Kauai’s Chocolate History and Locations to Visit

Hawaiian chocolate has a long and storied history–and, according to industry experts, a very bright future. All four of the major Hawaiian islands–Oahu, Maui, Hawaii, and Kaui–grow cacao trees for commercial chocolate production. And that’s no small distinction. Hawaii is the only U.S. state that produces commercial chocolate. 

Hawaii’s temperate climate and fertile, well-drained soil make it a natural choice for cacao trees, which originated in South America. Today, chocolate growers and laborers in Hawaii are among the best-paid and well-treated in the world. That’s a refreshing change from the rest of the chocolate industry, in which child labor and questionable labor practices have been ongoing problems for years. When looking at the story of chocolate in Hawaii, it’s worth looking back at the cacao tree’s journey to the Hawaiian islands, some of the most remote islands in the world. 

Food For Royalty: The History of Cacao in the Hawaiian Islands

The first cacao trees were brought to Oahu in the late 1850s by a German botanist and doctor. Dr. Willem Hillebrand served the Hawaiian royal family at the time. After a trip to Asia to scout out potential field workers for Hawaii’s burgeoning plantations, he returned with cacao saplings to be planted in the area that’s now Foster Botanical Garden in Honolulu. 

It turned out that cacao trees flourished in Oahu’s soil–and on other islands, as well. Not long after Dr. Hillebrand’s introduction of cacao to the Honolulu area, the Dole Plantation planted about 20 acres of cacao trees on Oahu’s North Shore. Around the same time, smaller, independent farms across the islands began planting cacao trees, as well. 

Of course, there’s more to high-quality chocolate than planting cacao trees. The beans from a cacao pod must be fermented, roasted, and processed into the product we know as chocolate. And in Kauai, there are plenty of places to go see the trees growing and see the process, from bean to bar. 

These are some of the top places to experience Kauai’s chocolate world–and to sample their wares! 

1. Kauai Chocolate Company 

There are so many varieties of chocolate treats available at Kauai Chocolate Company in Kauai
Kauai Chocolate Company | 4353 Waialo Rd Ste 1B, Eleele, HI 96705 | (808) 335-0448

Kauai Chocolate Company is a storefront offering boutique, house-made chocolate confections. They’re best known for their Opihi Chocolates. Opihi is the Hawaiian word for “limpet,” the little cone-shaped creatures that stick tight to rocks along the shore. Opihi chocolates are dome-shaped confections with a shortbread cookie and caramel inside, and they’re fan favorites for good reason. The Kauai Chocolate Company occupies a small storefront in the Port Allen Marina; which is in Hanapepe, Kauai, near the famous swinging bridge and Glass Beach. 

2. Lydgate Farms 

Lydgate Farms | 5730 Olohena Rd, Kapaa, HI 96746 | (808) 821-1857

Lydgate Farms is more than just a chocolate shop. They offer what they bill as a “branch to bar” experience: take a tour of their farm, and you’ll get to see chocolate in all phases of production, from growing on cacao pods on the trees in the fields to being roasted, fermented, and transformed into uniquely decadent single-origin Hawaiian chocolate bars. Advance reservations are required for the tour, but you can also stop in and taste the many varieties of chocolate on hand and stock up on gifts to bring back home. Their gift shop and chocolate store is unmatched and make a fantastic stop during your time on the Garden Isle. Lydgate Farms is located just outside the town of Wailua in Kauai. 

3. Wild Kauai Chocolate 

Wild Kauai Chocolate | 4-369 Kuhio Hwy #101, Kapaa, HI 96746 | (775) 338-5200

Wild Kauai Chocolate is another Kauai chocolate farm, this one located in Kapaa. Wild Kauai Chocolate is serious about educational experiences surrounding the cacao growing process. They offer workshops, classes, and even a 4-day and a two-week “chocolate school,” during which you can dive deep into the world of chocolate production. For most visitors, the chocolate-making experience is ideal; you and your group can design a bar of chocolate, select your preferred chocolate (with varying levels of cacao content) and a variety of toppings/inclusions, and then pour them to make your own custom chocolate bar. No matter when you visit, you’ll be met by warm smiles and a huge amount of chocolate to be tasted. 

4. Garden Isle Chocolate

Garden Isle Chocolate | 6020 Koolau Rd, Anahola, HI 96703 | (808) 364-6812 | Photo Credit by @alison_furderer on Instagram

Garden Isle Chocolates also offers guided tours of the farm and chocolate production process. On the thorough, three-hour tour, you’ll learn more than you thought possible about cacao, its history in Hawaii, and the processing process. Garden Isle’s emphasis is on permaculture and sustainable farming, and they also grow exotic fruit on-site. Taste the chocolate at each step of the way as you journey from field to shop, and come away with an experience you’ll never forget. Garden Isle is located in Moloa’a, right behind the Moloa’a fruit stand, on Kauai’s northeastern shore. 

Still on the fence about where to stop? The good news is that you can find single-origin Hawaiian chocolate throughout all the islands at grocery stores and boutique shops alike. Stop at one of the farms for a tour, sample some at a specialty shop, or just grab a bar next time you’re browsing the aisles for a snack. You’ll pay more for quality, but it’s well worth it.