We pride ourselves in sourcing cacao from some of the most renowned and exclusive places around the world. Our Vice President of Farm & Factory Operations, Daniel O’Doherty, regularly travels to South America to oversee and manage our cacao sourcing. And with his expert consultation, our Maui Ku’ia Estate Cacao Farm produces an incredible cacao for our Hawaiian chocolate that we can’t wait to share with you!
Work began on our Maui Ku’ia Estate Cacao Farm in 2013, when former biotech entrepreneur, Gunars Valkirs, decided to combine his family history of farming with his obsession for outstanding chocolate. Located within the moku (traditional Hawaiian district) of Lahaina and the ahupua‘a (traditional Hawaiian land division) of Ku’ia, early days on the farm saw our team clearing the land, adding in irrigation and a system of windbreak and shade trees in order to create the tropical environment needed for Theobroma cacao (literally “cacao, food of the gods”) to flourish and produce its colorful pods, which contain the seeds from which chocolate is made.
Ten acres at a time, the hillside began to transform into a luxuriant green—helped greatly by the water that flows from the wao akua of Mauna Kahālāwai (West Maui Mountains), where the gods reside, to the wao kanaka, the realm of people where cacao is grown and crafted into chocolate.
Our Ku’ia chocolate plantation is no stranger to farming for sweet-toothed purposes—intensive commercial sugar production began here in the late 19th century and continued for more than 100 years. This on land leased from Kamehameha Schools, the trust established by Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop to fund a school system for Hawaiian children. In 1999, Pioneer Mill harvested its last sugarcane crop from Ku’ia and the land became fallow, covered with dry grasses that became green only when rainfall was plentiful, a rare occurrence—perhaps due to deforestation—in Lahaina.
Maui Ku‘ia Estate Chocolate is proud to have regenerated the land in recent years, tending to our sustainable cacao from seedling to harvest-ready pod and harvested for the very first time in April 2018. We now have 15 fields and approximately 6-7000 cacao trees set across 20 acres, growing to 60 in the near future.
It will take ten years for 50 acres of our cacao trees to be planted and mature, so we also import unique cocoa beans from a single-family estate in Costa Esmeraldas, Ecuador. We are proud to support the sustainable practices of this farm and use one of the world’s best cocoa beans in our chocolate products.
Our Costa Esmeraldas cacao comes from an award-winning single-origin family estate with an incredible flavor profile. This is a farm that Dan has worked with for many years to develop their post-harvest processing, primarily fermentation and drying processes so that their beans can be sold for premium prices.
Dan frequently returns to Ecuador to monitor the operation and along with checking on quality control he brings back with him exclusive samples from each harvest and ferment. Back on Maui, we take these samples and create test chocolate.
What makes our Costa Esmeraldas chocolate so unique?
“The initial aroma has slight aged balsamic vinegar notes. Initial taste is balanced sugar/sour flavor with roasted hazelnuts. After full melt hazelnut flavor remains and full cocoa flavor tinged with aged balsamic vinegar that evokes a fruit flavor. Finish is long with very little bitterness mostly dominated by rich cocoa flavors.”
— Gunars Valkirs, CEO