I’m back from an epic 12-day trip to Hawaii, researching, reporting, exploring and eating my way through multiple islands, concluding with the Big Island Chocolate Festival. Although there are only a few Hawaiian chocolate makers exporting to the mainland (including Madre Chocolate, Manoa and Wailua Estate) there are scores more small chocolate farmers growing their own beans and making small-batch chocolate bars. Discovering their chocolate and hearing their stories gave me the same delight as discovering a new grower’s champagne. Hawaii is the only state in the country that has the right climate for growing cacao so it’s every bit as much a delicacy.
On this Hawaii trip, I started in Oahu and also visited Kauai for the first time followed by the Big Island. There was so much to do and see, although staying at gorgeous hotels like Koa Kea and Mauna Kea Beach Hotel made it tempting to lounge around the resort all day, paddleboarding and soaking up the sun.
While the weather was flawless as expected and the dramatic landscapes were stunning, the best part of my trip was meeting so many incredible people along the way, from the Hiratas diligently making shochu from their tiny distillery in the depths of Haleiwa on Oahu’s North Coast to the Hubers hand-picking the sweetest pineapple you’ve ever tasted on Kauai. Normally, eating fresh pineapple irritates my tongue and hurts the roof of my mouth, by this Sugarloaf white pineapple has the sweetest, juiciest flavor with zero acidity.
On Oahu, Alan Okami and his brother Paul spent a day showing me around some of their favorite childhood haunts and introduced me to pickled mango. Their family handcrafts the most beautiful ukulele and they are true ambassadors of Aloha.
My insider guide to Kauai was Aletha Thomas, a Portland transplant who makes incredible jams from Kauai’s luscious fruit. She’s practically a native Hawaiian by now and it seems like everyone on the island knows and loves her.
Click through the slideshow above for a peek at some highlights from my trip. All images by Peter Tsai.