a visit to the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory

We had the great pleasure of meeting Pam and Bob Cooper at their cocoa plantation–which also happens to be their chocolate factory! This is the only location in the world I has visited to that point in time, where the cacao/cocoa is grown on the very same piece of land on which the beans are fermented, dried, made into chocolate, packaged and sold all on the same site! And what a site!


The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory is located on leeward slope of Mount Hualalai.

As you pull into the driveway of the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory (OHCF), it feels like you are driving into the yard of friends–who just happen to have a beautiful hilltop piece of property with a stunning ocean view! The Coopers’ cocoa plantation is located on the leeward slope of Mount Hualalai, just minutes from the community of Kailua Kona, on the Big Island of Hawaii.

The Coopers left their home in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1997 and moved to Hawaii to begin a new life of island bliss. In 1998, Bob took a chocolate making course at Richardson Researches, Inc. in California, and by September, 2000, made his first batch of artisanal chocolate for sale. He now has approximately 1,450 cacao trees on his six-acre farm alongside some macadamia trees.


A visit to the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory gives you the chance to see cocoa pods, unfermented cocoa beans, and much more.

The OHCF presently makes 10,000 pounds of chocolate per year but has the capacity to make 80,000 pounds if they could get more Hawaiian-grown cocoa. The Coopers currently buy cocoa beans from 27 different growers, but still can’t get nearly enough to make their capacity. They call themselves a ‘self-restraining operation,’ and limit production so that they can maintain their 100% Hawaiian grown branding. This is important, because there are several other Hawaiian chocolate makers who make excellent chocolate in Hawaii, but it is not made with Hawaii-grown cocoa due to its limited supply and significantly higher price than cocoa grown in other parts of the world such as Africa and South America.

Bob tells me that OHCF uses organic growing practices and organic fertilizer, but doesn’t have formal organic certification because of the ‘red tape’ it involves.


Drying the cocoa beans at OHCF.

On your visit to the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory, you’ll learn that the cocoa beans are fermented in mahogany boxes for a week and then dried in the sun for 30 days in order to reduce the moisture content of the beans from their natural state of 22-28% down to just seven percent. The shells of the beans are then removed by winnowing and the cocoa is conched (refined) for just 18 hours—compared to the 80 or more hours I’ve seen done in many European establishments throughout Belgium and Switzerland. Yet, the chocolate that OHCF produces is heavenly smooth.


The cocoa nibs from the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory have an intensely fresh flavour.

I particularly enjoyed the dark Forastero chocolate from OHCF and their fresh cocoa nibs. It was a very sad day for me when I finished the cocoa nibs I’d brought back with me from OHCF. I love the intensity they bring to yogurt mixed with fresh fruit, crunchiness to ice-cream sundaes, and the exotic layering of flavour they add when mixed in with granola.

You can also use cocoa nibs to enhance the flavours of sauces, gravy, chilli, and other savoury dishes. Just remember that the nibs won’t melt or dissolve as chocolate does. They will add a bit of delicious crunchiness to your culinary creation. But if you want the end result to have a smooth texture, just grind the cocoa nibs in a food processor to end up with smaller granules.


Bob and Pam Cooper relaxing in their cocoa plantation.

Bob and Pam Cooper are founding members of the Hawaii Chocolate and Cocoa Association (HCCA) and are really committed to seeing the local industry grow. You can take a tour of their operation by getting in touch via their website or reserving by phone at (808) 322-2626. The really cool thing for chocolate travellers is that OHCF uses Fedex to courier orders to customers in the US, so that you don’t have to carry your chocolate orders home with you. Something to remember for your Chocolatour to the island of Hawaii!

Have you tried the chocolate offerings of OHCF? Do you enjoy cocoa nibs as a healthy snack? Have you considered including Hawaii in your chocolate travel plans? Let’s talk about it! 

Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

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73 Responses

  1. Donna Janke says:

    This was a really interesting post. I’d love to tour the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory if I visited Big Island. Do they also use the macadamia nuts in any of their creations?

  2. Doreen

    Hi Donna: If they did, I didn’t sample any! You just reminded me that I forgot to check in on their website and include the link! Thx for being so quick on the draw, Donna!
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  3. I have missed my calling. I was supposed to be a chocolate grower/producer in Hawaii and I just didn’t realize it till now. :) As always, my mouth is watering after reading your post!
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  4. The logo looks familiar. Would I have seen it in an airport shop?
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  5. Susan Cooper

    Did the Coopers happen to mention what possessed them to decide to leave their home in NC and move to Hawaii and raise cacao trees and make chocolate? Very interesting. What a life changer.
    Susan Cooper recently posted…Spitballs Snow In Classroom 10: StoryMy Profile

    • Doreen

      Hi Susan: I don’t think they intentionally moved to HI to make chocolate. They’d been visiting HI regularly since 1977, and then decided to make the move in 1997. It just so happened that the property they bought had coffee, cocoa, and macadamia trees, so Bob decided to learn how to make chocolate, got a grant from the USDA to build his own winnower (to remove the shells of the cocoa beans) … and the rest is a most delicious history. :-)
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  6. Agness says:

    I’m a big fan of exotic fruits, so that’s definitely a kind of place where I wish I could stay!
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  7. As I’ve read your posts, I’ve stared to understand the complexity of making chocolate. There is so much involved that goes on behind the scenes to making delicious and distinctive chocolate.
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  8. Tracie Howe

    I love their story! Coming from North Carolina and settling in Hawaii. What a dream! Oh yeah, and to be immersed in chocolate production! :)

  9. Paul Graham says:

    Hi Doreen. There really is a lot to making quality chocolate and you provide a very interesting summary. Yes, I love cacao nibs too !
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  10. Now this is where I wouldn’t mind if the chocolate melted in my hand (finger lickin’) instead of my mouth. After seeing a blog post about roasted bugs and now roasted chocolate…. need I say what’s my preference? Cheap chocolate has a plastic taste and being a chocoholic snob is a good thing.
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  11. Hi Doreen,
    Your photos immediately drew me in. This beautiful post on the original Hawaiian chocolate factory reminds me of being stationed in Pearl Harbor nearly 40 years ago and returns to Kauai. We love dark chocolate, and have never been to Kona yet so this is something we will consider adding to our itinerary.

    Kind Regards,
    William Butler recently posted…Maya Angelou: Her Love, Her Life, Her LegacyMy Profile

    • Doreen

      Yay, Bill! That’s my intent! To entice you and all to consider travelling with chocolate in mind. Chocolate travel is the most decadent form of travel you can enjoy.

      Thanks for your comments about my photos and for sharing memories of Pearl Harbor. There is fine cacao being grown on Oahu as well.
      Doreen recently posted…collaboration: a key to successMy Profile

  12. Tim says:

    I am always inspired by people who pick up there lives, move somewhere else to do something others dream of, and enjoy life. I love this kind of story and as a person with an uncontrollable sweet tooth, a chocolate farm sounds like heaven.
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  13. I am not a chocolate lover but you definitely made me want some right now! Chocolate and Hawaii sounds like a great vacation. Thank you for sharing this great experience!

  14. Carl says:

    Wow, this place looks awesome. I’ve visited a couple of these in Korea and love how hyped up on cocoa one becomes after visiting. Did you feel the same way afterwards?
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  15. Lenie

    Hi Doreen – I’m not a traveler but reading this post makes me wish I was. I love chocolate and now they have discovered that eating chocolate is actually good for you – within limits of course – so we usually have some cocoa or chocolate every day – I have never heard of chocolate nibs but will keep my eyes open for them now.
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  16. Chris

    All those destinations for the chocolate travels really are “tough” on the eye! :-)

    I saw a chocolate tour advertised in Melbourne last week and it made it think of you!
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  17. Mina Joshi

    Wow…Hawaii and chocolate. What more could one want. I am sure this chocolate must taste a lot better than Chocolate made by the large corporations.
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  18. Catarina says:

    Pam and Bob really sound like they have an interesting and lucrative business in a beautiful place, Doreen. And on top of it a tasty one:-)

  19. Arleen

    Doreen- I have many posts and yours are so interesting as I never heard of anyone doing what you do. I am so glad you share it with us. I liked the picture of cocoa pods as I didn’t know what they looked like. Does The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory sell chocolate covered macadamia nuts? When I was in Hawaii they were my favorite. I couldn’t tell you who sold them.
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    • Doreen

      Hi Arleen and thanks for your comment. It is Hawaiian Host who makes the chocolate covered mac nuts you find in the ABC stores, the airports and everywhere else around Hawaii. They now make about 5 varieties! The finest chocolate covered mac nuts I’ve ever had are from Big Island Candies, a company near Hilo that really makes some creative products. I’ll feature them in a future post.
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  20. Jason B

    That chocolate factory looks interesting. I would love to tour the place given the chance.
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  21. We visited the Big Island and stayed in Kona a few years ago. While we were there we learned how coffee was made but totally missed out on the chocolate factory! It would be hard to choose between which tour to take but right now I’m leaning towards the chocolate!
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    • Doreen

      Hi Anita and thanks for dropping by the blog.

      It’s very interesting. Coffee and cacao are often grown together as they require similar growing conditions and climate. My understanding, though, is that it is much easier to grow and process coffee than it is cacao. Both are certainly delish, although I’m sure you can guess where my preference lies. :-)
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  22. Mary Parker says:

    I m so fortunate to live near Pam and bob on the Big Island and ALWAYS include a tour of the Chocolate Farm when I have friends visiting. I HIGHLY recommend it to anyone that has plans to travel here. After all, this is the only state in the US where not only coffee, but chocalte (and even vanilla) is grown! Your blog describing your tour was very nice too!

  23. Brad Frankel says:

    it must be great to see it right form start to finish. Cant beat good coffee and good chocolate – recently a place opened in East London, brick lane, called Dark Sugars and its amazing as they show you the stages of how its made.

    • Doreen

      Hi Brad: Yes, once you see the entire process of how cacao is grown, fermented, and roasted to become cocoa, which then becomes chocolate … you can see the difference between artisanal chocolate and chocolate candy.

      Thx for the tip about Dark Sugars. I’ll look them up, as the Brits are really doing amazing things with chocolate these days. The chapter in my book on the UK is the most comprehensive.
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  24. Beth Niebuhr

    Beautiful pictures and great story. I’d love to visit. Thanks for sharing.
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  25. Yum! The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory combines two of my favourite things- beautiful views of palm trees and ocean with delicious chocolate! Very tempting!
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  26. Susan says:

    Chocolate! (What else needs to be said?)

  27. maxwell ivey says:

    Hi Doreen; this sounds like a great way to combine business and passion. Its nice that they hold back capacity to ensure support of hawaiian growers. Places like this that offer tours are part of a growing segment of the travel industry called agri tourism. I am probably one of the few people in the amusement industry that actively targets these groups. wonder if the OHCA needs a train? :) thanks again, max
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    • Doreen

      Thanks for your comment, Max. Yes, I’ve been a member of the Canadian Farm Writers Federation for many years, and have visited numerous agri-tourism ventures. They’re all extremely unique and interesting. But the chocolate (cocoa) farm is by far, the tastiest! :-)
      Doreen recently posted…collaboration: a key to successMy Profile

      • maxwell ivey says:

        Hi Doreen; I have no doubt you are right about them being the sweetest. :) Now, if you could just fine a place that does wine and chocolate? hmmm Maybe I should check out the association as a way of learning more about the needs of the agri tourism segment. I have a trip to hawaii on my list too but its to visit the fernandez family operators of the only traveling carnival based in the islands. take care, max
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  28. Lisa says:

    It’s amazing that everything is done there on the property! I’d love to take a tour of the grounds.

  29. Jeri

    I can’t say I’ve ever tried cocoa nibs, but would love to. How lovely to go all the way from North Carolina to Hawaii and start a totally new life. I admire that so much.

    • Doreen

      Cocoa nibs are amazing, Jeri. They aren’t sweet OR bitter. the word I always use to describe them is “intense” as the flavour is a genuine cocoa/chocolate flavour in its purest sense, before anything has been added to alter the purity and intensity of the cacao. Try some!
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  30. What a wonderful and informative post! All those years in Hawaii and I never heard of them…what courage to make that move and turn it into something so wonderful! Loved the story Doreen:) Inspired me enough o look them up…..
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  31. Great article! You’re so lucky to be able to go! I hope I can get there for a visit one of these days too – I LOVE the flavour of Hawaiian chocolate.
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  32. I love that the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory does everything from beginning to end, on site. It must be fascinating to be able to watch the entire process.

    • Doreen

      Hi Michele and thanks for your comment.

      Well, you wouldn’t be able to watch the entire process in one visit! The beans are hand-harvested, so that takes time. The pods are then cleaned out and the beans are put in fermentation boxes for a week. Then they are sun roasted on trays for a month. Then the processing begins to turn the result into chocolate liquor (cocoa mass and cocoa butter.) Then the chocolate is conched for about 20 hours, and then tempered and made into chocolate. So as you can see, it’s quite an elaborate and time consuming process to go from tree to bean to bar. But the result is well worth waiting for!
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  33. Ilaria says:

    It must be very interesting to follow the whole production process. Great post, didn’t think at Hawaii as a producer, maybe cause I live so far from there! I’d like to taste Havaian Chocolate 😛

  34. Yum. Nice images. I can taste the nibs! Great story about this couple, too.
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  35. OMG chocolate + Hawaii = Pure Bliss! And 10 THOUSAND POUNDS OF CHOCOLATE ANNUALLY, you say? Well o.k., I guess I can get by on that (let’s see, that’d be a smidge more than 200 pounds a week – yup tight, but I think I can manage). 😉

    Actually, apparently they likewise grow/make chocolate here in Ecuador, so I’m hoping to see how it’s made first hand one day soon. From your pics and commentary, it looks most fascinating (not to mention yummy!)
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  36. Cheryl

    I love how these people are self-limiting to maintain their status of Hawaii grown. That takes dedication. I have not had the pleasure of eating their chocolate, but it has been added to my bucket list. :)
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  37. Aha, so there is a chocolate factory. I didn’t know that. I’ll have to go visit.
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  38. Suzanne Boles

    Is this unique? Are there any other places that grow and make chocolate?

    • Hi Suzanne. It’s definitely rare to have a cocoa grower harvesting, processing the beans and making the chocolate all on the same site. And what’s really cool, is that the Coopers have turned this into a true ‘cottage’ business that’s small and truly hands-on. It may be called a ‘factory’ but it’s far from it in the true sense of the word. Thx for joining me on the journey!
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  39. Michael says:

    We’ve been on a few chocolate tours around the world and they are all interesting in the subtle little things they do differently to make their flavor unique.

    Of course the best bit is where you get the samples at the end :p
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  40. Really interesting post!!! I love the chocolate factory tour.

  41. Doreen

    So exciting! We’ll be visiting the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory in October as part of our group Chocolatour to Hawaii. Details at http://chocolatour.net/chocolatour-to-hawaii.
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