Hawai’i… Traveling from Bean-to-Bar in the land of Pele
Tasting chocolate is like traveling with the senses. Often times, I get high on the smell alone. Still, the deeper I got into tasting, the louder the call of terroir became. I longed to journey all the way to the beginning: the cacao tree. Where could I go to get to know Theobroma Cacao upclose? There were a few options, but there was one that stood out: Hawaii.
Travel for me is about following my instincts. In this case, it was simple. I had been wanting to go to Hawaii for years, there just never seemed to be a good enough reason. This time, Madre Chocolate, one of my favorite, upcoming, artisan chocolate makers, located in Hawaii, provided the perfect excuse.
I discovered Madre Chocolate in the early days of my chocolate journey. Even before I ever tasted their chocolate, their blog post ‘Tales from Chocolate Mecca: Oaxaca‘ as well as the short movie (above) got me hooked. I sensed a curiosity in them that I could relate to. A lightheartedness and playfulness. Attention to social and environmental issues. A lust for travel. Eagerness to learn. A reverence for the history and the innate qualities of this extraordinary plant and the people who have used it for centuries.
So on a gray Belgian day, I gathered my courage and emailed them: “I want to see cacao grow, and I’d love to learn to make chocolate, any chance you are willing to take me on as an intern?” Within an hour, there was a reply in my inbox which I barely dared to open: “yes, as a matter of fact, we could use some help. If you are willing to fly all around the world for it, you’re welcome.”
I didn’t respond to the email for days. I was afraid. I couldn’t picture life in Hawaii. I knew it was expensive. I didn’t have an income nor did I have any savings. I didn’t have any friends in Hawaii, I knew it would be a very lonely and uncertain mission. I was welcome, but not really needed there. And what was my goal with this chocolate passion anyway?
I left the issue alone for a couple of months. But then I got a response from a chocolate farmer on the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, a friend of Madre Chocolate. He had a small cacao orchard which he wanted to expand in the near future and he needed help. He had a place for me to stay and I could arrive whenever I felt like it. It sounded like the perfect match, the almost perfect way into this self-invented and open-ended adventure of mine. Still terrified, I booked a ticket and planned to leave only two weeks later.
And sure enough, here I am, in Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii (the red spot on the map above). I have been here for almost a month now, and will most probably stay for 5 more. At its own pace, in line with what locals call ‘Hawaian time’ (meaning: ‘no rush’), cacao and the people who grow it have started to reveal some of their secrets to me. I can barely keep up with all that I am learning and can’t wait to share with you all, so stay tuned to this website for my soon-to-come blog about this wonderful journey!