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When Koa Kahili saw cacao trees growing on Kauai, he was surprised that no one on the island was making chocolate. An avid farmer, he took that as a sign that he should start cultivating cacao himself while studying and mastering the bean-to-bar process alongside his wife, Angie Villa.
Today, clients can savor the fruits — and sweets — of their labor at Garden Island Chocolate during a guided tour of the couple’s plantation and products. An intensive, all-you-can-eat educational experience, it calls to visitors who love chocolate, agriculture or both. Since the farm specializes in confections containing no less than 85 percent cacao, the tour is particularly ideal for dark chocolate connoisseurs.
Our group checked in at The Chocolate Shack in Kilauea, which was easy to spot from the main highway on Kauai’s north shore. The yellow roadside stand sells the company’s treats, including chocolate enhanced by local ingredients such as sea salt, ginger, macadamia nuts and coconut.
We gathered around a table and munched on a welcoming spread of fresh produce, including pineapple, longan, oranges, jackfruit and sugar cane, all of which make up just a small portion of the bounty that the farm grows organically and sustainably.
Next, Kahili showed us some cacao pods that looked like red, yellow and purple deflated footballs. He cracked open the pods with a rubber mallet and scooped out the seeds, and then it was our turn. Kahili also described the chocolate-making process, which he and Villa handle themselves.
“We are the only chocolate farm on Kauai that makes gourmet dark chocolates from locally grown cacao pods, from start to finish,” Kahili said. “We offer very unique and exclusive flavors from single-varietal, single-estate and single-origin Hawaiian chocolate.”
As we strolled around the 5-acre grounds, Kahili pointed out the different strains of cacao trees that thrive on the property, noting that Hawaii is the sole U.S. state where cacao can grow. He introduced us to the dozens of other plants that coexist there, from tamarind, cinnamon and kaffir lime to breadfruit, acai, mango, lychee, cashew and pomegranate.
As we walked, Kahili kept us engaged, asking us to sniff leaves or taste exotic fruits, then guess what they were.
Many of these crops are used in Garden Island Chocolate creations.
“Whatever is in season, we try to add that to our chocolate,” Kahili said.
Pausing by some vanilla plants, Villa demonstrated how each flower must be painstakingly hand-pollinated within 12 hours of opening or it will die. (Clearly, this couple is dedicated to their craft.
While our group was fascinated by the farm tour, the excitement ramped up when it was time to taste 20 types of chocolate. Following Kahili and Villa’s lead, we used all our senses, first seeing and touching each morsel, then smelling it, hearing how it snapped and, finally, letting it melt in our mouths.
In between samples, the pair passed out palate-cleansing chunks of banana, coconut and bread, plus handouts with additional chocolate information and trivia.
Chocolate is high in calories, but it’s a health food that can increase the quality of your life,” Kahili said.
Halfway through the tasting, Kahili and Villa whipped up a blended chocolate drink with fresh local coconut milk, honey, turmeric, nutmeg, allspice, pepper, vanilla and cacao. Then, they poured generous sips for all.
Throughout the tour, the couple’s enthusiasm was genuine and contagious. They shared their vast knowledge in an accessible and upbeat fashion, and the chocolate tasting lifted the visitors’ spirits even more.
We hope our guests learn that dark chocolate is good for you,” Kahili said. “Our goal is that each guest has a pleasurable experience and leaves with a deeper understanding about how chocolate is grown and made.”
Garden Island Chocolate’s three-hour tours take place Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 9:30 a.m. Rates are $75 per adult and $29 per child ages 4 to 12. Kids 3 years old and younger are free.
Make sure clients come hungry, because they’re sure to end up full.
The DetailsGarden Island Chocolatewww.gardenislandchocolate.com