From October 26 – October 30, 2009 I was honored to be the Hawaii Island coffee tour guide for a group of coffee professionals representing the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe, who visited Hawaii as their annual origin tour destination. For one week, the group of roasters and writers visited a variety of coffee businesses from across the island that represent the best and brightest coffee cooperatives, individual estates, roasters and retailers that the island has to offer. With more time it would have been nice to include operations on other neighboring islands, but with only 5 days for the trip it was unfortunately just not practical. Some of the visitors also made stops on Oahu to check out other aspects of Hawaii’s coffee culture in combination with arriving or returning connecting flights.
Assisting me for the week was my good friend and colleague Dr. Shawn Steiman, without whose assistance and vast knowledge of Hawaii’s coffees and culture, the trip surely could not have been such a great success. Thanks Shawn!
The trip would also not have been possible without the generous support of our sponsors, all of whom donated money, food & coffee and their time to help open trade relations with the European visitors. We would like to personally thank the Kona Pacific Farmers Cooperative and Mr. Sotero Agoot for underwriting the event and conducting an educational and entertaining full day lecture on the history of Kona coffee, Mountain Thunder Coffee for hosting meals and a tour at their beautiful farm above Hawaii, the Ka’u Coffee Farmers Cooperative for a delightful afternoon brunch and day visiting their lovely farms and Hula Daddy Coffee and Maui Joe Coffee for additionally donating welcome materials and coffee for the group.
October 26, 2009
Day 1: Kona Pacific Farmers Cooperative
The group jumped right in to our weeklong program with a visit to the Kona Pacific Farmers Cooperative in Captain Cook. Founded in 1910, the 50+-member KPFC is one of the oldest farming cooperatives in the United States, producing 2,000,000 lbs of Kona cherry annually in addition to macadamia nuts and other agricultural products.
General Manager Sotero Agoot led the group though an informative history of coffee in Hawaii and the Kona district, followed by a cupping of various coffees produced by the cooperative and a tour of the organization’s processing facilities.
October 27, 2009
Day 2: Ka’u District Farms
Day 2 of the tour began with a brief stop for “refueling” at the Kona Coffee & Tea Company in Kona.
Owner Malia Bolton so-impressed the group with her retail operation and knowledge of farming that the group unanimously voted to add another stop at her farm on the last day of the trip, which had been set aside to visit Hawaiian cultural destinations.
After a long and winding drive to Ka’u, the group was greeted by overwhelming hospitality and some outstanding coffees grown by Ka’u estates and the Ka’u Coffee Farmers Cooperative. After a cupping session and lively information exchange between the farmers and visitors, all sat down to what was arguably the best home cooked meal that I have had my 5 years living in Hawaii at the Pahala Plantation Cottage house.
After lunch, the group hopped into a convoy of 4×4 vehicles and headed literally into the field to see the small but meticulously manicured farms that produce Kau coffee. That same afternoon, the group visited some of the processing and drying facilities in Kau before saying farewell and returning to Kona.
October 28, 2009
Day 3: Kona
Being responsible for so many of the great coffees of Hawaii, we dedicated the entire day 3 of the tour to the famous Kona growing district.
The morning began with a visit to Hula Daddy Coffee, home of Hawaii’s only coffee to receive a 97-point score from industry coffee magazine Coffee Review, tying 3 other coffees worldwide for the highest-ever recorded score.
Warm temperatures accelerated the harvest this year in Kona, so pickers were frantically grabbing ripe cherries from trees that were buckling under the weight of their harvest. With a very tight schedule on Wednesday, we briskly cupped Hula Daddy’s coffees and then made our way to the next stop.
We continued up the road toward Holualoa for a stop at the UCC Hawaii farm and visitor’s center. Founded in 1933, the Ueshima Coffee Company is the largest coffee company in Japan (the world’s 3 largest coffee consumer) with extensive retail and agriculture holdings worldwide, including in the prized origins of Hawaii and Jamaica.
UCC Hawaii Director and General Manager Kiyoshi Matsuo welcomed the group and lead a guided tour of the farm and general offices. Incidentally, I would pay to be the person in charge of their packaging, since the ‘packaging room’ shares the same view of the farm (above) overlooking Kailua Bay.
We next continued on to Mountain Thunder Coffee, owned and operated by proprietors Trent and Lisa Bateman. Mountain Thunder is one of the very few Kona coffee estates offering 100% certified organic coffees, situated at one of the highest altitudes in the Kaloko area of Kona, which provides naturally cool and cloudy shaded conditions for optimal coffee growing.
After enjoying lunch graciously provided by Ms. Bateman, we took a short walking tour of the enchanting grounds. Unbeknownst to us, however, some of the farm’s residents had other plans for our stay.
Two adorable mules noticed our group and decided to come over for some attention… which was great until they refused to let us pass. Like two giant stuffed animal guardians, the pair stood their ground blocking the stairway to the viewing platform where we observed the farm. The hostage crisis ended peacefully, with some of the group shimmying next to the mules and others like me going over the railing. Yes, there are pictures of this somewhere.
Our next stop took us to Island Sun coffee estate, a stunning beautiful property best known as being (ironically) one of the few natural tree shade grown coffee farms in the State.
That afternoon, we were hosted by the Hawaii Coffee Association for an official welcome from the group’s directors.
October 29, 2009
Day 4: Hilo / Puna
We set out early on the longest day of the week’s tour for Hilo, making brief stops to admire the view at the scenic Waipio Valley overlook, which unfortunately was less scenic than usual due to thick haze.
On the path to Hilo, we also could not miss the opportunity to briefly stop and visit Akaka Falls State Park, a stunning display of the natural beauty of Hawaii.
Finally reaching our destination, the group was treated to big hugs and warm aloha hospitality at the Hilo Coffee Mill.
Hilo Coffee Mill is much more than a processing facility for many of Hawaii’s eastern coffee farms, it is also a grower of fine coffee, tea, pineapples, chickens and taro (did I miss anything?) on this attractive property just south of Hilo.
Following the tour, we went inside to taste some of the coffees being produced in the Puna district of Hawaii. The group commented on the delightful characteristics of these little-known coffees and contrast to the better known coffees of Hawaii. I expect that we will be seeing much more Puna coffee at future cupping competitions!
You can’t drive nearly 3 hours without stopping to take a look at the erupting volcano 30 minutes down the road, so that’s exactly what we did. Unfortunately the Chain of Craters Road that leads around the crater and to the active lava flow is presently closed (due to poisonous gas plumes), but we still had a good look at the gas-belching Halema’uma’u crater from the Jaggar Museum and viewing platform. Just 3 years ago, I actually hiked across the base of that same crater, proving how rapidly conditions can change at Volcanoes National Park.
October 30, 2009
Day 5: Kona and the Kohala Coast
After many hours driving around the accurately-named Big Island of Hawaii, we decided to keep Friday’s activities a little closer to home along the Kohala Coast.
Starting the day at between 2,000 and 2,500 feet high above Kona, we took in the sunshine and picturesque views from Malia Ohana, one of two farms operated by the Kona Coffee & Tea company. Malia Bolton took the group to new heights in her pickup truck to view some off-road sections of the farm.
Clearly over-caffeinated from the week’s event, we spent the remaining few hours of the tour visiting the Pu’uhonua o Honaunau Place of Refuge National Park in S. Kona. This ancient Hawaiian sanctuary was once a place where wanted men could be absolved of their crimes and avoid punishment in the spirit of peace and forgiveness… that is, IF they could make it to the sacred sanctuary.
…and what better way to celebrate the completion of a great origin tour to Hawaii, than by taking a sunset cruise. Invoking his own sacred SCAE tradition, Ukrainian SCAE chapter director Sergiy Reminy brought the gift of vodka and caviar to share with the group and the other civilians along for our boat ride.
After an animated description of the Ukrainian tradition by Sergiy, we raised out glasses to his toast Bud’mo! Bud’mo! Bud’mo!, all shouting the reply Hey! Hey! Hey! in the name of good coffee, good friends and our new strong feeling of cooperation and connection. I could not imagine a better end to such a worthwhile trip. Let’s do it all again soon!