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coffee@home: That Other Hawaiian Coffee

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Beans: Roast Master’s Choice Kauai Sunrise and Peaberry Medium Estate Roasted Estate Reserve
Roaster: Kauai Coffee Company
Rating: 2-

My parents recently took a trip to Kauai to celebrate their anniversary. It was a well-deserved trip for a couple who has never taken a lavish vacation for themselves. It wasn’t completely selfish, however. As you can tell from their photos from the field, they felt obliged to aid and abet their son in his single-minded coffee obsession. So they headed down to the southern part of the island to the Kauai Coffee Company to visit one of only a handful of farms that produces coffee within the U.S. (all of which are in Hawaii). Let’s give my folks a hand, shall we?

There are three things I learned from my parent’s trip to origin. The first is that this farm, at least, grows a lot of coffee on very flat land. The farm actually uses large harvesting machines like the ones you see here. This mechanized production isn’t surprising really given that the cost of labor is so much greater within the US than it is in most developing countries where coffee is produced.

The second is that coffee from Kauai isn’t Kona coffee. I’m embarrassed to admit that this fact actually surprised me. For some time, I’ve been closely following the battle that Kona coffee farmers have been waging to protect the Kona name. They’d like to set standards for it so that unscrupulous businessmen can’t call coffee “Kona” when it contains only 10% Kona coffee. Of course, farmers would probably also like to stop even more unscrupulous businessmen from slapping the Kona name on products which contain absolutely no coffee in them at all. In following this greater brouhaha, it somehow slipped past me that Kona was a region on the Big Island and so it isn’t an applicable moniker to attach to coffee grown on Kauai.

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The third thing I learned is that the coffee from the Kona Coffee Company isn’t really very good. The Peaberry should have been my favorite because it was the lighter roast. It was a little bright and somewhat sweet. I noted something like chocolate and the suggestion of something like cherry, but the coffee overall was thin-bodied and flat in flavor.

I subsequently found myself ever so slightly more drawn to the Roaster Master’s choice which combined medium and darker roasted coffee within the same bag. The darker roast meant the coffee was more sugary and smokey giving it some much needed character. It was only just over-roasted so it wasn’t too unpleasant but I can’t say this coffee was particularly appealing either.

I wondered if perhaps both coffees were old or stale, but while not ultra-fresh, both were just under two weeks old when I first broke their seal. It seems the lack of character in these two coffees is either due to the quality of the bean or the profile of the roast or some combination of the two.

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4 comments to coffee@home: That Other Hawaiian Coffee

  • Jay

    My parents live in Kona and I’ve been to a few of the smaller farms up there at elevation. The true pure Kona coffees are quite good, but what I enjoyed even more was coffee from the Kau region on the Big Island. Check out this local farmer for more information on the region and try some of their beans if you get a chance. You will not be disappointed.

    https://kaucoffee.securepacific.net/

    -Jay

  • TopoTail

    I took a tour of the Kauai Coffee Company five or six years ago and was not much impressed. It is, I gather, one of the most highly mechanized coffee farms in the world, with everything set up to reduce labor to a minimum, especially harvesting.

    Everything about the operation suggested that fine quality was not their primary goal.

    One thing that surprised me was how low the elevation was. I don’t know how high it is, but it’s quite near the ocean and the elevation can’t be more than a few hundred feet.

    When I questioned the guy who gave me the tour about growing arabica at such a low altitude, he claimed that the fact that they were father north than most coffee growing regions made up for the fact that they were at such a low altitude. I thought it a pretty curious claim.

    The espresso they made for me at their visitor center was decidedly mediocre, as were the beans I brought home. It all tasted stale and uninteresting.

  • That pretty much sums up my qualitative comments as well. I’m not sure mechanized has to be bad but your other comments on the place are revealing. I really hesitated on the rating on this one. Arguably these coffees could be a bit lower on my scale but I tend to reserve my “1s” for total swill. These guys were drinkable but just, as you say, completely uninteresting.

  • Small Town coffee co. That serves up Barefoot and coffee Times a small shade grown farm in Kappai Kauai. Its almost not worth talking up Kauai Coffee farm with its sea level full sun and machine picked machine dried. I have seen a few write up in publications and i feel writers do not get out of the tourist trap ask around! Hawaii really is under developed coffee growing region with hug potential.

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