Madre Chocolate Farm Tour: How To Get From Bean To Bar

madre chocolate farm tour
madre chocolate farm tour
Photo by Ketino Photography

An afternoon of connecting with the land and tasting award winning chocolate awaits you on the Madre Chocolate Farm Tour at Nine Fine Mynahs Estate in Waialua.

Imagine biting into a bar of rich dark chocolate that is so creamy you swear it is milk chocolate.

There’s no crumble or chalkiness. Instead, it feels like you are sinking your teeth into a stick of butter. The essence of north shore rain and tropical fruit  slowly tempers on your tongue.

This is Madre Chocolate.

You can thank the climate and terroir in Hawaiʻi for that luxurious mouthfeel.

But don’t think it is because of sunny, warm temperatures. Hawaiʻi is actually one of the coldest places on earth growing cacao. It’s cool winds and volcanic soil produce beans that are extra high in cocao butter making them some of the best in the world.

You will learn this, and so much more, on the Madre Chocolate farm tour.

madre chocolate farm tour

Out on the farm

The air is thick and muggy upon my arrival. I hop out of the car, cover myself in a fog of bug spray and pull my hair up, which is already starting to frizz and stick to the back of my neck.

The owner of the property, Jeanne “J” Bennet, strolls over with a smile and ushers me to a picnic table surrounded by a cluster of tree stumps. The other guests are just starting to congregate.

In between the spaces of country silence I can hear mynah birds chirping and firearms popping off nearby. “Target practice,” Bennet says. “At least when they’re shooting guns you can hear them and know where they are. Not like when they’re shooting arrows.”

I survey the faces of the other guests, curious of their reactions, and then turn my attention to the plate of freshly harvested Sunrise papaya Bennet has just set out for us.

Next to the papaya is a bottle of Nat Bletterʻs mango hot sauce made from local mangos and chilis. “You can dip your papaya in the hot sauce if you’d like,” Bennet suggests.

madre chocolate farm tour
Nat Bletter, co-founder of Madre Chocolate

The dreamers of the dreams

We start the tour with a meet and greet.

Nat Bletter guides the Madre Chocolate farm tour. He is an expert botanist and cofounder of Madre Chocolate. He’s also a chili enthusiast currently growing 120 different varieties on O’ahu, hence the hot sauce.

Bennet and her husband Bruce Clements own the estate. They moved in several years ago to find acres of fallow land suffering from years of aggressive monocropping and depleted soil. They started by planting trees. Hundreds of them. All types. Within a year and a half 620 cacao trees covered the property. “We are planting trees as fast as trees are being cut down,” Bennet says.

Clements is an ex pilot and the farm’s “handy man.” He’s built everything you see at Nine Fine Mynah’s Estate including a massive workshop, a sweet little chocolate factory and the couple’s impressive country home (complete with indoor bird sanctuary). In his spare time he makes beer and chocolate with Bennet and Bletter.

madre chocolate farm tour
Nat’s mango hot sauce, miel de cacao, raw criollo cacao

Ice cream and black coffee

After her spiel Bennet quickly passes the baton to Bletter who gives us a brief history on the evolution of cacao and its origins.

He splits open a fresh pod for us to taste and hands out cups of cacao pulp juice he calls miel de cacao. The juice is delightful––syrupy sweet with a thick mucous-like consistency similar to what spills out of okra. The beans from the cacao pods are covered in a white, sweet-tart pulp with a crunchy center that is bitter like black coffee. A wonderful contrast in my opinion.

madre chocolate farm tour

Afterward, Bletter walks us over to a grove of cacao trees full of pods tie died red, yellow and orange.

The cacao enjoys the shade and consistent hits of nitrogen from the ice cream bean trees hovering above.

Bletter cracks open a fuzzy, green bean pod thatʻs about a foot long. It is packed with what looks like a cluster of damp cotton balls. He passes the pod around, so everyone can reach in and pull out a bean to try.

We are instructed to enjoy the soft, snow white outer coating but not eat the bean itself (which is only edible if cooked). It feels like cotton candy melting on my tongue and tastes of tamarind and vanilla ice cream. Some of the guests pocket the beans to plant an ice cream tree of our own when they get home.

madre chocolate farm tour
Nat introducing us to ice cream beans

Over 50% of the cacao used for Madre Chocolate is from Hawaiʻi. Criollo and trinitario varieties are grown at Nine Fine Mynahs Estate. More comes from Kona and a few other small farms on the Big Island and Oʻahu. The rest comes from Central America simply to keep up with supply and demand.

Bean to bar in 12 steps

Madre Chocolate is made in small batches, by hand, with the help of a few simple tabletop machines. Bletter walks you through each step during the tour giving you the opportunity to taste the cacao during every stage of the process, so that you can see the transformation the beans undergo.

1. Harvesting.  The cacao is checked for ripeness by scratching the pod. If it reveals a green hue they need more time on the tree. If they scratch yellow or red they are ready to harvest.
2. Fermentation.  After the pods are split open and the beans are removed they get placed in a small chest freezer to ferment for about 10 days, until reaching a temperature of 118-120 degrees. The beans look like they are covered in the same red-orange clay mud that spreads across the farm like peanut butter. They smell yeasty and, when peeled, take on the color and taste of red wine.
3. Drying. Still hot to the touch, the beans are laid out to dry on wire racks lined with 2 layers of fiberglass screens (so the metal doesn’t impart flavor). This happens in a well-ventilated A-frame shed for 6 weeks to 6 months.
4. Roasting. The beans are roasted using low heat resulting in a complex nutty, yet still fruity, flavor.
5. Crushing. The beans are crushed in order to remove the outer shell.
6. Winnowing. The beans are put through a winnower to blow off the outer shell.
7. Grinding. The cacao nibs go into a grinder.
8. Cacao butter separation. This step is omitted at Madre Chocolate. Bletter explains that they do not have the volume of cacao, nor the enormous machine thatʻs needed in order to separate the cacao butter from the cacao. Instead, the cacao butter at Madre Chocolate is left in.
9. Sugar and other desired ingredients are added.
10. Churning. The cacao and other ingredients churn together for 2-5 days straight to produce chocolate.
11. Tempering. The chocolate is heated and cooled for texture and shine.
12.The chocolate is poured into molds to create chocolate bars.

madre chocolate farm tour
Fermentation and drying process

Halfway through the tour, dark clouds start to fill the sky. We escape the rain by taking a detour through Bennet’s home and mynah bird sanctuary––what the estate is named after.

madre chocolate farm tour

Inside Bennet’s home a zoo unfolds. Mynah birds soar through the kitchen and dining room and the kids get the opportunity to feed some of the newborns by hand. Bennet notices my wide eyes and skeptical smile and turns to me and says, “We use a lot of wet wipes here.” I laugh and gaze at the happy birds in awe.

madre chocolate farm tour
The kids feeding baby Mynah birds with syringes

Nat and the chocolate factory

Soon Bletter shows back up to take us over to the chocolate factory for a chocolate making demo and chocolate dipped frozen apple bananas.

madre chocolate farm tour
Roasting, winnowing and grinding

He saves the best for last by caffeinating us with cacao shell tea and gifting our palates with samples of every flavor of their award winning chocolate, including a bar he calls Horchata that’s been flavored with cinnamon, puffed rice and almonds, their Drinking Chocolate that has a rustic stone ground texture and the Earl Grey Chocolate that contains as much caffeine as 6 cups of tea.

madre chocolate farm tour
Roasted cacao beans

Madre Chocolate, now 8 years old, is among the top 18 cacao growers in the world. They have won the highest number of accolades in Hawaii for their chocolate including Best Hawaiian Cacao at the Big Island Chocolate Festival and the prestigious International Cocoa Award at the Cocoa of Excellence competition in Paris.

madre chocolate farm tour
Chocolate dipped apple bananas with toppings

Producing award-winning chocolate isn’t Bennet and Clement’s only raison d’être. As much as they love chocolate they are equally as passionate about caring for the wild life and land that surrounds them. To tour the estate is to look deeply into their dreams and life’s work on an intimate level. An invitation I do not take lightly.

madre chocolate farm tour

Bennet is a recent breast cancer survivor. She says the first thing she asked her doctor, when she was diagnosed, was if she could still eat a chocolate bar a day.

Her doctor enthusiastically said, “Yes!” and told her that as long as itʻs 70% cacao the benefits of the antioxidants and flavanols cancel out any negative effects of the sugar. Bennet says when she heard this she looked at her doctor and replied “how about two bars a day?”

madre chocolate farm tour

In addition to the Madre Chocolate farm tour, Bletter also hosts chocolate making classes, whiskey and chocolate pairings and a boot camp for aspiring cacao farmers.

You can purchase their chocolate online, at the KCC farmers market or in select retail and grocery stores that can be found on their website.

Madre Chocolate Farm Tour 
Hosted by Nat Bletter and Jeanne Bennet

Sundays at 1pm
Nine Fine Mynahs Cacao Farm
Waialua, HI 96791
(808) 779-8608


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Coconut Chia Seed Pudding With Savory Granola And Tropical Fruit

coconut chia seed pudding


coconut chia seed pudding

Chia seed pudding has become as popular to eat for breakfast as yogurt parfaits these days. Like yogurt, the simple base for this pudding is very versatile and can be flavored and topped with almost anything.

Living in Hawaii I’m partial to topping it with tropical fruit myself but you could also use fresh berries, diced stone fruit, apples, pears and pomegranate seeds. Really any kind of fruit you can think of.

This is a handy go-to breakfast for a few reasons: 

  1. It’s fast. You make it the evening before so it is ready to eat the next morning. All you have to do is sprinkle on your toppings and grab a spoon.
  2. It’s easy to make. The pudding literally takes 1-2 minutes to put together. You don’t have to make your own granola like I do, store bought is fine and much simpler. If you use fruit like frozen berries there is not even any fruit prep to do.
  3. The ingredients are non-perishable. Keep some cans of coconut milk and toppings like granola and cacao nibs in the cupboard so you have them whenever you need them. If you store toppings like nuts, seeds and shredded coconut in the refrigerator they will stay fresh for months. You can even keep frozen berries on hand in the freezer .You never have to run the risk of any of the ingredients for this dish going bad before you get to them

Coconut Chia Seed Pudding With Savory Granola And Tropical Fruit

This is a very basic coconut chia seed pudding recipe. You do not have to use the suggested toppings to garnish it with. You can use any fruit or toppings you desire or even just eat it plain. The tropical fruit I used in the photo shown was lilikoi, red dragonfruit and papaya from Hawaii.

Course Breakfast, Dessert, Snack
Cuisine Dairy free, Gluten free
Servings 4 servings


  • 14 fl oz Coconut Milk 1 can, unsweetened
  • 1 Tbsp Pure Vanilla Extract
  • 1/4 tsp Sea Salt
  • 2 Tbsp Raw Honey
  • 5 Tbsp Chia Seeds


  • 1/2 cup Savory Granola store bought or see link below to make your own
  • 1 Tbsp Cacao Nibs
  • 2 Tbsp Shredded Coconut
  • 2 tsp Hemp Seeds
  • 1/2 cup Tropical fruit diced


  1. In a medium bowl whisk together the coconut milk, vanilla extract, sea salt and honey. Whisk the chia seeds in last. 

  2. Ladle the pudding into 4 ramekins or coffee cups, cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. 

  3. The next day, unwrap your puddings right before serving and garnish each one with granola, cacao nibs, shredded coconut and tropical fruit. 

  4. Chia puddings (without garnishes) will stay fresh in the refrigerator up to 5 days. 

Recipe Notes

I recommend using Organic Aroy-D coconut milk for this recipe. It comes out nice and creamy and thick. Other coconut milks may result in a thinner pudding. 

The recipe for my savory granola is right here.

Need shredded coconut? - Use this

Need cacao nibs? - Use this

Need hemp seeds? - Use this

Sticking up for chocolate


I’m so tired of hearing people say they are “cheating”, or that it will make them “fat” or insinuating that it is “junk food” when I offer them a piece of dark chocolate. I’m not talking grocery store candy bars made out of corn syrup or highly processed milk chocolate here. I’m talking about an ounce or two of dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa (75-99% is the best, raw cacao nibs even better).

Dark chocolate compared to milk chocolate has substantially less sugar and no milk so what you are eating is actually really healthy for you. The only excuse I accept when I get a refusal is that they just don’t like the flavor. In that case, fair enough. Life is too short to not enjoy what you are eating. But for the rest who love the taste but think they are being “overindulgent” here is some food for thought…..

Dark chocolate health bennies:

  • Increases longevity – the Guinness book of world records longest living person (who died at age 122) ate 2 lbs of chocolate a week.
  • Improves your mood/reduces stress/increases energy/ is a natural aphrodisiac – by raising serotonin levels in your brain.
  • High in antioxidants – has one of the highest levels of any other food in the world.
  • High in minerals – magnesium, iron, fiber, copper, chromium, zinc & phosphorus.
  • Good for your heart – lowers bad cholesterol & increases good cholesterol

The best way to receive 100% of these benefits is to eat raw cacao. Cacao nibs are an excellent way to do this. You can add them to smoothies, sprinkle them on yogurt and snack on them strait. Other than that, my go to is an ounce a day of artisan dark chocolate in the 70-82% cocoa range. These are a few of my favorites: Scharffen Berger, TCHOBlanxart & Dandelion.

Coconut-chia pudding with cocoa nibs, pomegranate and mint

Chia pudding

Chia pudding

Chia seeds used to be these things that you soaked in water, spread on a garden gnome and a few days later it grew a beard. Then we come to find out these things are actually incredibly good for you and we started putting them in our smoothies and sprinkling them on our salads. Then people started to figure out that when you soak them they turn to jelly like consistency and expand and therefore can be used as a thickener. Enter chia pudding. A wonderful dish invented by God knows who. I started messing around with this stuff about 9 months ago and discovered there are so many ways you can go with a good basic chia pudding recipe. Below I have my basic recipe that I have added cacao nibs to. If you don’t eat cacao nibs feel free to omit them. I used pomegranate and mint to garnish but feel free to use whatever you like. Nuts, seeds, any type of fruit, fresh herbs and spices are all great options. This dish can be eaten at breakfast, as a snack or as a healthy dessert.

Health bennies:

Chia Seeds – Extremely rich in fiber, omega-3s and anti-oxidants, a complete protein, high in nutrients but low in calories. Chia seeds absorb liquid, which for your body means they makes you feel full and are very hydrating.


Coconut-chia pudding with cocoa nibs, pomegranate and mint

**Use organic ingredients whenever possible.
Servings 2 cups


  • 1 can 13.6 oz Coconut milk unsweetened
  • 5 Tablespoons Chia seeds
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla extract
  • TT Kosher salt (use himalayan pink or celtic grey to benefit from their minerals)
  • 2 Tablespoons Raw honey
  • 2 Tablespoons Cacoa nibs


  • 1 Tablespoon Cacoa nibs
  • 1/4 cup Pomegranate seeds
  • 2 sprigs Mint chopped


  1. Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl. Pour into serving cups and refrigerate overnight.
  2. To serve garnish the cups of chia pudding with more cocoa nibs, pomegranate seeds and mint.

Recipe Notes

Need Coconut milk?  Try this!
Need Chia seeds? Try this!
Need Vanilla extract? Try this!
Need himalayan pink? Try this!
Need Cacoa nibs? Try this!


Awesome acai bowls

classic acai bowl

Acai (pronounce it ah-sigh-ee) is the fruit of a palm tree native to the Brazilian amazon. Once a staple of the indigenous amazon tribes, now a favorite amongst surfers, hippies and foodies. Here in the U.S. you can find it in the freezer section, already pureed and packaged in individual portions. There are usually two types available, unsweetened and sweetened with guarana, another plant native to the amazon, used for its potent amount of caffeine.

Acai bowls are most commonly made by pureeing acai with milk and other fruits. They are basically really thick smoothies, plated in a bowl and then garnished with whatever ingredients your heart desires. The sky really is the limit with this popular breakfast dish. They are an excellent way to get powdered superfoods into your breakfast like maca, spiralina and cacao or your daily dose of fiber by adding ingredients like chia seeds, granola or ground flaxseed. Pack in some protein by garnishing with nuts and seeds and kick up the antioxidant level with cacao nibs and berries. I like to keep bananas, mango or berries in my freezer at all times to blend up with the acai.

Health bennies:

Acai is high in antioxidants, vitamins A, B & K, fiber, potassium, omega fatty acids and is an anti-inflammatory,

Here are three acai bowls I like to make at home. Garnishes change depending on what I have in my pantry & fridge.

The Classic Acai Bowlclassic acai bowl

The Classic Acai Bowl

Servings 1


  • 1 pack Sambazon Acai puree unsweetened (200g)
  • 1/4 cup Coconut milk organic
  • 1/2 each Banana frozen or fresh, organic
  • 1/2 teaspoon Maca powder
  • 1/2 cup Strawberries organic


  • - strawberries sliced
  • - blueberries
  • -granola
  • - raw honey
  • -chia seeds
  • - bee pollen made from local bees, can be purchased at your local farmers market or health foods store
  • -hemp seeds
  • -goji berries


  1. - In a high speed blender puree the acai, coconut milk, banana, maca powder and strawberries until smooth.
  2. - Pour puree into a bowl, sprinkle the garnishes on top and serve immediately.

Recipe Notes

Need Sambazon Acai puree, unsweetened (200g)? Try this!
Need Maca powder? Try this!
Need granola? Try this!
Need chia seeds? Try this!
Need hemp seeds? Try this!
Need goji berries? Try this!

The Chocolate Lover’s Acai bowlchocolate lover's acai bowl

The Chocolate Lover's Acai bowl

Servings 1


  • 1 pack Sambazon Acai puree unsweetened (200g)
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons Almond milk
  • 1/2 each Avocado organic
  • 1 each Banana frozen or fresh, organic
  • 1 teaspoon Cacao powder
  • 1 teaspoon Ground flaxseed organic
  • 1 Tablespoon raw honey


  • -cacao nibs
  • - almonds chopped
  • - blueberries
  • - coconut shredded, unsweetened
  • - sunflower seeds
  • -chia seeds


  1. -  In a high speed blender puree the acai, almond milk, avocado, banana, cacao powder, ground flaxseed and honey until smooth.
  2. - Pour puree into a bowl, sprinkle the garnishes on top and serve immediately.

Recipe Notes

Need Sambazon Acai puree, unsweetened (200g)? Try this!
Need Almond milk? Try this!
Need Cacao powder? Try this!
Need Ground flaxseed? Try this!
Need cacao nibs? Try this!
Need chia seeds? Try this!

Tropical Acai Bowl

tropical acai bowl

Tropical Acai Bowl

Servings 1


  • 1 pack Sambazon Acai puree unsweetened (200g)
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons Coconut milk organic
  • 1/2 each Banana frozen or fresh, organic
  • 1/2 cup Mango frozen or fresh, organic
  • juice from half  a lime


  • - mango diced
  • - pineapple diced
  • - banana sliced
  • - avocado sliced
  • - coconut shredded, unsweetened


  1. - In a high speed blender puree the acai, coconut milk, banana, mango and lime juice until smooth.
  2. - Pour puree into a bowl, sprinkle the garnishes on top and serve immediately.

Recipe Notes

Need Sambazon Acai puree, unsweetened (200g)? Try this!

Hot Cacao, An Antioxidant Mood Enhancer

Hot Cacao

Hot Cacao

When was the last time you sat down and had yourself a hot chocolate? Chances are not very often, due to the fact that because of the way most of us had it as kids we think of it more as a dessert than a healthy afternoon beverage.

In reality if made with raw cacao powder this drink is not only delicious it’s also low in calories, high in antioxidants and high in fiber. And when combined with coconut palm sugar and almond milk (instead of cane sugar and cow’s milk) you up the health bennies even more.

Health bennies:

Organic raw cacao powder – Favorite brand – Navitas Naturals High in antioxidants, magnesium, iron, fiber, helps protect skin from UV damage, regulates mood, improves cardiovascular health. **Cacao is toxic for cats and dogs.

Organic coconut palm sugar Favorite brand – Big Tree Farms Low glycemic, high in nutrients **Make sure the label says 100% pure coconut palm sugar.

Organic almond milk – Favorite brand – Silk Lower in fat & calories than cow’s, rice & soy milks, contains no saturated fat, cholesterol or lactose, contain vitamins A, D, E & calcium.  **Not recommended for infants. Read your labels! Make sure you don’t select a brand that contains the food additive carrageenan (it may cause gastrointestinal inflammation) and look for non-GMO.


Hot Cacao

Servings 2 cups


  • 2 Tablespoons Organic raw cacao powder
  • 1 Tablespoons Organic Coconut palm sugar
  • 2 cups Organic almond milk unsweetened


  1. - Mix everything together in a small pot, heat on medium, whisking occasionally until hot.

Recipe Notes

Need Organic raw cacao powder? Try this!
Need Organic Coconut palm sugar? Try this!
Need Organic almond milk, unsweetened? Try this!