Did this: The Ka’u Coffee Festival

Breakfast of champions in Ka'u: Rusty's Hawaiian coffee and a box of Punalu'u malasadas.

Breakfast of champions in Ka’u: Rusty’s Hawaiian coffee and a box of Punalu’u malasadas.

Although it’s been around for six years, this past weekend was my first time at the Ka’u Coffee Festival on the Big Island. They had hired my company to do the social media, and I’m glad I got to share this event with the world — for many reasons.

If you’ve never been to the Big Island, it’s … well, big. The area of Ka’u alone is as big as the entire island of Oahu. If you land in Kona, it’s a 2.5 hour drive; if you land in Hilo, it’s just 1.5 hours. Ka’u, which is the southernmost district in the state, was once the home of the largest sugar operation in the world. It all closed down in 1996, and people of the area had to turn to an alternative crop: coffee.

Everyone knows the gourmet Kona coffee, which has been around for more than 100 years with more than 300 farms on the island. Ka’u coffee, which grows under (almost) similar conditions, has been dubbed “Kona’s younger, hotter sister,” and as a newer area industry, only has about 45 farms. Don’t get me wrong, I love Kona coffee and it is still one of the best to drink. But all the coffee geeks I know drink a lot of Ka’u coffee, and they all showed up to this festival. Comparing Kona and Ka’u is like comparing Napa and Sonoma.

Some of Honolulu's best coffee geeks in Ka'u last weekend: Patrick Ouye, James McGillan Overman, and Juli Burden.

Some of Honolulu’s best coffee geeks in Ka’u last weekend: Patrick Ouye, James McGillan Overman, and Juli Burden.

The Ka’u Coffee Festival is held in Pahala and spans 10 days, with a Miss Ka’u Coffee pageant, coffee recipe contest, tours of the area, and more, culminating in a big ho’olaulea in the town’s community center. Keep in mind, this is a small, rural town. You won’t get a lot of flashy activities like other festivals, but you will drink a lot of amazing coffee, meet some great people, and learn more about the area and the crop than you ever thought.

Did I mention you get to drink a lot of coffee?

I got mine served in almost every way possible except in a French press, auto-drip, or instant. I’m not a coffee geek, but I could taste the difference. They have some sugar and cream available, but not as much as other coffee spots, because the fanatics believe — with good reason — that if the coffee is good, no enhancements are needed.

I started the weekend with a tour of Aikane Plantation and Coffee Company, got to watch them brand their cattle, and had a home-cooked buffet lunch.

Coffee & Cattle at Aikane Plantation

Picture 1 of 31

Merle and Phil Becker took us on a tour of their Aikane Plantation and Coffee Company, which not only grows coffee, but cattle. In 1894 “Papa” J. C. Searle planted his first crop of coffee on his plantation in Ka’u. His coffee became very popular, but he couldn’t compete with the sugar plantations for workers. More than 100 years later, his great-granddaughter, Merle, is fulfilling his dream on Aikane Plantation Coffee Company.

Small gallery: Since the Big Island is known for its view of the stars, they had a little stargazing event that night. There’s not a lot to show since everything takes place in the dark.

Stargazing at the Kau Coffee Festival

Picture 1 of 4

The guides drive you to the top of Makanau to see the stars. They set up a tent with special light that doesn’t interfere with the starlight, and serve refreshments.

Here are some scenes from the big ho’olaulea. If you aren’t able to stay for the whole 10 days, at least come for this.

Kau Coffee Festival Hoolaulea

Picture 1 of 45

When you turn in to Pahala town, the community center is right there — you can’t miss it. There’s an ebb and flow of people throughout the day and lots of free parking.

The weekend ended with a free workshop called “Ka’u Coffee College,” with most of the attendees being farmers and the baristas. I’m just a recreational drinker, but even I was enthralled by the speakers and their passion for coffee, especially what comes out of Ka’u. I learned a lot about the social and environmental conditions around the world, which gave me better insight on why Hawaii’s coffee is so much more superior.

I’m not telling you about this event or Ka’u coffee because I did their social media or because I live in Hawaii (I was not even obligated to do a blog on them). After a weekend of meeting farmers, roasters, scientists, coffee geeks and simple recreational drinkers like me, I left Ka’u rejuvenated and excited. And that wasn’t from the caffeine.

If you haven’t tried a (good) cup of Hawaii’s coffee, get one (better if you get one from a true coffee geek) and comment back here to let me know if you could taste a difference or not. Chances are, you won’t be able to drink stuff from anywhere else again.

Here’s the video of one coffee, five ways: