The Spirit of Kona Coffee
By Jim Schuett
Each year Kona holds a Cultural Festival to celebrate their history, heritage and, of course, Kona Coffee. This annual festival is the foundation for the yearly Kona Coffee Cupping Competition which samples the region's finest offerings from top coffee farms. For two days these elite beans are roasted, ground and brewed only to be “slurped” up in the unique tasting method known as “cupping”.
Kona’s coffee history is a rich and involved one that started over 100 years ago with the first generation of immigrants (mostly Japanese) starting on five acre parcels to work out a sustainable existence as coffee farmers. What they found was that the unique conditions in Kona, with fresh volcanic soil and perfect greenhouse type weather, created a very flavorful crop. With extreme diligence and a hard working ethic they were able to establish a reputation that stood for quality and great taste.
The next generation focused on ways to make coffee farming easier and more profitable. In the search for more efficient methods and a consistent relationship with world coffee buyers, Kona farmers developed techniques and standards that set them apart from the rest of the world and turned Kona Coffee into a legendary name.
The future generations found difficulties with many facets of coffee farming, from finding good labor to shady business practices, that threatened to tarnish the name. But with struggles come opportunities to excel and make new improvements. Like their forefathers, the farmers banded together and worked through the tough times; creating even stricter standards and higher levels of quality. Once again, Kona Coffee found itself the leader among all coffee varieties.
Today’s current generation of Kona farmers are watching as the world gets smaller and smaller. New challenges rise to the surface with plant-killing pests like the root devouring Nematode or the Coffee Cherry Bore Beetle which can decimate entire crops. Older generations are selling family farms and newer farmers are coming in with new ideas, good and bad alike. The whole industry is in a state of change but the one constant that remains: the high quality of Kona Coffee.
We know this first hand because we have been buying Kona Coffee directly from Kona Farmers for over 20 years and this last year we became Kona Farmers ourselves. Based in Lincoln California, our company, San Francisco Bay Gourmet Coffee, owns coffee farms and mills all over the world including Panama, Mexico, Rwanda and now Kona. This year we harvested our first full Kona crop and have built a coffee mill on site to process our own coffee.
We also submitted our first crop to the annual cupping competition just to see where we stacked up. The Crown division that we entered contains the biggest and best coffee farms on the island and quite honestly we were very surprised and pleased to place third. As we gear up for another full season of quality production we will take our bronze medal and put it on the shelf next to the empty spots that will hopefully contain our future first place medals. That is the spirit of Kona Coffee Farmers, always looking to improve, overcome and most importantly make the best coffee anywhere.