Photo/IllutrationChocolates made from only cacao beans and sugar cane at Timeless Chocolate in Chatan, Okinawa Prefecture, on Jan. 24 (Akifumi Nagahashi)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Bean-to-bar chocolate shops are booming in Okinawa Prefecture, where the subtropical climate has long made the prefecture Japan's center for producing sugar cane, a key ingredient in making chocolate.

Some specialty shops, which process cacao beans into chocolate products in-house, also use Okinawan specialties such as locally produced brown sugar and “shiikuwasa” (a green citrus fruit native to the prefecture). One of those shops aims to grow its own cacao beans.

Timeless Chocolate in Chatan, attached to a chocolate-making studio, offers a great opportunity to observe how cacao beans are crushed and shaped into chocolate bars.

Many foreigners visit the shop in the American Village commercial complex in the central part of the island, which is usually filled with the rich aroma of cacao beans.

Since opening in 2014, Timeless Chocolate has relied on only two ingredients--imported cacao beans and domestically produced sugar, mainly brown sugar made in Okinawa.

The store's owner said he was fascinated by Okinawa's sugar cane, whose flavor differs depending on which island in the prefecture it is grown. Catering to customers' desire for healthy food, he decided not to use artificial flavorings in his products.

Isetan department store's main outlet in Tokyo's Shinjuku district started selling Timeless Chocolate's products in January for a limited time. In February, Timeless Chocolate started an online shop, offering 30-gram single-origin chocolate bars for 864 yen ($7.80) and up, including tax, and other items.

Local Landscape, another Okinawa chocolate maker, uses cinnamon and shiikuwasa to produce bean-to-bar chocolates in Ogimi, in the island's north. The company sells its products directly online and delivers them to hotels in the prefecture.

Kei Kawai, 41, the company president, said taking part in reconstruction efforts for the Tohoku region, devastated by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, as a member of a start-up, inspired him to start a local business in Okinawa.

Although the company currently imports its cacao beans, it is working toward growing its own in Okinawa greenhouses. The company expects to produce chocolates from locally grown beans as early as next year, after it repairs damage it suffered from a typhoon.

Kawai said he hopes to someday export those beans.