Farm to Table: Coffee

Many people can’t—or won’t—live without their daily coffee, and, in Hawaii, we’re lucky enough to have farm-fresh beans to brew. To find out more about how coffee gets from the farm to your table, we chat with Hawaii’s coffee Ph.D.


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The Heat is On

The heat is on  “Green coffee is to roasted coffee as a raw grain is to baked bread,” says Hula Daddy roastmaster and coffee consultant R. Miguel Meza. The roast—the application of heat for between 10 and 20 minutes—is where a hard, uninteresting green bean can become a thing of aromatic beauty. Sugars caramelize, acids restructure and aromatics develop, to the tune of about 1,500 different chemical compounds. This makes coffee “probably the most complex food we consume,” says Shawn Steiman. “There are over a thousand things in the aroma alone.” Once the coffee is roasted, it’s at its peak of flavor and the freshness clock starts ticking. A coffee geek will notice the difference in about two weeks; a layperson, in four to six.

Grind and Brew

The finishing touches to the art of coffee lie with you, the drinker. All coffee beans must be ground before use, releasing aroma and flavor; grinding your coffee at home, on the day it will be brewed, means that all the flavor ends up in your cup instead of your storage cupboard. Given the choice between blade grinders and burr grinders, choose the burr, which produce a more uni-form particle size and a
smoother brew.


Shawn Steiman (center in above photo, at left in photo at right) leads a group in a "cupping," at the Honolulu Coffee Co.'s Ala Moana Center location.

Photos: Olivier Koning

Coffea

All coffee plants come from the genus Coffea, which—although it contains 103 species—produces two drinkable bean types: Coffea canephora, commonly called “robusta” and used in commodity coffees, and Coffea arabica, which produces the complex, lyrically flavored bean used in artisanal and specialty coffees worldwide. Hawaii grows only arabica coffee.

Kona Coffee

For the most part, Hawaii coffee is grown on former sugarcane lands that were freed up in the 1980s and 1990s—but not Kona. Kona’s sloped terrain meant that sugarcane was never an option; the region has been producing coffee continuously since the 1870s.

 

 

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CHAIN: Honolulu Coffee Co.

The Honolulu Coffee Co., which has a new owner, roasts its Hawaiian coffee in small batches. You can buy the beans, or let the company’s award-winning baristas show you how it’s done in one of seven coffeehouse locations that serve 100-percent Kona and 100-percent Maui coffees, alongside house blends.
 


Photo: Olivier Koning

RETAILER: Whole Foods

At its Kahala store, Whole Foods carries coffees from all five coffee-producing Hawaiian Islands: Maui, Molokai, Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island. A particular specialty is peaberry coffee, which is sometimes said to roast more evenly and produce a smoother-drinking cup.
 

RESTAURANT: Alan Wong’s

Alan Wong’s makes a special effort to not just cook local but to drink local. The menu features no fewer than 13 Hawaiian coffees, eight of which are from the Big Island.
 

 

Going to the Dark Side

What a difference a roast makes.

Most coffee is roasted dark.  There are some great darks out there, but this approach doesn’t always match the bean. There is a growing appreciation for light or medium roasts, which can showcase coffee made with care.

Light Roast: “Acidity and subtle aromatics will be at their peak” in a light roast, says Hula Daddy roastmaster R. Miguel Meza. This can produce some truly memorable coffees, but he cautions that, in order for a light roast to work, “the coffee must be exemplary.”

Medium Roast: Medium roasts strike a balance between nuance and body, sacrificing a little complexity for increased sweetness and mouth feel as sugars caramelize.

Dark Roast: Think Starbucks—and there’s nothing wrong with that. Roasting dark averages out differences in taste, conceals minor defects and introduces familiar smoky notes. Dark roasts also hold their own against added sugar and cream.

Quarantine

In agricultural terms, Hawaii is probably the best place in the world to be a coffee farmer, says Shawn Steiman. In 1888, King David Kalakaua enacted the first quarantine in Hawaii, to control imported coffee plants; as a result, Hawaii is free of the worst pests and diseases that plague other coffee crops worldwide.

 

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