KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) -
Hawaii farmers grow millions of pounds of coffee a year. There are coffee groves on molokai, on Oahu's North Shore, west Maui and the slopes of Haleakala. Kauai has the nation's largest coffee plantation. But the most famous Hawaiian coffee is grown by hundreds of farms in Kona district.
Coffee is technically a fruit. In fact, when these beans are first picked, it's called a cherry. But unlike cherry, where you eat the outside and throw the pit away, with coffee it's exactly the opposite. The pit is the coffee bean!
Hawaiian coffees grow with light rains and cooling breezes. Kona coffee grows in volcanic ash, which may contribute to its mild but acidic flavor that hits the palate fast. but Kona farmers disagree on what factors matter most. Here's Ttom Greenwell of Greenwell Farms on the age of the tree.
"Some believe 100-year-old tree, kinda like wine,make really great coffee. I know for a fact that 100-year-old trees make small yields!" Tom Greenwell, owner, Greenwell Coffee said.
Farmers debate the merits of irrigation, and organic versus chemical fertilizer. and here's roger Kaiwi of Captain Cook Coffee on the effects of vog.
"The good news for that is coffee likes shade cover - however, sulfur dioxide is sulfur dioxide, that can't be good for anything!" Roger Kaiwi, GM, Captain Cook Coffee said.
There are two ways of drying coffee beans. Behind me you see the raking of beans that are sun-drying on the roof of this building. Some buyers, including the Japanese market, prize sun-dried coffee beans, though it takes longer and costs more in labor. But while those beans on the roof are being raked, beans are also in this large commercial dryer being dried the new-fangled way.
Many processors start the drying process in the sun because those beans are less likely to stick to the drum inside a dryer. Wet processing shucks off the outer shell of the cherry, and some sweet goo just inside that is called mucelage.
The machinery that does this is cool. So is the machinery that bags coffee, like this assembly line at Hawaii Coffee in Honolulu. The bags start as a continuous roll of plastic. Some of this machinery needs little attention. But Kona coffee grows on rugged land where machine-picking is out of the question. That's the main reason why it's pricey.
"Labor is 25, 30% of the finished product, just, uh, picking labor," Tom Greenwell, owner, Greenwell Coffee said.
Coffee's an interesting plant; it has an interesting century old story here in Kona district. It's more fun to drink it, though.