A Tour of Our Cacao Farm

We now have about 50 cacao trees at our cacao orchard on the Big Island of Hawaii. The age of trees ranges from a couple of month to 5 years old. The following pictures shows the older part of the orchard.

As you can see the vegetation is quite lush. We planted several varieties of banana, palm tree and bamboo to provide the cacao trees with wind and sun protection. Some of trees start to carry large amounts of fruit. Note that color of the pods varies from tree to tree. They change color as they ripen. The red pods turn into a very bright orange when they are ready to be harvested. The green pods in the following gallery turn yellow when ripe.

In the newer parts of the orchard the vegetation is lighter, partially based on age, partially because we decided that we kind of overdid the protection in the old part of the orchard. The cuttings you see at the base of the trees are suckers that were pruned.

In addition to the cacao trees we also have some mangoes, plantains, macadamia nuts, mountain apples, sapote, avocado, star fruit, lime, surinam cherries, papaya, coffee, lychee, passion fruit, pineapple and more.

One of our latest additions is cane sugar which also provides some wind protection. If we could make our own sugar, we would be able to grow almost all ingredients that we use in our chocolate bars. Now we just need some cows for the milk powder to be used in our milk chocolate bars…

Disregarding the constant fight against weeds which seem to grow faster then anything else, there also wildlife to deal with. The electric fence keeps feral pigs away. They love to dig up the bananas and other tasty treats like tomatoes.

IMG_20181025_162147.jpg

And then there are bugs. Particularly annoying is the Chinese Rose Beetle. It eats the leaves of the cacao trees. Mature trees can deal with this but the young trees (which we call keikis) can die if too much of their foliage is eaten.

When we plant keikis we protect them from the beetles by putting a wire cage around them. The cage is also lined with a canvas to give the keikis additional wind and sun protection.

When trees have grown enough to crown it is time to remove the cage. Here are some picture from the newest part of the orchard.

Finally, we also grow the beautiful flowers that you see in the product pictures of our chocolate bars. Aloha!

Chocolate Making with Kids

This one is not a chocolate business related article.

I was recently asked by the Kindergarten teacher at our school to talk about chocolate. And my answer was, "Of course, but why just talk? Let's make some chocolate!"

This weekend I decided to practice with tools from a regular home kitchen:

  • Mini food processor with blades (don't use a bur grinder - it will clog up horribly)
  • Kitchen scale (preferably one that measures grams - proportions are much easier using grams)
  • Small bowls
  • Spoons
  • Bar mold (optional)

I started out with some roasted cacao beans. I chose some beans from Hawaii that have virtually no bitterness or astringency. Just the roasted beans tasted already really good. I peeled them by hand which is tedious, but cracking them and then using a hairdryer for winnowing is just too messy to do with Kindergarten kids. I used the following recipe to make a 45% milk chocolate:

  • 100g roasted and peeled cacao beans or nibs
  • 50g cacao butter
  • 133g cane sugar
  • 50g whole milk powder

I put all the ingredients into the small food processor and started blending. Initially it was just mixing and pulverizing the ingredients, but after a while the cacao butter started to melt and the mass became muddy. Eventually it became a liquid. Tasting the mass at this point revealed a nice milk chocolate flavor. The mass was still somewhat gritty, but for showing how to make chocolate it was fine. I mixed half of the mass with cereal to make a simple confection and the rest I poured into a bar mold.

While this can by no means compare with a high quality chocolate, it is fun to do with kids and teaches them were chocolate comes from!

The ingredients can be found in some health food stores or on the internet, e.g. at www.chocolatealchemy.com

Now Offering Tasting Events in Silicon Valley

We are now offering tasting events in Silicon Valley!

The events will start with a brief presentation (just pictures with plenty of time to ask questions) about chocolate making followed by the actual tasting:

  • Compare milk chocolates made with beans from two different regions.
  • Compare one of the milk chocolates with a dark chocolate made from the same beans.
  • Compare American Craft Style (2 ingredient chocolate - beans and sugar) with European Style chocolate (3 ingredients - beans, sugar and cacao butter).
  • Compare two dark chocolates made from beans from the same country but different regions.
  • Compare two dark chocolates made with the same beans but different roast levels.
  • Taste roasted beans and the dark chocolate made from them.

We will provide samples, water, palate cleansers (table water crackers), and one free chocolate bar per participant. The price is $300 for up to 10 people and $20 for each additional participant. Additional chocolate can be purchased for $10 per bar. Our travel to your location within Silicon Valley is included. The time required for an event is between one and two hours.

If you are interested in scheduling an event send an email to tastings at limitedchocolate dot com. Please schedule at least two weeks in advance.

What's Supposed to be in a Chocolate Bar?

The simplest answer to that question is just cacao beans and you will end up with a so called 100% bar. It safe to assume though that most people will not like such a bar, it is an acquired taste, but can be quite good.

For people that like dark chocolate the answer should be cacao beans and sugar, maybe cacao butter, but nothing else.  When you look at the ingredients list of larger chocolate makers you will see stuff like vanilla (or even worse, vanillin which is an artificial flavor) or soy lecithin. The reason why vanilla is generally being added is to either mask off-flavors or to guarantee a consistent flavor across batches. That might be fine for mass produced industrial chocolate but I believe a craft chocolate should not do this and rather highlight the actual flavor of the beans. Soy lecithin is an emulsifier added to make it easier to work with the chocolate. In the amounts it is added it doesn't affect the flavor. If you are spending your money on a craft chocolate bar then it should be free of any short-cuts though.

Moving on to milk chocolate. A good milk chocolate should contain just cacao beans, sugar, cacao butter and milk powder. For milk chocolate you must add some cacao butter because the cacao butter naturally contained in the cacao beans is just not enough to make chocolate when adding the other ingredients needed for milk chocolate (that is sugar and milk powder). If you take a look at some mass market milk chocolates you are also likely to see ingredients like butter fat, whey powder or vegetable oil. These are all added because they are cheaper than cacao butter. Some manufacturers also add emulsifiers like PGPR which make it easier to work with the chocolate. PGPR is a substance that has been deemed safe for human consumption in limited amounts. Something I would recommend to just stay away from. Again, not really necessary.

And as always the general rule applies: the better the ingredients, the better the product. Good ingredients are expensive though which is just one reason why craft chocolate bars are a little bit more expensive. I will write another time more about pricing of craft chocolate bars.

At our sales event this coming weekend at the German Holiday Market in Mountain View we will offer only chocolate bars containing cacao beans, organic cane sugar, organic cacao butter and organic whole milk powder. Hope to see you there!