Shawn Steiman, PhD serves up an insightful overview of Hawaii’s coffees and makes a few recipe suggestions for cooking with coffee in today’s Honolulu Star Bulletin newspaper.

From the Honolulu Star Bulletin:

Coffee has become big business in Hawaii. Eleven regions on five islands house some 830 farms statewide. This is great for our economy, and it’s even better for our tastebuds. The diversity of farms and locations translates into a tantalizing cornucopia of experiences for our collective palate.

Still, when most folks think of Hawaii coffee, they think Kona. This is probably because, since 1828, Kona is the only region that has consistently grown coffee in Hawaii; in fact, for the better part of the 20th century, it was the only region to do so. Things have changed dramatically in 30 years.

Hawaii farms grow varieties of the Coffea arabica species, one of two commercially important species. The most common are Catuai, Caturra, Kauai Blue Mountain, Mokka, Mundo Novo, and Typica. Each variety not only looks and grows differently, they taste different as well.

What influences the flavor diversity, among other variables, is environment, processing, roasting and brewing. While environment plays a vital role in the final outcome of a coffee, it’s often difficult to quantify its impact. Elevation, for instance, is important since higher elevation usually results in coffee with a higher acidity and lower body.

But since those characteristics are also likely the result of the cooler temperatures found at higher elevations, climate is definitely an important influence as well. And while many people talk about soil, there’s no evidence linking soil type to quality.

After coffee is picked from the tree, it must then be processed to remove the fruit and mucilage. There are various techniques to accomplish this task, and Hawaii farmers use them all: wet fermentation, dry fermentation, dry/natural process, pulped natural and demucilage. Because different methods subject the coffee to different conditions, the end result — a quality cup of coffee — varies significantly.

Roasting and brewing are two factors that offer consumers some options for determining their taste experience. As roasting progresses from lighter to darker (a function of both the length of the roast and the temperature), discernable flavor changes occur. In light-roasted coffees, nuances are more apparent, acidity is higher and body is lower. As coffees are roasted darker, acidity diminishes and body increases. In addition, complexity is lost.

Then there’s brewing, which can be accomplished some 15 ways. It’s no surprise, then, that one coffee can taste different depending on how it’s brewed. For instance, a coffee brewed using an espresso machine, which means quick brewing under high pressure and a higher coffee-to-water ratio, creates a more intense experience than when the same coffee is brewed in a standard electric drip.

With so many factors involved, flavor possibilities are endless. For a chance to experience a variety of coffees from around the state, attend the Hawaii State Farm Fair, July 18 and 19, at Bishop Museum. I’ll be leading tastings all day.