Last time we were here (2013) we managed to do pretty much everything on our list, with the exception of the aforementioned closed National Parks. One thing we tried to do and weren’t quick enough off the mark, was a tour of the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory. Tours are small, don’t run every day and sell out quickly, so I booked us on way back in July.
The couple who own the farm retired to Kona county in 1996 and bought the farm, with the mature orchard, but the previous owners were not producing chocolate. At first, they harvested and exported the beans, but it quickly became apparent that shipping costs were wiping out anything vaguely resembling a profit, so they decided to try producing their own. Chocolate – theobroma cacao trees – are even more fussy than coffee trees, and Hawaii sits on the edge of the latitude at which conditions are conducive to its growth (a range of 15-20 degrees, with Hawaii at 18). In addition, it needs a minimum of 50 inches of rainfall per year, but this must be evenly spread, not concentrated into a rainy season.
Cacao trees are amazing. The pods (containing the beans) grow not only on the limbs of the tree but also on the trunk, which looks really odd. You get flowers, which are pollinated by midges (see, they do have a purpose, all you chocolate-loving midge haters out there!) and then little pods develop which take 5 months to mature.
The tree makes far more pods than it can support so some of them then just die, which seems like a somewhat wasted effort. Also, bizarrely, the pods never fall, even when they’re ripe – if not picked, they will rot (and the beans become infertile) on the tree. Ripe pods can be bright apple red, deeper burgundy or yellow.Like coffee, there is no mechanised way to pick the pods, so it’s done by hand. Then they carefully cut round the pod to reveal the beans inside, which are coated in a sticky white gunge that geckos seem to find irresistible, attached to a stalk, called the placenta.
The beans are fermented in special mahogany boxes to sweat off that coating, then dried (again, much like coffee beans) in big racks in the sunshine, roasted, winnowed (removing the shell around the central nib, which is the edible part), ground, liquified and then made into chocolate bars.
The OHCF does all this by hand. I don’t like chocolate, but apparently the finished product was delicious. It’s the only completely Hawaiian chocolate and they do ship worldwide but only within certain temperature ranges – the fact that they haven’t shipped for 5 months is a little disconcerting for those of us about to spend all day exercising in the sunshine.
Back in triathlon land, the Cervelo stand at the expo were offering free bike services/checkovers (only for Cervelos, obviously). James is a great mechanic, but on the off chance he’d missed something, we took it along for a check up and had lunch at Buba Gumps while we waited. When it came back with a fully clean bill of health, his time and effort was justified.
We then spent a long and frustrating time talking to the guys on the Speedfil stand. Annoyingly, my Stages power meter will not talk to my Garmin 310xt when the latter is mounted on the bottle. For some reason, the water interferes with the signal. We have a couple of workaround options still left to try – the Garmin guy’s solution was to upgrade the Garmin, but I’m not really all that keen to shell out for a new one just at the moment!