|1 pound bar of Hawaii's premier Criollo dark chocolate.|
Follow Foods For Long Life on Facebook and Pinterest.
Our Trip to Kona
Doug and I recently spent 10 days in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii where some of my favorite foods grow abundantly. Papaya, avocados, and mangos are piled up in baskets at the local farmers' markets where they sell for one tenth of what we pay for them in California. What I didn't know, until this trip, was that some of the best cacao and chocolate I've ever had was grown and made right there in Kailua-Kona. We were lucky enough to be welcomed and given a tour of a very special chocolate farm and factory by owners Pam and Bob Cooper.
The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory
Doug and I can totally relate to the Coopers. In 1998 we left our high tech jobs in Silicon Valley to start a whole new life - I devote my time to writing about nutrition, Doug works in his Pinot Noir vineyard, and we both have learned how to make delicious wine.
Similarly, in 1997, Bob and Pam Cooper made a big life change. They left Raleigh, North Carolina, and bought a house in Kona that had some cacao trees. They didn't know it at the time but they would grow and produce the first 100-percent single-origin chocolate bar in the nation! I'm sure other states would love to grow cacao but Hawaii is the only state in the "chocolate-growing-belt", a region that extends 20 degrees north and south of the equator.
Although the farm consists of only a single acre of trees at his home and another 14 acres on the other side of the Big Island and the factory is perhaps the tiniest chocolate factory in the world, their product is mind blowing! Since I avoid dairy, I only sampled their two types of 70% dark chocolate. Although they were both delicious I especially loved the one that was made from the rare "criollo" cacao bean. Only 15% of the world's chocolate is made from this bean. Often chocolates that are this high in cacao, and their health-promoting antioxidant flavonoids, can be harsh and bitter. But their criollo chocolate is smooth with the richness of 70% dark chocolate but the smoothness of milk chocolate. I wasn't the first foodie to uncover this jewel. Evidently Alton Brown and other chocolate connoisseurs beat me to it.
Growing and Making Chocolate
|Doug and I at he Original Hawaiian Chocolate farm and factory .|
We really loved the tour and learned a lot about growing cacao and making chocolate. Here are some of the highlights of what we learned.
Cacao pods, which contain cacao beans, result from the pollination of the blooms by little flies (I bet they are the same little pesky flies that were biting me and the family all week!). Pollination happens within one hour of blooming. The pods contain about 30 to 40 beans and take 75 days to mature. What was really interesting is that instead of harvesting once a year, as we do with wine grapes, they harvest their cacao continually - every two weeks when each pod is perfectly ripe. If they wait too long, the beans start to germinate inside the pod and can no longer be used to make chocolate.
The pods grow from the tree trunk and branches and come in various colors.
|Ripe pods on trunk and tree branches|
|Multi-colored ripe pods|
Removing Cacao Beans from the Ripe Pods
The beans are removed from the ripe pods and are covered in a thick, white, slimy material. During the tour, while Bob was showing us the inside of a ripe pod, four geckos immediately jumped on the table and starting eating this white covering. To a gecko, at least, this coating might be just as yummy as the chocolate!
|A gecko enjoying the white material covering the cacao beans.|
Having the geckos eat all of the white coating would take too long :-) so to free the cacao beans, they are put into fermentation tanks where the coating gets removed through the fermentation process.
|White coating is removed during the fermentation process.|
Cleaning the Beans
The beans are put onto drying racks which are opened every morning. The beans are then raked and culled to remove extraneous matter and immature beans.
Roasting the Beans
Flavors are locked in by roasting the beans in a coffee roaster. When they come out of the roaster, the beans still have their shells.
|Cacao beans are roasted|
The winnower removes the shell and breaks the bean into nibs.
|The winnower removes the shell.|
The conch is where the chocolate is actually made. This process takes 15 hours.
First the nib is ground into a concentrated liquid called liquor. This takes 2 hours.
All the rest of the ingredients are then added to the liquor and mixed very thoroughly for the next 13 hours.
After the chocolate is finished in the conch, it goes into a holding tank where it is tempered. This process involves stirring the chocolate slowly while lowering the temperature from 120 degrees to 86 degrees. This stabilizes the cocoa butter crystals, gives the chocolate a satin sheen and a nice snap. It is then poured into various sized molds. They make individual bars, pieces in the shape of small or large plumeria, and 1-pound bars.
|Bob Cooper discusses the tempering process and|
shows how to mold the chocolate.
Products and How to Buy
They offer and ship individual bars or single hand-poured large Plumeria shaped pieces in regular dark chocolate, Criollo dark chocolate and milk chocolate.
One pound bars and single hand-poured small Plumeria pieces are offered in regular dark chocolate and milk chocolate.
You can also buy roasted cacao nibs that you can blend into smoothies or just eat as a snack.
Makes a Great Christmas Gift!
If you would like to receive this yummy chocolate by Christmas, Pam tells me that you need to have your order in by December 15th. We left with 2 pounds of this wonderful chocolate and we're savoring each bite.
Thanks to Bob and Pam for their hospitality and for a very interesting and informative tour. If you are ever on the Big Island, make sure to go visit the farm. Their tours are very popular and get booked up quickly so schedule your tour in advance.
Chocolate is Aloha!