Chocolate bars do NOT grow on trees. Growing chocolate is labor intensive as most of the harvesting and processing of cocoa and production of chocolate is done by hand. We toured the Lavahola Cocoa farm yesterday (Monday, May 17,) in the rain.
The Lavahola Chocolate Farm maintains a small garden near the visitor center. It contains a variety of native plants, and houses a few ducks.
There are three types of cacao, Criollo, Forastero and Trinitario, all of which are grown at Lavahola.
Forastero is the hardiest, higher yield and most reliable strain. It is therefore the least expensive and most profitable. Unfortunately, it is bland and bitter and requires more additives to make it into a salable product.
Criolo is the connoisseurs go-to chocolate. It is quite rare and accounts for about 3% of the worlds supply, and therefore quite expensive.
The Trinitario bean was the happy result of a disaster in Trinidad. The Criollo plantations were destroyed by a hurricane (or disease) so the farmers replanted with the high yield Forastero to rebuild their industry. The new trees were planted on/near the roots of the Criollo trees and the resultant hybrid, Trinitario, is hardier than Criollo and tastier than Forastero.
Cacao grows on small trees and start producing after about 4 years. It is climate sensitive and this latitude is as far north as cacao will grow. In fact the higher elevation (200’) on one end of the farm is too cool to grow cacao.
The pods are harvested after they turn red and when scraping the outside exposes a yellow interior. They are cut open and the beans are dried for several months before being examined and selected by the chocolatier. The highest quality beans are roasted and puréed in what looks like a peanut butter mill.
If you happen to be in Hilo on the Big Island take a trip up the mountain and visit Lavahola Chocolate Farm. It’s well worth investing the hour. The staff was knowledgeable, friendly and fun.