In an impressive piece of writing and editing of a news story (involving me), Erika Engle of the Honolulu Star Bulletin masterfully extracts the essence of a very complicated and obscure subject (coffee tasting and the Hawaii coffee industry) in a tidy 14 inch daily newspaper column.

Andrew Hetzel of the Big Island is Hawaii’s first certified coffee cupping judge and instructor, after passing exacting testing by the Specialty Coffee Association of America this month.

Certified cuppers can grade coffee “from its green state on through the finished cup,” said Ric Rhinehart, executive director of the SCAA. “It is a significant accomplishment, so kudos to him,” he said.

Hetzel is one of only 250 SCAA-certified cuppers in the world. He will seek Q Grading certification from the Coffee Quality Institute in March. Its standards are identical, but testing includes an additional 100-question exam.

As the owner of Kamuela-based coffee consultancy Cafemakers LLC, the certification gives Hetzel and his business extra credibility, but it is concern for the future of the Kona coffee industry that caused him to seek the credentials, he said.

“My intent is really to get the word out about the situation more than to promote my own business.” He is not adding clients to his already-full roster, he said.

He sees parallels between the Kona coffee industry and the American automotive industry. Kona coffee’s golden era was from the 1940s to the 1960s, he said.

“I think that in Hawaii there’s been a reliance on the old-origin name to denote that the coffee tastes good. So it’s kind of like the Cadillac of the 1940s and 50s — but you know what? I drive a Honda.”

Hetzel knows his message will upset some folks. Nevertheless, “without offending them, I think we can introduce them to what’s happening around the world. The proof is in the cup.”

He sees his role as that of a language tutor or translator, since grading has its own language to describe the multiple traits of any cuppa joe.

“I do not intend to tell Hawaii’s farmers how to run their business — I just think that they should be aware of how their competitors from coffee-growing origins around the world run theirs and how commercial buyers view Hawaii’s coffees.”

Grading will establish “a baseline to objectively rate the flavor and quality of our coffee,” which Hetzel sees as a step forward in the specialty coffee trade.

“That’s the key,” said Sotero Agoot, general manager at the 51-year-old Kona Pacific Farmers Cooperative. Agoot is a coffee farmer at a facility that has been in continual production for 100 years.

The Coffee Quality Institute is now “the leading institute of coffee education and quality,” he said.
The co-op has been looking at ways to measure quality and “I don’t think you can do that arbitrarily without some third-party certifying entity,” Agoot said.

Judging coffees from everywhere by the same Q Grading standards provides apples-to-apples comparisons, which the co-op and Hetzel see as crucial for Hawaii coffee to continue to compete in the global marketplace.