Board Chair Ruth Medd and Advisory Board Chair David Herlihy visited Hawaii in March 2020 to learn about Hawaii’s cooca growing practices and meet with industry experts and cocoa growers and chocolate makers. The self-funded field trip focused on cocoa growing research, chocolate making and chocolate marketing and provided many interesting insights as well as valuable contacts, all at no cost to Charley’s.
Hawaii's climate is typical for the tropics, although temperatures and humidity tend to be less extreme due to near constant trade winds from the east. Summer highs usually reach around 88 °F (31 °C) during the day, with the temperature reaching a low of 75 °F (24 °C) at night. Winter day temperatures are usually around 83 °F (28 °C); at low elevation they seldom dip below 65 °F (18 °C) at night.
Hawaii’s further from the equator than Cairns or Mission Beach which results in challenges when fermenting cocoa beans.
We met with some movers and shakers in the Hawaiian cocoa industry to investigate technical, product quality, development and marketing expertise.
Skip Bittenbender, University of Hawaii Emeritus Professor in the Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences at Manoa, provided technical insights. Skip is the doyen of cocoa research in Hawaii and a mentor to many in the industry. His research covers cocoa, coffee and kava and we were invited to a kava tasting! As well as his research he helps coffee, cacao and kava commodity organisations in dealing with current issues and planning for the future.
Madre Chocolates Founder Dr Nat Bletter welcomed us with a delectable chocolate tasting! Using Hawaiian beans as well as beans from South and Central America, Nat makes chocolate for several growers and for his own company. He brings 15 years’ experience in botany including documentation of exotic fruits and vegetables, gathering food in the wild and herbal and traditional medicine. Nat has a PhD in Ethnobotany from the City University of New York and New York Botanical Garden where he researched medicinal plants from Peru, Mali and the Guatemalan Mayans, as well as ethnobotany, taste modifying plants and stimulant plants including cacao. His technical expertise is supplemented by numerous expeditions exploring Asia, South America, Central America, and Africa. This extensive background spurred Nat to start a traditional ingredient, high antioxidant, artisanal chocolate company Madre Chocolate. Quite the expert!
Very much the entrepreneur, Mānoa Chocolate Founder & Chocolate Maker Dylan Butterbaugh offered his marketing and production wisdom. Located in Kailua Oahu, Mānoa Chocolate’s a bean to bar producer specialising in crafting single origin and dark milk inclusion bars by sourcing premium cacao beans from Hawaii and globally. Butterbaugh was exposed to chocolate production at the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture. Fascinated with the craft of transforming cacao beans into dark chocolate, he launched Mānoa Chocolate in 2010 with a focus on ethical sourcing and high quality local manufacturing.