Home Coffee industry Kona coffee harvest season is upon us

Kona coffee harvest season is upon us

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Coffee was introduced to Hawaii almost 200 years ago, but it thrived best in Kona, where the climate and unique soils were ideal. Kona coffee enjoyed a quiet birth over a century ago, a growth, expansion, near death, and rebirth that put Kona on the map as the number one producer of premium coffee. Our coffee has finally established itself as ichi ban or # 1. According to some of the largest coffee distributors, Kona coffee is now considered one of the most sought-after gourmet coffees in the world. Even though the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down visitors who usually come for our annual Kona Coffee Culture Festival, coffee still grows and produces bountiful crops on farms not only in Kona but on every island where conditions are. favorable.

Each year, the Coffee Festival was an opportunity for kama’aina and visitors to get to know the farmers, processors and restaurants serving our coffee. A walk through Mauka Kona is a wonderful sight, especially when our coffee is in bloom or in fruit. We now have more coffee grown in Kona and the state than at any time in years. This expansion of Kona coffee is not the first time that we have had a boom, but now that our coffee is considered gourmet, we are working together to avoid the boom and bust syndrome of the global coffee industry.

The Kona coffee industry was born with a few coffee trees imported from Oahu. They were first planted in 1828 by a missionary and teacher, Samuel Ruggles. These were descendants of plants that arrived in Oahu from Brazil a few years earlier. Over the next nearly 200 years, Hawaiian coffee has seen many ups and downs, but creative marketing and cooperative efforts have secured a bright future for it.

Arabica coffee is the species cultivated here exclusively. Other species of any commercial importance, but not cultivated here, include Coffea robusta and Coffee liberated. Examples of these and several related species can be seen at the Experimental Station of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at the University of Hawaii at Kainaliu. Call (808) 322-4892 to arrange a viewing. Extension and research staff have been instrumental in the success of the coffee industry.

Kona coffee is comparable to the best of Central American mild coffees. The beans are heavy and flinty, with relatively high acidity, a strong flavor, a full body and a fine aroma. It has been in demand as a blend and, in recent years, as 100% pure Kona.

While coffee can be grown in many areas of Hawaii, the Kona District is ideal. Being located on the western leeward slopes of the central mountainous mass of the Big Island, it is protected from the dominant northeast trade winds by the Mauna Loa and Hualalai volcanoes.

The rainfall pattern is characterized by a dry period from November to January and fairly frequent, almost daily, afternoon showers throughout the rest of the year. Average annual precipitation in the relatively narrow Kona Coffee Belt, which follows the contour of the Mamalahoa Highway between 600 and 2,000 feet above sea level, is 60 to 70 inches. Cloud cover and afternoon precipitation combine to create the perfect environment for premium quality. Good coffee is produced elsewhere in the state, but it does not yet have the international recognition of Kona coffee.

Coffee has a long history in Kona. It has persisted despite many adversities, weathered economic depressions, and for many decades was considered the economic backbone of the Kona District. The cultivation of coffee has not been a limiting factor, as it grows wild in the understory of highland forests. The problems are the hard work involved in pruning, fertilizing and harvesting.

For many years, local schools have allowed students to take vacations to help farming families reap the harvest. When that ended, agricultural aid from Central and South America came to our aid.

The late Edward Fukunaga, a well-known and respected coffee expert in Kona, pointed out to me that when he first became a Kona County Agricultural Officer in September 1941, the coffee industry was in a state of disrepair. terrible. Farmers were heavily in debt, but world coffee prices continued to fall. Debt adjustments and government relief were the order of the day. Over 1,000 acres of coffee have been abandoned in 10 years after the price drop. Another 1,500 acres were to be abandoned before 1950.

Perhaps the most tragic thing that happened during the coffee depression was the exodus of young people from Kona. Only the elderly were left to look after the farms in many families. However, things got better after the war when world coffee prices rose and farmers flourished in the 1950s.

During the 1960s and 1970s, fields were again neglected and coffee beans wasted for lack of harvesters. Tourism was the new kid on the block and everyone wanted to work in fancy hotels and restaurants.

The revival of today’s vibrant and romantic coffee industry is complicated, but the key was teamwork. The concept of gourmet coffee, according to Curtis Tyler Jr., director of the American Factors Coffee Mill in Kailua, began as early as the 1950s, but it took years for the concept to materialize. The Wing and Mayflower Coffee companies were the first to roast and package the highest quality Kona, but it was tourism that ultimately exposed Kona coffee to the world. The Pacific Coffee Cooperative headed by Yoshitaka Takashiba and the Kona Farmers Cooperative managed by Les Glaspey and Bill Koepke have been actively involved in the revitalization of the Kona Coffee Council. Tom Kerr, as Chairman of the Board, has been instrumental in bringing together all of the diverse interests in the industry. Today we have a new breed of coffee growers producing world class coffees. Some of the original farms have survived the years and thrived. Others are owned or operated by entrepreneurs from the mainland, Japan, Southeast Asia and Latin America.

We can’t be sure what the future holds, but judging by the commitment and endurance of the coffee growers and processors associated with producing one of the best coffees in the world, the outlook is very promising.

Mahalo to Kona Coffee Growers, Processors and Traders for developing our special coffee to continue to attract visitors to our little slice of Heaven and remind us how blessed we are to be Kama’aina.


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