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I was on a coffee origin trip with my former roaster, London Canada’s Fire Roasted Coffee Company. Owner David Cook and manager Patrick Dunham were in Portland for the year’s largest coffee industry trade show, and the three of us flew to Kona, Hawaii from there.
Read: Touchdown in Kona Hawaii
David is also the owner of Habitual Roasters, a chocolate roaster in London, bringing the same awareness of quality and experience to chocolate as he does to coffee. David wanted to find a source for cacao beans while in the area. He explained to me that it’s rare to find regions suited to grow both coffee and cacao, and that Hawaii was one of them.
The biggest secret in chocolate is not how they get caramel in Caramilk bars, it’s that there is great complexity and grade of quality in chocolate, just as there is in coffee or wine. Different regions of the world produce cacao of varying taste, and David processes and roasts cacao to bring people bars of chocolate sourced from different parts of the world. To date, David does not have a Hawaiian chocolate bar, nor do any other chocolate craftspeople in the area. He wanted to bring something new to London.
David had learned of a small farmer on Hawaii’s Big Island that was growing cacao. His name was Sharkman. On our second night there, David made contact with him and set up a meeting to tour his farm and learn more about his farming practices.
“I don’t know, but he insisted that I call him that.” Dave answered. How could this not be interesting?
From our rental in Kona, we would be driving virtually the entire Big Island to get to Sharkman’s farm and back.
The Big Island boasts of an unusual number of individual climates over one land mass. As you can see, we drove through distinct three weather patterns in less than three hours. The weather and landscape changed as quickly as it changes in these images.
As we approached, I became the co-pilot. With Patrick in the back seat with our map, and David driving the car, I manned the phone and took directions from the Sharkman himself.
“Hi there!” Sharkman bellowed over the phone.
“Is this the Sharkman?” I asked.
“Yes it is!” Sharkman answered with enthusiasm.
“Is that what I should call you?” Yes, I thought it was pretty cool just to say we were going to meet somebody named Sharkman.
Sharkman proceeded to give me directions that even a local would have had to write down. I scribbled them down furiously, occasionally shouting out random city, river, or street names, looking for confirmation from Patrick in the back seat that he could see any of these places on the map.
This was old hat for David. David has been on coffee origin trips to Latin America, and assured us that you rarely find a farm without getting lost along the way. We didn’t get lost too badly. Deep into farming territory, we realized we were on the wrong road and had to turn around. Sharkman had said he would leave a white lawnchair on the street in front of his property so we wouldn’t miss it.
We passed this cute future café along the way. Sharkman is renovating it to feature the coffee and chocolate that he grows on his own farm. Customers at that café will be treated to product as fresh as it comes. Farm fresh. The future café was on the way to his farm, so Sharkman asked us to stop there and throw some energy at it.
We eventually found the white lawnchair, and Sharkman’s farm.
His name is Thomas “Sharkman” Sharkie. I asked him to pose for this picture, I really liked his “Happiness is a cup of coffee” shirt. On his small farm, he grows coffee, cacao, and small amounts of other produce, some of it unique to Hawaii’s growing conditions. He roasts and processes both coffee and cacao on-site, selling it locally as Hilo Shark’s Coffee and Hilo Shark’s Chocolate.
Sharkman took us on a tour of his farm. It was important for David to understand what exactly he would be buying, and farming and processing practices were essential to David’s decision. With his knowledge of how cacao is supposed to be grown and handled, there were specific things that David needed to see, hear, and understand from Sharkman.
From cacao pod to the drying process to the roasting to forming the bar itself. I will never look at chocolate the same way again. It was an incredible experience. Sharkman had us each try fresh soft chocolate made from the cacao trees we were just looking at. You don’t find chocolate like this at 7-Eleven.
From coffee cherry, to the green bean inside it, to the roasting, to grinding and brewing a cup. We also sampled some delicious coffee, in case David had an eye towards one day sourcing this from Sharkman as well.
Have you ever seen on the Simpsons when Homer is easily distracted by the dog with the fluffy tail? Well, I’m like that for dogs in general, regardless of their tail. Sharkman’s dog Lola accompanied us on our tour, and I was side-tracked playing with her.
Just as interesting as any other part of the experience, was how the meeting ended. Many business owners feel that brow-beating their suppliers is part of regular business. David and Sharkman ended on a different note altogether. Once the tour was over and all questions were answered, David shared his company’s vision with Sharkman, who was as interested to hear about David’s business as he was committed to providing him with a consistent quality product. When it was over, the two men hugged and agreed to a long-term partnership. No agreements were signed, and there wasn’t a single dispute about price. Sharkman will bring the cacao into the world. David will raise awareness in his market of just how special and unique it is. One is buying from the other, but the two formed a business partnership that day.