Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. that can grow cacao, and this young industry is producing great chocolate. These five producers showcase the islands’ diversity.
lonohana.com, $16 for 2.3 ounces
Lonohana grows 14 acres of cacao on a 10-year-old farm to produce its small-batch bars. The North Shore 67% and 73% bars demonstrate the difference cacao quantity can have on a bar's profile, but share deep chocolate flavor and raisined fruit flavors. The salted milk bar folds in another appetizing product of the islands: red Alaea sea salt.
waialuaestate.com, $60 for six 2-ounce bars
Several decades ago, Dole Foods was testing new crops on some of its land and found one place in particular that produced great cacao and coffee. Today Dole's Waialua makes three bars: Extra Dark, which is just what it says, but without being astringent; Milk, which is less sweet than most milk bars; and one with nibs that bring crunch and a bitter kick.
3. Manoa Hawaii Chocolate Gift Box
manoachocolate.com, $60 for five 2.1-ounce bars
A box of single-origin bars is a great way to dive into the breadth of flavors and textures coming from Hawaii. Manoa buys beans from local farmers, then produces these limited-edition vintage bars. Hawaiian chocolate is often put at the “fruity” end of the spectrum, and the Mililani bar backs that up. The Waiahole bar, however, runs against type with deep, dusky and nutty flavors.
punachocolate.com, $9 for 2.1 ounces
For a relatively new company, Puna has a broad range of confections. Look for local macadamia nut and coconut or black walnut praline bars. These walnuts bring earthy, savory flavors similar to mushroom. The added sugar cuts that a little, but it is intense and compelling. More serious types might want to compare the 70% bars from the Puna and Kona districts.
madrechocolate.com, $11 for 2 ounces
The emphasis here is on flavored bars, though if the Kona Criollo 70% is in stock, get it. As with "natural" wine, there is a movement in chocolate toward less refined, more direct flavors, and this shows that. The coconut milk and caramelized ginger bar has what I call "soap shop" character; it's very floral. The milk is sweet and rich and gives the chocolate tropical, almost beachy, aromas, and the ginger gives a nice warm tingle. They also make unique products such as cacao fruit roll-ups.