E Komo Mai to Garden Island Chocolate

Garden Island Chocolate is the premier gourmet Hawaiian Chocolate bar.  Our locally grown cacao infused with the flavors of Kaua‘i and the Big Island of Hawaii, produces some of the finest chocolate in the world. Mahalo for helping us to sustain and support local agriculture, and in turn a healthy and happy community.

I founded this small company with the vision of making the world’s best chocolate. Garden Island Chocolate’s goals are to bring to the visitors and local residents of Kauai a chocolate bar made from locally grown cacao.  This will greatly stimulate the local economy by providing jobs and a viable and sustainable agricultural crop. As an avid farmer and father I had a dream of sustainability and always looked to the land and sea to support my wife and children. We plant organic gardens to feed our bodies and enrich our souls. Clean healthy organic food, pure untreated water, and pristine ocean air in our opinion is true wealth. I spear fish along the reefs and forage for fruit in the jungle whenever possible. When our first son Makanakai was still a baby we made money by wild-harvesting avocados, coconuts, and bananas and with the help of some friends built a small fruit stand by the side of the road. We camped and lived off the land making fires every night, listening to the surf, nurtured by the Aina. This was a blissful and simple time. Living off the land is an education unparalleled by any university.

I spent 9 years in various colleges, traveling the world, receiving my undergraduate degree with honors from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a Masters in Polynesian/South East Asian Art History from the University of Hawaii. On my extensive travels I delighted in the different regional foods and always visited the local markets. My friends called me a picky eater, I like to think of myself as a gourmet foodie.

A lot of people ask how I got into growing and making chocolate. When I was a kid some of first memories are of my mother using cocoa butter on her skin. I remembered the rich delicious smell and soothing creamy texture and how my skin soaked up the butter and turned a golden brown in the tropical sun. Later on I leaned that cocoa butter melts at the exact temperature of the skin and is the best thing for stretch marks and rejuvenating damaged skin. I can remember my first encounter with a cacao tree while foraging in the jungle on Kauai over 15 years ago. I instinctually knew it was a special tree and had a very strong suspicion is was a cacao tree. I had never seen one before and I was compelled to pick one of the bright yellow pods.

Believe it or not plants have a consciousness. They are very intelligent and if you ask they will reveal much to you. I cracked open the pod and tasted a seed. It did not taste like chocolate.  I was always mystified how they got chocolate flavor out of the cacao beans but this mystery was left to incubate in the recesses of my consciousness. Then a few years later while on a vision quest in Waipio valley on the Big Island I met a Kahuna and we got to know each other while working in his ancestral lohi. Next to his hale I noticed a very healthy cacao tree with a few ripe pods. My curiosity was reignited and I tried to roast the fresh beans in a cast iron skillet. Still no chocolate flavor. When I returned to Kauai a friend who lived up the street had two beautiful fruiting cacao trees. She did not know what to do with the pods. I knew this was the universe telling me something.

No one on Kauai was making chocolate so I went back online to do some research. Even with the plethora of information available I was still not able to find out how to make chocolate. I learned that fermenting was a crucial step in the process to develop chocolate flavor and my first few attempts resulted in moldy beans. In school I leaned a lot of fascinating esoteric knowledge about ancient civilizations, but nothing that would help in my quest to make chocolate. I did develop a skill at research, so I doggedly kept at it, knowing the answer was out there somewhere. The libraries and book stores on Kauai had nothing to help in my research on cacao. Online I started buying chocolate books and amassing a small library, not knowing if the book was going to be useful or not. After a year of searching for old used, out of print and very expensive books I finally found out the techniques for proper fermentation. Now all I had to do was adopt them to the unique climate of Kauai and with a lot of experimentation we did it. And so it went with all the steps in the chocolate making process, until we perfected it.

We have seven different varieties of cacao on Kauai and each one has to be fermented and roasted separately. The pivotal moment came when I was making a batch of 100% Criollo and everything just fell into place. All the steps were implemented just right and the alchemy was magical. The resulting chocolate bar was simply divine. I have a confession to make, I am not a chocoholic. I like chocolate but my annual consumption was rather low. It was determination and unrelenting curiosity that led me to unravel the mysteries of making chocolate. Once I tasted chocolate done right I realized I had been eating inferior low grade chocolate my entire life. It is no wonder I never liked it that much. Now that we grow and make our own I just love it. But too much of a good thing is dangerous. The chemical content and potency of freshly made cacao is very high and often when I am making chocolate I stay up all night with my hand shaking from being overly stimulated. What keeps me going is not the drugs in chocolate (they help) but the fact that there is so much left to learn about this amazing plant. We are in a renaissance of chocolate making. The ancient Mayans and other Mesoamerican cultures were far more advanced in their understanding and use of cacao. We are just scratching the surface in terms of chocolate being used as a medicine and sacrament. After all these centuries we are just beginning to relearn the secrets of chocolate. It is the current slow food, organic, fair trade movement that is facilitating the awareness of where our food is really coming from and how it was treated along the way.

Ultimately the cacao grown on Kauai will become part of a sustainable agricultural crop that will nourish generations to come. Cacao enables us the opportunity to become closer to the land, to understand the complexities of the natural environment and how we fit into the web of life. When each of our sons was born we placed their placentas under a coconut sprout, so the tree will grow strong and provide food for the life of our children. When I die a mango tree will be planted over my body so that the tree will produce sweet fruit and cool shade for my grandchildren.

Koa Kahili
Garden Island Chocolate
PO Box 998
Kilauea HI 96754

12 Responses to About Us

  1. Marie Miner Brandsen

    Hi Koa,
    I brought a group from public charter school last year and had a great field trip. I had great feedback and was wondering when a good time to do another field trip would be. Which month?
    Also, Some 9th and 10th graders need a “community service project” . I’d like to talk to you about your volunteer needs to see if would work for some of my students.
    Mahalo~ Marie

    • Koa

      Aloha, just give us a call 808-634-6812 about scheduling a field trip, Mondays are good for us. We usually work in the field after the tour, around 1pm to 3pm, so for two hours we could use the help.


  2. London Coe

    I am trying to organize a chocolate tour for a number of my chocolate customers. Peace on Fifth is a store in Dayton Ohio that sells, among other things, wonderful chocolate. Your place looks fantastic. there is just one condition… there has to be work involved. Can we set up a tour where visitors can pick chocolate and be a part of the making process? What would that cost? Thank you.

    • Koa

      Aloha, yes we can accommodate you, having guests take part in the chocolate making process. How many do you have in your party? Please call 808-634-6812 to make a reservation.


  3. Barbie Van Horn

    I’m a chocolate blogger and just posted about your bar on my blog. Do you have a facebook page? I’d love to say hello that way too. You make wonderful chocolate! It was a gift from my daughter and I have enjoyed every bite!

    • Koa

      Aloha, yes our facebook fan page is under Garden Island Chocolate, lots of great photos on there. Enjoy…

  4. Sarah

    How do I get in touch with you to book a farm tour?

    • Koa

      Just give us a call at 808-634-6812

  5. Kristin Whitworth

    We are interested in doing tour in early January -can you provide kamahaina pricing? Adults and students.

    • Koa

      Kamaaina is $55 with a state ID. Student local rate is $19 ages 12 to 4. Just give us a call to make a reservation. 808-634-6812

  6. Georg Bernardini

    Dear Chocolate Maker,

    I am Georg Bernardini, author of Der Schokoladentester (“The Chocolate Taster”), which was published originally in 2012.

    The book surveys the world of premium chocolate. It covers more than 2,700 bars and boxed assortments by 271 companies selected from 38 countries.

    The first edition of Der Schokoladentester sold out in 8 weeks; the second edition, published in January 2013, sold out 6 months later.

    In May 2014 my book won the Gourmand Award for the Best Chocolate Book in the World. The Director of the Jury lauded it as the most innovative chocolate book of the last 20 years.

    Incredibly, the first edition was available only in German and yet it received worldwide media attention of all types (print, broadcast, online). A selection of interviews and articles can be viewed at under Aktuelles/Presse. The homepage also affords a look inside the book itself.

    The updated version will drop in 2015 and, again, this time in English. I would very much like your company to be part of it. For this I need a sample taste of some of your chocolates and, if possible, I would truly appreciate some information about you and your craft (please see enclosed questionnaire).

    My address:
    Georg Bernardini
    Basaltstrasse 57
    53227 Bonn

    Thank you in advance for your consideration.

    Best regards

    Georg Bernardini

    • Koa

      Aloha, I would love to read your book. Can you purchase it on Amazon? About the samples and questionnaire, you can email me direct at

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