Tuesday, February 8, 2011

In Chocolate Heaven: Going From Bean to Bar with Nat & Dave from Madre Chocolate

Few words make my heart go pitter-patter like the word chocolate. When you then add locally, and made from bean to bar, it only gets better so I was excited to learn about Madre Chocolate, a new local Oahu company that is hand-making their own chocolate in Hawaii. Co-founders Dave Elliot and Nat Bletter want to to make chocolate that truly honors the deep cultural traditions and history around cacao.

Their mission:
"At Madre Chocolate, our quest to make truly amazing chocolate is driven by a passion to inspire greater appreciation among consumers for the rich cultural heritage and ecological diversity surrounding cacao. We aim for our selection of organic, fair trade chocolate bars to connect chocolate-eaters directly to the source, and in doing so to contribute to the well-being of cacao farmers and their communities."

I had an opportunity to take "Chocolate History, Tasting and Making from Bean to Bar" this past Saturday at University of Hawai'i Manoa Outreach program and to learn about chocolate from the masters Nat and Dave themselves--an informative and fun way to spend a few hours.

The class covered the origins of chocolate, its uses, varieties of beans and plants, the processes of harvesting, choosing good chocolate and a tasting of about 18 different bars from different companies in three "flights" --tasting the cacao percentages, tasting different origins and varietals, and a tasting of chocolates with added flavors. We also got to see the grinding of the roasted cacao beans and the processing of chocolate and then used the recipe to make our own bars to take home. It was a lot to pack in.

Here's a rundown of the class with just a few pictures (I will apologize in advance that they aren't great--I tend to get very focused on listening and forget to take them half the time as well as I hate to be a distraction so I take them quickly and it is hit or miss if they turn out.)

Dr. Nat (Botanist & Madre Co-founder and Chocolate Formulation Manager), takes us through grinding and mixing the ingredients for the chocolate bars we would be making later. The roasted ground cacao beans were put in a food processor along with cocoa butter, sugar, lecithin and vanilla and processed for about an hour.

Clockwise from top left:
1. Open cacao pod--looks a bit like an alien creature in this photo, 2. A seed from the pod, covered in a tangy pulp that tastes fruity--like a cross between melon and cucumber. (The seed is now planted on my lanai),
3. Dried, fermented seed and cacao nibs,
4. A taste of the chocolate before it has processed for an hour (at this point it was very grainy with an astringent, walnut skin-like taste / texture and a slightly nutty flavor. Later, after processing, it became smoother and richer with a fruity, wine or liquor taste.

Nat under the cacao tree outside the lab where the class was held.
The saying "lucky we live Hawaii" really applies here as Hawaii is the only U.S. state where chocolate can be successfully grown. Where else could you have a cacao tree happily growing right outside your classroom door? Much like coffee (and me!) cacao prefers a temperate tropical climate.

Cacao production in Hawaii is still small--only about 30 growers total are farming on about 50 acres total right now. Madre Chocolate uses mostly fair-trade chocolate purchased directly from organic cooperatives where they have a relationship as the Dominican cacao in three of the four bars I sampled, but when they can get enough great Hawaiian chocolate they blend it up for special bars like their Locavore Hawaiian Earl Grey Tea Dark Chocolate.

Dave, (Chocolate Maker, foodie, & Madre Co-founder and Chocolate Production Manager) takes us through tempering the chocolate. Tempering gives the chocolate its shiny appearance and that clean "snap" good chocolate has when you break it. It's an art and involves cooling the chocolate down, at about 105 degrees F., adding in some "seed" chocolate that has already been tempered, and then lowering it down to the low 80"s. before raising the heat to the optimum temperature--between 88-91 degrees F. for most dark chocolates.

Because the chocolate we made was processed in a food processor instead of a specialized chocolate grinder (where it can grind for several days before being ready), it has a slightly grainy texture--think of Mexican chocolate in texture.

I didn't take picture of making my bar, put we took turns pouring the chocolate into small molds and adding flavors if we wanted--either mixing them in or decorating the back of the bar with them. I chose the back of the bar method since I picked dried hibiscus and pink peppercorn and thought it looked pretty. ;-) The taste? Although neither Dave nor Nat needs to worry about competition in the making or wrapping departments, it was really pretty good--the rich dark chocolate, with a slightly sweet fruity tang from the hibiscus, ending with a slightly spicy kick from the peppercorn.

As our chocolates firmed up, we did the three tasting flights of chocolate. I was too busy tasting to snap pictures, but I think we had (small) pieces of about 18 different bars from different companies like Dagoba, Neuhaus, Voges, etc. Even though we had very small pieces, it was a lot of chocolate even for me, but fun to taste it with the experts.

Key Chocolate Tasting Learnings:
  • Savor the chocolate--smell it, taste it slowly, savoring the bite and identifying the flavors.
  • Have a bottle of water handy to cleanse your palate in-between.
  • There are both large and subtle differences in the chocolate based on the cacao percentage as well as the origin country or area the chocolate comes from.
  • Cacao percentage is the combination of the amount of cacao beans and cocoa liquor along with the cocoa butter. In good chocolate, the remaining amount are necessary things like sugar, vanilla, lecithin and natural flavorings. Less expensive and sometimes inferior chocolate can have additives that you don't want--so read your label. This is also why you can have two 70% cacao bars that taste extremely different--one may have 65% cacao beans / liquor and 5% cocoa butter, whereas the other might have 50% cacao beans / liquor and 20% cocoa butter.

Dave and Nat are very clear that they are chocolate makers and not chocolatiers--the key difference being that rather than taking someone else's chocolate and molding it, adding flavors, etc., they take them from the bean to the bar--every step of the process from sourcing to even hand wrapping and labeling each bar.

Madre Chocolate bars are still not easy to find yet--right now they are being sold at Sweet Paradise chocolates in Kailua, Oahu and Lahaina, Maui, as well as various special events, farmers markets, etc., but they are coming soon to several other locations (you can see them here). When I found out they brought some bars with them, I had to buy some to try. (I may or may not have knocked a few people out of the way to get one of each of the four different bars they had) ;-) I took them home and after a day or two of chocolate-detox from the tasting, I had a tasting of my own.

  • First up was the Organic Fair Trade Dominican Dark Chocolate 70% Cacao. This is a creamy, dense dark bar, sweet but not overpowering, rich with subtle fruity notes. It has a good snap and an excellent mouthfeel. A classic but not boring.
  • Next was the Hibiscus Dark Chocolate (also Fair Trade Organic Dominican 70%). We tasting this bar in our flavor flight so I was happy to have a bar to myself. The rich, dark chocolate is off-set by the tangy sweetness of the hibiscus and a slight citrus from a small amount of bergamot oil. A great combination and easy to indulge in.
  • The Locavore Hawaiian Earl Grey Tea (Dark Chocolate, 70%) is made from green tea, grown on The Big Island and cacao grown on a small farm on the Hamakua coast of Hawaii and blended with bergamot oil. The texture of this bar was a little grainier than the others, still good but not quite as smooth. It is for true Earl Grey lovers because the flavor comes out loud and clear. I like it in small bites, otherwise it is slightly overpowering for me--although it actually pairs really well with black tea.
  • Finally, what ended up being my favorite bar out of the four, the Chipotle Allspice Dark Chocolate (70% Fair Trade Organic Dominican Cacao). The combination of the warm, spicy notes of the allspice hit you first, then the creaminess of the smooth dark chocolate, followed finally by the lingering, slightly smoky heat of the chipotle pepper. Not too much--just the right amount. This one could be an addiction!

Buying the bars directly, they were $6.00 each, they sell for slightly higher retail in the stores. Reasonably priced and well worth it for the passion, quality and care put into each and every bar. After all you are getting high-quality fair trade chocolate, carefully crafted by hand from start to finish and minimally processed too, to keep the antioxidants high. (So I can tell people the 4 bars I bought plus the one I made are actually health food) ;-) I am now a confirmed fan--these guys make excellent chocolate and they make it fun too. I can't wait to try more and support a deserving local company.

You can follow Madre Chocolate on Twitter here and Facebook here and go to their website, here to get all of their chocolate news, upcoming chocolate classes, new products and where you can find them. Madre Chocolates plans to eventually get the bars outside of Hawaii too--so those of you out-of-state can get a taste of delicious aloha even if you don't live here.

Still in a little bit of chocolate heaven, (or maybe a chocolate coma--either way I'm happy!)


  1. so glad you did this post! I found them on twitter before you posted so had a feeling this was where you went for the class :) hope to get some of their bars the next time I'm home!

  2. Tasting flights of chocolate. That's all I needed to hear. Amazing. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for this brand!

  3. Oh this is fantastic! What a fun tour, and thanks for sharing it with us. I'm glad you answered my question before I asked it. I didn't even know cacao was produced in Hawaii. Definitely a reasonably priced bar for such great quality.

  4. Lucky you live in Hawaii indeed! That's amazing!

  5. What a fantastic class! I would love to do that. And since the chocolate was eaten in the interest of education, all calories are hereby absolved!

  6. Very cool post. I have to add there is only one other place in US you can find a cacao tree, although its inside is Hershey PA! we went on a similar tour there, and the thing that most impressed me was how the cacao bean will pick up the flavors of whatever is grown around it. Chocolate is very cool indeed!

  7. What a wonderful opportunity for a chocolate lover, Deb! Very cool to see the whole process from the cocoa fields to the delicious and creamy end result. I know you enjoyed each and every delicious bite of that chocolate and I agree with Michelle. All calories are absolved in the interest of education :P

  8. That is so great. I wish I had heard about that class! I want to try those bars for sure. I love the Waialua chocolate but I'm glad there are more local chocolate makers now. Great descriptions of the class and info on the chocolate. I'll share it with my culinary class too.

  9. Nat here from Madre Chocolate. We will be teaching a similar class at Kapiolani Community College on April 16, a short class at the Hawai'i Chocolate Festival Feb 26, and again at University of Hawai'i Manoa July 31, if not sooner.

    Renee, you're right, cacao does grow in a few greenhouses around the country (I've seen it in NY, Pittsburgh, and Chicago to name a few), but it can only grow outside in places where the temp never falls below 50° F, which leaves only Hawaii in the US.

    Thanks for all the nice compliments and reviews here, Deb and others!

  10. What a fun sounding class. Wish I was in Hawaii!

  11. Wow! What unique bars of chocolate. A great tour indeed.

  12. Kat--we will get you some and hopefully there will be another class then too. ;-)

    Joanne--I know--flights of chocolate--pretty fun right?!

    Lori--Thanks! It was fun to share. ;-)

    Foodycat--It was pretty amazing. ;-)

    Michelle--I like your thinking! ;-)

    Renee--that sounds like a fun tour. Cool to see the trees either inside or out. ;-)

    Kim--Thanks! It was a great opportunity--I hope to do more. ;-)

    Mariko--Hope you get to take one of the classes and try the chocolate--you will enjoy it. ;-)

    Nat--thanks for stopping by and for the great class and chocolate. ;-)

    Tastemonials--thanks! It was a great class ;-)

    Maria--they are unique and delicious too. ;-)

  13. Hi! I just tasted these chocolates at the Haleiwa Farmers Market, and they are as amazing as you describe them! Can't wait for the chocolate festival next weekend! Aloha!

  14. Nadia--So glad you liked them--they are delicious.

    I am headed to the chocolate festival next week too. Should be fun! ;-)

  15. Fascinating! Thanks for sharing those interesting photos of making chocolate!! (It is one of favorite ingredients on my Foodbuzz profile.)


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