When we visited Maui this year, we found an awesome chocolate plantation, Ku’ia Estate Chocolate. They grow delicious world-class cacao trees (where chocolate comes from) on land that was made useless due to sugar plantations. When the land was used to grow sugar it was stripped bare of trees, the crop was never rotated and tons of chemicals were dumped on it turning the once lush land into a desert. You are read more about Maui’s effort to restore the land here.
This is what the chocolate farm looks like from above. It is located in Maui on a plot of land that is reserved for agriculture. It looks like an oasis in the desert created by the sugar plantation. Ku’ia Estate Chocolate needed to replant the tropical forest that was once there to block the wind and the hot sun (cacao trees love the shade). They also had to do a lot of work to get nutrients back into the soil making sure to use organic farming methods.
The chocolate starts its life as a tiny flower. They are very delicate so the wind blockers are extra important to ensure that the flower doesn’t get blown off the tree. Since they are so tiny, the only insect that can pollinate the cacao plant is the chocolate midge.
The flowers turn into cacao pods. They are ready to harvest when they turn a darker color and get a lot bigger. You harvest them all year round but the biggest harvests are between May and July, and between October and March, after the rainy season.
These are the Cacao trees. The pods grow on the trunks and thicker branches of the trees because they are very heavy. The trees are currently pretty young because Ku’ia Estate Chocolate hasn’t been around for a very long time.
After the cacao beans are harvested and prepared, they are put through a series of machines to create all the different chocolate creations. Ku’ia Estate Chocolate grows their banana leaves to use for the preparation process, so they are very self-sufficient. They also don’t take away any of the natural flavors of the cacao beans, so the chocolate is more nutritious and has a complex flavor. They also do shipping so you don’t have to go all the way to Maui to get their chocolate.
They have created a whole bunch of unique flavors that they sell in their store, for example, orange mango guava, lemongrass, and calamansi lime, you are sure to find a flavor that you love.
They grow the fruit that they use for their flavors on site and it is very fresh.
Ku’ia Estate Chocolate after only three years of selling has won the 2021 Cocoa of Excellence Gold Award for the Asia Pacific region and the 2022 Good Food Award. They give all of the profits that they make to local Hawaiian non-profits.
There are also tours of their plantation (which we highly recommend) that teach you about the process of making chocolate. The tours end with a chocolate sampling deep in the cacao forest.