A long time ago I walked through a cacao plantation in a coastal rainforest near Chuao, Venezuela. More recently I visited the Ahonui botanical garden on Kauai where the owner showed us his cacao plants, and I took a tour at Theo’s, a local chocolate producer in Seattle. But on a tour of the Manoa chocolate factory (Kailua, Oahu), I learned way more about how you actually make chocolate than ever before.
Owner Dylan Butterbaugh showed us the equipment he uses to grind the cacao. He told us when he started, after viewing a YouTube videos on the making of chocolate, he gerry-rigged a winnowing machine to break up and crush the beans after drying and figured out how to power it with a bicycle. He pointed to the wall behind us where that original bike, named Dora resides. See below –
To see the original bike-powered machine in action go to about 1:48 of the video below. You can also see how the beans are roasted on a barbecue machine with a motor attached. I didn’t see this on the tour as it is done offsite.
Interestingly, Dylan noted that some countries like Colombia, noted for its coffee, were not famous for great cacao. Somehow they just didn’t have that right combination of soil, temperature, slope and aspect, sun, terroir, all those things that give each crop its unique flavor.
One interesting thing about cacao plants is that the pods, shown above, often sprout right on the tree trunk. Above you can see the pods and pulp, which contain the beans.
Soon, it was time to taste. As our bar hostess described each chocolate we were about to try, she showed us a wheel with flavors, by category. The flavor of each chocolate we tried would fit somewhere on this wheel. They were all fabulous. I was partial to the Bahia dark chocolate from Brazil, and a lighter chocolate made from Hawaiian cacao.
Below is a link to a very interesting article (in Spanish) sent by my sister-in-law in Venezuela. It is about the efforts of a few visionary chocolate lovers to rebuild Venezuela’s once thriving cacao industry, struggling with the current political and economic turmoil plaguing the country. This happens far too often in cacao producing countries.