Tree to Bar Chocolate Making

Christmas and New Years have come and gone.  In my life, this signals that it’s time for a vacation.  My husband and I work hard running our cafe, a level of intensity that kicks into overdrive from June to October.  By the end of the year our energy reserves are depleted, tempers are frayed and it gets harder to get out of bed each cold, dark morning.  The one saving grace is the three week vacation that we gift ourselves each year.  We close our cafe and take some time removed from our community and the bad weather.

Back when we first got married, my parents rented a condo on the big island of Hawaii.  We went for 2 weeks and fell in love with the area.  It was so different from the Magnum PI (did I just date myself?) version of Hawaii that I had grown up with.  Lava flows, speckled with scrubby brush and dotted with larger area of lush vegetation where fresh water percolates up through the lava.  A dark background covered with emerald patches.  Everyone who travels to Hawaii (the state) has a favourite Island and place…the Big Island is ours.

We’ve tried vacations on Maui and Kauai and loved each one, but we keep coming back to the Big Island.  2018 marked the fifth time we’ve been there.  There is just something familiar and comforting in returning each year.  We know the surroundings and what to expect, the best places to buy groceries and where to get a yummy meal (when we aren’t cooking for ourselves).

Since I seem to have been bitten by the “learn-something-new” bug, this year I started to look for activities that we hadn’t done before; something new and somewhat unique to Hawaii.  In the past, we’ve snorkelled with spinner dolphins, done a night dive with the manta rays, snorkelled at the Captain Cook Monument, been to see the lava glow at Kilauea, lounged at Spencer’s Beach, visited a macadamia nut processing plant, toured an orchid farm, and taken a helicopter flight over the entire island. Coming up with something new seemed a bit daunting.

After a few hours of searching review sites, pouring over the travel books that I have collected and following links from various tourism websites, I came across a review of a chocolate making class.  Immediately, it piqued my interest.  Chocolate in Hawaii…seemed like a match made in heaven.  The website revealed that it was a two day affair for $45 per day.  Awesome…relatively inexpensive and a couple of days to play in the proverbial chocolate mud.  How fun.  I emailed the contact on the website and heard back that evening.  I was in!

A month later we hopped a plane and arrived at the Kona airport.  I received an email from the workshop instructor with a map on how to find the farm.  “Don’t rely on GPS to find us, you might end up completely lost” was the warning.  I estimated it would be about a 45 minute drive from our condo, so I started out early on day one. Thank goodness for the map and my early start, I only got lost once and still made it on time.

Up a barely-there road, down and even-more-barely-there road and onto the coolest farm around, Kuaiwi Farm.

Following the signs to the parking (which was a spot in the middle of some orange trees, coffee bushes and bountiful flowering plants.  My hosts were welcoming and it seemed that I would be the only person here for day one.  It was perfect, a great opportunity to learn about the entire process.

The beans were roasted and ready for crushing (in a Champion Juicer), winnowing (in a big metal bowl with a hairdryer) and then further crushing to make the cocoa liquor and cocoa butter paste. The part that sticks in my mind the most from this first part of the day was the smell.  The aroma from the crushed beans was mildly boozy…reminding me of whiskey.  I guess it seems like an obvious aroma given that cocoa bean are fermented, but the first whiff was quite identifiable.

Once the cocoa liquor was done it was time to start up the melanger and make the chocolate.  This was done by combining the liquor, additional cocoa butter and sugar (raw and organic) slowly while the melanger turned the stones to mix and crush.  That was the end of day 2 as the mixture must grind for 24 hours to become smooth.  The melanger also ensures that the mixture is properly heated and ready for tempering.

Day 2 and there are 4 more people joining in to make the actual chocolates.  We learned to temper the liquid chocolate I had made the day before on a wonderful marble slab.  Once it was just the right temperature, the instructor put it into squeeze bottles and we each took a bottle and filled molds for bars, leaves and added chocolate to macadamia nuts, also harvested from the farm.  Success!

While the chocolate was setting up, we were treated to a tour of the farm and the incredible variety of produce grown there.  Pawpaw, avocado, pineapple, oranges and lemons of several varieties, bananas, coffee, tea and cacao. After a highly educational (and yummy) tour, it was back to check on our chocolates (perfection) and to have some coffee (from the farm).  While we were talking amongst ourselves, we were visited by some wonderful geckos, who joined us in munching some apple bananas.  What a perfect day.

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On my way home that afternoon, I was so happy that I had found this unique experience.  I have developed a real appreciation of chocolate and the effort that goes into making it from start to finish.  Time to go home and share the spoils.