hawaii farms that I visited, and some of those farms had been doing so for well over a decade.

Although the majority of people had just added the decorations not too long ago, there were a few who had neglected their trees for an extended period of time. Cacao production on Hawaii is only threatened by a small number of pests and diseases due to the islands’ geographical isolation; however, local farmers have developed solutions for all of these problems. However, the majority of farmers’ plants only yield very little quantities of cacao, which is often insufficient to ferment effectively without assistance from other sources.

On the other hand, at the same time maybe four or five years ago, there was a discernible movement on the island chain. Lonohana began selling their single-estate tree-to-bar chocolate, and people started taking notice of Hawaiian Chocolate off the island. Meanwhile, the American craft chocolate scene was beginning to make its way to Hawaii. Dan’s focus has been kept mostly on some newer, more ambitious activities on Hawaii, which were inspired by some recent, very successful cacao-related endeavors.

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Hawaiian Chocolate Making

From the beginning of time until 2009, the islands were home to an extremely limited number of chocolate manufacturers. On the island of Oahu’s North Shore, Lonohana Chocolate Company established their cacao plantation in that year. The Grenada Chocolate Company, located on the island of Grenada in the Caribbean, served as the impetus for the establishment of the farm with the production of chocolate from tree to bar as its primary goal.

Then, in 2010, Madre and Manoa both launched their forays into the world of chocolate production, both independently founding one of the first handmade chocolate firms in the United States with operations centered on O’ahu. Lonohana began selling its chocolate in 2014, while Hawaiian Crown built their first retail store on the Big Island. All three manufacturers proceeded to gradually expand their operations until another landmark year characterized the Hawaiian chocolate sector in 2014:

At around this same time five years ago, Hawaii had one of the greatest concentrations of chocolate producers in the United States. These days, the number of micro-batch chocolate makers is only expanding as tiny farms continue exploring the potential of vertical integration.

Manoa Chocolate Company is currently one of the major handmade chocolate producers in the United States. Each year, they produce many tons of chocolate. Dylan Butterbaugh and Dan O’Doherty were the ones who first launched the firm back when Dylan was still a college student. Dylan has only increased his efforts to build a positive image for Hawaiian chocolate across the globe, whilst Dan has now sold his stake in Manoa and shifted his focus to the cacao side of the firm.

Manoa was really self-funded from the very beginning, and currently it is led by Dylan and his wife Tammie, who have both contributed to the growth of the company from the very beginning. Because to their efforts, Hawaiian chocolate is now more widely known, however what constitutes “Hawaiian chocolate” may vary depending on who you ask or how you define the term.

Because even though the Butterbaughs have a chocolate factory in Oahu, only around 15% of the cocoa used in their chocolate comes from Hawaii. The remainder comes straight from farms located all over the globe, including Costa Esmeraldas Cacao, who also happen to be one of Dan’s customers. Their other cacao origins are of the highest quality, but from the very beginning, their primary focus has been on contributing to the development of high-quality sources throughout the islands.

“I believe that we have the financial capacity to purchase all of the cacao that is presently being produced on the islands.”

“With the obvious exclusion of the Dole Plantation,” the speaker said.

Manoa Chocolate is owned and operated by Tammie and Dylan Butterbaugh.

They are currently helping cacao farmers in a variety of capacities, filling in as many gaps as they are able to manage while more and more cacao trees mature. Most notably, they conduct audits for farmers who are interested in selling to them and also make chocolate for farmers who do not want to make it themselves. As a result of Hawaii’s high northern latitude, the proportion of cocoa butter in Hawaiian cacao is among the highest in the world. This makes it relatively simple to make chocolate with only two ingredients (cocoa beans and sugar), which is a 2-ingredient chocolate.

These two-ingredient bars are currently being produced by Manoa for farmers who want to taste their beans made into something of a higher quality than they could ever achieve in a small tabletop grinder. After that, they wrap the bars in their own private labels and give them to the farmers to use however they see fit. Cacao farmers who have redirected their attention away from the production of commodities and more toward the hospitality industry are included in this category.

Craft Chocolate TV

The Reality of Tree To Bar Chocolate On Hawaii

At the present, they are working with cacao farmers in a variety of capacities, filling in all the gaps that they are capable of handling as more and more cacao plants mature. First and foremost, they do audits for farmers who are interested in selling to them, and they also manufacture chocolate for farmers who do not want to produce it themselves. Because of Hawaii’s high northern latitude, the amount of cocoa butter in Hawaiian cacao is among the highest in the world. As a result, creating chocolate with just two ingredients (cocoa beans and sugar) in Hawaii is very straightforward.

Manoa is now making these 2-ingredient bars for farmers who want to taste their beans fashioned into something of a higher quality than they could ever accomplish in a little desktop grinder. These farmers are the target demographic for Manoa’s products. They then package the bars with their own private labels, which the farmers are free to use in any way they see fit. Farmers of cacao who have changed their attention away from commodities and more toward the tourist industry are included in this category.

The traditional method of making chocolate is a model of value extraction.

Seneca Klessen, Lonohana Chocolate

Lonohana’s Hawaiian chocolate bars represent a departure from that traditional model, creating value on Hawaii rather than taking it away. The company’s physical doors opened in late 2017, marking the beginning of this departure. All of their bars can now be purchased from their store in Kakaako, as well as online and in a few other locations on the island of Oahu. Lonohana Chocolate continues to maintain a pretty damned exclusive status despite their volume. After ten years of preparation, Seneca asserts that it is not yet in its final form and continues to undergo significant changes. Because he understands that in order to maintain a successful business for more than a decade, he must continually test new approaches to see what appeals to customers and what motivates him to get out of bed in the morning.

Defining Hawaiian Chocolate

The ancient Hawaiian method of Ahuapua’a land use designation is still practiced today across all of the islands. Because of this, significant parts of Hawaii are still and will continue to be agricultural areas as a result of the demarcation of certain portions of the land for agricultural use only. This translates into the government providing support on a de facto basis for cacao farmers, while de jure support is provided for both Hawaiian chocolate makers and cacao farmers as part of the definition of what constitutes Hawaiian chocolate.

But because there are now so many chocolate makers who make tree-to-bar chocolate, it can be difficult for customers to determine what characteristics define chocolate that is from Colombia, Thailand, or Hawaii. During the course of my research on Hawaii, the question of what constitutes “Hawaiian chocolate” came up quite frequently. This is in addition to the idea of increasing the value of cacao grown on the islands and vertically integrating your company to the greatest extent possible. Is it any chocolate made in Hawaii, regardless of whether or not it contains cacao from Hawaii, or is it just any chocolate?

“Recently, the state of Hawaii adopted new legislation… that prohibits the practice of blending. Therefore, if you’re going to label something as “Hawaii chocolate,” that means it was grown in Hawaii, and it had to have been grown there entirely.

Tammie Butterbaugh, Manoa Chocolate

It is a remarkable move on the part of the government to pass a law that regulates only Hawaiian chocolate and not coffee or any other agricultural product, given that the law only applies to Hawaiian chocolate. However, the debate is still ongoing in other countries that produce cacao, and it is possible that a solution will never be found. Dole, a company that is much better known for their pineapples and bananas than for their fine chocolate, had actually been sending their Hawaiian-grown cacao to a company on the mainland in order for it to be manufactured into chocolate there and then shipped back for sale on Hawaii up until very recently. Dole is a much better known company for their pineapples and bananas than for their fine chocolate.

Chocolate Tours On Hawaii

The idea of Hawaiian chocolate tours has as many different incarnations as chocolate itself has in Hawaii. At least one cocoa plantation may be visited on each of the four islands that are responsible for the cultivation of cacao. The majority of these excursions begin with a brief introduction to the farm and the flora and fauna that can be found there, followed by a tour of the grounds and, last but not least, a sampling. Some tastings contain the raw and roasted cacao beans as well as the fresh cacao fruit, and the majority of them also include chocolate of some type.

Each farm operates in its own unique manner, but each tour functions in a manner similar to that of an elective course, providing information on the fundamentals of farming in Hawaii, particulars on the how and why of the farm, and finally samples of the produce they cultivate. I guarantee that there will be no exams in the end! As long as the transition is made in a way that is appropriate for the environment, cocoa farms might benefit greatly from expanding into agrotourism provided it is carried out in the right way. After all, we want for the farms to continue operating in their traditional capacities.

Barefoot Chocolatini, on the other hand, is a relatively recent addition to the lineup of available Hawaiian chocolate tour alternatives. Maddy Smith, about whom you can read more in the interview that I conducted with her, is the chocolate educator who is the driving force behind Barefoot Chocolatini’s chocolate tours and chocolate bar crawls, as well as the chocolate subscription boxes and chocolate bars that will soon be available. She acts as a bridge between the chocolate manufacturers and farmers on Hawaii and the customers on the island, which is a function that I have always considered to be an essential one for the development of a nation’s chocolate culture.

There are already at least a half dozen different alternatives for Hawaiian cacao and chocolate excursions in 2019, but Maddy and I are both anticipating that there will be a great deal more options in the years to come. Maddy in particular dreams of turning Hawaii into a destination known for its chocolate. If you will, think of it as the Napa Valley of chocolate.

The Napa Valley of Chocolate

The idea that everything could be made out of chocolate has a lot of potential, which is one of the reasons why the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was so successful. However, at this time, that location does not have any Hawaiian chocolate in it. To be more accurate, it is the potential location of Hawaiian chocolate.

Hawaii is able to grow the raw material and produce the chocolate all in the same place, just like vineyards are able to grow grapes and produce wine all in the same place. This is similar to Napa Valley, which is a well-known wine region in the northern part of California. The majority of cacao farmers in Hawaii are operating on a very small scale, and they have no intention of launching chocolate tours or producing chocolate from their beans. For one thing, Hawaii is home to a wide variety of other interesting crops that could be a focus of their attention. It’s simply not plausible to assume that everybody will develop an unhealthy obsession with chocolate.

However, there are sufficient farms of varying sizes and with a variety of histories for the concept to be viable. Cacao farmers each have their own stories to tell, much in the same way that wineries instruct their clients on how to taste and appreciate each distinct origin and step in the processing. If you provided people with a map that detailed how to drive up each coast of the main islands independently, you would see an increase in tourism even during the shoulder seasons.

Imagine yourself in the middle of chocolate country instead of wine country.

The Future of Hawaiian Cacao & Chocolate

Following numerous conversations about chocolate, it appears that the cacao and chocolate industry in Hawaii has a bright future. There is still not a great deal of information available online about the many chocolate events or tours that take place in Hawaii, and the information that is available typically focuses on a single location at a time. This problem is one of the reasons I’ve decided to write this series of articles in the first place. In them, I’ll provide information on chocolates that can be found on each island, as well as events in Hawaii that are related to chocolate.

The increasing online presence of Hawaii’s many chocolate makers, cacao farmers, and educators on social media is just the beginning. Hawaii is home to some of the world’s best chocolate. Once people have arrived on the islands, it is necessary for it to be possible for them to travel to multiple chocolate stops if they so choose. I’m not suggesting that they construct a train system like the one in California, but laying out the steps to get to each farm would be a good next step.

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Chocolates made with origins from around the world, including Hawaii, can be purchased at both Manoa and now also at Lonohana, providing visitors with a great context for Hawaii’s place in the world’s cacao-growing regions. Manoa also offers chocolates made with origins from around the world. However, it would be beneficial to have a greater supply of imported chocolates, both from the mainland and from other countries, in order to educate the local population to its fullest potential. This is not a simple step, but doing it would be beneficial to the communities who make handmade chocolate both locally and internationally.

In the past few years, there has been a significant increase in the number of cacao plants planted on both Maui and Oahu, and the first harvests of those crops are expected to take place within the next year or two. Dole has leased an additional one hundred or so acres of land on Oahu, some of which will be used in the not-too-distant future for the cultivation of cacao. On top of those plantations, there are also chocolate factories and tourist attractions that are now under construction throughout a number of different islands.

Because of this, I believe that the cacao industry on the Hawaiian Islands will become another (small-scale) origin of fine-tasting cacao in spite of the high costs of land and labor, provided that it can continue to operate in a manner that is relatively isolated from diseases and pests.