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Award winning chocolate by Madre Chocolate

NDchocMaking7enhancedcopyMadre Chocolate cofounders Nat Bletter (left) and David Elliot (right) demonstrate the art of chocolate making in one of their classes.With several national and international awards won in 2012, Madre Chocolate has earned its self-ascribed tagline, “Hawai‘i’s best bean-to-bar chocolate.” Cofounder Nat Bletter sums up the company’s business philosophy as, “Hawai‘i-made chocolate will never be competitive on quantity or price, so our primary focus is on quality and originality.” As an ethnobotanist (one who studies the complex relationships between plants and people), Bletter first started making chocolate on a dare from a friend to put his academic knowledge into practice. His initial experiments were enthusiastically received by friends, family and colleagues, inspiring him to continue professionally. Now Nat’s official title is “Chocolate Flavormeister” for the company, with cofounder David Elliot taking on the role of production manager. Both Bletter and Elliot had long experience in Mexico and Central America before putting down roots in Hawai‘i. This bicultural context explains the company’s two distinct lines of bar chocolate, “Xocolatl,” incorporating Mexican flavors and inspired by traditional chocolates of Central and South America, and “Kokoleka,” made from Hawai‘i grown cacao and incorporating a distinctly Hawaiian flavor palette. In addition to these two regular lines, the company makes limited edition flavors, as ingredient availability and creative whim allow.

A challenge faced by the company in developing its Hawai‘i locavore Kokoleka line was to find sources for high quality cacao in Hawai‘i. According to Bletter, Hawaiian cacao is 3–5 times more expensive than the best cacao in the world, therefore quality is of paramount importance, beginning with how the cacao is cultivated. The company works closely with its farmers, as Bletter notes, “We purchase directly from farmers in Hawai‘i, allowing us to offer suggestions on their growing, harvesting, and postharvest practices. We visit our farmers twice a month so that we can have a continuing dialog about how cultivation practices affect the end product and how to bring out specific flavors we are looking for.” Madre Chocolate’s farmers are also in charge of the critical fermentation process, which is carried out shortly after harvest. Because fermentation greatly affects the flavor profile of the chocolate, Bletter works with farmers to develop their process. “Hawai‘i is in the northern most range of cacao, with temperatures that are often a bit cool for proper fermentation. Getting fermentation right is the hardest part of chocolate here and it requires experience and skill to get it right. However, having our farmers take care of the fermentation for us adds value to their product and it is part of our mission to compensate farmers as much as possible,” says Bletter. The company has worked closely with other experts on developing their fermentation, including University of Hawai‘i’s chocofiles H.C. “Skip” Bittenbender and Daniel O’Doherty.

Madre Chocolate has a range of sales venues, beginning with its own retail shop in Kailua, O‘ahu. The company distributes wholesale to 30–40 retail stores in Hawai‘i, as well as to retailers in most major cities on the U.S. mainland, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium. Their products are sold through their booths at 3–4 farmers markets per week on O‘ahu. Additionally, all products are available through their web site. With the limited supply of Hawaiian cacao, a small-scale production facility, and international recognition, it is no surprise that Madre is currently “selling every chocolate bar a few weeks before making it,” according to Bletter.

Educational classes and agritourism have become another popular aspect of the business. Bletter and Elliot began by presenting bean-to-bar chocolate classes, then added truffle making, and now also conduct regular cacao farm and chocolate factory tours. When asked if the potential for training new competitors through classes and tours is a concern, Bletter responds, “When we educate people about artisan chocolate, we create more customers. Our purpose is to build a bigger pie, rather than a bigger piece of a smaller pie.” Bletter also sees agritourism as crucial for the Hawai‘i chocolate business, “Hawai‘i is the only place in the U.S. where cacao grows, so we have the unique opportunity to show people not just bean to bar, but tree to bar. This makes us unique in the world, as even in other chocolate growing regions, there are only a handful of places where people can experience chocolate from the field to finished products.”

This profile was excerpted with permission of the authors from:

Elevitch, C., and K. Love. 2013. Adding Value to Locally Grown Crops in Hawai‘i: A Guide for Small Farm Enterprise Innovation. Permanent Agriculture Resources, Holualoa, Hawai‘i. www.valueadded.info

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