The Chinatown shop houses a world of chocolatey bliss, including weekly classes

The Chinatown shop houses a world of chocolatey bliss, including weekly classes

8 N. Pauahi St.
Phone number (808) 377-6440

Since debuting in 2010, Madre Chocolate has been changing the way people think about chocolate. Company founders and artisan chocolatiers Nat Bletter and David Elliott have made it their mission to educate consumers about the bean-to-bar process, showing just how cacao pods hanging on a tree can be artfully transformed into silky, rich bars of dark chocolate complete with history and culture woven into every velvety fold.

“We want people to be able to experience how chocolate is made,” says Bletter, who holds a Ph.D. in ethnobotany and has studied and worked in cacao-growing regions around the world.

The local business unearths this rich history by pointing to the Mesoamerican roots of chocolate, where thousands of years ago it was originally — and still is — consumed as a beverage. One of Madre’s new releases, Jaguar Cacao Chocolate, features Guatemalan cacao beans mixed with cacao blanco, a cream-colored species of the plant that in Mayan mythology is said to be the female yin to standard cacao’s male yang. Patrons may enjoy the balance of the two in one palate-soothing treat, all the while connecting with a piece of chocolate’s cultural legend.

Key to the internationally renowned company’s operation is its central role within Hawaii’s flourishing world of bean-to-bar chocolate. As the only state producing cacao domestically, Hawaii offers chocolate makers like Madre a unique opportunity to work directly with island cacao growers to influence every phase of the detailed chocolate-making process — from fermenting cacao beans to roasting, grinding and tempering them into those lovable finished bars.

Madre has created award-winning edibles from cacao beans grown all over the Islands. One of its newest offerings, Flights, allows customers to taste a number of bars from a particular region — say, the Hawaiian Islands — in one box. That way, they can discover how many diverse and intricate flavors arise from various soil, microclimates and other conditions found in a particular area.

Given such complexity, it seems that Madre’s chocolates have more in common with a glass of fine wine than a standard Hershey’s candy bar.

The company draws on a host of ingredients, many of which are locally sourced or hold cultural significance, to add to its vegan and soy-free products. The recently introduced Chicha Morada bar, for instance, was inspired by the namesake Peruvian drink prepared with purple corn and pineapple. Pangoa cacao beans cultivated by the Ashaninka dwellers of the Peruvian Amazon region — where Bletter conducted fieldwork 12 years ago — also are used in the fruity bar.

Townies can revel in these confections and more at Madre’s Chinatown store-front, which opened in 2013 following its original Kailua factory. There, the chocolate-making process comes alive, as it houses a full garden in the back brimming with the plants and fruits that grace the company’s products.

“We have our first cacao tree with pods fruiting on it now, so we can really show people the true bean-to-bar process right there on the spot,” explains Bletter.

Chocolate lovers also may shop for their must-haves, including a wide range of new gift sets and recently unveiled vegan truffles, featuring mesmerizing flavors such as Ko Hana Rum and Hibiscus Cinnamon.

The shop hosts weekly “make your own artisan dark chocolate bar” classes in Chinatown (Wednesdays at 6 p.m. and Fridays at 3 p.m.) and has live music during First Fridays. It’s also got an expansive selection of classes and tours — including a March boot camp for bean-to-bar chocolatiers in the making.