Hawaii is the only state in America that can grow cacao trees due to their proximity to the equator, and one of the chocolate farms/plantations down there is Steelgrass Chocolate. Admittedly I hadn’t paid much attention to what chocolate is actually grown on U.S. soil, until my parents took a trip to Hawaii and told me that they were visiting the Steelgrass Chocolate Farm for a tour and chocolate tasting.
Steelgrass is a small farm in Kauai owned by a family called Lydgate that grows cacao, vanilla bean and tropical fruit. It’s an 8 acre farm that is on one of the oldest islands of Hawaii. Steelgrass is a nickname for bamboo, which is also grown on the farm. The farm started out as a grassy meadow. With careful planning and planting, and specifically in regard to the cacao grown on the farm, seedlings originating from South America were placed and grown on the farm (though there’s no mention as to where from South America the seedlings originated).
One of Steelgrass’ goals is to bring agricultural diversity back to their island. Due to WWII there was a huge loss in crops. Their website says that there are fields of grasses on their island that tourists enjoy seeing, but to them, it represents the failure of growing crops. Steelgrass is hoping to educate and help their fellow island residents to become part time farmers to bring back the healthy agriculture that used to flourish there with a focus on growing bamboo, vanilla and cacao.
During my parents’ visit, the tour guide for the day started helping on the farm as a volunteer and eventually was taken on as a full time employee. A couple of other tourists had already been to the Steelgrass farm and liked it so much that they returned.
The tour consists of first tasting various fruits in season followed by an “11-course” chocolate tasting session with chocolate bars from Hawaii and other geographic places. According to the sheet of paper my parents mailed to me, they actually got to taste 12 chocolates that day:
(Taken from the information provided.)
60% Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory, grown in Kona, Hawaii
64% Valrhona “Manjari,” grown in Madagascar
70% Santander “Single Origin Dar,” grown in Colombia
70% Manoa Chocolate, “Hilo,” grown on the island of Hawaii
70% Taza, grown in grown in the Dominican Republic
70% Steelgrass Farm “Single Estate Dark,” grown on the Kauai farm
70% Dandelion “Ambanja,” grown in Madagascar
72% Guittard “Quetzalcoatl,” West Africa/South America blend
74% Felchlin “Elvesia,” grown in the Dominican Republic
85% Guittard “Clare de Lune,” South America blend
50% Steelgrass Farm Single Estate Milk Chocolate, grown on the Kauai farm
32% Valrhona “Dulcey” white chocolate
My parents were very generous in bringing some chocolate back for me to try!
Though Dandelion is made and based out of San Francisco, I had never tried them before and I was super excited to finally experience their chocolate. The back of this bar said that the tasting notes were of raspberry jam, fruit and citrus. According to the website, the beans came from the Akesson farm in Madagascar, where the beans were dried in such a way that they could retain their acidity and have fruity flavoring. Indeed, the chocolate smelled fruity and citrusy. It first tasted earthy, citrusy and a little fruity. The fruit flavor increased as my bite melted and then became tart. The aftertaste did remind me of raspberry jam. I really enjoyed this bar as I love any chocolate with fruit notes!
Dandelion: Made in San Francisco, CA
The Steelgrass bar smelled sharp, earthy and a little bit like coconut. The flavor was nutty and I could barely detect vanilla. As my bite melted, I could taste a flavor that reminded me of roasted coconut and the vanilla flavor was more noticeable. At the end the toasted coconut-like flavor was more prominent and I was left with a sharp, nutty aftertaste.
The back of the box says that the cacaco is turned into bars by Dylan Butterbaugh in Oahu, Hawaii, who is the owner of Mānoa Chocolate.
Steelgrass Farm: Cacao grown in Kauai, HI
Hawaiian Chocolate’s slogan is, “Chocolate is Aloha!” paying homage and pride to their being the first bean to bar chocolate maker in Hawaii starting in 1997. They say the volcanic soil, tropical rain and sun help make their cacao unique in flavor. The ingredients list included vanilla powder, which is very interesting. I don’t think I’ve seen vanilla powder in any other chocolate. The bar smelled chocolatey and a little astringent. It tasted a little astringent and very chocolatey. As my bite melted, some nutty notes developed and reminded me of macadamia nuts with the skin still on. The rest of my bite continued with the same nutty flavor. That flavor that reminded me of nuts with the skin still on was very different for my taste buds. Videos of Hawaiian Chocolate where you can learn more about their process of chocolate making can be seen here.
Hawaiian Chocolate: Made in Kona, HI
After reading on the Steelgrass Farm website that Hawaii has suffered agricultural loss due to WWII and that they want to bring back the ecological diversity that they used to have, it makes me want to go visit them myself if I ever get the chance to fly to Hawaii and try to show some support in their efforts to restore their land. If there are claims that there’s a shortage of cacao on the earth, maybe there’s hope for Kauai where cacao could be grown and bring back economic support to the residents.
Side Note and Update:
When I first started this blog I was posting three times a week. That became a bit too much for me to keep up with due to life, so I brought it down to two posts a week. Now, due to my relatively recent job change with unintentional long work days, it’s greatly decreased the amount of time I can spend on my blog. I’m sad to say that I have to bring my posts down to once a week, but I’m hoping this means I can put more research into the background of the brands/bars that I’m trying. Thank you so much for your patience during these changes and for supporting this blog!!!