Hawaii is most known for its tropical fruits and coffee, but you may not know that the Islands also grow cacao — the seed used to make chocolate. As a result, there are a fair number of local chocolatiers on Oahu crafting tasty treats using locally grown beans.
“I’m surprised how few locals know we are growing chocolate on Oahu,” says Nathan Sato, owner of Malie Kai Chocolates. “And visitors are usually completely unaware of Oahu chocolate — and often Hawaiian chocolate generally.”
From incorporating other local ingredients to focusing on soy-free bars, Oahu chocolate runs the gamut when it comes to variety. Here are three chocolate companies on Oahu, including Malie Kai, that serve hand-crafted artisan chocolate bars you can’t find anywhere else:
Couple Nathan Sato and Miki Azuchi originally dipped their toes in the chocolate business by crafting bars using cacao sourced from the North Shore of Oahu, and then selling them at local farmers markets. In July, they upped the ante and decided to open a retail space at the Royal Hawaiian Center in Waikiki, selling bars made from single-origin chocolate grown on the North Shore of Oahu. In addition to tasty flavors such as milk chocolate or white tangerine, Malie Kai also makes chocolate bars with Kona Coffee and cacao nibs.
Fun fact: Hawaiian rum truffles are sold exclusively at the store. These are truffles made by blending Hawaiian rum from Maui and locally-grown chocolate to create a creamy ganache filling that’s then covered in savory dark chocolate.
Last summer, Dylan Butterbaugh opened a chocolate shop called Manoa Chocolate in Kailua — and he’s busier than ever. Fans love the bean-to-bar shop that crafts high-quality chocolate using sustainable production methods. Not all of its chocolate bars use locally sourced cacao, but many do. Some feature other Hawaiian products including lavender grown on Maui, ghost peppers from Kailua and coffee from the Big Island. Manoa’s shop in Kailua also hosts wine pairing events, which sell out quickly, as well as tours of the factory on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.
Fun fact: If you want a single origin chocolate bar, get the 72 percent Hamakua Hawaiian Crown bar made with cacao from local farms on the Big Island’s Hamakua Coast. This chocolate is jam-packed with distinct flavor notes ranging from fruity (think plum, pear, raisin) to floral and even ending with hints of balsamic vinegar.
Not only does Madre Chocolate produce a delicious product, but the company’s founders, David Elliott and Nat Bletter, are on a mission to produce high-quality artisanal chocolate bars in Hawaii. The duo bring lots of experience to the business, too. Elliott used to work on rural development and environmental issues in cacao-growing regions of Ecuador and Bolivia while living half the year in Mexico. Bletter holds a Ph.D. in Ethnobotany and has worked and studied in Asia, South America, Central America and Africa. Madre Chocolate — all vegan and soy-free, by the way — can be found all over the island from farmers markets to retailers in Waikiki. This chocolate is even used in the desserts served at 12th Avenue Grill in Honolulu’s Kaimuki neighborhood. The company’s Kailua shop also hosts a variety of classes and events, from bean-to-bar chocolate-making sessions to whiskey and chocolate pairings.
Fun fact: Madre’s Single Estate Hawaiian 70 percent dark chocolate bar is made from cacao grown on the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island, and won first place in the 2012 Big Island Chocolate Festival. You can also get the same chocolate infused with Hawaiian passion fruit.
Photos Courtesy of Maile Kai and Manoa Chocolate