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CEO: Grown & Made in Maui


May 1, 2020

From the first days of farm development back in 2013, the objective was to cultivate the very best varieties of cacao for the microenvironment we have at our Lahaina farm.  Much like what is common practice in the world of wine, we wanted to identify trees with the best flavor profile that have high productivity at our farm site.  That can only be done by planting multiple varieties and analysis of production and flavor over multiple years.  Cacao from single trees can be isolated in mesh bags and fermented in bulk with the day’s harvest to get the benefit of the critical mass needed for a good fermentation.  The beans from the single tree can then be used to make chocolate and evaluated for flavor. Once a decision has been made, individual trees can be used as a source of bud wood for grafting and expansion from one tree to 30-40 trees that will be identical to the mother tree.  From 30-40 trees a second wave of expansion can yield 1000 copies of the mother tree.  Grafted clones are common in the world of grape vines planted for fine wine production and virtually every citrus tree used to grow fruit is a grafted tree.  In the chocolate world there has been no financial incentive for farmers to make the extra effort because there is no reward if they are selling to buyers of commodity cacao, the price is same no matter what the quality.  Chocolate makers almost never own cacao farms and do not have direct relationships with cacao farmers.  They expect to buy cheap raw materials on the open market at near commodity prices and they get what they pay for.  Truly fine chocolate requires a different approach like we are pursuing.

The first plantings in 2013 on our Lahaina farm were unique hybrids developed by Dan O’Doherty.  Since that time we have expanded the population of those trees by grafting.  We have also planted more than 50? varieties of cacao sourced from all over the world.  We believe we have the largest collection of Criollo varieties growing in one place in the world.  The objective is to be able to isolate the best trees and clone them by grafting so that we have control over the quality and the production of specific cacao varieties.   These will be the basis for single varietal chocolates and estate blends of selected varietals to produce chocolate that we judge to be the best we can produce and some day to be judged by others to be the best in the world.

Our current chocolate production from our Maui farm is based on best practices at every level of operation, starting on the farm with careful management of the trees and best practices for harvest, fermentation and drying.  The obsession with quality continues with formulation of our Maui chocolate.  Our state-of-the-art Diedrich roaster allows us to precisely control the roasting of cacao and reproduce roasting conditions when we have found what we like.  We have completed the optimization of our Maui chocolate formulation and I am happy to report that it is amazing.  The best comment I have received from someone that just tasted our chocolate was “Holy cacao, that is amazing!” Before that I never consider using amazing to characterize flavor but now I do it often, especially with Maui chocolate.

So what does our Maui chocolate taste like?  Descriptors of taste are personal so I will do my best to provide you my point of view.  As many of you know, wine critics have a glossary of flavor and aroma descriptors to draw from.  I try to reduce the complexity to what I and others can understand but I do like to use the wine analogy of how taste evolves.  Rather than use the wine terms attack, mid-palate and finish I will use beginning melt, full melt and finish.  Finish in both wine and chocolate refers to what you taste after you have swallowed the wine or chocolate.  So what does Maui chocolate taste like?  The beginning melt is usually dominated by the balance between sweet (sugar) and sour (cacao).  Maui chocolate is currently formulated at 70% cacao and we reserve the right to change that as we see fit to balance the flavors.  The beginning melt is well-balanced and stays that way during the melt.  Balance in life and food is extremely important.  Too much sweetness is cloying, too much sourness is just sour. Upon full melt the base chocolate flavors come fully out into the open with little or no bitterness with caramel notes and a building “tanginess” ( Word seems to think that is a word, I am not so certain) that is reminiscent of a tropical flavor that is familiar to me and I think to most people that have spent time in Hawaii.  The flavor I get is apple banana.  Perfectly ripe apple bananas have a tanginess that sits on top of the tropical fruit flavor of a banana in perfect balance.   If you have tasted one you understand.  In my wildest dreams I could tell you that the underlying tropical fruit flavor is that of cacao juice, a flavor that is delicious, distinctly tropical, and 99.999% of you reading this have never tasted.  Perhaps when you come back to Maui we can correct that missing element of your life and we can discuss whether it applies to our Maui chocolate.  The finish is long with the lingering of both the chocolate base flavors and the “tanginess” of the apple banana.  One small note on the finish of chocolate.  Because chocolate is composed of small particles (<15 microns) of cocoa solids and sugar suspended in cocoa butter, the cocoa solids get trapped in the crevices in your tongue and the flavor molecules are released from those particles slowly, prolonging the flavor of the finish.  Therefore, the finish better be good because you will be experiencing it for a long time.  As I write this, the last piece of Maui chocolate I ate was about 15 minutes ago and I still have that balance of chocolate and tangy tropical flavor lingering pleasantly.


Mahalo nui loa,

Dr. Gunars E. Valkirs

CEO & Food Safety Officer