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America's Coffee

America's Coffee... better than ever, and on the web too!
By Catherine Kitcho

The coffee farmers still grow coffee like they did 170 years ago, but they sell it on the web. America's only coffee-growing state is Hawaii, and on the sunny, dry, Kona side of the Big Island is the famous coffee belt road - home to nearly 600 small coffee plantations. In the spring of the year, the coffee trees have brilliant white blossoms, or Kona "snow". When the coffee fruit is ready to be picked, it turns bright red, and it is called coffee cherry. It takes eight pounds of cherry to produce one pound of roasted coffee. Every year, there are more new coffee farmers in the region but all of them still pick the coffee by hand and dry it in the sun.

Coffee has been part of the culture of Kona over many generations. Families participated in the harvest, which takes place from August through November each year. There is only one growing season. From 1932-1969, school-age children who lived in the coffee district had their "coffee vacation" from August through October instead of their usual summer vacation in order to help out on the farms. Mules were used for many years to haul baskets of coffee that been freshly picked by hand, nicknamed the Kona Nightingales because of their braying.

Each year, the Kona area celebrates the Kona Coffee Cultural festival, which is Hawaii's oldest food festival. The 28th annual festival was held November 1-14, 1998, and included events such as the coffee lei contest, the Kona coffee recipe contest, art shows, parades and multicultural events. One of the biggest events of the festival is the Cupping competition, a blind coffee tasting that is similar to wine tasting. One of the judges at the 1998 festival was aptly nicknamed "the man with the golden tongue", whose taste buds' approval was highly sought after among the 38 coffee growers who entered the contest this year. For each entry, the coffee parchment, milled green coffee beans and roasted beans are displayed on three flat trays. Some of the roasted coffee is ground and placed in a glass. Then, hot water is poured over ground coffee in three separate glasses. The four judges evaluate the appearance of the parchment, milled beans and roasted beans, looking for consistency and evenness of color. They sniff the coffee for aroma, and on the next round, they taste. All in all, there are 60 different characteristics by which the coffee is judged. Very much like wines, coffee varies in flavor and aroma based on slightly different moisture content, elevations, amount of sunshine and fertilization. Growers do their own cupping and tasting before selling or distributing their own coffee. One grower said that she and her husband actually had taken classes in how to accurately taste-test the coffee.

The Kona coffee harvest turned out to be a good one in 1998 in terms of quality, despite threats from El Nino. While California was extra wet, Hawaii suffered a drought. However, the rains started again just in time for the coffee trees to bloom and bear fruit, and the harvest was essentially "saved" that year.

Kona coffee as an industry has experienced up and down cycles, but has grown considerably since the 1980's when the demand for gourmet coffee began. Because the average size of a coffee plantation is less than seven acres, Kona coffee growers have little trouble selling out their entire harvest each year, and rarely do they need to do any marketing or advertising. They sell direct to customers at retail outlets or through their websites, and some growers also sell wholesale. Only the coffee that is grown in the Kona region can be labeled as "100% Kona coffee". Coffees blended with other beans cannot be labeled as 100% Kona. This standard is strictly enforced by the State of Hawaii, the Department of Agriculture, and industry regulations.

You don't have to travel to Kona to buy 100% Kona coffee; anyone can buy it on the web. The websites that are actively selling coffee are listed below. However, be sure to order it between December and April, because many growers sell out quickly. If you are on the Big Island, stop in and visit the coffee farms - you'll be in for a treat!

Bad Ass Coffee Company:
**BrocksenGate Estate:
*Coast Kona Coffee:
*Ferrari Hawaiian Mountain Gold Kona:
*Greenwell Farms:
Hawaiian Isles Kona Coffee:
Jesse Colin Young Coffee:
Kona Café:
Kona Joe Dot Com:
*Dragon's Lair Farm:
*McClure Farms:

** = 1998 Grand Prize winner, Cupping Competition
* = previous or other prize winners, Cupping Competition

The other big event during the festival is the Kona coffee recipe contest, which is open to the public. After the professional judges select the winners, the public is allowed to taste the entries. In 1998, the recipe contest had 10 professional entries and 16 amateur entries in three main categories: desserts, entrees and beverages. Each entry must contain at least one-half cup of 100% Kona coffee.

According to Casey Nonaka, the coordinator for the professional division, "Coffee is somewhat difficult to cook with due to its bitterness. You need other flavors, such as sweetness or spiciness to balance out the bitterness. That's why flavor is such an important judging criterion during the recipe contest. You can read the recipe and look at the beautifully displayed entry, but it may not taste that great."

The entries were a spectacular sight, and the amateur division displays were as impressive as those from the professional division. Most displays incorporated parts of the coffee tree, including the red coffee cherry, the branches and the leaves. Coffee ware, (mugs, pots, cups) along with serving dishes with coffee bean or coffee cup designs were also plentiful. Coffee bean or ground coffee decorations were used on many of the cakes and cookies.

And the best of show winner for 1998 was….a decadent dessert in the professional division: Kona Coffee Mousse with Carmel Macadamia Nuts. First place in the entrees for the amateur division was Pupule Kona Bean Soup, which was served in a pumpkin. It was delicious! And the second place winning entry in the amateur-dessert division, Biscotti di Kona, was also tasty. (PHOTOS OF ALL 3) These recipes are included, along with one of the winners from 1985, Hawaiian Kona Coffee Baklava. Other Kona coffee recipes can be found in the Kona Coffee Cookbook, which is ˠ15.00 and can be ordered from their website:

Kona Coffee Mousse with Caramel Macadamia Nuts (Lynette Aoki, Four Seasons Hualalai)

Crust: 2 c. Oreo cookie crumbs, ¼ cup melted butter. Combine melted butter and crumbs; press into mold.

Caramel sauce: 1 c. heavy cream, 1 ¾ c. sugar, 5 T. cold butter cut into pieces, 1 t. vanilla extract, 1/8 t. salt, 1 T. Kahlua, 2 c. diced and roasted macadamia nuts.
Scald cream. Combine sugar with ½ c. water in 3 qt. saucepan. Stir to moisten sugar. Cook syrup until it begins to turn amber in color. Turn off heat and add cream in a steady stream. Stir in butter until melted, then add vanilla, salt and Kahlua. Add roasted macadamia nuts to sauce, pour mixture over cookie crust and chill.

½ Mousse: 9 oz. Milk chocolate, ½ c. strong Kona coffee, 1 ½ c. heavy cream, 1 envelope gelatin. Melt chocolate with coffee, let cool. Add gelatin to cream and whip until soft peaks form. Fold whipped cream into chocolate carefully. Pour over caramel macadamia nut layer.

Kona coffee glaze: 1 ½ t. instant Kona coffee, 1/3 c. sugar, 1 t. cocoa powder, 12 oz. milk, 1 ½ t. cornstarch, 1 egg. In saucepan add coffee, sugar, cocoa and 8 oz. milk. Mix in a small bowl the cornstarch, 4 oz. milk, and egg. Cook coffee mixture until it comes to a boil, then add cornstarch mixture and bring to a boil again. Cool, then pour over top of mousse and chill.

Can top this with a coffee anglaise: 1 c. milk, 2 yolks, ¼ c. sugar, 1 ½t. vanilla, 1 ½ t. instant Kona coffee. Place a fine strainer over a medium bowl that has been placed in a larger bowl of ice water. In medium saucepan, scald milk. In a bowl, whisk yolks, gradually adding sugar until mixture is pale and thick. Pour milk gradually into yolk mixture, whisking constantly until all milk is added. Return to saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon; it will thicken as it cools. Remove from heat. When mixture coats a spoon, pour immediately through strainer into bowl that's in ice water. Allow to cool, then stir in vanilla and dissolved coffee.

Pupule Kona Bean Soup (Renee Lowry)

1 package 16-bean variety soup mix
3 cans vegetable broth
1 cup 100% Kona coffee
1 Maui onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 t. lemon pepper
½ T. seasoned salt
1 ½ t. thyme
½ t. sage

Wash beans. Soak, covered with water, overnight. Remove any beans that float, then drain. Add remaining ingredients to a large soup pot with beans and cook on low heat until beans are tender, about 2 ½ hours.

Biscotti di Kona (Kim Johnson and Marcia Moore)

4 c. flour
2 ½ c. sugar
½ c. ground Kona coffee, consistency of powdered sugar
4 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 t. baking powder
½ t. salt
1 t. vanilla
2 T. Kahlua
3 c. macadamia nuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Pour the flour in a mound in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and place the sugar, coffee, 3 of the eggs and the egg yolks, baking powder, salt, vanilla and Kahlua into the well. Gradually work the flour into the ingredients in the well and mix with hands until smooth. Knead in the macadamia nuts thoroughly and keep kneading, sprinkling with additional flour if necessary.

Prepare two baking sheets by lining with parchment. Divide dough into quarters. Roll each piece of dough on a floured surface into a 2 ½ to 3 inch wide log and place the logs at least 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Beat the remaining egg and brush it over the tops of the dough logs.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 35 minutes. Remove from oven and reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. When logs are cool enough to handle, cut logs with a sharp knife into ½ inch slices and lay them cut side up on the sheets. Return to oven another 30 minutes.

Hawaiian Kona Coffee Baklava (Casey Nonaka)

1 box Athens Fillo dough
1 c. finely diced macadamia nuts
½ c. sugar
1 c. melted butter

Thaw out dough 8 hours in refrigerator followed by 2 hours at room temperature. Unfold dough and cut in half. Put half of dough on baking sheet. Spread macadamia nuts and sugar evenly over top of dough. Pour ½ cup of butter over dough. Cover with remaining dough, cut in 3 to 4 inch squares, and pour remaining butter over top, brushing with pastry brush to cover all of the dough. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 35 to 45 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and while still warm pour glaze over the top:
½c. sugar, ¼ c. strong Kona coffee
Boil for 5 minutes until thick.

Serve in cupcake papers. Makes about 25 pieces.

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