Bob and Pam Cooper acquired more than 1,800 cacao trees in Holualoa over a decade ago and established the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory. They’ve been processing 100 percent Hawaii-grown cacao into chocolate products ever since. Bob also grows and sells cacao trees, encouraging others to grow this valuable crop. West Hawaii now has many cacao growers and several budding artisanal chocolate makers.
Cacao originated in the Amazon and Orinoco River basins of Ecuador and Brazil, and has been cultivated in Central and South America for thousands of years. Theobroma, the genus of the cacao tree, translates to “food of the gods” and the resulting chocolate was once reserved solely for the pleasure of Aztec kings.
Today, cacao growing and chocolate making is a global industry, but with more local growers and those making chocolate with locally grown ingredients, localvores can satisfy their chocolate urge with a reduced carbon footprint.
Cacao is a tropical rain forest tree and thrives in areas with temperatures above 50 degrees and about 60 inches of annual rainfall or good irrigation. It is especially well-suited to areas in Kona that get a cool afternoon cloud cover. You might consider adding a few cacao trees, if your growing conditions are suitable.