My Day on a Hawaiian Coffee Farm

Lisa McIntyre at 2,400 feet picking Red Bourbon.

Lisa McIntyre at 2,400 feet picking Red Bourbon.

How lucky can a girl get?

Coffee is primarily grown in the Bean Belt, or between the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer on either side of the equator. The vast majority of the world’s coffee is NOT grown in the United States ~ Hawaii is the exception. On the Hawaiian Islands there is a 200 year culture of growing coffee. The most commonly known coffee from Hawaii is from the Kona region on the Big Island. I start my education of “origin” here. “Origin” is the term the industry uses to identify where the coffee is grown and picked from the coffee tree.

Something to note: Hawaiian-originated coffees are unique in that they are close enough in proximity and have fast transportation methods to deliver a quality, timely product to the Mainland US or other destinations. Therefore this region can grow, process AND roast. Other areas of origin such as Asia, Africa, Central or South America coffee must send the product as “green beans” from origin then roasted at their global destination.

Hula Daddy Coffee Farm and Roasters welcomed me with open arms and graciously offered me the opportunity to experience the process first hand! Owners, Lee and Karen Paterson are undeniably, deeply passionate about the art and science of growing and roasting their coffee from seedling to cup.

They are part of the new generation of plantation owners on the Islands. The Paterson’s came to the Big Island via Los Angeles, California in 2002 with a desire to make the best coffee in the world.  With coffee farms all across the world touting years of experience and the number of small batch roasters popping up all over the country, this is no small feat.

After six years of research and devotion testing a variety of methods in growing, drying and roasting including soil mixtures, temperatures, sorting detail, moisture levels, etc., in 2008 they succeeded! The Coffee Review gave them an overall score of 97 points for their “Kona Sweet” that is grown right there in the first of their 3 small plots totaling less than 34 acres. It was the highest rating for any coffee.

Lee took me up to the 20 acre farm that sits at 2,400 feet above sea level and the Big Island’s city of Kailua-Kona. He showed me how to carry the basket around my waist, then get into the trees while carefully watching for spiders. Once close to the branches I started at the trunk and moved outward selecting only the ripest, reddest cherries for pulping; picking them quickly one tree at a time. I loved being in the sun near the soil beneath Mt. Hualalai.

Karen keeps things moving in a consistent, productive rhythm at the plantation. She is a go-getter! I love being around her energetic ambition. We spent several hours together in their drying facility; where the beans go after the fruit is removed from the beans (seed of the cherry) and the “green bean” is exposed.

They have three buildings where they organically air-dry the beans to a perfect moisture level. It was about 105 degrees in there that day. Hot for me, but I couldn’t let her see me sweat. She tested each batch of labeled beans for the proper moisture levels. If they were ready to roast we quickly dumped them into big buckets to transport back to the roasting facility. She does all of this by hand with great attention to detail; just another step toward create their award-winning coffee.

Harvest time is year round at Hula Daddy Kona Coffee

Harvest time is year round.

I watched Master Roaster, Laura Ross at her craft. She has perfected the art of the roast with her 10 pound Renegade Roaster. Karen believes she has a magic touch. Laura takes advantage of the ability to adjust air flow, temperature, drum speed to produce the best taste from each type of bean. There is a different profile for each of their single-origin beans, which they never blend or mix one tree with the beans of another.

She also cups (tastes) each batch and hand selects the best beans before she packages and ships to their customers. How did I help with the roasting process? I labeled a few hundred bags, sorted beans and prepared some bags for shipping. She normally does all of this herself!Hula Daddy Roaster

The Paterson’s and Hula Daddy are making an impact in the world of coffee and in their own Hawaiian coffee community by raising the bar on all levels of the process. Lee shares his knowledge with local farmers by teaching seminars and workshops about what makes a good coffee great.

Mahalo (Hawaiian for ‘thank you’) to Hula Daddy for your time. This is the first of my visits to farms and plantations across the world.