On a recent trip to beloved Kauai, my one goal (other than marrying my love on a beach surrounded by my 3 babies and our closest family and friends, with my feet in the sand!) was to take a day trek to a cacao farm. Our kids were out of school and I wanted nothing more than for them to learn the ins and outs of growing cacao and making it into chocolate. They have all experienced the making at ‘The Chocolate House’ back home, but the growing, harvesting, drying, winnowing, conching, etc was beyond them and I was happy to absorb any new information about cacao that I could find. So we set out to this beautiful abode with vast ocean and mountain views of Kauai and promises of cacao found and eaten. We (my 3 kids (12, 10, and 2.5), my new husband, myself, and my French speaking mother-in-law (bless her heart for coming), donned our bug spray, picked up borrowed walking sticks, and marched down a ravine to follow the signs and the tour guide on a scavenger hunt around the botanical gardens.
We were to learn fast upon commencement of our little adventure, that the Cacao Tree was not the only one we were going to encounter, which made for much excitement on my part about the extent of the report the kids could write for their teachers about the learnings had at this farm. The first stop was at the lime tree. We were instructed to take a lime, squeeze it over the piece of fresh sugar cane and pop it in our mouths. Yum! We sucked and savoured, but there was no swallowing of the tough cane sugar. Spitting out our remains into the great vast compost that is the Earth, became the highlight for some after the permission came to do so.
The second stop was the wonderful orchid plant that grows vanilla pods. It was explained how on Kauai (and I have learned many places in the world) they have to hand pollinate the vanilla in the very short few day period that the flowers become open to do so. This delicate job takes much human power and leads to the expected high price of the cherished vanilla bean powder. I am amazed that this bean-like thing eventually turns into that which makes my head spin with scent-love when I open a bag before putting into our fine chocolates. There has been talk of leaving the vanilla bean powder out of our chocolate recipes, but I will not allow such an atrocity to happen! I love it!
We then traipsed down the muddy trail passing and tasting a few exciting trees and their fruit babies, lychee (sweet and let’s eat lots), breadfruit (like cold potatoes), passionfruit (sour), guava (sweet and yummy), eggfruit (wow) before we found the pepper tree. You may wonder why I would talk or care about the pepper tree in a chocolate post about a cacao tour, but believe it or not we use black pepper in our chai recipe. So here is what I learned a black pepper tree looks like (for obvious reasons there was no sampling of this tree!).
Next we tried the dragonfruit (pretty tasteless), starfruit (ok), and finally we stumbled upon the piece de resistance, the Cacao.
Hanging from trees, these pods are mammoth compared to what you might imagine (almost as big as my son’s head, so there was cause for great excitement about this). We learned that about one chocolate bar can be made from one pod. With this fact, my dream cacao farm just quadrupled in size.
Now, this cacao pod was on the small side compared to the ones we saw growing, but they all have this white gooey fruit on the inside. We got to pop these fruit covered seeds in our mouths and suck off all the gooey yum (really good, but I tried eating the cacao seeds inside and as I knew from previous experience are very bitter before being dried). The kids were entranced by these exciting discoveries of where our chocolate begins its Chocolate Cycle. They sucked and spit and sucked and spit until we were forced to move on to the chocolate tasting (you can imagine the groaning…). We moved into a large tent, sat ourselves down with pen and paper and prepared for the blind taste testing.
First, however, we had to listen to a lecture (much to my delight for everyone) about the steps to making chocolate out of cacao. These steps which include sun drying, fermenting, roasting (for their chocolate, but not ours because it’s raw), winnowing (blowing the shells from the seed), crunching into nibs, juicing (not the professional term, separating the cacao mass from the butter), and then making the chocolate. At the end of this discussion we viewed the different machines that can be used for this process and then it was time…
My wee connoisseurs du chocolat were excited and primed for the twelve, count them TWELVE, different kinds of chocolate that we were going to taste. We were instructed to taste it, let it melt, and write whatever notes came to us (apparently there are 30,000 more notes in chocolate than in wine!). I was sitting beside my ten year old son and he was jazzed for this. He would pop that little chocolate morsel and before I had time to even taste what was happening, he was spouting off this note and that one and writing them down. I would flounder around trying to find the taste and then begin the difficult process of determining the underlying note and he was done and staring at me. Usually he was dead on. After everyone had a chance to try, the tour guide would suggest a few flavours that we might have tasted and they were always the ones he had said! Bet he doesn’t know his career is already picked for him! Haha!
These were some of the high quality chocolates that we were tasting. With some, we were able to decipher the notes of the terroir or land where the cacao is grown, but I was most hoping that I could pick out from the blind test, the one bar made from beans grown in Ecuador. This was my one self-test that I was really hoping to pass. I tasted them all and liked surprisingly few. I didn’t like the ones that taste what I called ‘moldy’. It is not technically moldy, but to me that is the common taste that I get on those chocolates that I dislike (rare as this is, it does happen). I also didn’t love the tabacco taste or the burnt tea or the earthy taste.
I found I was drawn more to the fruity or floral tastes, but my favorite one was the one that I hoped was from Ecuador, made with the fine Arriba Nacionale beans. It was the one that tasted most similar to our chocolate. It was the smoothest, the most creamy with the taste of vanilla and maybe a bit of rose. It was a hint of that comfy, cozy, homey taste that I get when I bite into one of our very own raw chocolates. I was excited to find on the final reveal that I was right! My trusty senses had not let me down! They could have fallen in love with any of those from Belize or Dominican Republic or Colombia or Madagascar or any number of those from Hawaii, but they found there way back to the place I call Chocolate Home, Ecuador.
…And like I always say…