When my blogger pal, Kathy YL Chan, came to Honolulu, she was determined to do one thing: eat.
(This is why we get along.)
So after an afternoon at Shirokiya indulging in coffee jelly drinks and gossiping about life — OK, boys — she said, “Hey, you wanna check out this truffle place in Manoa?”
“Uh, of course.”
So the following Wednesday, we met up at Morning Glass Coffee + Cafe in Manoa to meet Erin Kanno Uehara, the artisan chocolatier at Choco le’a, a gourmet chocolate company founded by her cousin, Colins Kawai, in 2010. (Both pictured above.)
Uehara, a dance instructor who quit her job as a school teacher to work full-time as a chocolatier, didn’t seem like one of those people who crave chocolate. She’s tiny. But she gets her energy from somewhere — we found out later, she eats a chocolate-covered Oreo every day.
So she’s perfect for the job.
She handed us each a box of truffles — and we were all instant friends. Every dark chocolate truffle starts with high-quality Belgium, French and Swiss chocolates. (Some truffles use locally grown cacao from Waialua.) They stick to fresh, wholesome ingredients — organic and natural when possible — and avoid using preservatives, additives and artificial colors.
In the box Uehara gave us contained four of the company’s best-selling truffles: a triple chocolate truffle that uses local and European chocolates, one filled with lychee liqueur, one with a piece of cheesecake by Otto Cake inside and — one of its most popular items — a truffle with a pink chichi dango (mochi) from Nisshodo Mochiya in Kalihi (shown below).
But the list goes on.
They make truffles filled with everything from carrot cake to dragonfruit to Earl Grey tea. And they have a very fun list of liqueur-filled truffles like B-52 Bombers, Dom Perignon champagne, Mai Tai, amaretto, Kahlua, limoncello, lime mojito, sake, merlot and Guinness. Yes, the beer.
Since the bulk of its business is catering and special events — you can buy Choco le’a chocolates only at LMS Boutique (2909 Lowrey Ave.) in Manoa — you can pretty much ask for whatever filling you want. They’ve done tofu, bacon, wasabi, poi and sweet potato.
And since these truffles will be consumed quickly — meaning, they’re not sitting in a box on a shelf in a chocolate shop somewhere — they can be creative with fresh (read: perishable) ingredients and presentation. Like fresh strawberries or mangoes topped on an open truffle.
“We shine when we cater,” says Kawai, who made his first truffle from a recipe in Sunset Magazine 12 years ago. “It’s when we are at our best.”
Today, Choco le’a truffles are quietly everywhere, from weddings and spas at the Moana Surfrider and Halekulani hotels to catered events like the recent Oracle Corporation’s Club Excellence 2013 celebration at Fort DeRussy, for which they provided 6,500 truffles. (Below is the ingredients for the haupia-filled truffles they made for the event.)
“It’s been very magical,” Uehara says. “I never realized how much people connect to chocolate.”
And everything is made by hand every day in the company’s new 300-square-foot kitchen in Manoa.
“Our goal is to make some of the best and tasty truffles in the world,” Kawai says, smiling.
And they’re definitely on their way.
Choco le’a truffles and other treats — like the chocolate-covered Oreos they can’t seem to keep in stock — are available at LMS Boutique in Manoa. (It’s right around the corner from Choco le’s little factory.) The flavors rotate, but the company’s most popular are usually available.
You can also sign up to join Club Choco le’a for $30 monthly subscription and get a box of 20 truffles at the start of each month. Visit www.chocolea.com.
Read Kathy YL Chan’s blog about Choco le’a at Biting Commentary.