Kona Earth Chocolate: Handcrafted from Seed to Bar

Kona Earth chocolate is a gourmet dark chocolate made with 75% cacao from our farm in Holualoa on the Big Island of Hawaii. Each 2.2 ounce bar is poured by hand and scored into breakable, bite-size squares for delicious savoring.

Hawaiian chocolate is considered among the very best worldwide.  It recently topped the international Cacoa of Excellence competition in Paris, winning a Gold medal. Hawaii is considered an emerging origin for exceptional cacao alongside established regions such as Ecuador and Ghana. Kona, in particular, is an up and coming origin, producing exceptionally fine, gourmet chocolate sourced from Kona cacao.

How is chocolate made?

Making artisanal chocolate is a meticulous and labor intensive process as nuanced and creative as making wine or coffee. The quality of the cacao, the finesse of the processing and the expertise of the chocolatier all combine to create an exceptional flavor profile. As “seed to cup” is to coffee, “bean to bar” connotes the hand-crafted process of chocolate-making. Here are the essential steps in the process;

Bean to bar infographic
                                        Photo Courtesy of readcacao.com

 

Harvesting      

On average, cacao trees (Theobroma cacao) take four to five years to bear fruit. This “fruit” comes in the form of brightly colored cacao pods, football-shaped gourds in yellows, reds, and dark browns. The pods grow directly from the trunk and range in length from four to twelve inches. Each tree produces 50 or so pods per year, yielding about 15 pounds of beans.  Fun fact: It takes about 400 beans to produce just one bar of chocolate!

Burlap bags of Kona cacao pods

 

Once ripe, the pods are carefully hand-picked, then cut in half to reveal the raw cacao beans inside. The beans are removed from the wet, fleshy outer fruit.  The process is similar to removing seeds from a pumpkin, though cacao pods are considerably larger in size – roughly the size of a walnut. Collected in buckets and weighed, the beans are ready for processing.

Inside a Kona cacao pod

Fermenting: 

The first stage is cacao process involves fermentation which takes place in special containers. Temperatures reach up to 122 degrees during this five to ten-day process which removes the outer coatings. Bitterness subsides and the unique cacao flavor begins to develop.

Kona Cacao fermenting process

Drying: 

Still too moist for creating chocolate, the beans are now dried, are placed on covered drying racks in the sun until reaching a moisture content of 7%.  Typically, this process ranges in time from seven to fourteen days.  Once dried, the beans can be stored in this state for six months and longer.

Roasting:

The beans are then roasted which serves several purposes.  It removes any lingering moisture, sterilizes the beans and, most importantly, helps to enhance the flavor.

 

Cacao nibs

Winnowing and Cracking:

During roasting, the shell has become brittle. At this stage, they are cracked to separate the shells from the small bits called nibs, which are removed or winnowed from the bean kernels.  Roasting, winnowing and cracking are typically done within several hours to prepare the beans for the next phase of production.

Grinding and Conching: 

During grinding, nibs are liquefied into a thick paste called cocoa mass or cocoa liquor. The grinding reduces the nibs to under 20 microns and takes approximately 24 hours.

Cocoa Mass

Conching is the mixing process where the paste is further refined and flavors can be added such as vanilla, cocoa butter, and organic cane sugar. The end result will be chocolate with a smooth and velvety texture and a delicate, balanced flavor profile based on the chocolatier’s intention (i.e. milk chocolate, dark chocolate, etc.)

Tempering:  

The cocoa mass is solidified and stabilized in a process called tempering which slowly heats and cools it so that it is formed into the right consistency for pouring. Without this step, the chocolate would be dull and crumbly, lacking the luscious sheen we expect or the nice “snap” when we pull off a piece. Termpering takes several 3-4 hours to achieve.

Kona Earth dark chocolate bars

Moulding: 

The tempered chocolate is poured into a mould and lightly vibrated or tapped on a special machine to remove any air bubbles. Bars are cured overnight in a cooler before wrapping. 

Wrapping: 

Each bar is safely wrapped in a thick, confectionary foil, labeled and stored in a temperature-controlled cooler at 64 degrees.

 

Big Island Loves Kona Cacao

Here in Kona, cacao is produced by a small group of independent farms who take great care in tending to their cacao trees. The Kona Cacao Association celebrates these efforts each year with the Big Island Chocolate Festival, usually in October.  The Festival encompasses seminars, demonstrations, a student chef competition, a professionally judged taste-off competition, a gala fundraiser and a silent auction.