Just four years ago we were planning a move from our home in Fort Collins, Colorado, to the Big Island of Hawaii. Lisa researched the real estate options and found a property we quickly grew to love in the Captain Cook area above Kealakekua Bay, where we began building our dreams in 2014. Our farm is not large, but it suits our style. We built a bamboo house with off-grid solar power and saltwater storage batteries. We raise miniature Appaloosa horses along with two dogs, a cat, a parrot, and koi. Slowly but surely, we have planted a variety of fruit trees and rehabilitated the half acre of 300 Arabica coffee trees that were on the property to make them productive and healthy. Many of them are 100 years old or older but they had all been badly neglected for over a decade, overgrown by vines and ten foot tall grasses when we arrived, knowing virtually nothing about coffee farming.
The trees are wonderful teachers. And fortunately, there are lots of resources available for the novice. Some of the basics:
• It takes 5-7 pounds of coffee cherries to yield 1 pound of finished Kona coffee – leaving 4-6 lbs of waste or byproducts if you can figure out how to use them. Some farms make tea from cherry skins, while others compost the skins. We’ve opted to compost, with the horses contributing manure to the process of making new rich soil we use on the farm.
• In 2009, the Japanese coffee borer beetle made it to the Big Island from elsewhere and it now infests all coffee groves here. Beauvaria, a fungus that infects and destroys beetles, can be introduced in coffee groves through spraying the spores of the fungus. With regular application and careful management of the trees, we have only 5 to 10% damage to our crop, not 30 or 40% like the farms that don’t manage the beetles.
• There’s something to do year-round to keep the coffee healthy. In the dry season, usually from December through March, we prune, fertilize, irrigate and spray Beauvaria, along with enriching the soil base around the trees. As the coffee begins to grow in spring with the start of the rainy season, we’re fine pruning the small branches of new growth that would otherwise make the tree too dense and hard to pick. By early August, it’s time to pick with the harvest season usually lasting through some time in November.
• Reading the label is an art form when it comes to Kona coffee. If it says “estate,” it means the coffee comes from one farm, not mixed crops from multiple farms. If it says “100%,” it’s pure Kona, grown here on the Big Island, as opposed to a “Kona blend” which may include coffee from anywhere else in the world. Look for “medium roast” which is the preferred roast for Kona coffee to bring out the subtle, sweet finish that makes creamer and sweeteners unnecessary.
We are now three years into the experience and had our largest yield this year, about 1000 pounds of cherry, yielding more than 150 pounds of finished Kona coffee. That’s not a lot, but not bad considering our first year was a mere 40 pounds of finished coffee. We pick it ourselves, pulp off the cherry skins, sun dry the entire crop, and carefully select only the best, bug-free beans at the dry parchment stage to take for custom roasting and packaging by Greenwell Farms. They’ve been processing coffee for 137 years and are considered one of the top processors for estate coffee. We take great care and inspect every single bean on a glass table with lighting from below to remove damaged beans. Kona is known for excellent coffee. That’s more than good marketing – the combination of trees, weather, soils, and good stewardship in the handling of the product all contribute to quality and there are significant variations in the coffee produced by small farms. Each year, we keep enough for ourselves and sell the excess.
You can order our Heartfelt Kona Coffee from this site. We ship to the mainland United States by US Postal Service Priority Mail, so you receive it within three to four days. The cost of postage (about $7.15 a pound) is included in the price. 10% of all sales are donated to local charities that encourage people to care for each other and the island on which we live.
And just a reminder at this time of year – a pound of 100% Kona coffee makes a great Christmas gift for your friends, family, or office break room.
Tim and Lisa