Hawai‘i Chocolate: Learn How Lonohana Chocolate Develops its Sweet Flavors

Seneca Klassen of Lonohana Chocolate tells his story about making chocolate.
Seneca Klassen, founder of Lonohana Chocolate.
Photos: Steve Czerniak


Seneca Klassen likes stories. One of them is the story of growing and making his own chocolate. He is one of the few bean-to-bar makers who tends his own cacao trees, which grow on 14 acres of old sugar cane land above Hale‘iwa. “I’m driven by an aesthetic model,” he says. “I want to tell clean stories about flavor. I want to be pulling all the levers on all the processes, to know how all these things impact flavor.” 


Then there’s the story of Klassen himself. He says his parents were hippies who grew marijuana in Big Sur, California. After graduating from college with a B.A. in philosophy, he toured the country as a singer and songwriter. When he tired of traveling, he went to work with winemakers, brewers and cheesemakers, who all specialized in developing flavor through fermentation. But it wasn’t until a stint at Scharffen Berger, the San Francisco company credited with sparking the American bean-to-bar revolution, that Klassen became utterly captivated.



“That’s where I really started tasting things from distinct origins, and the scope of flavor possibilities became apparent to me,” says Klassen. He found that there was a huge vacuum of information in chocolate—everything from growing it to making it to even tasting it. “I’m a curious person,” he says. “I like vacuums of information. It was the beginning of the end.” 


In 2005, he opened Bittersweet Café, a Bay Area chain of chocolate cafés, to share his discoveries of specialty chocolate. And farther and farther into the unknown he went. That’s how he ended up leasing 14 acres of land on the North Shore. He planted his first cacao seedlings in 2009 and made his first bars four years later as Lonohana Chocolate. After all the work of growing the cacao and making the chocolate, the final presentation is simple. His dark chocolate bars contain just two ingredients: cacao from his farm and cane sugar from Maui.  


In developing the flavors in his chocolate, Klassen tries to preserve the natural fruitiness and acidity that’s prevalent in Hawai‘i cacao. “I’m very attracted to really acidic things,” he says. “Chocolate is no different.” He does this with slightly shorter ferments and a gentle roasting, which pulls his chocolate toward brighter notes. “You get a little more of a story that way,” he says. The best chocolate, he finds, tells a story. “The flavors can be kind of ephemeral. It always has a little narrative, a little journey when it’s at its best. That’s where I want to be.”


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