Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Visit with Madre Chocolate: Cacao Sourcing

As if my trip to Hawaii last month didn’t have awesome written all over it anyway, the folks at Madre Chocolate made it even better. Not only did they encourage my enthusiasm for Hawaiian chocolate before I even got on a cramped USAirways flight at National Airport by sending me some samples, but they let me come and check out their work while I was there. A quick drive over to Kailua brought me to the place where the chocolate-making magic happens.

Once I walked through the door, I was warmly greeted by Dave Elliot, a native of Mechanicsville, Virginia who developed an interest in sustainable development while pursuing international studies at Johns Hopkins. We spent a good deal of time chatting about how this interest has guided Madre’s work.

They have very high standards for their cacao sources, with quality obviously being a key consideration. But beyond making superb chocolate, Madre’s folks are dedicated to working with small growers who use traditional agriculture practices. This not only supports the farmers more directly, but also encourages genetic diversity via the traditional agriculture practices. Their beans are sourced from several locations, and the day I was there, they were experimenting with some Indonesian beans, and had also just returned from Soconusco, Mexico where they are developing a relationship with some cacao growers. The Mexican-origin beans should be going into some bars in Madre’s collection shortly, and Dave was quite excited about their future work with the growers.

Though Madre sources beans from several locations, one of the aspects of their business that interests me personally is their use of Hawaiian cacao. Though they base several bars on Hawaiian-origin cacao, there is evidently a lack of tradition associated with growing of cacao on the islands, which results in some less than ideal drying and fermentation practices on some farms. They do, however, remain optimistic that this will rapidly improve as demand for the unique flavor of Hawaiian cacao increases, and note that the potential in this area is vast.

After discussing cacao sourcing quite a bit, we got right into chocolate making. It’s a long, involved process that I’ll detail tomorrow. Photos and all.

Do you have concerns about or an interest in sustainability of cacao farming?


  1. What an unassuming shopfront, but how wonderful to hear of what Madre is doing with the ethical side of things! Wish I'd know of them before; I could've squeezed them into the chocolate chapter of my thesis ;)

  2. I wonder if I could work a chocolate chapter into my thesis too... too bad I don't have any cacao tree height growth measurements.

    I'm very excited about these Soconusco beans. I loved the Askinosie Soconusco bar more than I've loved any other chocolate (maaaybe), so I'm looking forward to what Madre comes up with.

  3. Nice post! Thanks for highlighting the sourcing issue! ... I feel like I should write another thesis just so that I can work in on a chapter on chocolate... ;)