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Ask a Kona coffee farmer....


ScoopKona
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Since 2018, I've been the sole proprietor of Monkey King Coffee in Captain Cook, Hawaii.

The farm is 100 years old. And very much a work in progress. The previous owners became so old and infirm they could no longer manage the land. So they let it go, and go, and go, and go. I think I may be able to clear the farm and have it back to being "just a farm" by the time I turn 60. Maybe.

After a few years of cutting and burning invasive exotic plants, I finally have a small portion of the farm up and running. (If you visit the farm web page, all the pretty picture are shot from the farm house, looking towards the ocean. There is another mile of farm behind me, that needs to be cleared.)

Here are a few misconceptions about Kona coffee.

1) The Kona Coffee Belt is tiny. A mere 30 miles long (north south) and just 2-3 miles wide (top down). My farm comprises an most of a "top down" section. It is one of the old Royal land grants, and one of the few old coffee farms which hasn't been broken up or sold off to bigger farms.

2) Kona coffee is one of the most counterfeited foods. Right up there with Balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Many of the 10% Kona Blends being sold have zero Kona coffee and zero Hawaii coffee in them. There are a few class action suits against the supermarket chains which are selling bogus beans.

3) While price isn't 100% an indicator, there is no such thing as cheap Kona coffee. The least expensive I've ever seen is $22.50 a pound, being sold out of the back of a truck near the Costco in Kailua. Most of my neighbors sell theirs in the neighborhood of $35/pound. And anything which has scored well in a cupping competition will sell for $50+/pound. (I'm one of the more expensive brands out there. And I currently have nothing for sale because harvest is going on right now.) So, if you see Kona coffee offered for $10/pound, it is almost certainly fake. But spending a lot of money from a middleman isn't an iron-clad guarantee. The best bet is to deal directly with a farmer.

If anyone wants to try the real deal, I recommend two of my neighbors (I receive nothing from these recommendations, other than goodwill). 1) Dr. Paulo's Kona Coffee. Ask if they still sell coffee in a USPS flat-rate box. That is the least-expensive way I know of to get real Kona coffee to your door. 2) Hawaiian Mana Farms. They're growing at double the elevation -- higher elevation, less yield, more flavor. They're my "up the hill and down the road" neighbors" who let me use their processing equipment when mine breaks.

Eventually, like Pinocchio wanting to be a "real boy," I hope to have a real tasting room where I can do really cool things. Once that happens, then we can talk about brewing demonstrations, farm tours, agritourismo and similar.

But if you are heading to the Big Island and would like to drop by and say hi, send me a message with the dates you will be here (and where you will be staying). I'll try to accommodate you.

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Edited by Smithy
Corrected "work in project" to "work in progress" at poster's request (log)
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This sounds great.  I don't buy Kona coffee because of all the stuff you mention above, but if I could get the real thing, at least to try...

 

How has the rise of specialty coffees, single origins, etc. etc. affected the entire Kona coffee world? Back in my early coffee drinking days (well, that would be too early, so back in my 20s), Kona coffee was singularly thought to be the best, and commanded commensurate prices. Now, I pay those kind of prices for anything good I buy.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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Thanks Scoop, I look forward to reading more on this thread.

 

I bought some green Kona beans from Sweet Maria's a few years ago. I'm assuming they were real. Expensive and the beans were very large. I had difficulty getting them to go through the grinder. Coffee was good though. 

That's the thing about opposum inerds, they's just as tasty the next day.

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I noticed that the coffee farms mentioned sell their roasted beans in 3 levels of roast: medium, medium-dark, and dark.  Does anyone roast Kona beans light, or is that not how they show best?

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

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For a while, I bought Kona coffee from a farm owned by a local cardiologist whose wife is from Kauai. He bought a farm that had been in his wife’s family, had the green beans shipped here, roasted them here, and sold them through a local coffee shop and via mail order. I believe he’s since sold the farm. He sold it as Kona Cloud coffee.

 

Medium roast. Good stuff.

Don't ask. Eat it.

www.kayatthekeyboard.wordpress.com

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3 hours ago, weinoo said:

I noticed that the coffee farms mentioned sell their roasted beans in 3 levels of roast: medium, medium-dark, and dark.  Does anyone roast Kona beans light, or is that not how they show best?

 

I'll roast it however you'd like. But you are right, nobody does light roast here. Since I've never tried light-roasted Kona coffee, it would be  a worthy experiment.

My guess is that roasting light doesn't develop any of the chocolate notes this region is known for. And like "Rutherford Dust" with Napa cab, that's one of those things we're judged on.

In fact, I'm planning on growing cocoa around the coffee for the same reason wineries grow thyme and marjoram as cover crops.

When I have a tasting room (next year, if all goes well), I'm throwing out the "free coffee and hope people buy it" model. Nine grams of my coffee costs $2. (I hope to get that down to $1.50 this year.) That's enough to pull a shot of espresso or make a cup of pour-over. So I'll sell it for $2 and the customer can have it any way he or she wants it -- cappuccino, latte, au lait, Americano, even with loads of sugar and vanilla non-dairy creamer, ice cream and turned into a milkshake.

If people love it, great -- even with the shocking prices I charge, it's still less than Starbuck's. And if not, no harm, no foul. They still enjoyed the view and tried coffee which has a known cupping score.

So, if you find yourself heading to the Big Island, I have a neighbor with a 1-pound roaster. That's as small as they come. I'll roast 1 pound of green. It will end up as 3/4 pound of roasted. We can try it and see how it tastes.

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Couple questions:

-have you long been a coffee aficionado?

- do you have to continually keep after the invasives?

- were you easily able to find labor who know coffee?

 

That is a LOT of work. Satisfying and exciting I imagine.

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