Monday, November 29, 2010

Kaua'i Coffee Company

History Lesson
When we went to Kaua'i last week, I wrote about how we went to the Waimea Brewing Comany and sampled their beer.  After a few beers, though, we needed some coffee to sober up.  Fortunately for us, right now the street from the brewery was the largest coffee producer in the United States.  The Kaua'i Coffee Company is also located right off the main road in Kaua'i and is a short distance from the brewery.  The Kauai Coffee Company is does all the work - from growing the beans to packaging them - right there on the premises.  There are over 4 million coffee trees grown on 3,100 acres, which makes the company responsible for HALF of all coffee produced in the U.S.

Who Doesn't Like Free Samples?
This was a really cool place to visit, and I wholeheartedly recommend stopping by if you're ever on Kaua'i.  First of all, when you walk in, there is someone there to greet you with a really friendly attitude.  This person will tell you all about the variety of samples they have on the back deck and will point you in the direction of the walking tour, coffee bar, or ice cream shop.  When you walk in, you're in the middle of the gift shop, but if you walk through that, you end up on a covered patio out back.  There, you will find 3 tables with about 8 different coffee-filled thermoses.  That's right, there are 24 FREE samples of coffee.  They actually encourage you to try all of them.  I don't know about you, but whenever I go to, say, an ice cream store and they offer free samples, I always feel guilty (and a little judged) if I asked for multiple samples.  Not here.  No one is there monitoring anything and they encourage you to try everything, so there is no guilt with trying every sample they have.  The tables are broken down by type of roast.  They have espresso roast, dark roast, and flavored.  I was really impressed.  Everything I tried was really good.  So good, in fact, that I purchased a few bags (more on that below).

Little Museum Inside
As you sip your coffee, there is a running video that you can sit and watch that details the way coffee is produced.  Various plantation workers talk about how coffee beans are grown, pulped, and processed.  You can also get ice cream, but ready for this? NO COFFEE FLAVOR!  They just had basic flavors.  Wtf!?  That doesn't even make sense!  Oh well.  They also have a coffee bar where you can get a big cup of coffee if you don't want to mooch and just try the samples.  There are plenty of tables, benches, and chairs on the patio for you to sit and relax outside.  You can also walk into the coffee fields where they have tables and chairs and umbrellas set up to sit outside if you want.

Once you're finished sipping samples and milling around, take the walking tour.  I never knew how coffee was produced (not that I ever really cared to think about it...).  This tour was really informative, but perfectly short.  They had about 8 or 9 stations set up with brief plaques explaining the different steps in the process of producing coffee beans.

Coffee Fields
After you go through the garden walking tour, you can go into the gift shop and purchase bags of coffee beans if you want.  They have other stuff, too, but I actually thought the coffee was really good.  So I bought a couple bags.  But what if I don't have a coffee grinder?  Well, they will happily grind it for you, for free!  And you'll also get a 10% discount if you have a Kama'aina (resident) Discount.

So how do they produce and process the coffee? Did you really think I wouldn't explain it?


Coffee starts like many other fruits - it grows on a tree as a fragrant and delicate flower blossom. These blossoms eventually develop into the coffee cherry.  The seeds of the cherry (usually two to a cherry) are what become the coffee bean familiar to most of us.

See the Cherries?
On Kauai, the blossoming begins in February or March, and by May, the cherry begins to form.  The fruit ripens around late September, and harvesting begins.  They employ harvesting technology very similar to many wine grape harvesters in regions like California's Napa Valley.  The Kauai Coffee Company’s harvesting period runs from mid-October through early December.  They harvest 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, using 3 shifts.  Due to the size of the estate, and the existence of varying island climates, daily scouting reports are used to select the fields with maximum ripeness.  Twelve mechanical harvesters that were originally designed for blueberries perform the harvesting.  On the tour they tell you that it would take literally every man, woman, and child on Kaua’i to harvest by hand.  I guess that means they don’t have an influx of Mexican immigrants here.

Wet Processing:
After the coffee cherries are harvested, trucks deliver them from the fields to the “wet processing plant.”  At the plant, the cherries are separated into three stages of maturity - ripe, natural and immature coffee.  They put the cherries in water and the overripe float to the top and the under-ripe cherries sink to the bottom. by using inherent differences in density and hardness.

They take the ripe cherries and remove the skin and fleshy part of the fruit until just the seed (i.e. bean) is left.

The leftover beans are then washed to remove the sticky mucous and crap that coats them before the beans are sent to pre-dryers - a fluidized bed of air that is the start of the drying process. After this, the beans are puy in heated drying elevators for 18 to 36 hours.

The coffee rests in parchment for a while, and is then milled to remove more skin.  Throughout the process, the producers still have quality control tests that monitor bean temperatures and preserve each bean's flavor and quality. Sizing screens and density tables further sort out the best beans.

The final sorting step in the dry mill is the color sorter, where an electronic eye scans each bean for color, selecting the finest colored beans and rejecting those that don't pass with a blast of air.

After the beans are sorted, each batch of coffee is then inspected by the State of Hawaii Department of Agriculture, which gives each batch a different graded designation. The DOA inspector officially certifies each batch of coffee by grade quality and origin.  Finally, they roast it and ship it.

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