Published on April 26th, 2013 | by Charu Suri3
On The Big Island Hawai’i, a Bean to Bar Chocolate Paradise
On the lush, movie-like setting of The Big Island, Hawai’i lies a magical place: one of the few bean to bar chocolate estates in the United States. The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory is an industrialized factory where both growing and processing coexist, thereby making it truly unique. The estate is fully committed to crafting and exporting cocoa grown on The Big Island. Owners Bob and Pam Cooper take great pride in creating something of a sanctuary for chocolate lovers who visit, although they were neophytes at the venture when they started out.
On a walking tour through the estate, I eat the plumeria-shaped samples and gaze at the yellow, gold and fuchsia flowers on the cocoa trees and listen to Bob Cooper tell his life story. “I’m originally from North Carolina,” explains Bob with an almost apologetic tone. “We had no previous chocolate experience, and just decided to buy the plantation, and had to decide whether to keep it or discard it.”
Former managers of a country club in North Carolina, the Coopers learned everything the hard way, from nurturing the cocoa trees to creating some of the most texturized chocolate in the world (I tasted the Criollo Bar which was practically nubby and nibby, with plenty of character and a bold, delicious flavor).
The cocoa pods at the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory are harvested every two weeks, and the trees were grown in Hawaii since the early 1900’s. I was surprised to discover that the vision of the cocoa plantation to an urologist called CV Hodges; the Coopers eventually purchased the estate and harvested their first cocoa tree in 2000. The blending process fortifies the chocolate flavor, and consultants suggested that they might need to do this to fully make the flavors pop; in contrast, single origin chocolate bars are pure, distinct and unblended.
The farm has over 1,350 trees, and each tree products 3-4 pounds of cocoa per harvest. Although The Big Island is endowed with some of the best volcanic, fertile soil in the world, irrigation is extremely important as cocoa trees are thirsty and require generous amounts of hydration. The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory produces Forrestero and Criollo, and takes at least one month for the beans to dry. While beans generate their own surface heat, they’re actually “sweating” cocoa beans if you want to josh around; these beans have to be transferred to sweat boxes to remove the puma, which is the white slimy coating around them. The Forrestero beans have a purple center and the Criollo beans have a white center (the Criollo beans are rare…less than 10% of the world’s beans are Criollo).
Then come the cleansing, roasting, winnowing (which gets the shells separated from the pure beans), conching and tempering process which make the chocolate, and all in all (from nut to chocolate), it’s about 18 hours of work, and a full six months from the “bean to bar” process. While you get 30-40 seeds per pod (and each pod can be sold for $40), it can take several years to generate profits because of the intensive labor involved. The Chocolate Factory does not make the use of white chocolate, because cocoa butter is unstable and necessitates tempering.
While owning a chocolate plant can sound as appealing as quitting that day job and starting a vineyard, the process is involved and the stakes are high. “We’ve been at it for more than seven years and there was no profit; we’re finally turning the corner now,” says Bob.
There’s nothing like the chocolate from the Factory, and it is supported by the USDA. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. The Factory conducts tours but reservations must be made in advance. Call 808-322-2626.