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Steelgrass Chocolate, Dandelion and Hawaiian Chocolate


FullSizeRender 9.jpgHawaii 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.


Picture of a cacao tree my dad sent me.

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!!!





What’s on my wall?

A while ago I posted on Instagram a picture of chocolate wrappers/boxes I had framed and hung on my wall. Several people asked me why I hung up the bars that I did, and that’s a very good question! Today I’m giving you a close up and my thoughts behind each picture frame.

Several of these bars I like because of personal experiences and you’ll get to know me more because several of these bars brought out memories. Not all of these bars blew me away with their flavor. I’ll give more details when I get to such bars. Remember, if everyone were to make their own chocolate wall, they would all be completely different because everyone has their own stories and experiences. The book “Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love” by Simran Sethi helped me understand that how we experience various foods is different based upon our personal stories and background.

We’re starting off with Beau Cacao’s 72% Serian Malaysia bar! What immediately attracted me was their appearance and eye for detail. Every inch of this bar, packaging and mold, screamed luxury and beauty. And it’s affordable at 8 British Pounds! If your friends aren’t blown away by other craft chocolate that you’ve been introducing them to, you can at least grab their attention with this bad boy. The reason why this bar is on my wall is for their unique appearance as well as the unique and exciting flavor combination. If you want to read more on my thoughts about this bar, go my post about Beau Cacao here.

One of my first coffee + chocolate bars by a craft chocolate maker was this Mocha bar by Hello Cocoa. I remember meeting one of the chocolate makers at the first D.C. Chocolate Festival and the guy was all smiles and so friendly. Since then, Hello Cocoa has generously allowed me to try all of their bars and I still hope to one day try their bonbons and truffles. This mocha bar has stayed on my mind even though I’ve tried it more than once and it showed me that I really like coffee/mocha in chocolate. If you want to read my previous posts on Hello Cocoa, go here.

The main reason why I’m partial to Glenmade is because they are based out of New Jersey, my home state where I was born and raised. They’re even based out of Hoboken, where I dreamed as a child I would one day live and work because I was attracted to the city life but understood NYC was crazy expensive (now I live in the metropolitan area of D.C.). As much flack as people give New Jersey, where I grew up played a large part of who I am today. I grew up in the western part of the state where there was a corn field behind my house and chickens running around in the backyard. I also really enjoyed the blackberry flavor I experienced with this Glenmade bar. You can read more of my thoughts and experience on Glenmade in my previous post on them here.

I had never experienced blueberries in chocolate until I tried Brasstown’s blueberry bar. I immediately fell in love and I’ve had this bar at least three times now! Brasstown has since changed their packaging, but I wish they had kept this old style. The texture of the box felt nice and the watercolor-looking picture of a blueberry bush reminded me of the countryside. My family used to grow blueberries when we lived in New Jersey. I wanted to preserve the old appearance of this bar. Gearharts and Kacau are the only other brands I’ve tried who have used blueberries in their chocolate, but none of them impressed me as much as Brasstown. If you want to read my first experience trying this bar, go here.

Upchurch is on my wall because they’re the only chocolate maker based out of Richmond, VA, the city of my alma mater. To be honest, I wasn’t in love with Richmond when I first started studying there. It took graduating, moving out of Virginia, revisiting Richmond multiple times and then learning that they had their own chocolate maker that helped me start to fall in love with it. Upchurch plans on changing their packaging, and even if the original wrapper was a quick design (learned through a conversation with Alex Brito), I like the simplicity of it. The parallel lines remind me of wallpaper in a southern home. If you want to learn more about the story behind Upchurch and my thoughts on their bars, check out my previous posts here.

Chocotenango is one of my local chocolate makers being one of the three based out of Washington, D.C. Ismael is friendly and approachable and I’ve enjoyed all of my conversations with him, whether in person or online. At the time of my writing this, I’ve been able to say hi to him at weekend farmer’s markets a few times where he has a table set up. Every time I speak with him, it’s more of my listening to him passionately talk about his craft and I love it! I always walk away feeling inspired and educated. I’m on a mission now to try all of his bars because I’ve enjoyed all of them! I was pleasantly surprised that my post on some of Ismael’s bonbons was helpful for a fellow chocoholic who couldn’t find much information on them otherwise. It’s so encouraging to hear my blog helping someone else! If you want to read more on Ismael and Chocotenango, check out my previous posts here.

Will Marx is so down to earth. I was impressed with how approachable and open he was to talk about anything chocolate related. He’s also been very generous to send me some of his silk cocoa butter so I could try my hand at retempering chocolate! Will informed me that the labeling on this package is not entirely correct, but don’t fret because I will replace this with another of his bars when I next make an order from him. Will has also made some interesting combinations, like when I got to try for the first time dried corn in chocolate. I’m definitely keeping an eye on Wm. Chocolate for new and exciting flavor combinations. You can read my previous posts on trying Will’s chocolate here.

Harper Macaw is another chocolate maker that is local to me and based out of Washington, D.C. Besides their mocha bar, this Amazon Rainforest bar is my favorite by them. I’ve enjoyed it at least three times and it was the first bar I tried that truly tasted like raisins to me. Any time I get the chance to purchase Harper Macaw, I throw this bar into my order. I have yet to take their factory tour and I really need to someday. If you want to learn more about other Harper Macaw bars that I’ve tried, check out my older posts here.

This bar is on my wall because I really like its texture. Thanks to Cacao Review, I later learned that the sugar in Amano bars is not ground down all the way, leaving nice larger chunks to crunch on. After my parents moved to Utah and I started learning about chocolate makers based out there, I was excited to try bars that were made local to my parents. Cacao Review is also based out of Utah 😉 My mom has generously shared a lot of her chocolate with her friends out there. Many of those friends also enjoyed the texture of this bar and didn’t even know that Amano was in their state. To read more about other Amano bars I’ve tried, go here.

My first exposure to Amedei was through Instagram. My first purchase of their Chuao bar was at the first D.C. Chocolate Festival and I remember feeling very little confidence approaching their table since at the time I was still getting my feet wet with trying craft chocolate and Time To Eat Chocolate was still relatively new. I didn’t know how to relate to chocolate makers. After experiencing an Amedei chocolate tasting at The Chocolate House, I gained some confidence in learning how to taste chocolate, confidence in learning more about how chocolate was made and I learned more about Amedei’s story. Though the Chuao bar has been one of the most expensive bars I’ve purchased, it still stands as one of my favorite brands because of their complex flavor stories. Their chocolate hazelnut spread is amazing too! Choosing only one Amedei bar to frame was hard, but I chose their white chocolate pistachio bar because I had this thought that white chocolate was not chocolate at all, until Marisol at The Chocolate House told me it technically is (made with cocoa butter). The flavor of this bar and Marisol’s tip helped forever change the way I see and experience white chocolate. I’m now a believer, at least of white chocolate by craft chocolate makers 😉 To see what other Amedei bars I’ve tried, go here.

I used to shy away from trying chocolate bars with chili or other strong spices in them because I didn’t really have a palate that could tolerate spice well. As I learned more about craft chocolate makers and trying their bars, I knew that I would have to eventually accept and be able to appreciate chili in chocolate. Cacao Prieto left a lasting impression because they were one of the very few subtle spicy bars that helped me get used to experiencing a burning sensation when eating chocolate. I also just really liked the flavor of this bar overall. To see more of my thoughts on this bar, check out my post here.

This Steelgrass bar is special to me not only because it’s grown and made in Hawaii, the only North American state where cacao can be grown, but because of the farm’s mission to help restore the natural beauty and plant life of their land before they experienced damage from WWII. In a ways it feels like a long time and very little time has passed since that war ended, and to see it come up again and learn how it has left a lasting effect on the Hawaiian islands opened my eyes to see the harm that war literally takes on land. I think it’s amazing that Steelgrass is attempting to restore the biodiversity of their island, Kauai, and to educate and encourage locals to help them with their mission. To see more of my thoughts on this bar, go here.

Durci caught my attention through their packaging. I’ve always enjoyed space-related images and this packaging fed that interest. I remember picking up this Taino 70% bar at Jane’s J. Chocolatier shop. She said not many people were purchasing the Durci bars she had on display and thought it was a shame. If Jane liked Durci, then I needed to try them! Sure enough, I also liked this bar and it is my top favorite Durci bar out of the six I’ve tried. To see more of my thoughts and why I like specifically the Taino bar, go here!

When Jane of J. Chocolatier had her shop in Georgetown, D.C., I used to stop by very often. Like, every weekend if not throughout the week. If I wasn’t getting her truffles, I was trying out the Francois Pralus bars she had on display. Unfortunately all of those bars I tried long before I started recording what brands and bars I had tasted, but this Chuao bar I didn’t recall seeing at J. Chocolatier. The square packaging was different from the rectangular shape of the other Pralus bars. To be honest, I wasn’t head over heels for the flavor of this bar.

This bar is on my wall because it reminds of the days when I would visit Georgetown and therefore J. Chocolatier often after work. J. Chocolatier was the first chocolate shop I had ever gone to that made their own confections. Before that, I had only ever been to For the Love of Chocolate where they sell a variety of chocolate products but don’t create any. The fact that J. Chocolatier was in Georgetown, an area filled with shopping and restaurants, and in a city, I experienced that feeling of, “Wow, I’m finally doing this!” kind of moment. It felt fancy and I had never been able to experience a feeling like that growing up in New Jersey or while attending college in Richmond. Since then, J. Chocolatier has moved out of Georgetown and she’s set up a pop-up shop near the East Market metro station. For my thoughts on the Francois Pralus bars I’ve tried, go here.

Remember back at the Amedei white chocolate + pistachio bar I said I used to not like white chocolate at all until that bar changed my life and perception of white chocolate? This Fruition strawberries and cream did the same thing. It was SO delicious that I ate all of it within an hour and had a very hard time sharing any of it with my boyfriend. This bar has remained in my memory and… you know what, it’s still in stock on Fruition’s website. I might just order a second bar. You also can read why this bar has stuck with me here.

Potomac Chocolate is another local chocolate maker to me, and even though Ben Rasmussen is planning on changing his packaging, I always enjoyed the minimal, clean appearance of his packaging and straightforward mold. The first bar I tried by him was the coconut one followed by the San Martin, Peru. I recently tried his sourdough bread and spice blend bars, which were also very good! I always enjoy supporting my local chocolate makers and I wish Ben the best as his business continues to grow. To see what other bars I’ve tried by Potomac Chocolate, go here.

Undone is another chocolate maker that is local to me and based out of Washington, D.C. Since I currently work in a research lab, I was really happy to learn that Adam came from a scientific background before diving into his own chocolate business. What makes this bar special to me was that I didn’t like chili or any hot spices in chocolate for a long time. As I mentioned for the Cacao Prieto Domincan Spice bar, I used to not enjoy spicy chocolate and this Undone bar was spicier than Dominican Spice. But this bar slowly grew on me and I’ve now bought it several times. I think because of the cinnamon and cardamom to add sweetness and other layers of spiciness, I started to learn to appreciate the slow burn of chili. I’m now more likely to try dark chocolate with various spices because of Undone. If you want to see what other Undone bars I’ve tried (and my favorite Bolivian Amazon that’s now discontinued 🙁 ), go here.

Ritual’s Novo Coffee was another one of the first coffee + chocolate bars I had tried. Why is it on my wall? Simply because I like the minimalist depiction of tree and mountains. Also for some reason this bar has also just stuck with me as a bar I need to try again. I remember I wasn’t absolutely in love with it, but I want to give it a second chance now that my taste buds have had more time to mature. Seeing this on my wall reminds me that I need to try more Ritual bars at some point. To see what I originally thought about the Novo Coffee bar, go here.

Why is Amedei on my wall twice? Because I like them so much! I’ve definitely had their Toscano Red bar, like, probably five times or more. I think I’ve lost count! 🙂 It’s addictive, delicious and one of my favorite combinations is berries in chocolate. I think out of every craft chocolate bar I’ve tried, this one is the most I’ve eaten. The packaging is also pretty, which doesn’t hurt. Seriously, you need to try this bar if you haven’t! To see why I rave over this bar, you can read my thoughts on it here.

When I first started my journey into trying craft chocolate, I kept seeing Dick Taylor all over Instagram. I had a hard time finding them sold in stores local to me, so I broke down and eventually made one of my first chocolate online orders around Christmas-time. I was curious about the maple and coconut combination. This was unique to me at the time, and I’m glad I tried it! I have purchased this bar least a couple of times now and I’ve enjoyed every bite. I was also intrigued by the story of the owners having been involved in the boat building business before making chocolate. I love it when I see chocolate makers allow previous career influences to be reflected in their bars or packaging. This is similar to Maverick, which is coming up soon. To see my thoughts on my this bar, go here.

Just like Amedei’s white chocolate + pistachio and Fruition’s strawberries and cream bars, La Naya’s white chocolate + pistachio + cocoa nibs bar also changed the way I had originally felt about white chocolate. This bar had something of a browned butter flavor to it that was addictive. One of my coworkers actually introduced me to La Naya through this bar when they purchased it during the second Washington D.C. Chocolate Festival (which I wasn’t able to attend). This bar left such a positive impression that I had to try the rest of the La Naya bars! La Naya was generous to share some of their products with me, which you can read about here.

These last three bars are hanging on another wall and I couldn’t fit them into my original photo at the very top of this post. The lighting was hitting the frames in a way that would cause a lot of glare (I was using natural light), so I had to take photos at an angle.

You know how I was mentioning that I love how chocolate makers allow other influences to be reflected in their chocolate or packaging? One of the Maverick chocolate maker’s background in aviation engineering is shown here and you can’t help but admire the vintage depictions of flight on each bar. The chocolate itself was also delicious. I actually recently revisited Bluprint Chocolatier where I first saw and purchased Maverick and I tried to convince my friends with me to try them as well 🙂 To see my thoughts on this bar (it didn’t last long in my hands), go here.

I actually wanted to frame Solstice’s Wasatch bar because I fell in love with it, but that wrapper got destroyed after I shared it with others 🙁 I had to use the Ecuador wrapper in its place. I’m planning on getting Wasatch again at some point in the future, though! I sent Solstice bars to my mother for Mother’s Day, and she also liked the Wasatch bar the most. Solstice was one of the first chocolate makers I tried who uses resealable wrappers and I really appreciated being able to ensure my chocolate stayed fresh in between bites. Potomac Chocolate is currently planning to make a change for resealable packaging and I fully support that effort! To see my thoughts on both the Wasatch and Ecuador bars, go here.

We end my wall tour with Akesson’s, which I couldn’t ignore. This bar I really liked and I remember I had a hard time sharing it. Yes, I could choose to keep a whole bar to myself, but I find more joy in sharing what makes me happy with others. After trying the 75% Criollo, I remember trying the 100% after hearing good reviews of it. My taste buds weren’t ready for 100% that day, but eventually I will revisit it and I hope I will appreciate it more! I recently picked up a completely different Akesson’s bar that I’ll be trying soon 😉 To see why I liked the 75% Criollo, you can read my thoughts here.

And that’s it! If you’ve made it to this point, you have my gratitude for enduring the length of this tour 🙂 Maybe you agree with some of the bars I hung up and maybe you don’t, but you can always make your own wall of bars and I would absolutely love to see what it looks like! I think a wall like this helps reflect personal tastes and stories that would otherwise not be shared.



50 States: Hawaii – Madre Chocolate


I’m really excited to finally try Madre! I’ve seen them at The Chocolate House often, and the first time I bought one of their bars I didn’t get to eat it since it was a gift for my brother. My brother has travelled to Hawaii several times and loves it there. A couple of years ago when my brother returned from visiting Kona, Hawaii, I gave him a Madre bar as a “welcome back” gift.

Madre and any chocolate maker based out of Hawaii is truly special because Hawaii is the only North American state where cacao can be both grown and made into chocolate. The founders of Madre are Nat and Dave, Nat having previously worked with Adam of Undone Chocolate before moving to Hawaii. With Nat’s background in botany, his and Dave’s interests in Mexico’s native plants and in making chocolate, they started Madre Chocolate in 2011.

The bars here are part of the, Kokoleka series and are made exclusively with ingredients from Hawaii. It was honestly very hard to choose only two bars because they all looked good, but since Trish from Eating the Chocolate Alphabet and I are trying to cover as many of the 50 American states as we can, I kind of have to save room for other chocolate.

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This bar was the one I had bought for my brother a couple of years ago. The back of this bar says that this is “our first bar made with Kona cacao from Likao Kula farm where the dedicated cacao grower Gini grows and ferments beautifully fruity and delicate cacao. The high altitude of this farm gives incredible creaminess and excellent gooseberry, marzipan, currant, peach and Brazil nut notes to the chocolate.” The ingredients include cacao beans, organic sugar, organic cocoa butter and whole vanilla. The bar smelled fruity, nutty and chocolatey to me. I tasted fruitiness and savory nuttiness at first. As the chocolate melted, I tasted more nutty and creamy flavors. Toward the end there was still some fruitiness lingering. These flavors lasted into the aftertaste. The texture was very smooth and the chocolate melted easily.

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The 60% passion fruit bar doesn’t have a story or tasting notes on the back but says it’s “calming aromatic and tangy… that lifts the mind and stimulates the palate.” This bar also smelled fruity and chocolatey, but I immediately tasted the passion fruit once it was in my mouth. It definitely tasted tart and there were chewy bits of passion fruit inside. As my bite melted and my taste buds got used to the tart passion fruit, I was able to detect the creaminess of the chocolate itself. It’s not summer yet here on the east coast, but this is like a summery chocolate.

Both bars were delicious, but I have to say that the 70% bar that was Madre’s first bar was my favorite. The fruity, creamy and nutty flavors were very pleasant. I would definitely get it again next time I get a chance to try more of their chocolate! Since I’ll be seeing my brother again soon, I’m going to save what’s left of these bars so I can share them with him 🙂

Madre Chocolate: Made in O’ahu, Hawaii

Other chocolate makers in Hawaii:

Garden Island Chocolate
Hilo Sharks Chocolate
Lonohana Estate Chocolates
Hawaiian Chocolate
Puna Chocolate
Steelgrass Farm 

These are my personal thoughts and experiences. I did not receive pay or any compensation for reviewing any products. Website links to articles, companies and other sources of information directly related to the topic written within the posts were included during the time of writing and the writer will not be held responsible for future changes on such website links. All images are original and the property of Time To Eat Chocolate unless specifically stated otherwise.

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