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Where Is Kona Coffee?

by Bill D. on 5/30/2014 3:25:52 PM MST

In Kona, Hawaii, yes, but where exactly?

Before I answer that, let me take you for an entirely pleasant journey of the Kona Coffee District circa 1866. That was the year Samuel Clemens ... sorry, I mean Mark Twain... took a voyage from San Francisco to the islands of Hawaii Nei, and sent back dispatches to the newspaper he worked for, the Sacramento, California Union.

He went to Oahu first, and then took sail toward the Big Island aboard the good schooner Boomerang, along with other 'people of quality' and an assortment of native Hawaiians, whom he calls 'Kanakas'... apparently the term current with haole (haw-oh-lay, a term generally used to denote Europeans) of the islands in the 19th century. They set anchor off the western coast of Hawaii, with both Mauna Loa and Hualalai towering above, putting them about in the middle of the Kona Coffee District, which at the time also was trying to grow oranges. I'll let Mr. Twain continue in his own words...

"By and by we took boat and went ashore at Kailua, designing to ride horseback through the pleasant orange and coffee regions of Kona, and rejoin the vessel at a point some leagues distant. This journey is well worth taking. The trail passes along on high ground - say a thousand feet above sea level - and usually about a mile distant from the ocean, which is always in sight, save that occasionally you find yourself buried in the forest in the midst of a rank tropical vegetation and a dense growth of trees, whose great bows overarch the road and shut out sun and sea and everything, and leave you in a dim, shady tunnel, haunted with invisible signing birds and fragrant with the odor of flowers. It was pleasant to ride occasionally in the warm sun, and feast the eye upon the ever-changing panorama of the forest (Beyond and below us). with its many tints, its softened lights and shadows, its billowy undulations sweeping gently down from the mountain to the sea. It was pleasant also, at intervals, to leave the sultry sun and pass into the cool, green depths of this forest and indulge in sentimental reflections under the inspiration of its brooding twilight and its whispering foliage."

The oranges are gone now. This is prime coffee territory, and as people eventually found out, not particularly good for oranges. Mark Twain mentions that one orchard had been replanted seventeen times. Coffee will grow wild here, if you let it. As for the rest, he has perfectly captured the feeling that persists even today. Kona Coffee Country is dreamy, still waiting in some temporal backwater to catch up with the rest of the present. Myself, I hope it stays that way forever.

Gently segueing into the present, take a glance at the map of Hawaii, with the Kona Coffee district marked by a shaded area on the left side of the island, bordering the volcanoes Hualalai and Mauna Loa.

Actual, real Kona Coffee comes only from this legally delimited strip in the districts of Kona and South Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii, averaging a mile wide and roughly 30 miles long. The Kona Coffee Council accepts applications from farms in this area. After investigation of their claim, if their location is determined to be correctly within the defined geography, the applicant is certified as a Kona Coffee farm. They can then display a seal on their bags of coffee from that farm declaring them to be 100% Kona Coffee.

Everything else is not real Kona Coffee. Coffee grown south of the district... nope. Same with the north. Why? Because the microclimates of this island are very specific. Often it rains in an area on the highway six blocks mauka (m'ow-caw, toward the mountain) from my house, and my property will not get a drop. Dry as a bone. Different species of native plants growing in that upslope spot without any tending, would have a very difficult time at my place.

The strip that is the Kona Coffee District has significantly different weather from the rest of the island, and produces coffee that is simply different from any other area in Hawaii, or indeed, the rest of the world. Different amount of sun. Different amount of rain. Very different temperatures. And the soil from the volcanic activity is of a different age and consistency.

All these things make real Kona Coffee unique.

So pull up a chair on the lanai, imagine you have bushy-headed, rascally old Mark Twain in a white linen suit siting next to you, drinking a cup of Kona coffee and telling you about the sunset he saw from Haleakala, the great volcanic mountain of Maui, looking toward the Big Island of Hawaii...

"A growing warmth suffused the horizon, and soon the sun emerged and looked out over the cloud-waste, flinging bars of ruddy light across it; staining its folds and billow-caps with blushes, purpling the shaded troughs between, and glorifying the massy vapor-palaces and cathedrals with a wasteful splendor of all blendings and combinations of rich coloring.

It was the sublimest spectacle I ever witnessed, and I think the memory of it will remain with me always."


Rain and Aloha

by Bill D. on 5/30/2014 3:22:13 PM MST

We had this couple who came in last week. And I asked, how is your trip to Hawaii going. They said, oh, it's okay, you know. So I asked them, what does that mean, okay?

And they said, oh, it's been raining most of the time we've been here and it's ... and I said, terrible, huh?... and they said, yeah, pretty terrible. Of course I'd been seeing it raining, and so I understood where they were coming from. So I said I wished it hadn't been that way for them, because Kona is usually beautiful. Sunny, warm. Beautiful. And I asked them if they were thinking they might come back again some day, and they said they had been thinking about that.

Then I asked, what do you think about the people here in Hawaii. And they brightened, and said, oh, yeah, the people were really nice. So, even though it rained all the time, we still have a good feeling about being here.

That made me feel for them, and I wondered what I could do to make these guys' trip here memorable and a little more interesting. So I decided to spend some more time with them. I had a lot on my plate, but I wanted them to feel a little better about their vacation in Hawaii.

I asked them where they were from, and they told me Washington D.C. I said, oh, my dad was from the eastern part of the country. Wilksbury, Pennsylvania. A coal mining town. That spurred their interest, and they asked me how I got here on the Big Island of Hawaii. So I told them about growing up on the windward side of Oahu, and that my family had a business there, and some of the neat things about growing up there.

And after a while, she said, you know, you guys here have this really nice spirit about you. The same with most of the people we've come across who were born and grew up here in Hawaii. Were you raised like that? Did people teach you how to be that way?

I was a little surprised at that, and said that everybody grows up having moms and dads who teach their kids hospitality and all that.

And she said... no, not really.

Well, I said, I grew up with a grandmother (on my Mom's side) who had a bar, and everybody who came in was family. And I started telling them a story. I asked if they had somewhere they had to go, and they said, no, no, go ahead.

So I told them, my grandmother had this very loving spirit, and she used to worry about people after they'd drink at her family's bar. So she bought this beat-up van. Actually an old, used military bus. She parked it in the back of the bar, in the parking lot back there, and she put bunk beds in it. Made it comfortable. And so when the service guys came and drank... the military base was not that far away, maybe five, six miles... she'd call their commanding officer and say, you know, I've got your guys here, and they're going to be sleeping tonight in the bus.

Kinda funny part of this is, that's how my mother, who worked at the bar with my grandmother, met my father. My mom was a waitress in the bar, and the moment she saw this one particular Marine, she fell in love with him. Love at first sight. Later on that night, he was one of those guys my grandmother wouldn't let go back on the base in their 'condition', so she made him spend the night in the bus. The next morning, my mom knew he was there, so she made this local favorite where you take all your leftovers... chicken, and barbecued meat, and white rice, and mix it up with soy sauce, and eggs and green onions and fried rice. Actually, she was in the habit of making some of his buddies fried rice with a fried egg on top in the morning when they woke up. But this was a little special.

Actually, my grandmother always made sure people had something to eat while they were drinking. That's what they call pu-pu's (poo-poos). And my mother picked up that sense of caring for people. We kids of my mother and ex-Marine father, growing up around Honey's Bar, we saw that hospitality, that Aloha spirit, all the time. So did my mother's brother, my Uncle Don ... who, I told the couple I was telling this story to, is Don Ho. And they said, oh, yeah, of course we know who Don Ho is. And I said, yeah, that's my uncle. He made that hospitality thing we all learned about into a singing career. It was more than his singing that made him so widely known and liked. It was the real Aloha spirit he had for everyone.

He was raised the same way I was raised. Which means when he was a kid, he had to get up and clean Honey's Bar in the morning before he went to school. Just like I did when I was a kid. Actually I didn't find out that he'd had to do that too, until years later when I'd grown up. Anyway, we all had to help out at Honey's, and so we grew up with a feeling that everyone was family and that whole spirit of Aloha. We wanted to make people feel comfortable, because that's what my grandmother did, and what my mom learned and passed down to us kids. So today, in business, I try to have that same kind of thing here at Kona Mountain Coffee. A lot of us who work here had similar experiences growing up, learning Aloha in one set of circumstances or another, so it's a way of life for us. Of course we all have everyday problems and stuff, and lose it from time to time. But we always go back to our roots.

So the couple I was talking with were obviously feeling much better by now, and they started to ask questions about the Coffee Club and things like that. I felt good. I had felt a sort of obligation to make their trip a little better somehow, to make contact in some sort of way. Now we'll probably email each other and keep in touch. I think that's the sort of thing that makes a difference in this crazy world.

You want to make people feel like its more than just them coming in and buying coffee. Maybe you can't do that with every single person that walks through the doors. But there are times where you feel you really have to make that extra effort, go that extra mile. Hopefully our conversation was a little bright spot in that couple's vacation, and they'll remember their trip to Hawaii fondly because of that half hour or so we spent together. Mark does that with people. Mary does it. We all do it, as much as we can.

I guess that's the Love of Aloha.


Caffeine, Roasts, Arabica, Robusta

by Mark S. on 5/30/2014 3:19:09 PM MST

Caffeine and coffee. There are so many misconceptions. The one I run into the most often is about the roast of a coffee. In the previous bog I talked about taste versus strength, so you know that it is the amount of coffee used to brew it which is the real determining factor for the strength of a cup of coffee, rather than how it's roasted.

But the roast has a tremendous effect on the amount of caffeine that is going to end up in a cup.

Most people think that because the darker the roast, the deeper the taste, there is more caffeine in a darker roast. Actually, it's just the opposite. The longer you roast coffee, the less caffeine it has. The heat of the roasting process breaks down caffeine while it's still in the bean. So whole bean or ground, a medium roast has the most caffeine, a dark roast has less, and a french roast has the least of all!

The other determining factor in the amount of caffeine a coffee has is the variety of coffee bean that it comes from.

There are several species of coffee that's grown commercially. On the Big Island, where most of the Hawaiian coffee is grown, we have a number of different Catuais, as well as Liberica. And then there is the rough Robusta, which has the largest beans and the highest amount of caffeine. But we chose to grow Arabica Typica, which is the most popular and best liked coffee variety throughout the world.

Most people enjoy the milder taste of Arabica much more than the harsh flavors of the Robusta. Granted, Arabica is more difficult to grow. It takes just the right climate and a lot of care to produce a crop. But Hawaii, especially the Kona Coffee District, has exactly the right climate, and we think it's worth the extra work to grow America's finest coffee. As you may know, the only coffee produced in America is grown right here in Hawaii. And from the awards we've won, year after year, we have some reason to believe that ours is the most consistent premium coffee that Hawaii produces, even though the amounts we put on sale each year are very limited.

Arabica has about 1 to 1.5 percent caffeine, as opposed to 3.2 to 3.5 percent for Robusta. The percentages are averages, because the exact amount of caffeine in a coffee bean depends on where the tree is growing. Kona Mountain coffee falls into about the 1.5 percent caffeine range, which is near the top of the amount that can be in a Arabica coffee. Still, for those who drink coffee just for the 'jolt'... well, Kona Mountain is not for that. It's a sipping coffee with beautiful textures and flavors, meant to be savored on a lanai, thinking about a Kona golden sunset.

Of course, if you want a little extra caffeine, just make your coffee a little stronger. And what I mean by that is to use more coffee-to-water when you brew it. I use two-thirds of a cup of ground coffee to 50 ounces of water. No reason why a person could not use more, if you want really strong coffee and a lot of caffeine.

But to me, Kona coffee is all about taste. It is a premium coffee, with a premium price. Robusta is more for the lower grades of coffee found in the supermarket. Arabica gives you both mildness and a depth of enjoyment you just can't get with the other varieties. If you want a little more caffeine in your coffee, but still want superior taste, go with a lighter roast of an Arabica from Kona, and you have the best of both worlds.

If, however, you want the minimum amount of caffeine in a really premium cup of coffee, you probably want a 'peaberry' coffee. More on peaberry later, but since we're on the subject of caffeine, let me say that peaberry coffee has the least of any coffee unless it is artificially decaffeinated. A french roast peaberry might be the perfect cup to have before bedtime if caffeine is bothersome, but you love coffee.

Customer Service

Drop Me a Line

by Mary L. on 5/30/2014 3:16:10 PM MST

You know, it's fairly easy to feel all 'aloha' and 'how are you today!' and cheery at the beginning of a fresh work week. But maybe not as easy on Friday. You're tired, and life is... well, how life is. And here in front of you is another person from the mainland who has absolutely no idea what Kona Coffee is, and they're uncomfortable being in a strange place for the first time, and they need a little TLC, a little warm aloha to make their day brighten up. And you're simply... tired.

But you don't want to fake it. That's just ... you don't want to do that. You want to actually feel Aloha, and share what's actually inside of you with other people. You have to have real Aloha inside, and be able to express it to people. That's the major reason we're here, after all. Sure, there's selling the coffee. But really and truly, our life here is all about the Aloha.

And so I share all the great comments we get with all the other people I work with here. Every day... and I mean every day! ... whether it's in the store, verbally... or email, or on the phone... there's someone telling me how good they feel about our coffee.

I just realized... this is a great place to ask you how we're doing.

If you have ever been to Kona Mountain, the store or the farm or the website, PLEASE feel welcome to email meI will love hearing from you, because good or bad, your input will help us be what we're supposed to be.

And if you just want to know something about Kona, or Hawaii, well, you can give me a try. If I know the answer, I'll tell you.

Back to the subject at hand... we do need to hear the negative, too. Because everyone makes mistakes, and so we will make mistakes now and then. We definitely need to know about them. How else can we improve? So, although difficult to do, I welcome hearing about anything we need to correct. Don't hesitate to tell me about it.

Don't hold back on the positive comments, either! Sharing with us what we've done right, that helps us walk taller, you know? It reminds us that what we're doing is what we love. Your comments can help us show to other people that 'Love of Aloha' that's emblazoned on our label, and really mean it. In a way, it's a difficult thing to do every day, day after day. On the other hand, it isn't as hard as it seems. We seem to manage to do it pretty well. At least that's what people tell me.

I suppose part of it is that I keep reminding myself, and the people I work with, that it's easier to smile. And a smile will last forever. So if things start to get me down, I say to myself, "God, today is gorgeous! Look at that sun! Look at that ocean!" And my feelings about whatever problem is happening, those feelings start to change, and the problem becomes just another part of the day that I can handle. With Aloha.

In this day and age, that sort of thinking may seem simple minded to some. Bubble-headed and insincere. And I suppose it could be. But it isn't, not where I am. It's my way of expressing that high goal, that Love of Aloha I learned from my parents, and their parents. Maybe it's a little more difficult to allow yourself to be open and friendly and ready to meet people where they're coming from. On the other side, maybe it's hard for people to believe the difference between a fake commercial greeting at a store ... where they're actually being checked for shoplifting... and being greeted with sincere Hawaiian Aloha that is really, actually, warm and welcoming.

Or maybe not. Maybe true Aloha cuts through the fog of commercialism and touches something deeper. That's what I hope. That's how I live.

I'm havin' a great time doin' it!!!

Have a great Aloha day!


How Much Coffee

by Mark S. on 5/30/2014 3:12:21 PM MST

Sometimes people come up and say, I want your strongest coffee.

Actually, I have to chuckle a little bit. Because there is a very wide misconception about what makes coffee 'strong'. People sometimes request that I make them an especially dark roast to give their coffee a really 'strong' taste. Or they'll say, your dark roast is too strong, or even, your medium roast is too strong. Can't you give me a lighter roast? And then they might ask what roast we're 'really' using, because it tastes so much 'stronger' ... or 'lighter'... than when they make it at home.

That should give you the hint right there. It isn't the roast. The roast has to do with flavor and nuances. It can bring out the best in a good coffee, or the worst in a bad coffee. Smoothness or bitterness. Light fruity tones. Rich deep tones from the soil it was grown in. Terrible off-tastes. Roasting, done correctly, can intensify the inherent quality of the natural coffee bean. That's why Kona coffee is known for it's nice, rich taste.

A dark roast may give a coffee a 'toastier' taste, and you may perceive more body to it. But the 'strength' of a cup of coffee, that's simply the way you make it. More coffee per measure of water... stronger. Less coffee per measure of water... lighter. It's that simple, and always true.

And let me say that to make a really good cup of coffee, you not only have to start out with excellent coffee, you also have to use excellent water. If your tap water is chlorinated, you'll get chlorinated tasting coffee. No way around it. If, on the other hand, you use a good-tasting bottled water, then you're going to be able to allow the true flavors of the coffee to come through. And if you ask me isn't it a waste to use bottled water for coffee, I have to ask isn't it more of a waste of good coffee to brew it with water that has some off-tastes in it to start off with? They won't go away. They will just make your coffee taste off. So if you're using premium, 100% Kona Coffee, which comes at a pretty dear price, shouldn't you spend just a little more and use the finest water you can get, too? Of course it's up to you, but when I make coffee for people to taste, you know what I use.

Now for the secret part.

I use 2 ounces, roughly two-thirds of a cup, of either medium roast or dark roast ground coffee.
50 ounces of water, enough for 10 cups at 5 ounces each, which is what a standard Mr. Coffee uses.
Follow the directions on your brewer.

That's it.

That's how most people like the strength of their coffee, and I've served more people more coffee than I can even guess. I like pleasing them. This is how to do it. Now you can be sure you're going to please your guests with the coffee you serve them. Or perhaps more importantly, the coffee you make to enjoy yourself!

Hana hou! Mark

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