Hawai‘i Chocolate: 5 Steps on How to Make Chocolate

From bean to bar, Dylan Butterbaugh and Tamara Armstrong of Mānoa Chocolate take us through the process of making chocolate.
Dylan Butterbaugh and Tamara Armstrong. 
Photo: Steve Czerniak 


Learn how chocolate is made in these few steps: 


1. The cacao pod grows right on the tree trunk. Inside each football-shaped fruit, white flesh covers the seeds. Each seed needs to be fermented, basically marinating it in its own fruit juice.

Photos of cacao beans and fermentation: courtesy of daniel o’doherty


2. These days, a lot of research is concentrated on fermentation: “It’s the new frontier of good, quality chocolate,” Tamara Armstrong of Mānoa Chocolate says. The beans are then dried, often in the sun.


3. A farm will usually sell the dried beans to the chocolate maker, who coaxes flavors out through roasting. “You can take the same bag of cacao, split it between two chocolate makers and get different-tasting chocolate bars because of roasting,” says Dylan Butterbaugh of Mānoa Chocolate. 



4. Then, the hard outer shell is cracked and winnowed away, leaving behind the cacao nibs. The nibs, along with sugar, are ground and conched through large stone grinders. This step turns the hard, dry nibs into a smooth, glossy, liquid chocolate, the stuff of chocolate fondue fountains.



5. Liquid chocolate becomes solid chocolate after it’s tempered—heated and cooled to temperatures that line up the crystals in a grid. This is what gives a chocolate bar its shine and snap. If you were to let the chocolate cool on its own, it would be dull and soft. Tempering continues even after the bar lands on the shelf, which is why old chocolate bars get more brittle and crumbly.




Milk vs Dark 

You’ll find plenty of dark-chocolate purist companies on the Mainland, but not here in Hawai‘i. All the local chocolate makers offer their own unique versions of milk chocolate, such as Madre’s coconut-milk chocolate with caramelized ginger, and Mānoa’s goat-milk bar, which tastes like chocolate cheesecake. 


Lonohana’s Seneca Klassen, who makes a milk-chocolate bar with 50-percent cacao, says, “I love milk chocolate. When it’s well-made and not full of other crap, it’s so delicious. It can be really well-balanced, and a great way to set up a more dynamic flavor experience with the cacao. I personally don’t see a boundary (between milk and dark chocolate). They’re just expressions of what cacao can do in combination with other ingredients.”


What do Cacao Percentages Mean?

A lot of people think a higher percentage of cacao in a bar means a darker, more concentrated and bitter chocolate flavor, with fewer additives such as vanilla and sugar. While this is partially true, that percentage actually comprises two ingredients whose balance can affect overall taste and mouthfeel: cacao nibs and cocoa butter. “Mainland chocolate makers often leave out the added cocoa butter (called such since the bean or nib already contains about 50-percent cocoa butter) and just use sugar and cacao nibs,” says Nat Bletter, co-founder of Madre Chocolate. Because of Hawai‘i’s high humidity, local chocolate makers need to add cocoa butter to make their chocolate less viscous and easier to pour into molds. The side effect? A more mellow taste and creamier mouthfeel than Mainland bars with the same cacao percentage.


Is there a dark-chocolate sweet spot?

“Seventy percent is where you can really taste the nuances of the cacao; it’s still super healthy with not too much added sugar (30 percent); and it’s not overwhelmingly bitter,” Bletter says. “It can have zero to 15 percent added cocoa butter within that 70 percent.”


This story is part of The Everything Guide to Local Chocolate in our December 2015 issue. Click here for more.