The other day, I picked up a few Garden Island Chocolate bars from the local health food store. Jacob and I make it a point to taste every local chocolate bar we can, especially those made by small businesses. A growing handful of people in Hawai’i (the only state in the US where cacao can be grown) are making bean-to-bar chocolate bars, and I am trying to keep an eye on them so that I can beg the people making the tastiest ones to sell me their chocolate at wholesale prices. So far I’ve only found one Hawaiian company selling bean-to-bar chocolate at halfway decent wholesale prices (that is, it merely costs an arm, not an arm and a leg), and while the chocolate is nice, it’s not mind-blowing.
It’s just like owning a restaurant: the rarity of one person or even a few people possessing the combination of the business acumen needed to keep a restaurant running healthily, the creativity needed to keep the food interesting and good, and the discipline needed to actually get the food out to the customers day after day explains why most of the restaurant food out there is, as my grandmother would say, dreck.
Being able to grow or source tasty cacao beans as well as possess an understanding of (and willingness to flawlessly perform) the intricate steps necessary to make chocolate and the sophisticated palate necessary to know what good chocolate actually tastes like explains why most of the bean-to-bar chocolate made by small companies isn’t super amazing. So it was with excitement tempered (I made a chocolate pun!) with realistic expectations that we tried the Garden Island hemp and mint bar.
It was great. The mint wasn’t overwhelming, the hemp seeds weren’t annoying, and the chocolate was smooth smooth smooth. Luxurious and complex and just right.
I looked up the company online and became instantly obsessed with them. A delicious chocolate bar being made from scratch right here on my little home-away-from-home island! I was sharing my excitement with Jacob’s cousin Albert, and he said that he knew the chocolate-maker, Koa, and he thought he could get an invite to his little factory if I was interested. Small towns, how I love thee!
So a few days later we went to Koa’s place, and he very kindly showed a very bubbly me his entire setup. I won’t get all into it because I don’t want to share his potentially secret procedure with the world without his permission (he talks all about it here though), but suffice to say that it blew my mind in a rather extreme way and I have been having dreams about making my own chocolate in my little commercial kitchen in New Paltz from Hawaiian-grown beans (Koa doesn’t wholesale his chocolate, sadly).
Koa gave us a ton of chocolate to taste and we talked a lot of about the different flavors of different beans—he talks about a lot of this on his site too, check it out! Perhaps the most amazing bar was a milk chocolate bar made with coconut milk—I have been wondering why no one was making such a bar for a long time, and just as I suspected it would be, his bar was delicious.
Koa recommended a few books to get as I ease into the world of making chocolate from scratch:
And some political and culinary choco goodies:
Bitter Chocolate (I’ve been meaning to read this one forever, it looks great and devastating)
Jumping off into the deep end in 2009,
(P.S. Koa also has a great answer to the very annoying question I get asked a lot: why don’t you make raw chocolate? Instead of doing as I want to do and giving a long disquision on how chocolate can never be raw and just enjoy the damn chocolate already and the whole raw thing is getting a little bit annoying, people, he very calmly explains the whole thing.)