Tag Archives: SCAA

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.

Beyond Coffee: Sustainable Coffee – A Global Solution (Video)

An introductory preview of the sustainable movement, beginning with the organic movement and discussing the needs for global consciousness.  This website, cafehound.com will evaluate the theory and methodologies of some of the people that speak in this video with the goal of contributing to the formulation of objective and credible sustainability standards for the agricultural industry worldwide.  It all begins with coffee.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gObzERrtTCs

Official Release… “Cafe Hound”

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Dear Readers,

Over the past six weeks, we have enjoyed unofficially blogging on cafehound.com and have seen the development of the blog and its traffic from visitors “accidentally” coming to our blog. It has been a pleasure to offer diverse information accessible on our blog. Today, we take another important step and officially introduce to you cafehound.com.

What you will find on our blog is random but hopefully informative. As the blog’s name suggests, we are Cafe Hound. We search for the best coffee the world can offer. In Cafe Hounding section, you can read our reviews of cafes from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Coming soon, we will add reviews of coffee houses outside the US. We are also proud to present to you the exclusive interviews of “Who Is Who” in specialty coffee industry. We are honored to have Chuck Patton (founder and owner of Bird Rock Cafe Roasters in La Jolla, California) as our inaugural feature in this interview section. To be added to the list of fame are Eileen Hassi (founder and owner of Ritual Coffee in San Francisco), Michael McGuire (owner and roaster of K-Bay Caffe in Homer, Alaska), Timothy Castle (founder and CEO of Castle & Company, Santa Monica, California), and Karen Cebreros (founder and CEO of Elan Organic, San Diego, California).

Cafe Hound is not only the place you can get reviews and knowledge about your neighborhood cafes. We carefully select and present to you interesting news and upcoming events in coffee industry. Moreover, with our expertise in economics, finance, international relations, and public policy, we devote a section of the blog to analytical and educational issues related to every stage of specialty coffee production– from crop to cup, or from beans to brew. Currently, we proudly review an interesting article by Christopher Bacon of the University of California, Santa Cruz, on how organic, Fair-Trade, eco-friendly coffee could potentially help poor farmers in developing economies get out of poverty. Our main objective is to present to you the cutting-edge academic research on coffee-related issues in a non-academic language. Stay tuned for more of these geeky but exciting posts.

You may want to ask yourself why we, as an academic economist and a policy expert, fell in love with coffee and decided to devote our time to this blog. We have explained it all in the About the Hounds section. For those who have known us before, this section will give you eye-opening stories of the “dark” (but creamy and aromatic) side of our lives. We hope it entertains you and answers your curiosity.

You may also want to know what we expect from this blog. Well, first and foremost, we view this blog as our way to get us exposed to more people in the coffee industry. This is not only those working in the industry itself, but also those who are frequent customers of coffee houses and share our passion in great coffee. Please come join us in our journey to search for the best coffee. Please suggest to us where we should go “cafe hounding.” If you have favorite neighborhood coffee houses, feel free to share with us.

Finally, we realize there are several blogs and discussion boards out there covering coffee and cafes. Many of them are fantastic and comprehensive. By no means do we view our blog as their competitor. Instead, we think that our blog will offer something different, and provide you with both casual and more formal, semi-academic knowledge. The Cafe Hounding section does not rate the cafes (like yelp or other restaurant rating websites) but rather presents you with objective reviews of coffee houses that we carefully select. Most of them are mentioned by local coffee geeks as the “best in town” cafes or employ baristas who have made it to the final round of national or international competitions. The Interviews section gives you behind-the-scene stories about people in your neighborhood cafes and others in the industry that you may not have known before. Finally, the coffee.edu section takes advantage of our strengths and expertise in our main professions as an academic economist and a policy expert. It is very educational in a strict academic sense, i.e. very nerdy, but hopefully is exciting for those readers who are interested in more than just the taste and aroma of coffee.

And with this introduction, we officially proudly present to you… cafehound.com.

–The Hounds

Beyond Coffee: ZERI Foundation

“The Pavillion” in Manizales, Colombia

The most important work of the ZERI foundation and its “Eje Cafetero” project in Colombia was the construction of the ZERI pavilion, thanks to the magnificent design of Simón Vélez and the technical support of Marcelo Villegas.

  • The first objective of this initiative was to prove that Guadua (American bamboo) is a material fit for use in construction, competitive with the most rigid standards of civil engineering.
  • The second was to discard the stereotype of poverty associated with the use of this material, in preference of branding Guadua as a symbol of the Coffee Growing Region, of innovation, sustainability and of practicality.

To strengthen the objectives of the ZERI foundation, it decided to invite Colombian architect  Simón Vélez to design the pavilion for the Hanover Expo 2000 in Germany.  The foundation was invited by the German authorities to present its vision of “humanity, nature and technology,” a modern pavilion among the likes of the pavilion of Japan.

Coffee farmers in the “Eje Cafetero” have long used Guadua to build bench terraces to prevent landslides and routine erosion.  It has also been used for similar purposes in shantytowns in that region of Colombia (hence the association with poverty).  Many have come to realize that it is quite aesthetically pleasing and also incredibly architectually reliable leading to increasing use of Guadua in construction of houses, terraces and more.

The collaboration of the United Nations Development Program, ZERI, Manizales Chamber of Commerce and German partners, the launching of Guadua onto the world stage never would have occurred.  This is also important because it has given agricultural workers in similar climates an additional resource that they can grow, use and sell.

The ZERI foundation was awarded the Sustainability Award from the SCAA in 2009 for its continued efforts to promote sustainability, environmental awareness and economic viability on a global scale. Their specific project was actually related to growing mushrooms from the  cumulative ‘waste’ of the coffee harvest – hence reducing the carbon footprint and adding value for coffee farmers much like the pilot program in Zimbabwe.