Visiting Manoa Chocolate Hawaii

One of our favorite moments on Oahu took place in a traditional Hawaiian establishment in Kailua called Hale Kealoha, with slack key players on stage, hula dancers called up from the crowd, many bowls of delicious and traditional Hawaiian food on the table, and surrounded on all sides by locals. Two of those locals, Dylan and Tammy, sat across from us and shared both a piece of birthday cake and a lot of knowledge. Dylan is the chocolate-maker and founder of Manoa Chocolate Hawaii, and Tammy, his fiance, manages the front of the house, the wholesale accounts, and much in between!

In business for just over two years, Manoa Chocolate Hawaii has taken on the massive task of educating the general population about bean-to-bar chocolate. Tammy leads an interesting and educational tour of their factory, starting with the exciting revelation to their guests that Hawaii is the only state in the country that has a climate hospitable to cacao. When Richard and I participated in the tour, we were the only non-Hawaiians. Part of the Manoa challenge is building the pride that local Hawaiians feel for their burgeoning chocolate industry.

Tammy opens the door to the bean room, where the new winnower, large modified coffee roaster, and bags upon bags of beans are stored. Here’s where Dylan takes over! Introduced as the Manoa chocolate-maker, he starts to explain the process of making chocolate from the bean. Our fellow tour participants are thrilled by the smell of raw beans in the bag, shocked by the flavor of plain nibs, and fascinated by the tempering machines jerry-rigged in the molding room.

The tour ends with a tasting in their front room. I liked a lot of their bars! Richard and I both loved the Breakfast bar (brilliant naming & contents!). And I found the goat milk bar and the lavender bars really creative and delicious! (You can purchase any of these and others here.)

We were particularly interested in the dynamic of a couple like ourselves running a chocolate business together. When we had dinner with Dylan and Tammy later that night, we learned about how they divide the labor wisely between them and how they really do love chocolate and its industry quirks.

Manoa and me

Manoa and me

Overall, we had a great time at Manoa, learned a lot from Dylan and Tammy, and look forward to staying in touch with our new Hawaiian friends!

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Cacao farming on Oahu

While on Oahu, Richard and I visited two and a half farms growing cacao. Why the half? Let me explain…

The first farm we visited was Kahuku Farms, on the North Shore. Dr. Nat of Madre recommended we stop by here. Kahuku provides farm tours or, as they call them, smoothie tours. We rode around on a wheeled bench, pulled by a trailer through the rows of beautiful crops in the demonstration portion of the farm and received a delicious homemade smoothie made from the ingredients we had seen just moments before. Our tour guide is married to Kylie, a fourth generation Kahuku farmer and has taken on the education part of the business. We learned a lot about the history of the farm and their attempts to share such fresh and delicious vegetables with the local population. Hawaiian food traditionally includes a lot of meat, but the Kahuku food truck serves only vegetarian foods made from their farm’s produce. Surprisingly to the farming family (but not to us Californian hippies), it’s a huge hit!

Kahuku Farms

Kahuku Farms

By calling ahead and telling our tour guide about our chocolate interest, we were able to take a detour on the tour to visit the cacao plants. We even got to pull a pod off the tree and demonstrate (and eat) the pulp to the rest of our tour group. What a special experience! Learn more about Kahuku farms here.

cocoa pods

cocoa pods

Richard and a cocoa pod

Richard and a cocoa pod

Landen and an open cocoa pod

Landen and an open cocoa pod

raw cocoa bean

raw cocoa bean

Our next farm visit was to the Waialua Estate, a subsidiary of Dole. This is our “half farm,” since we visited their large factory but didn’t quite get out to the farmland. We were led on a brief tour of the process of making both chocolate and coffee. Waialua Estate also partners with Guittard, our neighbor in the Bay Area, throughout its chocolate-making process. Waialua Estate was the first place we saw another step of the chocolate process. These trays house cocoa beans as they are drying after fermentation.

Drying cocoa beans at Waialua Estate

Drying cocoa beans at Waialua Estate

Our final visit was the most authentic and intimate. Richard and I met up with Seneca Klassen of Lonohana: Hawaiian Estate Chocolate in Haleiwa on our last morning on Oahu. We jumped in his truck and drove up to his 14-acre farm in the hills above town. The sun was warm and the red dirt squished between my toes as we traipsed through his rows upon rows of cacao trees.

Lonohana - young cacao trees

Lonohana – young cacao trees

Seneca’s mission is clear:

Lonohana Estate Chocolate is located on the island of O‘ahu, Hawaii and is the result of two families’ dream to create a vertically integrated chocolate company here in the United States. By controlling the entire product cycle, starting with our own Hawaii-grown cacao all the way through crafting small batches of world-class chocolate bars in Honolulu, we hope to share where this beloved food comes from, how it is grown and made.

He is creating the first tree-to-bar chocolate operation in Hawaii. He spends many days on the farm, weeding, harvesting, planting shade trees or windbreaks, and keeping up his fledgling farm of cacao. The rest of his days are spent in his factory in Honolulu, where he manages all of the post-production – fermenting and drying – as well as the full bean-to-bar chocolate-making process that we do at home. His supply is so limited that he sells chocolate with a subscription method – sending out bars to subscribers at regular intervals like a CSA (Consumer-supported agriculture). His personal history is closely interwoven with the bean-to-bar movement in the San Francisco Bay Area, as he is one of the co-founders of Bittersweet Cafe in Oakland. Read more about Seneca, his family, and the Lonohana story here.

cacao pods and beans at Lonohana

cacao pods and beans at Lonohana

Seneca spent time to break open a few cacao pods to show us the differences among them, both in appearance and in flavor. His knowledge of the genetics and how they affect the future of the plant and therefore the beans and their eventual chocolate is incredible. He seemed grateful for the visit of some chocolate-makers looking for an education on the intricacies of farming. This is an angle many chocolate-makers never have the privilege to see. And we are extremely thankful for his openness and willingness to teach us about his work and learnings!

Learning from Dr. Nat

One of our most decadent evenings on Oahu was spent at Madre Chocolate in Kailua. We were the last ones to arrive for a whiskey & chocolate tasting, taking place in their tiny retail storefront. We squeezed into our chairs at one of the two tables of 8 people each. In front of each person was a placemat with two sets of flavor wheels on one side and a colorful list of all the available chocolates and whiskeys on the other. We also each had a line of whiskeys in shot glasses and the table was laid with about 15 different cocoa pod-shaped dishes, piled with small tastes of various chocolate bars made by Madre.

We made our way down the line of whiskeys, popping in chocolate before, during and after the aromas of whiskey cleared our sinuses. I determined that my favorite order was a sip of whiskey and putting chocolate on my tongue before the whiskey flavor left my mouth. And with the many whiskeys and many chocolate flavors and origins, I couldn’t tell you which combination was the most delicious. Frankly, they were all good! My favorite chocolate bar was a traditional 70% Lachuá Guatemala bar followed by the Dominican Republic Chipotle Allspice bar.

chocolate and whiskey

chocolate and whiskey

Another day, we headed to Madre for a bean-to-bar chocolate class. One of Madre’s cofounders, Dr. Nat Bletter, led both events, and has one of the most scientific approaches to chocolate we’ve seen. He has a Ph.D. in Ethnobotany and works with the University of Hawaii to continue to research cacao, particularly its flavor components and fermentation techniques. He told us, proudly, that Hawaii is the only place in the world where you can find chocolate researchers, chocolate-makers, and cacao-growers!

We enjoyed learning his style and methods and look forward to staying in touch so we can stay updated on the latest research in the field of making delicious chocolate from high quality beans.