‘Really into cacao’: Workshop explores chocolate-making process, pod’s potential

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A cacao pod contains a wealth of potential, but it’s a long way from a tiny bean to a tasty bar of chocolate.

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A cacao pod contains a wealth of potential, but it’s a long way from a tiny bean to a tasty bar of chocolate.

The 30 people attending a Friday chocolate-making workshop hosted by the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources hoped to learn more about how to make the most of those beans.

“As a cacao grower (alone), you can’t make that much money,” said CTAHR assistant researcher Alyssa Cho. “Even selling the fermented and dried beans is better than just the pods.”

Cho’s work focuses on tropical fruit and nut production.

Hawaii County has the highest number of cacao producers in the state, with people growing pods throughout the island.

People on Hawaii Island are “really into cacao,” Cho said. “But they plant it, and then go ‘What do I do with it?’”

The workshop aimed to answer that question, with help from hands-on roasting, sorting, grinding and refining stations as well as a cacao production overview from CTAHR graduate research assistant Colin Hart.

Hart works at a cacao farm operated by the Sharkey family. His current research, funded by Hawaii County Research and Development and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, focuses on finding alternative methods of fermentation and drying cacao beans, particularly those methods that could work better in East Hawaii’s humidity.

“It’s really something I want to improve,” Hart said. Drying is an extension of the fermentation process, and ideally takes place over a week, with beans out in the sun.

Once beans are dried, they are roasted. The process mellows the acids in the beans; it is at this point that a cacao bean begins to smell like chocolate.

“Roasting is such an art form in itself,” Hart said.

After rotating through the four cacao processing stations, participants carefully squeezed a thick chocolately mixture into molds (some of which spelled CTAHR) to set. By the end of the morning, they’d have their own bars to take home.

More CTAHR workshops are planned for the future, which will focus specifically on the fermenting and drying processes that Hart is researching.

“Those are really complex,” Cho said.

“We thought about doing a full overview at this workshop, but then it would have been two days.”

Maddy Smith, who recently started Barefoot Chocolatini, a chocolate tour business that brings visitors to local cacao farms, was already familiar with the chocolate-making process, but said she decided to attend the workshop to learn more about Hart’s method of roasting.

“There’s so many different ways to do it,” she said. “We’re trying to learn a little bit from all of the different styles, like European and South American.”

She also hoped to meet more small farmers at the workshop, so she could include them on her tours.

“It’s a good way to connect new farmers with people who are doing it already, so they can learn from them,” Smith said. Down the road, she said, a chocolate co-op would be a good model for supplying cacao beans.

“Everyone’s taking little baby steps,” said Tammy Klewitz of Kurtistown, who attended with her husband, Donn. The Klewitzes have about a dozen cacao trees in the ground and are part of the East Hawaii Cacao Association.

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Being part of an industry that is just getting started means cacao farmers are always “learning, learning, learning,” Klewitz said. “I think (the workshop) is a fabulous opportunity for the people here.”

Email Ivy Ashe at iashe@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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