The Amazing Story Behind Maui Ku’ia Estate Chocolate
It’s one thing to make exquisite farm-to-bar estate chocolate.
It’s a whole ‘nother thing to donate 100 percent of net profits to Maui charities and non-profits.
Maui Ku’ia Estate Chocolate succeeds on both those fronts.
The artisanal chocolate company was founded by Dr. Gunars Valkirs, a Maui resident and retired biotech entrepreneur, who was the inventor of the first fast and sensitive pregnancy test.
Agriculture is in his heritage, as Valkirs’ father was a farmer in pre-World War II Europe before moving to San Diego, where he maintained a lush citrus orchard.
Inspired by his father, Valkirs started experimenting with planting cacao trees at his Kapalua home. Before long, he was leasing 50 acres of former sugarcane fields in Maui. Today, his farm, which marked its first harvest in spring 2018, encompasses about 7,000 cacao trees.
Because the cost of producing the cacao beans is so high, Valkirs surmised that the only way to make the farm viable was to make chocolate. And because he and his wife didn’t necessarily need the proceeds, he decided to donate them instead.
Today, the chocolate bars, made with both Maui Ku’ia Estate cacao beans and those from the single-family estate Costa Esmeraldas in Ecuador, are produced in a solar-powered factory in Lahaina.
During the pandemic, the company has given free boxes of its 5-gram mini tile-sized chocolates to local restaurants to sweeten up their to-go orders.
I was lucky enough to receive a sample of the 5-gram chocolates last week. Maui Ku’ia Estate makes both dark and milk chocolate bars. Though with the dark being 65 percent cacao and the milk 60 percent cacao, this milk chocolate definitely tastes nearly as potent as dark chocolate — which is a win-win for those of us who like dark chocolate better. There’s a greater creaminess and mellowness in the milk chocolate versus the dark chocolate, but still a real depth of chocolate flavor.
Both dark and milk come as is or flavored with peppermint, blood orange, lemongrass or Maui coffee.
All of the bars are as smooth and silky as it gets. The peppermint is refreshing, but not overpowering, so that the chocolate is still the star. The Maui coffee, too, is subtle, but with the added roasty-nutty character of the coffee. The blood orange tastes like candied orange rinds dipped in chocolate. The lemongrass might just be my favorite. No matter if you enjoy this one in dark or milk chocolate, there is a beautiful floral quality to it, and a finish that just lingers on and on. Put one of these little squares on your tongue, and let it melt ever so slowly for true bliss.
The 5-gram squares are available in 18-piece gift boxes for $26. The company ships worldwide, too.
Maui Ku’ia also makes “drops,” which are like big chocolate chips — the perfect size for baking (1 pound bags on sale for $99). Just imagine jazzing up your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe with chocolate chips redolent of lemongrass or blood orange.
They’re the little chocolates that do a lotta good.