Need an idea for Valentine’s Day? Take your sweetie on a Big Island chocolate farm tour

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If you are among the 57% of Americans planning to celebrate Valentine’s Day with candy this year, stick with the tried-and-true classic — chocolate.

You can’t go wrong when 58 million pounds of the scrumptious sweet are sold during the week of Valentine’s Day. But why stop there? You’re in Hawai‘i, the only state in the nation that grows cacao, where chocolate gets its start.

Instead of just giving your sweetheart chocolates in one of those heart-shaped boxes popularized by chocolatier Russell Stover in the early 20th century, be one of the 32% of Americans who plan to give their loved one a gift of experience this year — and show them how the only true American chocolate is made from tree to table.

Cacao, which is native to South America, has been grown by large and small farms on all of the Hawaiian Islands since the early 2000s. It was introduced in Hawai‘i in 1850.

Kona’s Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory on the Big Island in 2000 was the first cacao grower to prove bean-to-bar production was possible in the state.

Cacao pods at Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory in Kona. Screenshot from website.

Dole’s Waialua Estate Coffee and Chocolate proved that large orchards could be managed in Hawai‘i and its 80-acre cacao orchard on O‘ahu’s North Shore remains the largest in the islands. Just short of 133 acres were harvested in 2019 with a total yield of 32.8 tons of dry beans, according to the 2020 Hawai‘i Cacao Survey.

There are plenty of “chocolate farms” to visit, including at least nine right here on the Big Island. Many of them give tours, including Lavaloha, which touts its 1,000-acre farm 10 minutes from Downtown Hilo as “Hilo’s Hidden Gem.”

“As growers and makers of 100% Hawaiian chocolate, we believe we’ve got something very special here and we’d like to share it with you,” Lavaloha says on its website.

The tree-to-chocolate tour at the farm allows guests to meander through its cacao orchards, pick a fresh pod from the trees, follow the chocolate-making process and hang out in the farm’s chocolate lounge. The tour experience takes about an hour.


“I loved how we got to look behind the scenes on how cacao is processed and eventually made into the awesome-looking and yummy Lavaloha chocolate,” said one guest review. Another guest reviewer exclaimed that the tour was fantastic and chocolate divine: “Such an amazing gem we just stumbled onto; don’t miss this opportunity, you’ll be so glad you did it!”

If you’re in West Hawai‘i, check out the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory plantation tour. Guests enjoy a scenic walking tour of the cacao orchard and get to sample the farm’s delicious milk, dark and rare criollo chocolates. It’s a “fabulous tour full of information about every step in the chocolate-making process — from growing the trees to molding each handmade, delicious bar.”

Maybe you’re traveling with your bae to Kaua‘i soon and want to give them a chocolatey surprise when you get there. Then check out Lydgate Farms. The farm’s famous chocolate tour was the first of its kind on Kaua‘i and offers an in-depth, three-hour experience that begins with a stroll through its botanical gardens and ends with an extensive chocolate-tasting course.

Because of the state’s island ecosystems, “you have all these pockets of different flavors” because of the varying weather, Nat Bletter, founder of Madre Chocolate on O‘ahu, told Food Republic.


“They say if you don’t like the weather in Hawai‘i, you can just go to the next valley and it’ll be different,” Bletter told the website that explores the culture of food through stories, interviews, global conversations and experiences. “The same is true of the flavor of the cacao.”

Even if you can’t make it to one of the farms for Valentine’s Day itself, giving the gift of a cacao farm tour at any time of the year offers a sweet experience.

A bar of Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory chocolate. Photo from website.

Chocolate might not be for everyone though, so if that’s not what your babe is into, try Hawai‘i’s most popular Valentine’s candy: conversation hearts. Granted, a heart-shaped box of chocolates came in second place and Hershey’s Kisses were third, meaning 2 out of 3 of the state’s favorite V-Day candy is still chocolate.

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel is a full-time reporter with Pacific Media Group. He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism as a reporter, copy editor and page designer. He previously worked at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo. Nathan can be reached at [email protected]
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