Hawaii Chocolate Classes

Make your own, or buy it locally grown. The future is bright for Hawaii chocolate.

Dave Elliott and Nat Bletter of Madre Chocolate whip up treats in Elliott’s home kitchen. The two offer classes in how to make your own gourmet chocolate.

Photo: Monte Costa

In today’s DIY culture, a box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day might not be enough anymore; to truly impress, you have to make your own.

In classes hosted by local chocolatier Madre Chocolate, you can do just that: Make your own chocolate, from bean to bar. Co-founders David Elliott and Nat Bletter take students through the steps of cracking and grinding the cacao beans and tempering and molding the chocolate (the process that gives chocolate its snap, or clean break). Also integral to the class is tasting single-origin chocolates from around the world.

Elliott and Bletter’s classes and chocolate bars pay homage to chocolate’s origins, no surprise considering Bletter’s career as an ethnobotanist. The duo’s chocolate incorporates some of the traditional fruits and spices of the Central America region, where chocolate was first discovered. The Triple Cacao bar even blends cacao in all its forms: cacao pulp from Brazil, and nibs and chocolate from Mexico, reflecting the origin of the cacao trees in South America and chocolate’s invention in Central America. The Xocoxochitl bar is spiked with chipotle and allspice; Candied Hibiscus relies on the flower to give the chocolate bar a tangy note. While Madre Chocolate purchases most of its cacao beans directly from organic cooperatives in Mexico, it’s also cultivating relationships with Hawaii cacao farmers to create its Single Estate Hawaiian Chocolate bar.

Madre Chocolate’s move towards locally sourced chocolate is indicative of a growing interest in establishing chocolate as a significant agricultural product in the Islands. “You can’t make Hawaiian chocolate without Hawaiian cacao,” says Thomas Sharkey, previously a winemaker and farmer in California, now a cacao farmer of 10 years in Hilo. His goal is to encourage more cacao growers and an investment in cacao-processing infrastructure in order to build a Hawaii chocolate industry. “I’m trying to get people to see that it’s a crop worthy of attention because it grows well, and it’s new,” he says. “You’ll always eat chocolate and there’s always a shortage.”

Today’s major players in Hawaii-grown chocolate are Dole, with cacao orchards on the North Shore of Oahu, and Original Hawaiian Chocolate Co. in Kona, but a growing number of entrepreneurial cacao farmers and chocolate makers scattered across Big Island, Kauai and Oahu are hoping to create the critical mass needed to move the industry forward.

Visit madrechocolate.com for a schedule of upcoming classes and a list of retailers carrying its chocolate.

Photo: iStock

The Sweetest Month

Love chocolate? February is the month for you. In its most recent session, the state Legislature passed a resolution declaring February as Hawaii Grown Cacao Month, an observance that culminates in the inaugural Hawaii Chocolate Festival, on Saturday, February 26. (hawaiichocolatefestival.com) Among the reasons the Leg decided to throw its support behind Hawaii chocolate:

• Hawaii is the only U.S. state in which chocolate can be grown.

• Asia is quickly growing as a market for chocolate, and Hawaii-grown cacao commands a price premium two to four times that of other cacao being traded in the world market.

• There’s a lot of room to grow: Hawaii is currently home to fewer than 30 chocolate growers, who are collectively farming just 50 acres of land.