Sipping the world’s finest coffee in the shadow of Mauna Loa — I call it Liquid Aloha.
In This Hawaii Article You Will Discover:
- What Makes Kona Coffee Special
- How To Get The Best Beans
- Walk-In Plantation Tours
I love coffee. I’d wager, in fact, that I love it more than you do. It is my lifeblood; I drink a pot of the stuff every day. So it was a sure-thing that during my time on the Big Island of Hawaii I would find myself on a Kona Coffee plantation, sipping fresh Joe brewed from beans right off the tree.
Much like Hawaii itself, Kona Coffee’s character is a result of various geological and climactic forces converging in a special way: mineral-rich soil merges with a tropical climate tempered just enough by volcanic altitude to provide rain and cloud cover. When coffee was first introduced here in the 1820s, it didn’t take growers long to realize they were sitting, literally, on Black Gold.
Today, Kona is as synonymous with quality coffee as nouns like Java; however, Kona beans are grown in an even more specific locale.
A 20-mile stretch of jungle on Hawaii’s Big Island produces the entire world’s supply.
Here, more than 650 growers crowd together, although most of them are boutique small-batch producers with only an acre-or-two of land. On my third day in Hawaii, I stumbled across a mid-level producer running for-free tours: Hula Daddy.
With about 30 acres of farmland on the slopes of the Hualalai Volcano, a 2,500-metre mountain butting up against massive 4,100-metre Mauna Loa, Hula Daddy approaches coffee production like Old World vintners approach fine wine.
Hand-picked, sun-dried, small-batch-roasted in a 10-pound roaster — always under close supervision of their Roast Master (Laura) — and sold only on-site or online, this is direct-from-grower at its finest.
There is zero risk of spoilage or contamination when buying beans from Hula Daddy, or on-site from any Kona grower, as the middleman is cut-out completely. It’s hyper-local; handled with extreme care. The woman who ran my Visa card when I bought a pound of Extra-Fancy Medium Roast was present while the same pound was in the roaster.
Such extravagance isn’t cheap. If you drink Maxwell House daily, you will probably faint when you see the price of Hula Daddy’s — and other similar boutique producers — coffee.
My pound was just over $60, after tax. Yep, you read that right.
Beyond the history and agricultural science, Kona Coffee is interesting in another way. As part of the USA, Hawaiian beans represent the only coffee produced by a developed Western nation. Consider this: if your everyday beans weren’t grown in developing countries like Bolivia, Colombia, Ethiopia and Indonesia, the cost would be similar.
As an aside, there is an ongoing battle between Kona coffee producers and some bulk-sellers over the very word “Kona.” Many chain hotels slog a 10 per cent Kona Blend, which, for all intents and purposes, tastes like any-beans.
Growers claim this is a dilution of the brand, and of the word “Kona,” and are fighting to legally restrict any coffee not made of 100 per cent Kona beans from using the storied name in any fashion.
I hope they are successful.
With Hula Daddy, the cost goes to more than just First World wages (or legal fees). Once freshly ground then brewed in a French press, the flavour and aroma of the Extra Fancy Medium Roast is sublime. Rich, mildly fruity, slightly acidic — it is the finest coffee I have ever consumed, and I have had Kopi Luwak (overrated). I’m generally a Dark Roast kind-of-guy, but Hula Daddy only roasts to medium — and I trust they know best.
Hula Daddy produces a variety of beans, as well as their “Coffee Tea” — which is made from the dried coffee tree fruit. The tea wasn’t available during my visit (seasonal, even in Hawaii), but it is said to have three-times the caffeine of the black stuff.
During a short tour through the plantation, I learn that each tree produces about seven pounds of beans per year.
(I immediately calculate how many trees I’d need for my own personal consumption. Eight would do nicely.)
Coffee is harvested when the fruit is red, dried via the sun’s rays in a greenhouse-like building, then washed, hulled, sorted, graded, fermented and roasted — it’s an involved process to say the least. Today, there are only a few ripe fruits noticeable, and all of the crawling chameleons are well-hidden among the green leaves.
After another sample mug, our guide shows us the farm’s Sleeping Grass, a plant that suddenly curls up — recoils — when touched, like something out of Avatar, before bidding us farewell. The odd weed only adds to the allure of the plantation; part of the long list of reasons my wife and I plan to one-day move to Hawaii. Maybe I’ll check back in a few years to see if Hula Daddy is hiring.