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An Introduction into Hawaiian Specialty Coffee

28 January 2017

Hawaii is probably the most exotic and interesting place in the world to cultivate coffee. With a mixture of the richest soil in the world and high latitude that mimics weather of high altitude, Hawaii’s coffee production is remarkably complex. The extent of my knowledge on Hawaiian coffee was that its expensive washed process typica that’s probably coming from around 30 farms, and is quite difficult to find if you’re not an American company. But boy was I wrong!

Flying over Hawaii the first thing I notice is the diverse weather for what seems to be a small island. Regions on the western side of the island like Kona and Kohala are quite dry compared to those on the east. This told me that there had to be numerous farming and processing techniques within a small growing region, and I was desperate to get down and learn more.

I met up with Kelliegh from Big Island Coffee Roasters, who own a farm in Mountain View, Puna (on the East), and gave me an islander’s in site into the specialty coffee scene of Hawaii.

Coffee has been grown on the islands since the early 1900’s, and is currently around 2% of Hawaii’s GDP. There is an estimated 800 coffee farms in Hawaii, with an average size of 1.5 to 3 hectares on each. The main processing technique is a washed ferment in water, however producers are now experimenting with naturals, honeys and a mixture of Hybrids.

The Drying techniques vary between regions, with mechanical drying found mainly in the east and sun drying in the west. However the advances in infrastructure mean that dry houses and ovens are continuing to create amazing cup profiles.

The growing conditions allow farmers to have a long harvest season, as the high latitude gives the Island cold nights (similar to high altitude regions) and significantly slows the maturing of cherries. The low humidity and lack of disease has allowed farmers to grow an array of interesting varieties. These include SL28, Red/Yellow Caturra, Moka, Red/Yellow/Pink Bourbon, Catuai, Typica and many more. The farms altitudes can get over 1000MASL and, being home to the 3rd most active volcano in the world, Hualalai, Hawaii has some of the richest and most fertile soil in the world to work with.

I’d like to say a special thanks to Big Island Coffee Roasters for hosting our trip, and would persuade all coffee lovers to try their coffee one day.