December 22, 2008
We spent an hour touring a local Kona Coffee farm when driving at the around the midpoint between Keauhou and Kealakekua in our second afternoon in the Big Island.
Our guide, who was from Seattle, had worked at the farm for nine months. She began by explaining what exactly was Kona Coffee:
“The seed of the Kona Coffee plant is originated from Guatemala. The brand “Kona Coffee” refers to all the coffee plants that are grown on the slopes of Mount Hualalai and Mauna Loa in the Kona District. Only in the distinct region will the sun shines brightly every morning, accumulated cloud around noon, sudden but heavy pour in late afternoon, then clear sky again at dusk. This weather pattern combines with the volcanic soil and humidity level along the slope make this area the ideal place to grow Kona coffee.”
Besides the geographical monopoly, another reason for the high price of Kona Coffee is every cherry has to be hand picked over the course of half a year between every August to January. Since the cherry will not go ripe all at once, workers have to inspect and hand-picked the plants regularly.
Once the cherries are picked, the next procedure is to remove the pulp and ferment the beans. The farm we toured used the Machine-assisted wet processing, which removes the pulp not with microbes like more traditional method, but by the ruptures generated within the machines.
The drying method is merely laying the beans under the sun and reduced the beans’ humidity to around 10%.
Although we did not see the roasting process, our guide did tell us two things I found very interesting. First, the brand on almost all bags of roasted beans bear the name of not the farm that grows the beans, but the name of the roaster. Unlike red wine, when the farm can control most of the production, the taste of coffee is most heavily influenced by the roaster. To save the farm’s reputation from any potential mishaps of the roaster, the farm’s name will not appear on any packaging of the beans.
The second interesting fact is people often have the misconception that the longer the beans are roasted, the stronger the caffeine will be. However, a longer roaster will produce a stronger and flavorful taste, but in the process will actually eliminate the caffeine within the beans. In other words, a regular cup of coffee, according to our guide, contains a higher concentration of caffeine than a cup of espresso. Totally counter-intuitive.
Pretty interesting tour, especially when it was free.
Some photos I took on the tour: