In early November we spent a beautiful Saturday morning at the Annual Kona Coffee Cultural Festival’s Holualoa Village Coffee & Art Stroll. We found a parking spot above town and walked slowly down one side of the street for about three blocks and then back up the other side. This year 24 of the 800 Kona coffee growers had booths inviting us to taste their best coffee products and we voted for our favorite after tasting at almost every booth. We’ve learned it’s best not to drink too much coffee at home before the event or you can feel a little too caffeinated by the time lunch rolls around. Definitely it was a high energy day.
We are Kona coffee farmers so we couldn’t help comparing every cup to our own unique coffee. Interestingly, no two Kona coffees taste exactly alike. The soils, the micro-climates, the processing and roasting all guarantee that the resulting coffees have unique flavors.
It reassured us that our coffee is as good or better than the best we tasted from the other farms. We liked some of the coffee samples very much but the best seemed similar to our coffee with a smooth hint of chocolate flavor and a slightly sweet finish.
Each year we talk about entering this event but it’s a lot of work to prepare for and execute. For now, we enjoy the stroll and tasting without having a booth of our own. Numerous art shops are open throughout the village, adding some cultural opportunities. The food concessions are unique and fun for a street food lunch. We did the veggie pizza this year but have had great BBQ in the past. Food stands included crepes, ahi poke, hot dogs, pizza and lots of baked goodies.
The festival lasts for two weeks, usually in the first part of November after much of the harvest is in, and includes a wide variety of events including hula performances, a coffee recipe competition, a quilt show, a showcase of local talent, and much more. We try to catch three or four of the dozen or more individual events that take you to half a dozen communities in South Kona (skipping the chance to visit a local farm and pick coffee for obvious reasons). Blending coffee and culture works and over the two week period, thousands of tourists and island residents participate in the various events.
This year, the festival ran from November 3 to 18 and most low elevation coffee farms had finished the harvest for the season. We chatted about the harvest with our fellow growers and all agreed that this season was totally weird with an overall lower yield of coffee. Most said they had 30 to 60% less coffee. Much of the cherry crop looked great, but the beans floated, a bad sign. Floating means either the Japanese coffee borer beetle larva has eaten the bean or the beans didn’t develop properly due to lack of water or some other natural phenomenon.
Since virtually all farmers in the area report much lower yields this year the volcanic eruption for four months may be the most likely culprit. The 800 plus coffee farms are at varied elevations and microclimates so rainfall variances alone cannot explain the widespread low yields. The eruption gave all Kona farms gray skies for extended periods, more acidic rain due to sulfur dioxide in the air, and fine ash over everything. It seemed to change all of the growing dynamics of the area. Some fruit trees did not bloom and bear fruit at all and Christmasberry was in bloom for eight months, not the usual three or four months. During the spring most of us had a little vog cough that went with breathing in dirty air all day and all night for four months. Thankfully, the eruption is over till next time, but we will remember the spring of 2018 and the impact of lava destroying so many homes and changing the landscape in Puna District.
The good news is that Kona coffee is still Kona coffee. We grow, pick and process our estate grown coffee carefully and hand clean each batch to remove every single bean that is damaged in any way. The result is a very good cup of Kona coffee. This year’s crop for us tastes as great as last year’s crop. We had so improved our coffee farm with careful pruning and fertilization that we expected a larger coffee crop this year. We actually had about the same yield as last year so the eruption simply held us back from the expected growth in outcomes.
If you are having family over during the holiday season and want to give a gift of Kona coffee or simply serve it at a special meal, you can order now at heartfeltkonacoffee.com.
Tim and Lisa