Hawaiian chocolate tour

We’ve just come back from a week exploring the booming bean-to-bar chocolate scene in Hawaii. Hawaii is the only state in the USA which can grow cacao, and is a wonderfully accessible place to experience the full journey of chocolate from tree to bar. We visited farms, talked to researchers, toured factories and, of course, tasted lots of chocolate! For anyone who wants to add a bit of chocolate to their Hawaii trip, this is a list of our favourite bean-to-bar chocolate experiences on the island of Oahu (where Honolulu & Waikiki are).

Island X, 67-106 Kealohanui St, Unit C-1, Wailalua
Housed in an old sugar mill in the north of the island, Island X is a working coffee and cacao plantation. You first walk into a large store filled with Hawaiian souvenirs, with a focus on coffee products. But ask the staff for the coffee or cacao tour (or both) and you get taken out the back to see how it all works. There are a few small trees for you to look at, as well as the spaces for fermentation, drying and roasting. We were lucky enough to visit on days when there was a new harvest of cacao being opened and fermented, and because this is a working farm, we saw how it all really works behind the scenes – fascinating! They are processing cacao for Waialua Estates Chocolate company (see below) – you can buy a selection of their bars in the Island X shop. Open 9am to 5pm, 7 days.

Dole Plantations – 64-1550 Kamehameha Hwy, Wahiawa – Train ride $10.50, gardens $7.00
Wow, if you love pineapple then this is the place for you! They have a huge shop filled with every pineapple related product, accessory and souvenir you can think of, as well as plantation tours and gardens. But if you’re interested in cacao there is something here for you too. The courtyard behind the shop is filled with people eating pineapple ice-cream, but also has a row of cacao trees, many of which were fruiting when we visited. These are free to see, or you can also pay to go into the gardens to see more cacao trees, or pay to go on the train tour of the pineapple plantation. We didn’t do the train because the pineapples had just been harvested, so there wouldn’t have been much to see. But we’ve been told it is great fun, and at the end they take you past the cacao plantation, so you can see how they grow in a large farmed setting.

Manoa factory tour – 315 Uluniu St, Suite 203, Kailua – 1.5hrs – $9.95
Held in Manoa’s small bean to bar factory in Kailua, this was a great introduction to how bean-to-bar chocolate is made. We started with a discussion about where cacao comes from and how it is farmed, including a taste of the cacao fruit. Then Dylan (the chocolate maker) went through the process and equipment for making chocolate. A highlight was seeing their home-made winnower in action: made with a back massager, power drill (an upgrade from their first recycled child’s tricycle – check it out on YouTube)! It was great to see the machines that they use up close, and hear how they’ve evolved their chocolate making over time. Lastly, we did a tasting of the whole Manoa range and the different flavours found in different beans. Highly recommended. Tours in English run Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 3pm (though they show as much as they can at other times).

Madre Chocolate ‘Make your own chocolate bar’ course – 8 North Pauahi St, Honolulu – 2 hrs – $25
This was less structured but a fun class in the hidden oasis of Madre’s Chinatown store. They discussed the whole process from tree (in their urban garden) to bar and we did a tasting of a few flavoured bars in their range. To make our own bar we poured the pre-tempered chocolate into a mould then chose from a large range of ingredients (salt, chilli, lavender, coffee, etc). By the end of the session it was set, and we could hand-wrap and label our bars to take home. Classes run Friday at Honolulu or Wednesday at their other store at 20-A Kainehe St, Kailua.

Wholefoods – All over the place (e.g. 629 Kailua Rd #100, Kailua)
If you’re looking to try a range of US chocolates then Wholefoods is the place to go. They have a huge range, some of which are bean to bar. We saw Manoa, Wailua, Hawaiian Crown, as well as a bunch of other US makers (even Mast Brothers). Ideally you’d get around to visit all these chocolate makers directly, but if that doesn’t work in your schedule this is the next best thing. We came on a Thursday night after visiting the awesome Kailua Farmers Market – a wonderful array of fresh and hot food stalls and local crafts, accompanied by live music. Open 7am to 10pm, 7 days per week at Kailua, or Kahala Mall, 4211 Waialae Ave #2000, Honolulu

Other accessible chocolate options on Oahu:

  • Kahuku Farms – 56 Kamehameha Hwy. Their big Farm tour on the North Shore which includes cacao trees, Friday & Sunday at 2pm, $22
  • Wahiawa Botanical Gardens – 1396 California Avenue, Wahiawa. The gardens laid out in a natural rainforest style, with interesting signs about many of the plants. They had one small cacao tree (which wasn’t flowering or fruiting when we were there) tucked down the back at the bottom of the long staircase.
  • Wailua Estate chocolate – 650 Iwilei Road, Doll Cannery, Honolulu. The public can’t access this factory, but you can easily watch through the glass windows into the factory and see them working to make their bean to bar chocolate. Their chocolates are available in the coffee shop next door (and at Island X).

Chocolates we tried from the other islands of Hawaii:

  • Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory – They run a farm and factory walking tour on the Big Island on Wednesdays and Fridays at 9am and again at 11am on Fridays ($17), or you can visit the chocolate shop 10am to 3pm Tuesday to Friday.
  • Puna Chocolate – we met up with Adam when he was in Oahu during our stay. His friendly, enthusiastic approach to chocolate was infectious. If you can’t get to Hilo to see them on the Big Island, Puna chocolate is available in the Island Vintage coffee shop (in the shop’s own packaging) upstairs in the Royal Hawaiian centre (2201 Kalakaua Ave, Waikiki).
  • Chocolate Wave – Special mention to these guys, based on the Big Island they use locally grown cacao to make chocolate which they shape into fantastic longboards (surfboards) – they were kind enough to send us a sample. Next time we’ll visit Hilo for sure!