Think Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – replacing top hats for boardshorts and slippers – and you’ll find yourself absorbed in a world where mad chocolate scientists from around Hawaii blurt out words like, CACAO, ACETOBACTER, LACTOBACTER and the wonderful process of FERMENTATION!!

The science of chocolate making begins with these football-shaped cacao pods.

This Sunday’s Cacao Festival featured such chocolate geniuses, who gave public demonstrations on how chocolate’s made and free samples (!!) of the savory sweet treat to those wandering past their shady white-topped tents in the Haleiwa heat.

You could just feel the chocolate buzz about to burst through the roof of Madre Chocolate’s tent. Nat Bletter gave an interactive demo to the group huddled underneath, allowing them to taste each step involved in the process (from seed to chocolate); people took notes and asked questions. I felt like I was in school again, except with a bunch of chocolate nerds! David Elliott had his own group of interested chocolatiers, asking questions as they let each pine piece of chocolate melt away on their tongues. Both co-founders of the local company cradled the earthy-yellow and red cacao pods as they spoke, their eyes lighting up as if they were proud fathers talking about a child…a brain child of the chocolate that results from the pods, more like. Nat and David are one of the leading experts in Hawaii’s chocolate industry today.VIDEO: Learn more about how chocolate’s made from Madre Chocolate co-founders.

“There’s sort of a chocolate boom going on in the U.S. now,” explained David, referring to the antioxidants in dark chocolate as being a major factor. “Hawaii is really this great place for chocolate because we have a lot of microclimates. It’s the only tropical place in the U.S. and the only state…that can grow cacao.”

The pair has been working with and studying cacao deep in the jungles of South America for years, before coming to Hawaii to start Madre Chocolate, a “bean-to-bar company.” They buy cacao from local farmers on Oahu and the Big Island, taking the bean and doing “the artisan process of crafting it into delicious dark chocolate (bars),” as David put it. Bean to bar, get it?

That means more sciencey stuff, which involves a tedious process of carefully roasting the cacao beans, shelling them and stone grinding them for four to five days before creating the silky smooth and delicious dark chocolate we all know and love. Madre Chocolate takes it to another level by adding a touch of Hawaii to the mix. Coconut milk and locally-grown organic ginger, as well as Hawaiian tea make for unique chocolate flavors. Their vegan and soy-free bars can be found throughout Hawaii, the U.S. and as far as Belgium.

And remember those chocolate nerds I mentioned earlier? Nat and David meet a whole bunch of them whenever they teach courses at Lyon Arboretum, Kapiolani Community College and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. That’s the collegiate level of chocolate. They also offer classes to locals and visitors, which include Valentine’s truffle making, beer and chocolate pairing and chocolate designing.

Madre Chocolate co-founder David Elliot in his happy place of cacao and chocolate.

And because the cacao comes before the chocolate, the Cacao Festival served as a nice prelude to the upcoming Chocolate Festival on Feb. 25 at Dole Cannery. There’ll be a chocolate-inspired spa, a chocolate garden and some chocolate pearls for all you chocolatiers out there interested in learning more about the art of chocolate making and eating more, too.

VIDEO Photo Credit: Nat Bletter (cacao pods); David Elliott (amaranth chocolate bars)

MADRE CHOCOLATE • • Check their site for locations and classes


  1. Great article, Alyssa! Nat was one of the professors teaching at the conservation ethnobiology field school I attended on Kauaʻi a few years back. He took us through the entire journey of making chocolate- from picking the cacao pod to the fermentation and processing (and of course eating!). Sooo interesting and so fun to see scientists making yummy goodness! 🙂

  2. Thanks, Serena! What a small world (: Nat and David knew so much about cacao and chocolate. Loved the presentation, and so did everyone else. Mahalo, Nat and David!

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