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Tour follows chocolate-making process from growing to nibbling

  • COURTESY ORIGINAL HAWAIIAN CHOCOLATE FACTORY
    One-ounce plumeria-shaped chocolates are individually packaged and available from the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory’s website.
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KAILUA-KONA » Few people think of Hawaii and chocolate as belonging together.

Perhaps they should. We squeezed in a trip to a chocolate factory between scuba diving, bike riding, body surfing and snorkeling during a trip to the Big Island.

The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory is tucked on the slopes of Hualalai Mountain, and the owners say that Switzerland has nothing on this little nook of farmland.

The altitude, weather and soil conditions, they say, make it perfect for growing cocoa beans.

Everything happens on site: The beans are grown, picked, sun-dried and processed, then made into chocolate, poured into molds and packaged.

We met at the plantation, which didn’t look anything like Willy Wonka’s candy factory, on a Wednesday morning.

Proprietors Pam and Bob Cooper are quick to point out that they’re the only company to use only Hawaiian-grown cocoa beans in their chocolate.

Other companies make chocolate in the islands, but they blend their locally grown beans with beans grown elsewhere.

IF YOU GO

THE ORIGINAL HAWAIIAN CHOCOLATE FACTORY
78-6772 Makenawai St., Kailua-Kona

» Tours: Wednesday and Friday; reservations required
» Cost: $15; children younger than 12 free
» Information: Call 322-2626 or go to www.ohcf.us.

We started our tour by sampling three types of chocolate: dark, dark criollo and milk.

I’m a milk girl and could debate for hours the smooth, creamy merits of it over the more bitter dark chocolates my husband and sisters prefer.

We strolled among the trees that grow the cacao fruit, from which the beans come. The pods look sort of like squash and come in a range of colors, from orange and red to yellow or green.

The tour gives visitors an overview of how those pulpy, sweet potato-size fruits are transformed into chocolate.

The short answer? The pods are cut open and raw cocoa beans extracted. Those beans are fermented for about a week in "sweat boxes," then placed on drying racks in the sun for about a month.

They’re then roasted, shelled and broken into bits, called nibs. The nibs are ground into a concentrated liquid, then mixed with vanilla and other ingredients to make chocolate, which is hand-poured into bars and cooled.

One word: Yum.

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