From one of our editors in Hawaii
Tourists visiting Kona District on the island of Hawaii, also known as « Big Island », can sample one of the world’s most subtle coffees: the Kona coffee, which is widely regarded as a delicacy. gourmet!
In the mountainous region, where the roads are narrow and winding, coffee trees cover the slopes for hundreds and hundreds of meters. Bright, brightly colored leaves charm the eyes and, at certain times of the year, delicate, bright white flowers perfume the air. These will turn into berries, or coffee cherries, as producers and roasters call them.
More than 600 small and large family plantations are located side by side, some of which have been handed down from father to son for generations. On the island of Hawaii, the coffee zone is approximately one kilometer wide and 50 kilometers long. It is on the slopes of two old volcanoes: Hualalai and Mauna Loa. Coffee growing is optimal at an altitude of 150 to 750 meters.
In Hawaii, famous vacation spots, supermarkets, small country stores, and rustic roadside cafes all offer delicious infusions of this fine coffee. Fans appreciate it for the richness of its aroma and for its taste, both lively and unctuous. But how did the coffee farm establish itself on the archipelago – which was then a monarchy – and then become an extremely lucrative activity?
This is Francisco de Paula Marin, doctor and counselor of King Kamehameha I er, which would have imported coffee and inaugurated its culture on the island of Oahu in 1813. Subsequently, about 1828, cuttings from this island were introduced in Kona District on the Big Island of Hawaii. These cuttings belonged to the species arabica, the one that is still produced on the island. In the 1830s, coffee was already established in Kona and marketed.
The reasons for its rise in Kona
Although in botany it is classified among the shrubs, the coffee tree can reach up to ten meters high. That’s why we often talk about it like a tree. Geographically, the district of Kona meets the ideal conditions for its growth. The trade winds (easterly winds) are for many. When they pass the Mauna Loa, at more than 4000 meters of altitude, these winds are tempered to be only light breezes. Thus, once they arrive in Kona, they do not cause any damage to the delicate flowers of the coffee tree.
The sun bathes abundantly the slopes of Kona. Often, in the afternoon, a layer of clouds forms in the sky, thus providing shade and protection against too much exposure to the sun. In addition, these clouds gently release enough moisture to water the coffee trees. Since temperatures are mild throughout the year, there is no risk of freezing.
Harvesting and processing
How much time elapses between planting and harvesting time? Usually, it takes at least three years before a coffee begins to give. There are several blooms a year. The operator of a coffee farm must pick up by hand up to eight times a year!
In general, the cherry of coffee, pulpy fruit of a bright red, contains two seeds, or coffee beans. The cherries must be pulped and the grains released, that is to say freed from the parchment, the thin film which covers them ( 2 ). The next steps are soaking ( 3 ) and drying ( 4 ). This treatment greatly reduces the volume of the finished product. Depending on the quality of the coffee, up to eight bags of fresh cherries are needed to produce a single bag of roasted coffee.
Roasting ( 5 ) is in itself an art that requires not only good quality material but also a lot of know-how. The duration of roasting depends on a variety of factors, such as grain moisture, weight, size, quality, desired color (more or less dark brown), and weather conditions.
On the island, many coffee farms use modern marketing techniques. They invite the public to visit the plantations, to observe the stages of transformation, and to taste the delicious beverage. Brightly colored billboards and quaint old-fashioned cafes abound, as do the cafes and charming hotels of yesteryear. Of course, they all offer their famous Kona!
The docile donkeys, with their sonorous bravos, which have earned them the nickname of « nightingales of Kona, » once carried the sacks of coffee. The old jeeps of the army supplanted them, to faint in their turn. But the two still exist: donkeys live in the wild and under protection; as for the jeeps, they rust slowly in the backyards of the farms.
For a long time, marketed Kona was often mixed with lower quality coffees. However, in the mid-1950s, a big change occurred. The price of coffee was high and the yield of Kona per hectare was quite high. The Development Department of the University of Hawaii organized meetings with planters to encourage them to increase their production. Planters, roasters, researchers and development workers exchanged information on growing methods.
The results were satisfactory. Since 1970, the Kona has gradually ceased to be used mainly in blends, to become a specialty connoisseurs sold on the market both nationally and internationally. That has pushed up prices more and more. International commodity agreements have also been beneficial as they have helped maintain the stability of coffee prices, thus preventing excessive price fluctuations. The appellation contrôlée « café de Kona » helped its marketing; now many farmers make profits by selling their coffee over the Internet.
Star of a festival
Every year, children and adults are invited to the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival. The festivities include recipe contests and a golf tournament. One of the most important events of the festival is the Best Coffee Contest, during which infusions are tasted and judged by connoisseurs. The competition is fierce because coveted prizes can mean a significant increase in sales for those to whom they are awarded.
According to the recommendations of the festival, here is the ideal way to prepare a good Kona: « The infusion par excellence is obtained using a drip coffee maker with filter paper. Use pure, cold water. Add a large spoonful (15 g) of ground Kona coffee per cup of water (180 ml). To keep all its aroma, keep the brew warm and consume it within an hour. «
Will you taste it? If so, you will drink one of the best coffees in the world, a true gourmet delight!