The Proper Way to Eat Chocolate

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The Proper Way to Eat Chocolate

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Destination: Kauai
Jan 14, 2012

“There’s a proper way to eat chocolate,” Koa said. “Take a piece and rub it around in your fingers to aerate and warm it up. That brings out all the flavors.”

That also explained why the tips of Koa’s fingers—and now mine—were brown.

I gave my husband three cacao trees five years ago for our anniversary. Now, after a visit to the Garden Island Chocolate farm, I know why they are nothing more than three sticks in the hard-packed ground where I live on Kauai.

The scientific name Theobroma cacao translates to “food of the gods” and “the chocolate tree.” In America, we refer to the plant and all its products before processing as “cacao.” After processing, the seeds, whether in liquid or solid form, become what some call the “food of the gods,” what others call a “super-food,” and what still others call a daily necessity, but in all cases, its most common name is “chocolate.” 

There is only one place in the United States where cacao is grown: Hawaii. And there are only two growers who see cacao to its final state in a “bean to bar” process. One is Garden Island Chocolate on Kauai. The other is The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory—with a slogan, Remember: Chocolate is Aloha—located on Hawaii (Big) Island.

You might call the gift of a cacao tree the gift that keeps on giving or—with a wink and a smile—self-serving. But the truth is I am not the chocoholic in the family. Although I admit, the more I try different types of chocolate, especially with various food pairings—much like wine—the stuff is growing on me. And, so, very much in keeping with my character, my first stop in my Organic, Sustainable, Mostly Plant-Based Hawaii Farm Tour of 2012, I decided to start with dessert.

Garden Island Chocolate is located on Kauai’s east side, above Kapaa, along a meandering rural-residential road, far off the beaten track that leads to typical visitor destinations, on the 30-acre property of Ein Rogel Farms.

On the covered lanai outside a farm building, we sat around a table decorated with roasted cacao beans, bowls of cacao nibs, bars of chocolate, mini jars of chocolate syrup and a box of chocolate truffles—a veritable choco-palooza. A medium brown cat, named Cocoa, of course, weaved between our legs, leaving a scent my two dogs would later spend long, intense minutes deciphering. Outside, water raced over a wide waterfall and down the stream adjacent to the property.

The farm’s chocolate maker, Koa, passed around a plate of nibs in two of the farm’s eight varieties—criollo and trinitario. Nibs, Koa explained, are chunks of cacao after it’s been fermented, dried and roasted. Basically, almost chocolate.

Next, he passed around a plate of the farm’s Spicy Pepper chocolate, made with allspice and chilies as a tribute to the ancient Mayans who are credited with figuring out how to turn a cacao pod shaped like a mini football into the flavor we call chocolate. 

“Good connoisseurs don’t use adjective to describe chocolate,” Koa said. “They share a memory or a feeling. Chocolate connoisseurs don’t say it tastes like a plumb with black currants. They might say something like, ‘It smells like that sunny day when I was on the swing and the grass was freshly cut.’”

I tasted a piece of Alaea Sea Salt, and it will always remind me of the tooth-smeared, chocolate smile of Susan Garden, visiting from Napa, California, wearing a straw hat on her head, fingers as smudged as mine, and laughing throatily as she made sure not to let a few stray grains of Hawaiian sea salt go to waste.

Another of the tours guides, Jesse, explained, “Chocolate is a processed food, like coffee and wine. Its quality is a combination of a great product and proper processing. Like the ‘third wave of coffee,’ quality chocolates are single origin, so you can taste the terroir.”

The Hemp Seed and Mint was next.

Jesse explained that mission of Garden Island Chocolate is simple: To produce the best chocolate in the world.

Hence, their chocolate is made up of 80% chocolate. “When you get below 60 or 50 percent cacao, you can’t really taste the quality of the chocolate.”

Jesse describes the operation at Garden Island Chocolate as an artisanal, small batch maker. They follow organic and sustainable agricultural standards and practices. What they don’t grow themselves, they source from other Hawaii farmers. For example, their sugar comes from the last working sugar plantation in Hawaii—Maui.

The Macadamia Nut & Coconut chocolate may have been the last bar to get passed around, but it wasn’t the last of the chocolate.

Speaking of sugar, Jesse explained, if a chocolate bar is labeled as 80% cacao, then 20% of the bar is made of sugar. He also pointed out that you’ve got to read the ingredient label. The “80% cacao” banner on the front of the bar really means “cacao and cacao derivatives.” Derivatives like cocoa butter.

So, of course, I flipped over the bar in my hands to read the ingredients of Garden Island Chocolate’s Spicy Pepper chocolate bar, and they read: organic Kauai grown cacao, organic Hawaiian sugar, organic chili peppers, organic allspice, organic Kauai grown vanilla beans.

And, then, I accepted the first truffle: Lilikoi. And that’s when it may have happened--that's when I may have become a chocoholic.

How often do you really and truly come across something that’s good—and I mean really good--and good—and I mean really good—for you? 

Koa explained, chocolate has more flavanols (antioxidants) than any other type of food. (Flavanols help blood flow and strengthen the lining of the blood vessels.) Chocolate has over 400 chemical compounds, including theobromine, a muscle relaxant; phenylethylamine, known as the love drug; and anandamide, known as the bliss chemical. No wonder chocolate is considered a super-food.

Second truffle: Pina colada with Tahitian lime.

The key in retaining the health benefits to chocolate, though, is in keeping it pure. That’s why Garden Island Chocolate grinds the beans by hand using a stone melanger. “It’s like the difference between fresh-squeezed orange juice and orange juice made from concentrate,” said Jesse.

Third truffle: Honey.

There’s so much more than chocolate on this tour. Before we even got to the tasting room—a covered lanai—we toured the farm: soursop, lychee, rambutan, atemoya, breadfruit, mangosteen, fig, tropical peach, papaya, tangelo, lilikoi and vanilla. We tasted: papaya, navel orange, tangerine, grapefruit, avocado, pomelo, rambutan, abiu, cacao bean, Surinam cherry and macadamia nut. The tasting started with the tiny fruit—oblong in shape and Christmas red in color—called Miracle Berry. For good reason. But that story will have to wait for another day. 

I returned home with a bar of chocolate for my husband and a bit of knowledge. Cacao is an understory plant. As such, it prefers shade, wind-protection and plenty of water. Our cacao trees receive: sun, wind and drought-like conditions. It’s not like we didn’t do our homework. The bananas that were supposed to provide shade turned out to be dwarfs. The wind-blocks got ripped out in a big storm, and when the one-time healthy saplings got stripped of their leaves, we didn’t re-build their protection and, over time, stopped watering them. Hence, twigs sticking out of the ground.

But that’s fine with me. Making (good) chocolate is no small endeavor. I’ll just pick up a bar of Garden Island Chocolate next time I have a hankering. Which could be tonight.


Susan Garden | Jan 23, 2012 06:09 PM

Hey Kim, i just thought of your blog tonight and went to check it out...I even found the address by memory....see how much chocolate helps you!!! You have a great blog. Thanks for sparing me the embarassment of the photo- I'm sure I looked stunning. How do I sign up to receive it? Please advise. I really enjoyed meeting you and hope to see you again in the future. We came home to 23 degrees, muddy water system, and no electricity. Welcome back to sunny California!!! Anyway, I would love to host you should you ever get out this way to the San Francisco/ Napa Valley area. Melissa lives in Oakland ( with the chocolate fiancé!) so we could entertain you either in the city or the country. Either way may we see you again soon. And, keep on doing your great work! All the best, Susan Garden

Kim | Jan 31, 2012 09:00 PM

Hi Susan, so glad you found your way here. It was great experiencing the chocolate farm tour with you and noshing on every last morsel of yummy chocolate. Thanks for the invitation. You never know!

Geert Vercruysse | Jan 22, 2013 07:55 AM

Thanks for sharing your feelings on chocolate of Hawai. I do have, as a chocolatier, friends on Hawai Nat and Eliot of Madre and they have wonderfull chocolate, which I work with for pastry and bonbons, thanks again Kim. I hope you do not mind I shared this story on my FBpage, Greetings from cold Belgium Geert

Geert Vercruysse | Jan 22, 2013 07:49 AM

Thanks for sharing your feelings on chocolate of Hawai. I do have, as a chocolatier, friends on Hawai Nat and Eliot of Madre and they have wonderfull chocolate, which I work with for pastry and bonbons, thanks again Kim. I hope you do not mind I shared this story on my FBpage, Greetings from cold Belgium Geert

dwi lawyer | Mar 08, 2013 09:44 PM

What you said made a lot of sense. But, think about this, what if you added a little content? I mean, I don't want to tell you how to run your blog, but what if you added something to maybe get peoples attention? Just like a video or a picture or two to get people excited about what you've got to say. In my opinion, it would make your blog come to life a little bit.

Melanie | Jun 29, 2014 07:49 PM

Great article. I just want to point out that there are more than 2 bean to bar producers in Hawaii besides Garden Island and OHCF. Kauai also has Steelgrass Farm who produced bars this year . We have Madre and Manoa chocolate in Kailua, Oahu. Madre has won numerous awards for their bars. There is also Lonohana on the north shore of Oahu who grows and makes chocolate. The Big Island has Hawaiian Crown and Tom Sharkey. Most of these companies own their farms and others harvest from local growers who just want to farm. There is also a lot of cacao farming in Maui with a few limited release bars this year from Hana Gold and a collaboration between Piilani Kope and Sweet Paradise chocolatier both of Maui and both growing. Our statewide association, has almost 100 members. Three cheers for Hawaiian chocolate!

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