When I moved from Hawai`i to Seattle in the early 1980s, Starbucks was only a small, single, solitary coffee shop in Pike Place Market. This was before it was bought out and expanded worldwide, turning Seattle into the Coffee Mecca that it is today. When I travel and people learn that I live in the Northwest, they always ask about Starbucks. I smile and nod approvingly, without divulging that rarely do I go into a Starbucks coffee shop. Even with the wild success of this company with the perfect name, I am not impressed. After all, I come from the Hawaiian island that is the nirvana for serious coffee drinkers, who know that the most perfect beans are grown there on the volcanic slopes of Hualālai, on the Kona side of the Big Island. Kona Coffee. Even before I was old enough to drink coffee, I remember family members in Hilo who regularly made the long drive to the other side of the island just to pick up their sacred supply of Kona. And these days, thanks to generous cousins who work their acres of coffee land in Hōlualoa, I have my own stash of the Kona. Sometimes when a bumper crop comes in early and workers are hard to find, I even get to help with the picking. Standing on loose lava rocks in the broiling Kona sun with mosquitoes nibbling on our ears, shooing off bees, latching the hooked guava stick onto the coffee branch heavy with clusters of berries, pulling down and holding it while picking only the dark red ones…you should try it sometime!
Most reference books say that the Reverend Samuel Ruggles brought the first coffee plant to Kona from Brazil in the 19 th century. After an attempt to establish coffee plantations failed, Japanese families who had earlier come to Hawai`i to work on sugar plantations, leased the land and started growing the superior coffee that is now held in world-wide esteem. Kona mauka has ideal conditions to grow coffea arabica which loves the warm sun alternating with regular rain showers, and rocky, volcanic soil that provides perfect drainage.
The coffee plant blooms in February and March, so the picking starts at the end of August and can run through January. Each cherry in a cluster seems to ripen only when it feels like it, so picking is usually done one red cherry at a time. Every tree must be hand-picked several times over the season and provides 20-30 lbs of cherry. It takes a hundred pounds of cherry to yield roughly 12 lbs. of roasted coffee.
With the high cost of premium land and the labor-intensive care required to bring in the coffee, you can guess that Kona coffee isn’t cheap. But never mind because in my humble opinion, the best coffee in the world grows on the island of Hawai`i, up mauka on the slopes of Hualālai. Call me biased, but Kona is where the most heavenly coffee beans come from.
Most of us wouldn’t dream of doing anything with our Kona coffee except drink it, but here are a few coffee recipes in case you’re feeling flush and want to cook with it.
4-lbs chuck roast
Cut slits into roast and place slices of onion and garlic inside. Pour vinegar over the roast, cover and marinate overnight in the refrigerator. Remove from vinegar and sprinkle ½ tsp garlic salt. Brown in 2Tb. oil; add 2 cups brewed Kona coffee with 2 cups water and simmer over low flame 3 hours or until tender. Thicken with flour and add vegetables.
~from M.C. Wong, the best cook in the world.
Pour 4 cups brewed Kona coffee into ice cube trays and freeze. When frozen, place coffee ice cubes in a blender with 1 more cup brewed coffee, add coffee liqueur (according to your taste) and blend. Spoon into ice cream dishes and top with whipped cream.
9” baked pie shell
2 cups brewed Kona coffee
In double-boiler saucepan, combine milk, flour, sugar, salt with hot coffee and stir until smooth. Cook over hot water until mixture thickens. Spoon some into eggs, stir then add egg mixture back into saucepan. Cook for another 3-4 minutes. Add butter and vanilla before filling baked pie shell. Refrigerate and serve with whipped cream.
1 ½ c. brewed Kona coffee
Soak gelatine in half a cup of cold coffee. Put the rest of coffee, milk and half of the sugar in a double boiler. When hot, add the gelatine and dissolve. Then add the rest of the sugar, salt and egg yolks beaten together. Cook until mixture thickens a little. Remove from stove, add vanilla and cool. Add in stiffly beaten egg whites. Pour into mold and chill in ice box. Yield: 4-5 servings.
~from Kalahikiola Cook Book, 1955. Kalahikiola Congregational Church, Kohala, Hawai`i.
Copyright © 2004-2009 by Northwest Hawai`i Times