Monday, October 28, 2013

Artisan Kona Coffee

A rainbow of coffee beans
At least a thousand chickens come running as I pull into the gravel drive of Mele Maluhia Farm, where Kona Rising Coffee is grown, harvested, and roasted. From tree to table, Maria DaSilva and Shawna Gunnarson are the artisans behind a truly special product.

It's 5:00pm, about an hour away from sunset and time for the animals to get fed. Not only do they grow coffee, but the farm may as well be considered an animal sanctuary housing sheep, goats, pigs, geese, and turkeys, most of them rescued from dire straits. Shawna shows me around the farm, feed buckets in hand, tailed by geese and sheep. The 4,000 coffee trees on site are all organically grown, and because Kona coffee trees are indeterminate, meaning the beans do not ripen all at the same time, mechanically harvesting beans is out of the question. Every bean is picked by hand. In a typical year, that amounts to about 3,000 pounds.

Shawna leading the way through the coffee trees

The mother-daughter team then take that harvest and "pulp" the beans, that is removing the outer red skin, ferment them, dry them, hull them and roast them. Phew! I surely minimized the steps involved here, so you should know that tree to table coffee making is laborious, especially when producing a gourmet product like Kona Rising does. Maria and Shawna estimate they spend about 20 to 30 minutes creating their coffee per pound. Did I mention their yield is about 3,000 pounds? You do the math.

And it's more than just the time spent on producing the coffee, but the attention to detail that goes into each step that impressed me most. Kona Rising does not roast their beans until ordered, ensuring the customer receives their order at it's peak of freshness and tastiness. As Shawna described the roasting process, she began picking over the green, un-roasted beans in her hand, tossing out any bad ones and explaining that each pound that's roasted gets the same special treatment. Find out more about their specialty roasts here.

Coffee ready to be roasted

Passionate coffee drinkers themselves, Shawna introduced me to the world of coffee cupping. In their tiny roasting kitchen, she heated water to exactly 195 degrees then measured out exactly nine grams of three different roasts, freshly ground, into each cup. The cups must also be a standard size and color and after previewing each roast by smell, added exactly four ounces of water to each cup. We waited about, no exactly, three minutes before using a special cupping spoon to remove the floating grounds and then sampled each coffee by slurping it as loud as possible. This allows the coffee to hit all your taste buds, plus it's pretty fun. Cupping in this way is done when coffee is being judged for quailty. Judging is typically based on fragrance, aroma, flavor, acidity, body, uniformity, and balance. Like wine, coffee tasting is complex. Get a first hand glimpse of competitive coffee by attending the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival cupping competition on November 6th and 7th.

Over wine and cheese over looking a calming koi pond, Maria and Shawna describe the work they've done on the farm since taking it over in 2006. Most of the 4.5 acre property was overgrown at that time and needed to be cleared of invasive trees and shrubs to make way for more coffee trees and a slew of native trees and plants they've added since then. The farm had been using conventional practices for over 50 years, meaning it took some time to convert the land to the organic methods they use now.

While I would have liked to spread out my sleeping bag under the stars right next to the fire pit and stay awhile on this peaceful farm, it was time for a shot of espresso for the drive home. Not only do these farmers drink coffee all the time, I think it must run through their veins.

Going to cupping school

*Kona Rising Coffee Company is sponsoring me in the upcoming Kona coffee recipe contest on November 3rd. 


  1. Wonderful article and great details, Gwen! Sending all sorts of good wishes on the upcoming Kona recipe contest next Sunday!

    1. Mahalo Sonia, I hope the lilikoi festival goes well, wish I could come!

  2. I love coffee and am always on the look out for great beans. Would love to see the whole process first hand -- from picking to roasting, very cool. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Gourmet coffee is really a fine art. And Kona Rising has the BEST roasts around:)


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