What kind of food do you think of when Hawaii pops into your mind? Is it pineapples or coconuts? Or perhaps is it those boxes of chocolate-covered macadamias that you buy as souvenirs?
What if I told you about Manoa Chocolate, Hawaii’s craft chocolate brand, and that you can tour and taste their samples?
For $25, you can visit Manoa Chocolate and learn about how the bitter cacao bean transforms into the delicious treat everyone loves.
Disclaimer: This post uses affiliate links, which means I make a commission if you book through this post. If you do decide to book using my links, thank you so much for your support!
Manoa Chocolate Tour: Introductions & Learning
333 Uluniu Street, Suite 203
Kailua, HI 96734
Manoa’s factory is located in the small town of Kailua, about 30 minutes away from Honolulu. The parking lot is metered but only accepts coins. However, you can park on the side roads. If you’re lucky, you might be able to snag a spot right by the Kailua Library for free.
Upon checking in, a Manoa employee will greet you and your group and walk you through the chocolate-making process. Then they give you samples of all of their different types of chocolate.
Our guide, Kellen, was so sweet and engaging while sharing her knowledge about Manoa’s history.
History of Manoa Chocolate
Manoa Chocolate was started in 2012 by Dylan Butterbaugh, who was born and raised in Hawaii his whole life. As he was graduating from the University of Hawaii with a degree in Sustainable Development, his classmate experimented with cultivating cacao on the islands. Dylan was fascinated and saw the need for bean-to-bar chocolate with only the best cacao. He went all in with Manoa Chocolate, from planting the trees to sourcing beans all around Hawaii and other parts of the world, to investing in machinery to shell, harvest, roast, and morph the cacao into a high-quality bar.
Dylan learned everything he could about the chocolate-making process through YouTube (when there weren’t as many resources at the time). He used a tricycle and a back massager to create a makeshift winnower, a machine that separates the bean’s shells from the cacao nibs inside. The shells are then used to make chocolate tea (which Manoa also sells!). He used a barbeque to roast the beans. This was all before he invested in the manufacturing equipment needed to grow Manoa as a business and pioneer Hawaii’s craft chocolate industry.
During the tour, we learned that Hawaii is the only U.S. state with the climate to cultivate cacao, and the coldest location in the world to do so.
Locations that sit on the equator are best for growing cacao. Hawaii just so happens to sit 20 degrees above the equator.
Craft chocolate vs. commercial chocolate
There is a clear difference between craft chocolate and commercial chocolate. The latter is what we all know as chocolate from Hershey, KitKat, and the other brands you see in grocery stores and gas stations. They are all about the bottom line, using low-quality ingredients to make chocolate in the largest amount of batches with minimal human involvement. Their goal is to produce as much as possible, even at the expense of laborers.
Manoa Chocolate falls under the former. They source their beans directly from farmers in Hawaii and other parts of the world (such as Central and South America, and Tanzania) at high prices. This supports the farmers financially. Manoa also aims to use planting cacao trees as a way to reforest the islands, which benefits Hawaii and its people, creatures, and economy.
Lastly, Manoa Chocolate’s main mission is to make the highest quality, most delicious chocolate possible!
Why the name manoa?
Manoa is Oahu’s lush valley filled with sugarcane and coffee plantations. It is 3 miles east of Downtown Honolulu and less than a mile from the Waikiki area. It is home to the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the flagship campus of the UH system. Despite this, Manoa Chocolate is located in the Kailua neighborhood, 30 minutes east of Honolulu.
The term manoa means solid, vast, deep. It also stands for taking care of the land that cultivates the cacao. With how much heart and soul Dylan put into Manoa Chocolate, it just makes sense. Especially with how they take ethical and sustainable practices seriously.
Learning about the bean-to-bar process
During the first part of the tour, Kellen points to a gallery wall of framed photos of the bean, starting off as a flower from the Theobroma Cacao tree to getting harvested and roasted. She shares how the cacao pods grow from the tree trunks and is home to the beans inside. There are an average of 20–40 beans in each pod. The beans are surrounded by white pulp, which is used to make cacao water.
Kellen had us try samples of cacao water, which had a fruity taste with tiny notes of chocolatiness (not sweet like a full-on chocolate bar, if you know what I mean). It was refreshing on a muggy day in Hawaii and has so many antioxidants and electrolytes to keep you healthy and hydrated.
We also sampled cocoa nibs fresh from the shell’s bean, by cracking them like peanuts (or manually winnowing them with our fingers).
Eventually, we got to observe the chocolate-making process through the windows. After roasting the beans, they go through winnowing, separating the nibs from the shell. After that, they go through refining and grinding, which they are made into a paste and when sugar gets added to the mix. Then they go through tempering, which heats and then cools the chocolate to the perfect temperature for the best consistency. Finally, the chocolate is ready for the molding process, which removes air bubbles and transforms it into a solid bar.
Manoa Chocolate Tour: Tasting all the bars
Now comes the fun part—tasting all of Manoa’s bars!
We were given the packaging of all of Manoa’s bars on the table along with a tasting wheel labeled with different flavor notes. Kellen served us chocolate tea to cleanse our palate between tasting each sample.
Manoa has three chocolate bar collections:
- Hawaiian Grown Cacao Collection: Made with beans grown from different parts of Oahu (Mililani, Ko’olaupoko, Waiahole, Waimanalo) and Big Island (Kona and Kealakekua). There are also three bars in this collection that have added flavor in each, such as lavender, goat milk, and regular milk to make it less dark and more Belgium/Swiss style.
- Alcohol collection: There are two bars in this collection, one of which is infused with KōHana Rum, and the other with Old Pali Road Whiskey.
- Flavors of Hawaii: Chocolates infused with and inspired by Hawaiian fare. Flavors include mango, banana, haupia coconut, sea salt, coffee, and liliko’i (passionfruit). The packaging is colorful, fun, and illustrated by Punky Aloha Studio.
Analyzing the flavors
As we were tasting each piece of chocolate, we had to guess which notes were inside. We all agreed that most of the Hawaiian Grown Cacao bars had fruity notes. It turns out that the Waimalano bar had hints of green apple while Kealakekua bar had a bit of strawberry. The Mililani bar had cherry, passionfruit, AND raspberry.
My favorite bar was the one with goat milk because it had that savory bite that almost tasted like a creamy cheesecake. Cecilio loved the lavender bar; he said that he could actually taste the lavender, unlike in other products that claim to have it but end up being too mild. The lavenders were sourced from Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm in Maui.
I especially loved the rum bar. But the whiskey bar? I could take it or leave it.
As far as the Flavors of Hawaii collection, I had a hard time deciding…but I would have to say that I loved the mango and coffee bars.
Kellen had one more treat for us: she had two white chocolate bars from their tea collection (which is no longer sold online, it’s in-store only). They were chai latte and matcha flavored, and were sold as tiny squares in plastic wrap. I loved both, especially the chai latte bar as it tasted autumnal!
How YOU can try Manoa Chocolate
If you decide to visit the Oahu island in Hawaii, you’ve got to take a day trip to Kailua to do the Manoa Chocolate Tour & Tasting. You have to make reservations in advance, and the tours are operated everyday at 2 pm. They are about 60–90 minutes long.
You can also visit Manoa Chocolate as a part of a guided tour. GetYourGuide has two tours below which include a trip to Manoa.
Not heading out to Hawaii anytime soon? Don’t worry! You can purchase the chocolates on their website individually or as a set. They also sell chocolate-powdered macadamia nuts, chocolate tea, drinking cocoa, and macadamia spread (think Nutella, but with macadamia nuts instead of hazelnuts).
Manoa also offers a $35 monthly subscription box, consisting of three bars. It may be worth looking into, especially if you like surprises 🙂
I understand that at $10–$12 a bar, Manoa Chocolate is on the pricier side. But by supporting them, you are helping them pay farmers fair wages and you get to be a part of their efforts to reforest the Hawaiian islands through cacao. Plus, they are just so freaking delicious, and are amazing gifts for your family and friends!
Have you ever heard of Manoa Chocolate or the craft chocolate movement?
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Hannah is a travel writer, graphic designer, and the founder/editor of Hannah on Horizon. She is based in Sacramento, California, living with her husband and two adorable dogs. She shares tips on how to experience luxury travel on any budget, and how to maximize time at each trip or destination, no matter what your budget or amount of vacation time at work. She enjoys making you feel like you have visited each destination with her through her storytelling and informative writing style.