The Chocolate Life

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Here's a post from my chocolate blog ( Comments?

You don't get to see cacao pods in the USA unless you go to Hawaii, and even there they a rare sight. Cacao trees (from whence, of course, chocolate) are cultivated only sporadically around the Hawaiian Islands. But Tony Lydgate of Steel Grass Farm on Kauai hopes to change that. His botanical garden ( specializes in cultivating organic plants that bring value to the islanders and the earth. Cacao, bamboo (the "steel grass" namesake of the farm) and vanilla are the favorites. In these crops, he and his family hope to start a cooperative that puts Kauai on the chocolate-making map and reclaims some of the farmland once owned by pineapple growers and sugar cane companies, all long-departed for cheaper labor in far-off lands. You can take a tour, eat some dark chocolate, learn about the health benefits and see a glimpse of cacao's USA future.

Another producer is Malie Kai Chocolates (, rejuvenating old sugar fields on Oahu. They offer an exceptionally smooth milk chocolate and mellow bitter-sweet made of pure Hawaiian, single origin cacao. "The natural growing conditons on the islands give cacao potential to be even bigger than Kona coffee," says Nathan Sato, President of Malie Kai Chocolates. And check out the beautiful line drawings by Lynn Soehner ( that adorn the packaging! For a stronger, earthier chocolate, try The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory ( on the Big Island. The owners (The Coopers) will tell you all about the importance of pure Hawaiian chocolate and how you can start your own crop.

But you will have to move to Hawaii! Why no cacao in Florida's orange groves or next to Texas Ruby Reds? Why not nestled in northern California's salad bowl? Chocolate is finicky! Cacao trees only grow and bear fruit in a band 20 degrees north and south of the equator. They like tropical rain, shaded light and warm, moist air. They need forest mulch & midges for pollination; they are susceptible to pests and diseases. Beyond that, however, cacao is a great crop (full of color, literally, and history), and it is easily grown on small farms throughout the tropics. Hawaii is the northern tip of its growing region, so we're lucky to have it and lets hope to see more.

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Tags: Hawaii, cacao, chocolate, dark, growing, milk, travel, trees


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Comment by Clay Gordon on March 19, 2009 at 1:41pm
Will wonders never cease! Thanks to ChocolateLife member Sera (posted on Facebook, though), Hawaiin Vintage is back with a vengeance.

Note that these puppies are made with 100% pure Hawaiian Vintage Chocolate - whatever that is.

PS. If any members in Hawaii can verify (or not) the existence of "100% pure Hawaiian Vintage Chocolate" we would all be grateful.
Comment by Susie Norris on October 6, 2008 at 6:41pm
I stand corrected!
Comment by Susie Norris on October 6, 2008 at 12:18pm
Hawaii is definitely at the northern edge of "the belt". I know someone who can anwer a lot of your questions, and that is Tony Lydgate, owner of STEELGRASS FARM in Kauai ( He has reserached cacao botany, fermentation, hybrids and yeilds as he builds his cacao groves. He works mostly with forestero. You probably know that cacao will actually grow most anywhere....but it only bears fruit in "the belt". This is less about the temperature and more about the absense of the midges who flourish in the humid conditions of the belt. As for fermentation and temperatures, maybe Tony or our new friend Koa Kahili can enlighten us further.
Comment by Brady on October 6, 2008 at 12:11am

Can you comment on something I wrote above?
"Also, I read that one of the challenges in producing good Hawaiin chocolate is attaining proper fermentation. Apparently it is colder at night than is suitable for proper fermentation."

Comment by Koa Kahili on October 5, 2008 at 10:12pm
The latest and best in Hawaiian chocolate comes from Kauai, Garden Island Chocolate
Comment by Brady on May 3, 2008 at 12:48am
I've been wanting to hear more about Hawaiian chocolate. For one, I realize it's not a big producer, but whenever "the belt" (the worlds cacao growing region) is mentioned people always claim cacao is grown only 20 degrees from the equator. I've heard and read people only mention a 10 or 15 degree range too. I'm usually irked because it doesn't include Hawaii unless you stretch the belt to 23- 25 degrees. Anyways, I had wondered about Hawaiin Vintage. Interesting info in the previous post. Does anyone know of more companies other than Hawaiin Vintage(?), Original Hawaiin Chocolate Factory and Malie Kai that have produced chocolate from Hawaiis' beans? Also, is Malie Kai the same as the Waialua Estate Singe Origin chocolate that is sold on Chosophere? The packaging looks different and I don't see mention of Malie Kai on the Chocosphere site.

Does anybody know anything else about Hawaiin cacao? I believe it is mostly forastero, but when I was there (April 2006) I met Pam and Bob Cooper of the Original Hawaiin Chocolate Factory and if I understood him correctly, Bob mentioned a criollo grown somewhere in Hawaii that they planned on making some chocolate with later that year. I never saw it mentioned on their website so don't know if they ever did that. Also, I read that one of the challenges in producing good Hawaiin chocolate is attaining proper fermentation. Apparently it is colder at night than is suitable for proper fermentation.
Comment by Clay Gordon on April 29, 2008 at 10:42pm
You are right about the pineapple chunks. I've been working with a company to help develop a number of products (organic chocolate covered organic macadamia nuts, coffee beans, cashews, and nibs), and we've also been experimenting with dried banana chunks and dried pineapple. They are the bomb!
Comment by Susie Norris on April 29, 2008 at 9:57pm
That might have been Malie Kai, as Dole owns a lot of their land. They are growing cacao but not yet up to speed on the bean-to-bar front and they supplement some of their product line with Guittard. They told me Dole owns LOTS of land as you can imagine and seems to have some minor interests in cacao. You've inspired me to track that story, since dark single origin covered pineapple chunks could be so great! Thanks!
Comment by Sarah Hart on April 29, 2008 at 8:59pm
I had some Hawaiian chocolate earlier this year. I can't remember what it was called, but it seemed to be a subsidiary of Dole as it had a little tiny dole logo on the back of the lable. Any one know what this was? It was okay chocolate. It didn't knock my socks of but it wasn't bad either.
Comment by Clay Gordon on April 28, 2008 at 7:19pm

I certainly hope they can make a go of it this time, too!

They have been trying to grow cacao commercially (in fits and starts) for over 150 years. Things are so crazy expensive on the islands that growing pineapple is no longer a commercially viable proposition. But if all of the current generation of Hawaiian growers are committed to the highest quality standards in all aspects of their breeding, growing, post-harvest processing, and chocolate making, then they stand a chance of being able to produce a product that chocolate lovers around the world will be willing to pay for to enjoy.

It can't just be a novelty, it has to be better than good.

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