Getting Kona Coffee Ready To be Roasted
We're going to the dry mill now. A lot of people ask why we need to do anything else... aren't the beans already dried to the perfect moisture?
Yes, but as you remember, they are now are called parchment. And for good reason. There is another, inner skin, wrapped tightly around the bean that protected the bean during the drying process. That thin but tough skin needs to be stripped off and thrown away to release the coffee bean for roasting. We call that hulling.
To hull the bean, we need some very special machinery to get rid of the skin without harming the coffee bean inside. Hullers can cost up to one million dollars, depending on how fancy you want them. That's just for one part of the process to take coffee from the seed to the cup.
After the coffee is hulled, we have what is called green coffee. Coffee that has been completely processed, but not roasted.
The next part is the screening process. The beans are allowed to fall through a series of screens to sort them by size. But size is only a part of the way coffee beans are graded. Another factor is their density, or weight... which is determined by the amount of moisture they retain. Just because two beans are the same size, and fall through the same screen, they are not necessarily the same weight.
We have to take them to a gravity table like those used in the grain industry. Beans of a certain size, say Size 19, which is the size for Extra Fancy grade, are put on the table and then the table shakes them violently!
As they travel down the table, the heavier beans move to one side, and the lighter beans and the chips and the rubbish go toward the other corner. As they fall off the table, we start receiving them in 100 lb. bags.
The chips and rubbish goes into one bag, lighter beans in another, and the best beans with the right amount of moisture go into a separate bag. When it's full, we sew it shut, and now it's ready to go down to our store on the highway where we have our roaster.
There are four grades of coffee: Extra Fancy, Fancy, #1, and Prime, in order of size from largest to smallest. And a fifth' grade' called Peaberry that is really a different thing altogether. More about that later.
A very difficult question comes up at this point. If beans are graded by size, do those sizes taste different? Well, if you have the same size beans from different farms blended together, that will probably not taste as consistently good as a bag of coffee that comes from one farm. That's why we believe in 'estate' Kona coffee that comes from just one farm, all the time.
But... and this is perhaps one of the deepest insider secrets about coffee... when you buy a bag of premium, highest quality, Private Reserve, Estate 100% Kona Coffee, including Kona Mountain Coffee, which I believe is one of the finest coffees in the world... you are getting both Extra Fancy and Fancy beans.
Because... can I taste the difference between our Fancy and Extra Fancy beans? Probably not. Certainly most coffee connoisseurs could not. And that's why coffee is not bagged or sold by Extra Fancy or Fancy grade.
What happens to the rest of the coffee, the portion that is not sold as 100% Kona Coffee? If you've read all the posts on this blog site, you already know.
As much as 80 percent is sold as green coffee to large companies that make most of it into that coffee abomination, 'Kona blend', where the great bulk of the bag is coffee from anywhere, and the quality of that coffee can be anything. And usually only 10 percent of that bag is actual Kona coffee, from any number of farms, from the best to the bottom.
If all of us seem prejudiced against 'Kona blend', it is because we think that it gives Kona coffee a bad name. Someone sees Kona on the bag, and they think that guarantees a really nice coffee. It doesn't.
In my estimation, there is no point in buying 'Kona blend'. Either pay the price for a 100% premium coffee, or just buy some decent low-cost coffee that's good enough for everyday drinking and that you find pleasant drinking.
Because 'Kona blend' does NOT taste like Kona coffee. If you've tried it and said, 'well, what's the big deal about that?’ I agree, there is no big deal. But try some 100% Kona coffee. It is an entirely different experience.
Now to the finish line... Roasted 100% Kona Coffee.
On the highway from Kailua Kona to the Airport, which we call the 'Belt Road', or its real name, Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway (caw-awe-who-mon-oo), there is a small shopping plaza known as Pine Trees. Everyone calls it 'the new Matsuyama's, because the same people who built it have had a grocery store/gas station/snack shop on the upper road for decades.
The store facing the highway is Kona Mountain Coffee, with our volcano logo lit up with energy-saving LEDs. Kind of pretty, especially early in the morning when I get there, say 3 or 4 am. If you're a coffee roaster, you have to get up before the coffee drinkers!
And a lot of you are up pretty early, especially you fishermen. Kona has a lot of good fishing, but that's another story.Myself, I'm usually up at the Kona Mountain Farm. I manage it, and keep it growing the best coffee on the island, through all the challenges of farming in Hawaii.
I really enjoy thinking about people drinking coffee that I've helped take from the seed to the cup. I want everyone to come away from the experience thinking, 'wow, that's the best cup of coffee I ever had.'
You see, coffee is a fruit. It contains fruit sugars. When those sugars are caramelizing toward the latter part of a roast, you can determine your taste by the length of time you roast it.
The longer you roast it, the darker the roast, and the deeper the flavor.
The less time roasting, the more nuanced, lighter flavors there are to come alive when you brew it.
The amount of heat is also crucial, because you can burn the beans. Or dry them out by roasting too long at too low a heat.
We have one of the most technically sophisticated coffee roasting machines in the world, a Diedrich Coffee Roaster that is so sensitive it takes into consideration the altitude at which the coffee was grown, and even the cultivation methods. It helps a roaster do a perfect roast. It has wonderful automated controls and a timing system... but... I still watch it every minute of a roast.
Small differences in roast time and heat fluctuations during the roast, the exact amount of moisture in the beans on any given day, the humidity and temperature of the ambient air, the amount of airflow past the beans as they roast... everything counts, everything makes a difference.
The technology is helpful, but it still needs the human touch to bring it past 'an excellent roast' to 'the finest roast'.
I've been in this business long enough to make my roasts the way I know most people will like them, so we offer just two roasts. Medium and Dark. That is enough range to satisfy most coffee drinkers.
But if someone wants to 'buy a roast'... I forgot to mention that we roast only 25 pounds at a time, so we can control the roasting most perfectly... so if they want us to roast a batch exactly the way they say, We'll be happy to do it.
If they want it as dark as a coal mine, with some of the caffeine roasted out of it, but with a really strong flavor, that's fine with me, and we'll be sure to stop short of making it into charcoal.
On the other hand, if they want it very lightly roasted, I totally understand.
I've done both, but I've done under-roasts most often. The reason is that people want it that way so they can add them to cookies and other baked products. Then the baking finishes the roasting job. And it works very well that way.
I've tasted some really ono (oh-no, delicious) results, although I don't bake, myself. I know that's a little funny, but I'm a farmer and a roaster, not a baker. Anyway, all of us who roast here at KM are happy to oblige all tastes, and can judge when a special roast has come to exactly the right place to pour it out onto the cooling screen in front of the roaster.
So now the coffee is roasted and ready to brew for the cup. Kona Mountain 100% Kona Coffee is roasted fresh throughout the day.
Some of it is bagged as whole bean or ground, and sold at the store. Our barista use some of it for our unique Kona Mountain Coffee espresso and our Signature drinks.
A lot of it is shipped same day to people who order it on this website. And I drink some of it myself, every morning, to start my day. I hope that someday you get the chance to taste it.