Tag Archives: Hawaii

Rusty’s Hawaiian Site Visit: Pahala, Hawaii

In early April 2011, both Cafe Hounds took a journey to Hawaii in search of the storied Kona coffee, in addition to some sunshine and snorkeling – oh, and Kris had a conference for the Association for Asian Studies  (AAS), which he presented at. During out visit we had the pleasure of sampling some wonderfully crafted coffee drinks on the island of Oahu before we jumped on a short flight destined for the beautiful Big Island, where we landed in Kona.  Once there, we decided to casually sample a few plantations in the immediate area near our Bed & Breakfast in south Kona (Ka’awa Loa). In short – they stunk.

Ka'awa Loa B&B

So the ONE big coffee related adventure on Big Island was our visit to the wonderful farm of Lorie Obra and her family in the Ka’u District (in Pahala, Hawai’i). It was amazing. The Obra family house and farm is located in the small and relatively impoverished village of Pahala – with less than 1,350 inhabitants just east of the southern tip (South Point – Ka Lae). According to 2010 Census Data, more than  80% of the population is Asian/Pacific Islander or a mix of the two. Many of the inhabitants descend from the Philippines – a country that Maher Hound used to live in until a volcanic eruption destroyed his home in 1991. This fact made visiting the volcanic island of Hawai’i that much more special.

Maher, Miguel and Lorie On The Farm in Pahala, HI

Lorie agreed to meet with Kris and Maher on relatively short notice and coordinated the meeting with her coffee consultant – and friend – Miguel Meza. Lorie’s daughter Joan Obra and her husband Ralph Gaston joined the group as well – after somewhat recently arriving in Hawai’i themselves to join the family business after most of their lives on he mainland.

I drove us all up the road a mile or so to their farm where we were then able to walk around and experience the relatively young and VERY well planned out coffee farm of Rusty’s Hawaiian. The brand and the farm were started  in 1999 with the seedling of a dream by Rusty Obra, a retired chemist who sadly passed away in 2006 – leaving his wife, Lorie with the tough decision of whether to continue his dream…or cut her losses and move on. She bought into his dream and kept forging forward in a naturally advantageous habitat for superb coffee – planted on the slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano, which makes up the majority of Hawai’i’s biggest of islands, Big Island. Standing on the farm you can see the ocean off in the distance looking south towards South Point where one can find Green Sand Beach – where the sand is colored in such a way due to chemical and gaseous reactions from volcanic/lava eruptions with ocean water.

On the farm, Miguel and Lorie have experimented with several varietals – but the five that we had the pleasure of cupping that day were the:

  1. RH Lot 24 Tipica
  2. Bourbon (red)
  3. Yellow Caturra Natural Dried FRUKO
  4. Red Caturra
  5. Yellow Caturra Natural Dried

The farm currently has no certifications at all – though they stated that they plan to certify organic eventually. They stated the reason was because achieving certification is not viable and – probably mostly – it is not viewed as an important aspect of quality in their sales strategy. (aka – their buyers don’t care about certification as much as their unique flavor profile and superb quality control). Thus far, they have not experienced broque (bug diseases).

Cupping With Miguel At Lorie's Home

One of their most important variables in annual yields is rainfall – 1) they don’t have an irrigation system 2) volcanic soil doesn’t really retain water very well. To that end, Miguel shared with me that the average commercial farm in the Kona district (where he also engages in coffee consulting for other farms) yields about 1,000 pounds per acre (due to higher rainfall counts) compared to averages ranging from 400 to 600 pounds per acre at Rusty’s farm. This relatively limited annual yield capacity for Rusty’s creates a situation where demand outstrips supply by far. For this reason, the $80 per pound for some of the coffees we sampled was understandable.
The hospitality shown to Kris and I at Rusty’s Hawaiian farm and home was exceptional and encapsulates not only the Hawaiian way, but reminds me fondly of my (Maher) time in the Philippines. Hopefully, there will be more to come on Rusty’s Hawaiian and Miguel Meza – and the change that they are catalyzing in Hawaii’s specialty coffee industry.

Ecotourism: Discovering Kau Coffee

Aloha — In anticipation of a series of posts relating to Hawaii’s specialty coffee market, culture and people, Cafe Hound will post a few articles from third-party sources highlighting the people we hope to meet during our visit.

The first article is graciously borrowed from Lavonne Leong  of HonoluluMagazine.com: http://www.honolulumagazine.com/Honolulu-Magazine/July-2010/Farm-to-Table-Coffee/index.php?cparticle=1&siarticle=0#artanc


PHOTO: OLIVIER KONING

Americans are on intimate terms with coffee. We consume about 400 million cups of the stuff every day. We wake up with it; work with it; date with it; pull all-nighters with it. By now, you’d think we’d know something about our favorite little brown bean.

Yet, in an age of increased interest in eating local and knowing your farmer, the back-story of coffee remains relatively unknown, in part because of a supply chain that can read like a Lonely Planet guide. It’s not uncommon for coffee to be grown and harvested in one country, undergo multistep processing in another and be consumed in a third.

Except here. Hawaii is one of the few places on Earth that both produces this strictly tropical crop and enthusiastically consumes it. The global field-to-cup timeline of coffee can be up to a year; in Hawaii, it’s possible to go from harvest to table in a few days. Vertical integration is also becoming more common in Hawaii—where a single farm, or a farm and a nearby roaster, take the coffee all the way from harvest to roasted bean rather than specializing in only one step in the process.


“Dr. Coffee,” Shawn Steiman, surrounded by coffee plants at Waialua Estate and Coffee Cacao.

PHOTO: OLIVIER KONING

Vertical integration: an easy catchphrase to drop, harder to accomplish well. A true field-to-cup coffee producer needs to master a mind-boggling array of skills: farming, processing, roasting, marketing and distribution.

Enter Shawn Steiman, scientist, consultant and self-described “coffee geek.” To Steiman, and others like him who are helping to usher in a new age of Hawaiian coffee, the creation of a good coffee is an achievable art—and a science that can be taught. Steiman has translated a love of coffee that began in elementary school into a coffee-centric horticultural dissertation and a career mentoring coffee farmers and producers across the globe. He also educates the public palate here in Hawaii through coffee “cuppings”—a centuries-old practice that is equivalent to wine tasting.

Steiman feels that the time is right for producers of artisanally made coffee—also known as specialty coffee—to find a wider audience. America, he says, is riding the “third wave” of coffee consumption (the first is coffee as a diner commodity, the second a Starbucks-type lifestyle choice, and the third, a deep appreciation of coffee’s origins, craft and subtlety).

For some, it’s an obsession: coffee’s third wave has spawned an intense culture of cupping and barista competitions, avidly read reviews of specialty coffees, “trip to origin” tours and a descriptive coffee-tasting vocabulary that approaches wine’s: an interesting coffee might offer aromatic notes of fruits and flowers, chocolate, caramel, herbs and even fir tree. “Coffee geeks are attached,” says Steiman. “They’re passionate. These people have espresso machines they can, and will, tweak to a 10th of a degree.”

You don’t have to be a coffee geek to appreciate that coffee folks in Hawaii are upping their game—and all of us who like something good in our cup will benefit.


Lorie Obra

PHOTO: COURTESY JOAN OBRA, RALPH GASTON

Small Producers, Big Flavor

The birth of a new coffee sensibility.


PHOTO: COURTESY JOAN OBRA, RALPH GASTON

Something is happening in  the world of Hawaii coffee. For years, big growers dominated the scene, and Hawaiian coffees, particularly the sought-after Konas, were routinely blended with inferior product to make them more affordable—a practice that diluted not only the coffee but, eventually, its reputation. Now, with sustainability and fair-labor practices at the forefront of farming, tastes evolving to appreciate coffee excellence and thousands of acres of prime farmland released by the sugar industry, smaller coffee farmers, boutique roasters and purer coffee are getting more play. In two decades, Hawaii has expanded from one coffee region to 11, and the coffee world at large has taken note. In 2008, Hula Daddy’s “Kona Sweet” coffee received a score of 97, the highest Coffee Review ranking in the world that year and the publication’s third-highest rating in history. A Hawaii-based barista, Pete Licata, of Honolulu Coffee Co., won this year’s highly competitive Western Regional Barista Competition with a blend of Kona and Maui coffees.

The birth of the Kau coffee region, which was planted in the 1990s and 2000s, is a prime example of this new dynamic. Less than 15 years ago, Kau was dominated by its sugar mill. Today, dozens of small farms, many of which belong to the Kau Coffee Growers Co-Operative, are making a name for the region by producing exemplary coffee. Some, like the co-op’s president, Lorie Obra (of Rusty’s Hawaiian coffee), have gone for complete vertical integration. Obra supervises the entire process from field to cup, experimenting with unusual methods such as saltwater fermentation. Her coffees have garnered reviews from the industry’s standard publication, Coffee Review, which used words like “mindblowing.”

Since they burst onto the competition scene a few years ago, Kau coffees have consistently garnered top prizes; this year, Kau’s Rising Sun Farms was named Coffee of the Year by the Specialty Coffee Association of America in the Hawaii-USA category. Alan Wong, who serves four Kau coffees in his flagship restaurant, says, “What makes Kau coffees so delicious is their terroir—you can ‘taste the land.’ They have a special combination of rich volcanic soil, rainfall, sunlight and humidity.”

Biography of a Bean

Farm Beginning

Hawai‘i is the only state in the U.S. that grows coffee, a crop with very specific temperature requirements and a love of volcanic soil. Although Kona-grown coffee has been produced for more than a century, the perfect planting opportunity occurred in the 1980s and 1990s when the withdrawal of sugar freed up some of Hawaii’s most fertile planting grounds.

Putting Down Roots

Putting down roots  Left to its own devices, the coffee plant will grow into a small tree, about 30 feet high and covered in fragrant, white blossoms. Most growers prune their coffee plants for easier harvest; farmed coffee rarely reaches more than about 10 feet high. Although coffee evolved to love shady places, it produces more fruit in direct sun—as long as it’s given more fertilizer and water, too.


Coffee cherries from Milton Decalio’s farm in Kau.

PHOTO: COURTESY RALPH GASTON

Getting Picked

Three years after planting, coffee trees begin to produce a round, red, juicy fruit known in the industry as a cherry. (The skin and pulp don’t taste like much, but the interior mucilage is sweet and packs a caffeine punch.) Because coffee cherries don’t mature all at once, and the fruit needs to be ripe to produce good coffee, growers often harvest by hand. At higher elevations, the coffee harvest can last for nine months a year—ideal for smaller growers who can keep a small staff or harvest the fruit themselves.

The Layers Come Off

A coffee bean is simply the seed of the coffee cherry. The fruit must be separated from its seed, and the seed from its thin outer layers of parchment and silverskin. There are a host of ways to do this, each of which affect the coffee’s final taste. Big growers tend to favor mechanical processing, while many smaller growers process by hand. A current trend is “natural-” or “raisin-” -processed coffee, which is left to dry inside the cherry and can produce fruitier coffees. Most coffee cherries are pulped, briefly fermented to separate the bean from its mucilage, then the bean is air-dried to the parchment stage. Green coffee beans, the end product of processing, can last for several months without losing quality.

The Heat is On

The heat is on  “Green coffee is to roasted coffee as a raw grain is to baked bread,” says Hula Daddy roastmaster and coffee consultant R. Miguel Meza. The roast—the application of heat for between 10 and 20 minutes—is where a hard, uninteresting green bean can become a thing of aromatic beauty. Sugars caramelize, acids restructure and aromatics develop, to the tune of about 1,500 different chemical compounds. This makes coffee “probably the most complex food we consume,” says Shawn Steiman. “There are over a thousand things in the aroma alone.” Once the coffee is roasted, it’s at its peak of flavor and the freshness clock starts ticking. A coffee geek will notice the difference in about two weeks; a layperson, in four to six.

Grind and Brew

The finishing touches to the art of coffee lie with you, the drinker. All coffee beans must be ground before use, releasing aroma and flavor; grinding your coffee at home, on the day it will be brewed, means that all the flavor ends up in your cup instead of your storage cupboard. Given the choice between blade grinders and burr grinders, choose the burr, which produce a more uni-form particle size and a
smoother brew.


Shawn Steiman (center in above photo, at left in photo at right) leads a group in a “cupping,” at the Honolulu Coffee Co.’s Ala Moana Center location.

PHOTOS: OLIVIER KONING

Coffea

All coffee plants come from the genus Coffea, which—although it contains 103 species—produces two drinkable bean types: Coffea canephora, commonly called “robusta” and used in commodity coffees, and Coffea arabica, which produces the complex, lyrically flavored bean used in artisanal and specialty coffees worldwide. Hawaii grows only arabica coffee.

Kona Coffee

For the most part, Hawaii coffee is grown on former sugarcane lands that were freed up in the 1980s and 1990s—but not Kona. Kona’s sloped terrain meant that sugarcane was never an option; the region has been producing coffee continuously since the 1870s.

 

Three places to score a Hawaii coffee experience

Try the freshest coffee in the United States. Here’s how.

CHAIN: Honolulu Coffee Co.

The Honolulu Coffee Co., which has a new owner, roasts its Hawaiian coffee in small batches. You can buy the beans, or let the company’s award-winning baristas show you how it’s done in one of seven coffeehouse locations that serve 100-percent Kona and 100-percent Maui coffees, alongside house blends.


PHOTO: OLIVIER KONING

RETAILER: Whole Foods

At its Kahala store, Whole Foods carries coffees from all five coffee-producing Hawaiian Islands: Maui, Molokai, Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island. A particular specialty is peaberry coffee, which is sometimes said to roast more evenly and produce a smoother-drinking cup.

RESTAURANT: Alan Wong’s

Alan Wong’s makes a special effort to not just cook local but to drink local. The menu features no fewer than 13 Hawaiian coffees, eight of which are from the Big Island.

Going to the Dark Side

What a difference a roast makes.

Most coffee is roasted dark.  There are some great darks out there, but this approach doesn’t always match the bean. There is a growing appreciation for light or medium roasts, which can showcase coffee made with care.

Light Roast: “Acidity and subtle aromatics will be at their peak” in a light roast, says Hula Daddy roastmaster R. Miguel Meza. This can produce some truly memorable coffees, but he cautions that, in order for a light roast to work, “the coffee must be exemplary.”

Medium Roast: Medium roasts strike a balance between nuance and body, sacrificing a little complexity for increased sweetness and mouth feel as sugars caramelize.

Dark Roast: Think Starbucks—and there’s nothing wrong with that. Roasting dark averages out differences in taste, conceals minor defects and introduces familiar smoky notes. Dark roasts also hold their own against added sugar and cream.

Quarantine

In agricultural terms, Hawaii is probably the best place in the world to be a coffee farmer, says Shawn Steiman. In 1888, King David Kalakaua enacted the first quarantine in Hawaii, to control imported coffee plants; as a result, Hawaii is free of the worst pests and diseases that plague other coffee crops worldwide.

Cafe Hounding: Lion Coffee – San Diego

Lion Coffee – San Diego

101 Market Street (Corner of 1st and Market)
San Diego, CA 92101
619.299.5466
www.lionmainland.com

P1000286

Following up the news about Lion Coffee in downtown San Diego that I posted here two weeks ago, I finally visited this cafe today. It has been opened just for about a week. The business seems to be going well so far. As I mentioned in the earlier post, this is the only Lion Coffee cafe in the mainland USA.

The location of this cafe is great. It is near Horton Plaza, Convention Center, and Seaport Village. The floor-to-ceiling windows with garden and trees outside make this store unique and differentiate itself from other coffee places in the Gaslamp Quarter of downtown San Diego. Larry Wilkens, the owner, keeps the layout of the cafe the same as Starbucks cafe that previously occupied this premise, but he redecorated the store with bamboo shelfs, rattan sofa, Hawaiian paintings, and vintage tropical ceiling fans– basically bringing bits of Hawaiian feeling to the mainland USA. (There are a lot of lion dolls and statues here and there all over the cafe, too.)

Picture 7

Seating was ample when I visited, which was in an afternoon of a weekday. Many of the customers seem to purchase coffee to-go. There is also an outdoor seating area if you prefer. I do not expect the cafe to be too crowded. This should be a nice place if you want to spend time relaxing over a cup of coffee, and don’t want to feel that you have to rush because other people are waiting for the table. There is more than enough natural light during the day if you want to read books or newspapers while sipping your coffee. Free wireless internet was detected when I was there, although I was not sure whether it was provided by Lion or some residents in the nearby apartments were generous enough to provide this public goods.

I ordered a latte. It was prepared by a super friendly barista “Lenny” who has worked with Larry and Lion for over a year, since when Lion was still at the previous location in Mission Valley. My latte was made from Lion’s Diamond Head Blend, which has 10% Hawaiian beans plus Arabica from other parts of the world. It was medium Italian roasted. My latte was quite good and served in colorful Lion cup. (I still have yet to try espresso drinks made from Lion’s 100% Kona beans.)

Picture 8

For non-espresso coffee, Lion provides a wide variety of non-flavored and flavored coffee drinks, including 100% Kona coffee. The cafe is also a retail store for Lion Coffee and Royal Kona Coffee beans, which were roasted in Hawaii and shipped here regularly. According to the reviews on yelp and my conversation with Lenny, Toasted Coconut flavor seems to be the best selling blend at this store. There are other Hawaiian goodies such as teas, chips, and macadamia chocolate available for purchase. They also serve light breakfast and fresh pastries, in case you look for something to enjoy with your coffee.

Overall, I had a good experience with the visit. Unlike the ultra-fancy restaurants that occupy the dining scene of Gaslamp Quarter, Lion Coffee is a friendly neighborhood cafe in the middle of downtown that you can just relax and get good coffee prepared by a surfer-dude barista and friendly staff– a cherry on the top of your enjoyment in the beautiful San Diego.

–Kris Hound

Lion Coffee Opens in Downtown San Diego in August

Lion Coffee

Lion Coffee

UPDATE: LION is now open. You can also read our Cafe Hounding post on LION.

Back story: Lion Coffee will open its cafe in downtown San Diego in August. The location is at the corner of Market and First, which was once occupied by one of the best Starbucks in downtown area. Honestly, it was sad that Starbucks decided to shut down this store instead of one of the other six in the vicinity. The store was lovely. It had floor-to-ceiling clear windows with big maple trees outside that helped shade the afternoon sunlight and also provided a semi-garden feeling to the customers. I hope that Lion Coffee keeps the ambiance of its predecessor.

coming soon...

coming soon...

Lion Coffee is one of America’s oldest coffee company and the largest trader of Hawaiian Kona coffee. It will definitely be an interesting and unique addition to the coffee scene in the gaslamp quarter of San Diego. So far, Lion Coffee has had only one retail store in the entire mainland USA. The new store in downtown will be a relocation from their former location in Mission Valley, which garnered great reviews from its customers over the past year.

Stay tuned for Cafe Hounding from us once the store is open.

–Kris Hound