7 Things You Can Experience at Honolulu Coffee’s New Café
Honolulu Coffee Co. opens a new location in Waikīkī.
Note: Honolulu Coffee Co. has changed its name to Honolulu Coffee
Honolulu Coffee Co.
Photos: Don Wallace
Are you? Experienced? If not, you will be once you set foot in the brand-new Honolulu Coffee Co. café that debuted last week at the corner of Kapi‘olani Boulevard and Kalākaua Avenue. The iconic site that was once the Hard Rock Café—and before that, Coco’s, and before that, Kau-Kau Korner—has been renovated by Philip White Architects into a showcase where coffee is the entertainment, along with memorable food and eye-popping desserts.
Gone are the ghosts of rockers past. What you see now is a cross between a coffee museum, a sophisticated European bakery, a classy Hawai‘i-hale-style eating and meeting space, and Willy Wonka’s amazing Chocolate Factory—if Willy had done coffee, that is.
The head coffee wonk here is owner Ed Schultz, who bought the original Honolulu Coffee Co. in 2008 from Ray Suiter, and has since grown it into a mini-empire, with 25 locations in Japan and one in Shanghai. “With the acquisition of a 75-acre Kona farm a couple of years ago, we’re now able to give the ‘farm to cup’ experience to the 4.5 million tourists who come through Honolulu annually but can’t make it to Kona,” says Schultz, an exhilarated and animated (but not over-caffeinated) host of the opening.
Here are seven experiences to expect from the place:
1. Whether entering from the street or the sizable parking lot, you pass under archways, enter a vaulted cathedral space and see the huffing and puffing, wonderfully steam-punk cast-iron 1944 Probat coffee roaster. “It’s 100-percent cast iron,” said Schultz. “Just like chefs prefer cast-iron pans for cooking, roasters prefer it for coffee.”
2. The sightlines of the space are inspiring, even cathedral-like, thanks to lead architect Laura Ayers and project designer Laurel Swan, according to Philip “Pip” White, president of Philip White Architects.
3. The German-made Probat is an object of endless fascination. “The advantage to cast iron is uniform heat conduction—you know what the roaster is giving you the entire time,” says head roaster Kyle Evans. But the human factor in roasting is everything. “Everything is based on sight, smell and sound.”
4. A computer chronicles and records the most minute variations to each roast for every variety of bean. As Willy Wonka might say: “That dark-chocolate Brazilian or the smoky-sweet Kona can be duplicated!”
5. The pour is likewise precisely measured and controlled, thanks to director of coffee quality Row Aczon. Aczon took fifth in the 2014 U.S. Latte Art competition and is considered one of the best baristas in the region. “Here I’m using 41 grams of coffee and 672 grams of water, using our Kona Extra Fancy, the largest grade of bean. For this brew I’m giving it 4:22 minutes of pour.” We don’t usually drink coffee at night but made an exception here and were glad we did.
6. It’s far from “just java” at the center: Executive chef Curtis Horka is helming an ambitious menu featuring irresistible desserts and savory, light food options. “We’re looking to hire young, local talent and are committed to helping local farms,” says Horka. “Having a showcase kitchen raises the bar—you have to display a level of skill and professionalism as well as keep the functionality of a top kitchen. There are not a lot of places in Hawai‘i that offer this kind of opportunity.”
7. The center’s displays and exhibits are like getting a full immersion pour-over; you emerge not only well-fed and nicely buzzed, but wise to the history of coffee’s evolution globally and in Hawai‘i. Designer Joe Abad worked with Pass the Projects creative director Dave DeLuca on the displays and signage.
Honolulu Coffee Experience Center, 1800 Kalākaua Ave., honolulucoffee.com