Friday, 2. December 2011 5:25
KONA, HAWAII — When you think of the Kona district on the Big Island, it’s hard not to think of coffee immediately.
The first coffee was planted in Kona around 1828 by missionary Samuel Ruggles, where it thrived because of the mineral-rich volcanic soil.
It is now Kona’s most famous crop and probably its most expensive. You’ll find top-grade Kona coffee selling for upwards of $38 a pound. Don’t be fooled by the so-called “Kona Blends.” Yes, they’re cheaper — but for a reason. The blends are required to contain only 10 percent Kona coffee. The rest can be made up of much cheaper coffee from elsewhere around the world.
Kona coffee may get even more expensive in the future, as farmers have had to do battle with a pesky, virulent beetle that has been attacking the berries for the past couple of years. Moreover, just like farming elsewhere, it remains a hard profession that younger generations are turning their backs on.
Tom Greenwell is a fourth-generation grower. His great-grandfather, British adventurer, Henry Nicholas Greenwell, was one of the first exporters of Kona coffee in the late 1800s. Today, Tom Greenwell carries on the family tradition, overseeing Greenwell Farms, where the planting and picking are still done by hand on 35 lush acres.
Recently, I had a chance to tour the farm with Tom Greenwell during my trip to Hawaii, courtesy of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau.
Before you even stick your head into the roasting building, the sweet aroma of roasty-toasty beans hits you. It’s like coffee syrup aromatherapy.
Greenwell Farms grows about 280,000 pounds of coffee annually. Small white flowers begin to bloom on the coffee trees in by February, followed by green berries in April. From August through February, the red fruit, known as a “cherry” (because it looks similar to one) has ripened and is ready for picking.
The fruit is separated from the seed or bean with a machine known as a pulper. The beans are fermented overnight, then rinsed before being spread out on a rooftop to dry for at least 30 days. After that, the beans go into the roaster for about 15 minutes.
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