a visit to the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory

We had the great pleasure of meeting Pam and Bob Cooper at their cocoa plantation–which also happens to be their chocolate factory! This is the only location in the world I have visited to date, where the cacao/cocoa is grown on the very same piece of land on which the beans are fermented, dried, made into chocolate, packaged and sold all on the same site! And what a site!

original-hawaiian-chocolate-factory

The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory is located on leeward slope of Mount Hualalai.

As you pull into the driveway of the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory (OHCF), it feels like you are driving into the yard of friends–who just happen to have a beautiful hilltop piece of property with a stunning ocean view! The Coopers left their home in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1997 and moved to the Big Island near Kona. In 1998, Bob took a chocolate making course at Richardson Researches, Inc. in California, and by September, 2000, made his first batch of chocolate for sale. He now has approximately 1,450 cacao trees on his six-acre farm alongside some macadamia trees.

cocoa-pods-beans

A visit to the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory gives you the chance to see cocoa pods, unfermented cocoa beans, and much more.

The OHCF presently makes 10,000 pounds of chocolate per year but has the capacity to make 80,000 pounds if they could get more Hawaiian-grown cocoa. The Coopers currently buy cocoa beans from 27 different growers, but still can’t get nearly enough to make their capacity. They call themselves a ‘self-restraining operation,’ and limit production so that they can maintain their 100% Hawaiian grown branding. OHCF uses organic growing practices and organic fertilizer, but doesn’t have formal organic certification because of the ‘red tape’ it involves.

drying-cocoa-beans

Drying the cocoa beans at OHCF.

On your visit to the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory, you’ll learn that the cocoa beans are fermented in mahogany boxes for a week and then dried in the sun for 30 days in order to reduce the moisture content of the beans from their natural state of 22-28% down to just seven percent. The shells of the beans are then removed by winnowing and the cocoa is conched (refined) for just 18 hours—compared to the 80 or more hours I’ve seen done in many European establishments. Yet, the chocolate is heavenly smooth.

cocoa-nibs

The cocoa nibs from the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory have an intensely fresh flavour.

I particularly enjoyed the dark Forastero chocolate from OHCF and their fresh cocoa nibs. It was a very sad day for me when I finished the cocoa nibs I’d brought back with me from OHCF. I love the intensity they bring to yogurt mixed with fresh fruit, crunchiness to ice-cream sundaes, and the exotic layering of flavour they add when mixed in with granola.

bob-and-pam-cooper

Bob and Pam Cooper relaxing in their cocoa plantation.

Bob and Pam Cooper are founding members of the Hawaii Chocolate and Cocoa Association (HCCA) and are really committed to seeing the local industry grow. You can take a tour of their operation by getting in touch via their website or reserving by phone at (808) 322-2626. The really cool thing for chocolate travellers is that OHCF uses Fedex to courier orders to customers in the US, so that you don’t have to carry your chocolate orders home with you. Something to remember for your Chocolatour to the island of Hawaii!

Have you tried the chocolate offerings of OHCF? Do you enjoy cocoa nibs as a healthy snack? Have you considered including Hawaii in your chocolate travel plans? Let’s talk about it! And then please join us back here the week of June 16th for our next delicious post.

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72 Comments

  1. This was a really interesting post. I’d love to tour the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory if I visited Big Island. Do they also use the macadamia nuts in any of their creations?

  2. Hi Donna: If they did, I didn’t sample any! You just reminded me that I forgot to check in on their website and include the link! Thx for being so quick on the draw, Donna!
    Doreen recently posted..collaboration: a key to successMy Profile

  3. I have missed my calling. I was supposed to be a chocolate grower/producer in Hawaii and I just didn’t realize it till now. :) As always, my mouth is watering after reading your post!
    Meredith Wouters recently posted..7 Family Friendly Summer ProjectsMy Profile

  4. The logo looks familiar. Would I have seen it in an airport shop?
    Irene S. Levine recently posted..Giveaway: Win a 4-pack of DK Eyewitness Travel Guides (contest ends 6/25/14)My Profile

  5. Did the Coopers happen to mention what possessed them to decide to leave their home in NC and move to Hawaii and raise cacao trees and make chocolate? Very interesting. What a life changer.
    Susan Cooper recently posted..Spitballs Snow In Classroom 10: StoryMy Profile

    • Hi Susan: I don’t think they intentionally moved to HI to make chocolate. They’d been visiting HI regularly since 1977, and then decided to make the move in 1997. It just so happened that the property they bought had coffee, cocoa, and macadamia trees, so Bob decided to learn how to make chocolate, got a grant from the USDA to build his own winnower (to remove the shells of the cocoa beans) … and the rest is a most delicious history. :-)
      Doreen recently posted..a visit to the Original Hawaiian Chocolate FactoryMy Profile

  6. I’m a big fan of exotic fruits, so that’s definitely a kind of place where I wish I could stay!
    Agness recently posted..6 Ways Travel Bloggers Make Money While TravellingMy Profile

  7. As I’ve read your posts, I’ve stared to understand the complexity of making chocolate. There is so much involved that goes on behind the scenes to making delicious and distinctive chocolate.
    Jeannette Paladino recently posted..Are Social Media Search Engines More Relevant Than Google?My Profile

    • Thanks, Jeannette. That’s been the goal of my project: to educate, entertain, and entice chocolate lovers into wanting to learn more about their beloved chocolate. It’s been such a delicious and intriguing journey.
      Doreen recently posted..collaboration: a key to successMy Profile

  8. I love their story! Coming from North Carolina and settling in Hawaii. What a dream! Oh yeah, and to be immersed in chocolate production! :)

  9. Hi Doreen. There really is a lot to making quality chocolate and you provide a very interesting summary. Yes, I love cacao nibs too !
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  10. Now this is where I wouldn’t mind if the chocolate melted in my hand (finger lickin’) instead of my mouth. After seeing a blog post about roasted bugs and now roasted chocolate…. need I say what’s my preference? Cheap chocolate has a plastic taste and being a chocoholic snob is a good thing.
    Neva recently posted..Tree of Utah, One Man’s DreamMy Profile

    • Right on, Neva! Once you’ve eaten fine quality artisanal chocolate, it’s nearly impossible to enjoy cheap chocolate. It’s a waste of time and calories!
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  11. Hi Doreen,
    Your photos immediately drew me in. This beautiful post on the original Hawaiian chocolate factory reminds me of being stationed in Pearl Harbor nearly 40 years ago and returns to Kauai. We love dark chocolate, and have never been to Kona yet so this is something we will consider adding to our itinerary.

    Kind Regards,
    Bill
    William Butler recently posted..Maya Angelou: Her Love, Her Life, Her LegacyMy Profile

    • Yay, Bill! That’s my intent! To entice you and all to consider travelling with chocolate in mind. Chocolate travel is the most decadent form of travel you can enjoy.

      Thanks for your comments about my photos and for sharing memories of Pearl Harbor. There is fine cacao being grown on Oahu as well.
      Doreen recently posted..collaboration: a key to successMy Profile

  12. Tim

    I am always inspired by people who pick up there lives, move somewhere else to do something others dream of, and enjoy life. I love this kind of story and as a person with an uncontrollable sweet tooth, a chocolate farm sounds like heaven.
    Tim recently posted..Beckoned Skyward by an EarthquakeMy Profile

    • Indeed it does, Tim. Bob and Pam seem to have a lovely partnership. He’s out in the field, tending the cacao and making the chocolate. Pam handles the office and sales of the chocolate. A very sweet chapter in their life journey.
      Doreen recently posted..collaboration: a key to successMy Profile

  13. I am not a chocolate lover but you definitely made me want some right now! Chocolate and Hawaii sounds like a great vacation. Thank you for sharing this great experience!

    • Karoly: I’ve always loved Hawaii, but my discovery that there is an emerging industry of fine chocolate makers has now put Hawaii on my list as a preferred chocolate destination.
      Doreen recently posted..collaboration: a key to successMy Profile

  14. Wow, this place looks awesome. I’ve visited a couple of these in Korea and love how hyped up on cocoa one becomes after visiting. Did you feel the same way afterwards?
    Carl recently posted..Trains Rule! No, Really!My Profile

    • Carl, I’m always hyped up abut chocolate! That’s what I do. You really can and do get hight from eating pure chocolate as it releases endorphins in the body that make you feel wonderful. Enjoy!

      And thanks for the heads-up about about Korea. I didn’t even have them on my radar as a cocoa-producing country.
      Doreen recently posted..a visit to the Original Hawaiian Chocolate FactoryMy Profile

  15. Hi Doreen – I’m not a traveler but reading this post makes me wish I was. I love chocolate and now they have discovered that eating chocolate is actually good for you – within limits of course – so we usually have some cocoa or chocolate every day – I have never heard of chocolate nibs but will keep my eyes open for them now.
    Lenie
    Lenie recently posted..Raised Bed Gardening, Organic Style – Any Size, Any Where.My Profile

    • Hi Lenie and thanks for your comment. Cocoa nibs can often be found sold in bags at health food stores as they are a power food. Sooo good for you, and great tasting! Many high-end chocolate shops also sell them. Plus, you can order them online from many as well.
      Doreen recently posted..a visit to the Original Hawaiian Chocolate FactoryMy Profile

  16. All those destinations for the chocolate travels really are “tough” on the eye! :-)

    I saw a chocolate tour advertised in Melbourne last week and it made it think of you!
    Chris recently posted..Local musicians on Atauro IslandMy Profile

    • Thanks, Chris! Australia is definitely on my radar for Volume III of Chocolatour. I’m focusing on the Americas and the Caribbean for Volume II in which Hawaii will be prominently featured.
      Doreen recently posted..collaboration: a key to successMy Profile

  17. Wow…Hawaii and chocolate. What more could one want. I am sure this chocolate must taste a lot better than Chocolate made by the large corporations.
    Mina Joshi recently posted..Tadka Dall and Naan bread for Wordless WednesdayMy Profile

    • Hi Mina: You will definitely notice a big difference when eating chocolate made by small batch chocolatiers and chocolate makers. The flavours are much more pure and intense versus being masked and ruined by a ton of sugar and additives.
      Doreen recently posted..collaboration: a key to successMy Profile

  18. Pam and Bob really sound like they have an interesting and lucrative business in a beautiful place, Doreen. And on top of it a tasty one:-)

  19. Doreen- I have many posts and yours are so interesting as I never heard of anyone doing what you do. I am so glad you share it with us. I liked the picture of cocoa pods as I didn’t know what they looked like. Does The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory sell chocolate covered macadamia nuts? When I was in Hawaii they were my favorite. I couldn’t tell you who sold them.
    Arleen recently posted..Intentional Mistakes and Why You Should Make ThemMy Profile

    • Hi Arleen and thanks for your comment. It is Hawaiian Host who makes the chocolate covered mac nuts you find in the ABC stores, the airports and everywhere else around Hawaii. They now make about 5 varieties! The finest chocolate covered mac nuts I’ve ever had are from Big Island Candies, a company near Hilo that really makes some creative products. I’ll feature them in a future post.
      Doreen recently posted..collaboration: a key to successMy Profile

  20. That chocolate factory looks interesting. I would love to tour the place given the chance.
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  21. We visited the Big Island and stayed in Kona a few years ago. While we were there we learned how coffee was made but totally missed out on the chocolate factory! It would be hard to choose between which tour to take but right now I’m leaning towards the chocolate!
    Anita recently posted..Cahuita: Cow Whee What?My Profile

    • Hi Anita and thanks for dropping by the blog.

      It’s very interesting. Coffee and cacao are often grown together as they require similar growing conditions and climate. My understanding, though, is that it is much easier to grow and process coffee than it is cacao. Both are certainly delish, although I’m sure you can guess where my preference lies. :-)
      Doreen recently posted..collaboration: a key to successMy Profile

  22. Mary Parker

    I m so fortunate to live near Pam and bob on the Big Island and ALWAYS include a tour of the Chocolate Farm when I have friends visiting. I HIGHLY recommend it to anyone that has plans to travel here. After all, this is the only state in the US where not only coffee, but chocalte (and even vanilla) is grown! Your blog describing your tour was very nice too!

  23. it must be great to see it right form start to finish. Cant beat good coffee and good chocolate – recently a place opened in East London, brick lane, called Dark Sugars and its amazing as they show you the stages of how its made.

    • Hi Brad: Yes, once you see the entire process of how cacao is grown, fermented, and roasted to become cocoa, which then becomes chocolate … you can see the difference between artisanal chocolate and chocolate candy.

      Thx for the tip about Dark Sugars. I’ll look them up, as the Brits are really doing amazing things with chocolate these days. The chapter in my book on the UK is the most comprehensive.
      Doreen recently posted..collaboration: a key to successMy Profile

  24. Beautiful pictures and great story. I’d love to visit. Thanks for sharing.
    Beth Niebuhr recently posted..Serve The Ones You LikeMy Profile

  25. Yum! The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory combines two of my favourite things- beautiful views of palm trees and ocean with delicious chocolate! Very tempting!
    Michele Peterson recently posted..8 strange foods to eat in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, MexicoMy Profile

  26. Chocolate! (What else needs to be said?)

  27. Hi Doreen; this sounds like a great way to combine business and passion. Its nice that they hold back capacity to ensure support of hawaiian growers. Places like this that offer tours are part of a growing segment of the travel industry called agri tourism. I am probably one of the few people in the amusement industry that actively targets these groups. wonder if the OHCA needs a train? :) thanks again, max
    maxwell ivey recently posted..Six steps to a safe bounce house partyMy Profile

    • Thanks for your comment, Max. Yes, I’ve been a member of the Canadian Farm Writers Federation for many years, and have visited numerous agri-tourism ventures. They’re all extremely unique and interesting. But the chocolate (cocoa) farm is by far, the tastiest! :-)
      Doreen recently posted..collaboration: a key to successMy Profile

      • Hi Doreen; I have no doubt you are right about them being the sweetest. :) Now, if you could just fine a place that does wine and chocolate? hmmm Maybe I should check out the association as a way of learning more about the needs of the agri tourism segment. I have a trip to hawaii on my list too but its to visit the fernandez family operators of the only traveling carnival based in the islands. take care, max
        maxwell ivey recently posted..Six steps to a safe bounce house partyMy Profile

        • Hi Max: Yes, I will be doing chocolate tours to different parts of the world, and adding different complementary components (such as wine, beer, coffee or whatever local) might pair well with the chocolate produced. Enjoy your trip to Hawaii! You’ll find quite a few posts on this blog about Hawaii if you use the search function.
          Doreen recently posted..a visit to the Original Hawaiian Chocolate FactoryMy Profile

  28. It’s amazing that everything is done there on the property! I’d love to take a tour of the grounds.

  29. Jeri
    Twitter:

    I can’t say I’ve ever tried cocoa nibs, but would love to. How lovely to go all the way from North Carolina to Hawaii and start a totally new life. I admire that so much.

    • Cocoa nibs are amazing, Jeri. They aren’t sweet OR bitter. the word I always use to describe them is “intense” as the flavour is a genuine cocoa/chocolate flavour in its purest sense, before anything has been added to alter the purity and intensity of the cacao. Try some!
      Doreen recently posted..collaboration: a key to successMy Profile

  30. What a wonderful and informative post! All those years in Hawaii and I never heard of them…what courage to make that move and turn it into something so wonderful! Loved the story Doreen:) Inspired me enough o look them up…..
    Jacqueline Gum (Jacquie) recently posted..Crepe…Where’s The Justice?My Profile

    • Thanks for your enthusiastic comment, Jacquie! Yes, what I love so much about the ‘net’ is that it is continually exposing us to new and exciting info that we may otherwise not have found. How fortunate we are to live in this age of accessible information!
      Doreen recently posted..collaboration: a key to successMy Profile

  31. Great article! You’re so lucky to be able to go! I hope I can get there for a visit one of these days too – I LOVE the flavour of Hawaiian chocolate.
    Lisabeth recently posted..CHOCOLATE AMATLLER – Perfectly portioned bars of deliciousness!My Profile

  32. I love that the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory does everything from beginning to end, on site. It must be fascinating to be able to watch the entire process.

    • Hi Michele and thanks for your comment.

      Well, you wouldn’t be able to watch the entire process in one visit! The beans are hand-harvested, so that takes time. The pods are then cleaned out and the beans are put in fermentation boxes for a week. Then they are sun roasted on trays for a month. Then the processing begins to turn the result into chocolate liquor (cocoa mass and cocoa butter.) Then the chocolate is conched for about 20 hours, and then tempered and made into chocolate. So as you can see, it’s quite an elaborate and time consuming process to go from tree to bean to bar. But the result is well worth waiting for!
      Doreen recently posted..a visit to the Original Hawaiian Chocolate FactoryMy Profile

  33. Ilaria
    Twitter:

    It must be very interesting to follow the whole production process. Great post, didn’t think at Hawaii as a producer, maybe cause I live so far from there! I’d like to taste Havaian Chocolate :P

  34. Yum. Nice images. I can taste the nibs! Great story about this couple, too.
    Lisa Richardson recently posted..Abondanza in the Scottsdale DesertMy Profile

  35. OMG chocolate + Hawaii = Pure Bliss! And 10 THOUSAND POUNDS OF CHOCOLATE ANNUALLY, you say? Well o.k., I guess I can get by on that (let’s see, that’d be a smidge more than 200 pounds a week – yup tight, but I think I can manage). ;)

    Actually, apparently they likewise grow/make chocolate here in Ecuador, so I’m hoping to see how it’s made first hand one day soon. From your pics and commentary, it looks most fascinating (not to mention yummy!)
    Dyanne recently posted..Foto Flip Friday: Follow Your Dreams (Submit Week 1)My Profile

  36. I love how these people are self-limiting to maintain their status of Hawaii grown. That takes dedication. I have not had the pleasure of eating their chocolate, but it has been added to my bucket list. :)
    Cheryl recently posted..#United Plant Savers: Planting the Future #ConferenceMy Profile

  37. Aha, so there is a chocolate factory. I didn’t know that. I’ll have to go visit.
    Anda recently posted..The Weekly Postcard: Lunch at Big Sur, CaliforniaMy Profile

  38. Is this unique? Are there any other places that grow and make chocolate?

    • Hi Suzanne. It’s definitely rare to have a cocoa grower harvesting, processing the beans and making the chocolate all on the same site. And what’s really cool, is that the Coopers have turned this into a true ‘cottage’ business that’s small and truly hands-on. It may be called a ‘factory’ but it’s far from it in the true sense of the word. Thx for joining me on the journey!
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted..planning a virtual book tourMy Profile

  39. We’ve been on a few chocolate tours around the world and they are all interesting in the subtle little things they do differently to make their flavor unique.

    Of course the best bit is where you get the samples at the end :p
    Michael recently posted..Interview with a Traveler @twobadtouristsMy Profile

    • You got that right, Michael! Sampling is the biggest part of the fun in any chocolate tour. :-)

      I’d be curious in knowing if there is any particular chocolate tour that really stands out in your mind?
      Doreen recently posted..exploring the Big Island of HawaiiMy Profile

  40. Mingma @ trekking in nepal

    Really interesting post!!! I love the chocolate factory tour.

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