By Carolyn Lucas-Zenk
Stephens Media Hawaii
Cupping coffee requires more than just sniffing and slurping it. It’s understanding the whole process of what goes into producing the best brew, from the plump, ruby ripe coffee cherries signaling the harvest to when it finally tantalizes taste buds.
For some caffeine junkies and coffee aficionados, cupping events like Saturday’s Cream of the Crop helped them understand what they like and why, as well as further fueled their passion for supporting the prestigious, nearly 200-year-old Kona coffee industry.
Hundreds of people attended the Kona Coffee Council’s 10th annual Cream of the Crop coffee and dessert tasting competition at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai. Everyone had the opportunity to sample 21 Kona coffee farms’ brews and vote for their favorite in two categories — the Estate Coffee Division and the Open Coffee Division. They also selected the best sweets, prepared by amateurs and professionals. The delicious desserts included mocha cupcakes with honey Kona coffee caramel centers and a Kona Coffee chocolate torte.
The favorite part of the event, attested by most, was meeting the people behind the product. Throughout the day, farmers shared stories about how their product is grown and carefully processed, their way-of-life, and the reasons behind supporting 100 percent Kona coffee.
Kona Coffee Council board member Dave Bateman owns Heavenly Hawaiian Farm, a 38-acre plantation with 20,000 coffee trees in Holualoa, with his wife, Trudy. He thinks Cream of the Crop is important because it gives local coffee farmers invaluable feedback from the general public — something that matters tremendously because it’s the everyday consumers and chefs they’re trying to sell to, not the professional cuppers, to have reoccurring revenue.
Quality is of utmost importance and all Kona coffee farmers are passionate about producing the best coffee possible, he said.
Though Kona coffee is know for its quintessential mellow, sweet profile, with a bit of tartness, Bateman stresses no coffee is exactly the same. In fact, he added, how the coffee is grown, processed, roasted or brewed can have a dramatic difference in the taste.
There are more than 600 independent coffee farms in the Kona region, most of which are small family operations. The Batemans got into the coffee industry after retiring from their stressful careers — Dave was a “workaholic” trial lawyer and former judge advocate general in the Air Force while Trudy was an emergency room nurse.
The couple was looking for more balance in their work-driven life and loves what they do now, saying coffee is their passion. Bateman encourages people to always have a passion for what they’re doing and follow their heart.
Saturday, Heavenly Hawaiian Farm served its Maragogype, or elephant bean, coffee, which was the 2012 Hawaii Coffee Association grand champion in the creative category. According to the association, that category encourages farmers to try new cultivation or processing methods without have to produce a commercial-level quantity of coffee. Bateman has an acre of elephant bean on his farm and said his win has perked more interest in some farmers to grow this type of coffee. Though honored by the association’s recognition, he was anxious to find out what consumers think of the full-body coffee, with a smooth, mellow flavor.
For Randall DeAguiar of Hapaki Farm, Cream of the Crop showcases Kona coffee and promotes the industry in a fun and laid-back way. He enjoys mingling with everyone and sharing why he is carrying on his family’s coffee heritage.
DeAguiar said he left his police officer job and moved from Oahu to the Big Island in 1993 to help his mother, Grace, on her 5-acre coffee farm. The farm is located south of Hookena and on the northern end of the first 1950 Mauna Loa lava flow. DeAguiar said his family dug holes in 1994 into the virgin lava with hand tools. There, they place potting soil and planted trees, which were nurtured and cultivated like family.
At Hapaki Farm, the family, including DeAguiar’s wife Lena and their 14-year-old son Tristan, only handpicks the cherries when ripe. The processing is done immediately. Everything is done under his mom’s watchful attention and her way. She strives for perfection. It’s a labor of love that requires immense care and thorough attention to detail. This is why the farm’s coffee is appropriately called “Grandma’s Choice.”
Captain Cook Trading Co. owner Emmerich Grosch participated in Cream of the Crop because he wanted to inspire and motivate hobby coffee farmers who have trees on their lots or in their gardens, but no plans for them. He enthusiastically shared the different types of equipment available to process and roast coffee on a smaller scale, as well as the various ways to sell it, including on the Internet or by establishing relationships with other farmers.
Grosch said he’s been in the industry for years and has strongly believed Kona coffee as “being the best in the world” ever since 1969. That’s the year when Grosch, the food and beverage manager for the Hilton, sent a coffee sample from a Holualoa farm to the Pan-American Coffee Bureau in New York.
The bureau confirmed his thoughts with one word: “Superb.”
While everyone Saturday seemed to have a different opinion as to what makes a good cup of coffee or the winning dessert, all the tasters interviewed shared a commonality: their desire to support local farmers and businesses.
Email Carolyn Lucas-Zenk at firstname.lastname@example.org.