By Bill St. John
Dalai Lama's first - and, so far, only - bite of chocolate was
American. But not just any American chocolate would do for the
spiritual head of all Tibetan Buddhists, the exiled leader of
Tibet and the reincarnation of the Buddha himself. The Dalai Lama
bit into a piece of Hawaiian Vintage chocolate, a dark, bittersweet
chocolate made from the only cacao beans grown in the United States,
at Keaau and on the Big Island of Hawaii. "He blessed two
cacao trees for us." Said Jim Walsh, founder of Hawaiian
"He blessed the next generation of cacao
beans so that, as he said, 'They could give great joy to the world.'"
Those earthly pleasures aren't too yucky after all, eh, Your worship?
Walsh and his wife, Marie, began Hawaiian Vintage
Chocolate in 1986, with plantings gathered from cacao trees around
the world. Walsh has made something of a science of growing cacao,
using only the most stringent methods to produce America's only
Stringent - and expensive. Unlike other, more
quickly processed cacao beans, the Walshes ferment the nascent
chocolate in small wood lugs, age the beans for six months, roast
them slowly, and mill and conch them. The chocolate is then aged
for up to one year to round out its bouquet. These aren't Hershey
Foreseeing the Dalai Lama's first taste of cocoa
heaven-on-earth, Walsh says that real, top-notch chocolate is
as close to a blend of heaven with earth that there is: "Remember,"
he says, "cacao's botanical name is theobroma cacao, 'food
of God.' Cacao comes from the earth. It's vegetable matter, a
bean pod. Then it's fermented - it goes through the heat of transformation
- and becomes something completely else, food fit for a god."
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