ChadLou’s Coffee Tasting in Kailua Is Fun for a Nerd or Novice
Yes, you’ll be buzzing—but you get to taste locally grown coffees side by side with blends from around the world.
I often duck into the narrow shopfront of ChadLou’s Coffee Roasters and order a latte. Made using their Boat Ramp Espresso Blend (60% Brazilan, 20% Guatemala, 20% Nicaragua), it’s always a special treat. Other times I stop in to pick up a bag of beans for a friend, whatever the barista suggests. One day I noticed a QR code taped to the double doors that lead to the tasting room. It turns out ChadLou’s began holding coffee tastings early this year. I reserved a spot for the following week for $25.
I show up at 11 a.m. I haven’t yet eaten, so I buy a Tucker & Bevvy egg salad and ham sandwich from the fridge inside ChadLou’s and swing open the tall wooden doors to the tasting room. A little Willy Wonka vibe washes over me and I’m excited. After all, a coffee tasting is as much a test of how astute your palate is as it is of how well you can keep your cool through back-to-back inhalings of freshly steeped brew.
Self-proclaimed coffee geek Tyler Stickney is leading my tasting today. He starts with the history of ChadLou’s. Opened in 2010 by Sheila and Matt Rosete, it’s named after two of the couple’s grandfathers, both entrepreneurs. ChadLou’s previous location (where Cafe Kopi is now) had a kitchen and served food. In its current location, still my favorite place for coffee in Kailua, ChadLou’s roasts single-origin beans and blends from all over the coffee belt and sells their roasted coffee to other local businesses like Sage Creamery and Grok Coffee. You can find coffee from Indonesia, Perú and Nicaragua to Ka‘u, Maui and even Maunawili, where ChadLou’s grows and harvests their single-origin bean. They also work with local distillery Kō Hana Rum to produce various barrel-aged coffees. Stickney also gives me a brief but detailed history of coffee—including its journey around the world before arriving in Hawai‘i.
Then, three coffees at a time, Stickney grinds the beans and slowly pours water over the grounds. I’m fascinated by how some of the coffees’ aromas evolve as the beans are pulverized. There’s a flavor wheel of tastes from leather to blackcurrant and everything in between. Smaller scales at the bottom help you articulate mouthfeel and acidity. While tasters are not given a menu of what’s being featured (in case that influences your impressions), you do get a list of coffees available for sale, and half the fun is seeing if you can guess what you’re tasting.
Stickney lets the coffee steep, removes the grounds with two soup spoons and ladles some of the brew into a shot glass. The more aeration, the better, he says, so slurp like I mean it. I take a moment to sniff the steam coiling up from my glass before slurping up the coffee. The first one is from Costa Rica; it has a syrupy mouthfeel with a juicy finish. Sugarcane comes through and as the coffee cools, I get a hint of lime pith. What turns out to be my favorite coffee comes up next. With a deeper taste than what you might expect from a medium roast, Blue Komodo Dragon from Flores, Indonesia is rich with layers of nuanced earthiness that range from cocoa to pine to raisin. Its moderate acidity lingers nicely on my tongue.
The next coffee is a blend of 75% Costa Rica Tarrazú and 25% Kō Hana Rum Barrel-Aged Ka‘anapali Yellow Caturra. This one is big and boozy with a medium body and a formidable trace of dried apricot and cherry. Then we taste three local coffees. In the grand scheme of the coffee universe, Stickney points out, Hawai‘i is still a younger coffee-growing area and it’s harder to find local coffees that smell as good in bean form as they taste as coffee.
With me asking a ton of questions and eager to discuss my interpretations of the coffees’ characters, the tasting lasts an hour and a half if you’re not in a rush, a great opportunity to dork out over coffee and even re-taste the selections once they’ve cooled. I pick up a bag of the Blue Komodo to give as a gift so that I can leave a tip—something to remember since when you book the tasting online, you confirm it by paying in advance.
For coffee lovers, a tasting at ChadLou’s Coffee Roasters is a recommend. Actually, this heady, intimate experience is a recommend for anyone who’s coffee curious or a flavor fanatic who enjoys geeking out with like minds.