Tamara and Dylan Butterbaugh think big. And that’s a good thing, because as owners of Manoa Chocolate, the husband-and-wife team is determined to do no less than put Hawaii chocolate on the map.
The Butterbaughs are part of a new breed of cacao and chocolate experts who are building an entire industry around American craft chocolate, a style of fine chocolate that emphasizes the essential flavor of the cacao bean and a single-origin style of dark chocolate.
Recipes are stripped down to bare essentials. At Manoa Chocolate, Dylan mixes cacao with a flavor- neutral cane sugar that enhances inherent flavor. Sometimes, he adds cocoa butter. Unlike traditional fine European chocolates that are all about creaminess, the spotlight in craft chocolate shines on the origin of the bean.
PARADE OF FARMS
A showcase of Waimanalo farms and agribusinesses
>> Where: Waimanalo Research Station, 41-698 Ahiki St.
>> When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday
>> Cost: Free
>> Info: parade-of-farms.org
>> Farm tours: Featuring six farms. Space is limited; register in advance. Prices and sign-up at parade-of-farms.org
>> At the station: Farmers market, farm-plot tours, a kalo-pounding demo, keiki activities and information booths
To spur local interest in the cacao industry, the Butterbaughs will talk chocolate at Saturday’s Parade of Farms, organized by the O‘ahu Resource Conservation & Development Council, or O‘ahu RC&D, an organization that focuses on rural projects and assisting farmers.
Creating a thriving craft-chocolate industry is a two-fold task: growing and processing top-quality cacao beans, and developing agritourism to put the word out on Hawaii craft chocolate. Hawaii’s climate makes it the only place in the country where cacao can grow.
The Butterbaughs envision diverse cacao agritourism that goes beyond farm tours to include chocolate making and tasting workshops, chocolate- wine pairings and quaint restaurants set amid orchards of cacao trees. In short, they want Hawaii to become the Napa Valley of chocolate.
With more than 9 million visitors to the state last year, the agriculture sector should figure out a way to reap some of the benefits of tourism, said Dylan Butterbaugh.
“Chocolate is sexy enough to have that draw,” Dylan said.
While the couple makes craft chocolate using fine cacao from all over the world, they also grow cacao trees on their 1-acre homestead as a model orchard for prospective cacao farmers to visit.
In the Butterbaugh orchard, trees grow cacao pods off main branches, not up high where they’re hard to reach. Their stems are long, making them easy to clip. These may seem like small attributes, but Dylan said they’re important.
“If it takes five extra seconds to harvest a pod and you’re picking pods from 10,000 trees, the economy of labor starts being affected, and that hurts when you’re trying to grow an industry,” he said.
To help set up new cacao farmers for success, Dylan teamed with international cacao consultant Daniel O’Doherty to start the Hawaii Cacao Foundation, which provides growers with varieties genetically suited for farming.
A survey of 40 local cacao farmers documented that in 2017 more than 130 acres of cacao were planted and about 37,000 pounds of dry beans were produced. The survey was run by H.C. “Skip” Bittenbender, a retired cacao extension specialist at the University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.
MEANWHILE cacao farmers are poised to ramp up. Over the next several years, they plan to plant hundreds of new acres of cacao across the state, said Dave Elliott, a project coordinator for O‘ahu RC&D. The organization is partnering with the state Department of Agriculture to present workshops on four islands to share technical information and help farmers boost their skills.
“I believe more cacao will be produced every year for the next five years — and probably for the next 10,” said Elliott, a cacao and chocolate specialist. “It’s a collaborative industry. Everyone understands that we’re building a name for chocolate in Hawaii, and that this will help everyone’s business.”
Chocolate-related agritourism has already begun. At the Hawaii Cacao and Chocolate Association conference in March, Elliott met farmers running various programs, from farm vacation rentals to chocolate-making activities.
“More and more serious businesses seem to be cropping up,” he said. “I was impressed with the chocolate knowledge at the conference this year.”
WHILE STRIDES in increasing acreage and agritourism are underway, one crucial factor for success is still being developed: the fermentation of cacao beans, which is fundamental to the quality of a chocolate.
Good fermentation doesn’t just involve skill, it requires a “critical mass” of beans, at least 200 to 500 pods worth, to provide enough sugar for a chemical reaction that releases the flavors of the bean, said Tamara.
From there, the beans are sun-dried for one to two weeks before they are ready to be roasted and ground into chocolate.
For the industry to have a consistent supply of beans for quality fermentation, it needs larger-scale farms like Dole Food Co. (which in 1996 began producing Waialua Estate Chocolate) to join the industry. Small producers, said Elliott, must form cooperatives or other collaborative business models.
Right now, fermentation mostly falls on the shoulders of the farmer, but Elliott said as the industry grows, fermentation specialists will crop up. Already, he said, one grower, Ben Field, is buying pods to aggregate them for fermentation.
At Manoa Chocolate, the Butterbaughs offer a bean evaluation service to help farms improve their fermentation. Dylan tastes the beans and turns them into chocolate bars, using the end product as a point of education for the client. With some clients, it is an ongoing process.
“We develop relationships and hopefully, we raise the bar on the industry,” said Tamara.
Manoa Chocolate has already brought credibility to Hawaii chocolate with an international award last year in Paris — one of only two given outside of France — for a 70 percent dark chocolate made from skillfully fermented Big Island cacao.
Since there’s no preset standard for what constitutes a craft-chocolate- worthy bean, the Butterbaughs stay true to their own standard. Tamara Butterbaugh says this steadiness will help forward the cause of Hawaii craft chocolate.
“The cream will rise to the top,” she said. “We can set a standard by the quality of the beans we purchase.”
She has visions of someday producing chocolate with beans from a single ahupuaa that showcases the specific flavors of the terroir there. She ponders designations for Hawaii chocolate that mirror those of European wine regions.
“The global cacao industry is changing, and Hawaii chocolate is here to stay,” she said. “We want to penetrate the mainstream market globally and make everybody care about craft chocolate.”