fun field trip: waialua estate, oahu, part 1

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There was only one thing I had my heart set on during our recent trip to Hawaii (other than beach lounging and pineapple inhaling): a trip out to the North Shore of Oahu, to Waialua. You see, in Waialua, they grow something pretty special — TWO somethings special to be exact, coffee and cacao. Today we’ll mostly be talking about the cacao, because there’s just too much deliciousness for just one post!

The Waialua Estate Plantation is 150 acres total, half dedicated to coffee, and half to the production of the cacao bean. The plantation, owned by Dole Hawaii, is a relatively new operation, planted in repurposed sugar cane fields in 1996 as an agricultural diversification project after Hawaii’s sugar industry collapsed. Coffee was a known flourisher in Hawaii’s sub-tropical climate, but the success of cacao was unknown, a risky endeavor. The risk has paid off — and how — producing small batch, single-origin cacao that ranks amongst the world’s finest. And it’s also some of the only chocolate grown on US soil!

photo above: looking out onto the cacao orchard, Waialua, HI

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raw, sun-dried cacao beans make a tasty snack!

The cacao is grown in large pods and harvested by hand. The pods are split, and the cacao beans are removed, fermented over several days to develop flavor and complexity, and then dried in the sun. These sun-dried beans are what you see above, fragrant with the perfume of chocolate, but with an assertive, almost olive-like flavor. The raw beans are then sent to chocolatiers, such as Waialua‘s collaborator, Guittard Chocolate for processing into it’s famous and most delicious state.

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The resulting chocolate is, hands down, the best I’ve ever tasted: with flavors distinguished by bright, ripe, berry flavors, low acidity, and almost no bitterness, something I’ve never before experienced in a 70% cacao bar. Waialua chocolate also has a silky, creamy mouthfeel, thanks to it’s naturally high cocoa butter content. I’m glad I stocked up before we came home, but I take solace in knowing I can order it any time, via Chocosphere. Honolulu-based chocolatier Maile Kai chocolates also produces beautiful confections with Waialua cacao, and they can be purchased from Specialty Foods of Hawaii. At around $5, I can afford a taste of Hawaii without springing for a plane ticket! –Megan B.

Stay posted next week for more from the plantation!

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