Twenty-five Steps to Creating Premium 100% Kona Coffee by Karen Paterson
Ten years ago we began the Hula Daddy Kona Coffee farm in Kona, Hawaii. When we started, we followed traditional Kona Coffee planting, harvesting and processing methods. Our coffee was good but we felt that there had to be something more we could do to create premium Kona Coffee. We asked various experts in Kona what we could do to create a great tasting Kona Coffee. Most of the answers were disappointing. Our agronomist suggested more fertilizer but admitted that more fertilizer would only increase the yield not the quality. Some answers were a revelation. The best answer came from wine growers who told us that the key to fruit flavor is the soil. After listening to the experts and reading a lot of articles, we came up with a list of 25 different factors that differentiate high quality coffee from commercial grade coffee:
- Growing altitude
- Tree variety
- Ground cover
- Tree spacing
- Selective harvesting
- Hand sorting coffee fruit
- Floating coffee fruit
- Floating coffee beans
- Sun drying
- Temperature and humidity controlled storage
- Resting parchment coffee
- Quality hulling
- Sorting and grading
- Artisan roasting
- Protective packaging
- Short shelf time
- Shipping speed
Making a list was the easy part, then we had to do something about it. Some of the things we were already doing so that helped like: Shade We get shade every afternoon when the clouds come in to cover Kona; Water- we get about an inch of rain a week.
Some of the factors were expensive like: Altitude – we bought a 20 acre cow pasture at 2500 feet, bulldozed it and planted 10,000 coffee trees on it; Artisan coffee roasting – we had a custom roasting machine built and then hired a world class coffee roaster to run it; Selective picking – Kona coffee pickers are usually paid by the pound, so they pick everything whether it is ripe or not, we started paying by the hour for only red ripe beans, which doubled our picking cost; Hand sorting coffee fruit – no one in Kona hand sorts their coffee fruit, we started hand sorting every load of coffee to insure only quality beans; Sun Drying – we rented a low altitude drying area; Composting – Kona is deficient is compost material so we are using fish market waste, coffee pulp and tree chips to create over 100,000 pounds of compost a year.
Some of the factors took time like: Soil – It took us three years of applying minerals, fertilizer, and organic material to create a rich soil that has micro-nutrients for the coffee beans; Tree selection – we cupped coffee from over 50 different types of coffee trees before we found the flavor we wanted, then we had to pick the seeds, plant them, wait a year and transplant them into the ground; Ground cover, most Kona farms use Roundup to control weeds under the trees, we stopped using herbicides and planted a low growing nitrogen fixing ground cover.
Many of the factors reduced the quantity of the coffee we could sell like: Pruning – the standard coffee tree in Kona has five or more vertical branches, we cut back to 3 verticals which cut out quantity but increased our quality; Floating – we put all of our coffee cherries and coffee beans in a water bath, if they are dense they sink, if they float they go on our compost pile; Sorting and grading – we mechanically sort out beans that won’t make good coffee, we throw out about 25% of the coffee we pick each year by using aggressive quality control methods.
Is it worth it? We think so. Our cupping scores have continously improved each year. However, only our time will tell if our customers like the taste of our coffee. So far they have and we are selling out of coffee every year.