If you were asked to name a commodity of Hawaii, you might likely
respond with pineapple, or maybe even cane sugar. However, with few
exceptions, pineapples and sugar cane have not been widely grown commercially
on the islands for years. There is one item, however, that is not only growing, but
thriving on the Hawaiian islands—coffee.
Hawaiian coffees are nothing new. In fact, Kona coffee has enjoyed such
storied success that it is synonymous with “Hawaiian coffee.” Unfortunately,
this generalization leads many to conclude that Kona coffee represents all that
Hawaii has to offer. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, virtually every
island has its own collection of coffee purveyors whose products express their own
character. As consumers begin to discover these lesser-known Hawaiian coffees,
they will be greeted by producers eager to introduce them to new products.
One Hawaiian coffee grower that invites everyone to try its coffee is Kauai
Coffee Company. Found in the southwest portion of the island of Kauai, the
Company has been growing coffee for over twenty years. While not yet
recognized by many mainland coffee drinkers, there are an increasing
number of Kauai Coffee fans who enjoy the distinctive flavors found in
So what makes the coffee so unique? For starters, Kauai Coffee uses 100%
Kauai beans. This means that with each cup of coffee, you are tasting flavors
grown entirely on the island. More precisely, this 100% approach also allows
you to taste the natural flavors derived from the plantation’s bean
varieties—those being, Yellow Catuai, Red Catuai, Typica, Mundo Novo, and
Kauai Blue Mountain. Each bean adds its own character to the company’s
products, helping to create Kauai Coffee’s singular taste. Further, this practice
bucks a common trend among a number of Kona producers who blend a mere 10%
or less Kona beans with other non-Hawaiian beans. While this blending practice
is often necessary to keep prices affordable for consumers, there is something to
be said for tasting coffees made purely from Hawaiian beans.
Each year, Kauai Coffee is able to produce a broad assortment of products from its harvest.
Styles of coffee include medium roasts, dark roasts, premium coffees, flavored coffees and even
a few decaffeinated styles. Some years, the company is even able to produce limited quantities
of ultra premium coffees. Take, for instance, the flavorful Kauai Blue Mountain Peaberry coffee.
This coffee is only available when the plantation’s Kauai Blue Mountain plants yield enough
peaberries to be roasted and bagged on their own—a peaberry being a coffee berry that grows a single
bean instead of the normal two bean halves. This coffee, and other harvest dependent coffees
like it, demonstrate Kauai Coffee’s intimate connection with its crops and its ability to produce complex
and interesting flavors for its customers. In fact, by producing well over a dozen roasts each year,
consumers’ palates will always find a Kauai coffee to enjoy.
During a recent visit to Hawaii, I met with Darla Dominguez, Kauai Coffee’s retail manager,
who shed some light on the islands’ coffee industry, and what makes Kauai Coffee’s products
so special. She explained that competition among Hawaii’s coffee companies is neither heated
nor antagonistic; each producer simply does its own thing. Without having to worry about marketing
campaigns and gimmicks, Kauai Coffee is left free to pursue the business of refining its brews.
This, in turn, has indeed resulted in the company developing a signature character that is attracting
an increasing number of fans.
Not surprisingly, Kauai Coffee’s products have also attracted a respectable business following.
In fact, Darla shared that the Company is now a supplier to Costco, Marriott, local hotels and
retailers, and an assortment of area restaurants and cafes. Further, there are a healthy number
of third party roasters who purchase beans from the plantation to utilize in their own proprietary
blends. Having the largest coffee plantation in Hawaii, however, allows Kauai Coffee to meet
its own needs, as well as the demands of both individuals and businesses alike.
Beyond flavor, Kauai Coffee also takes pride in the treatment of its land and resources. For instance,
Darla pointed out that the Company maintains some 2,500 miles of specialized pipes for drip irrigation.
This system efficiently delivers water directly to the plants and reduces water loss. Further,
Kauai Coffee recycles the nutrient rich water used during its wet bean processing back to its plants.
And instead of unsustainably draining water from island residents, Kauai Coffee maintains its own
reservoir to help meet its needs.
The responsible management of resources also extends to its workers. Due in part to Hawaii’s
own labor standards, Kauai Coffee’s job conditions and wages meet or exceed the standards
demanded by recognized fair trade organizations. Yet, partly because its coffee is a domestic product,
Kauai Coffee is not technically eligible for the ever popular fair trade certifications. Nonetheless, Kauai
agricultural workers remain some of the highest paid agricultural workers in the nation and
consumers should feel confident that by purchasing Kauai Coffee’s products, they are
supporting a company that deals fairly with its laborers—an ongoing concern within the industry.
The company’s exclusive use of Kauai beans, the friendly coexistence with competitors, and the
company’s conscientious management of its resources, all combine to give each bag of Kauai Coffee
its pleasing, distinctive character. And while each product is flavorful, a few of them deserve special
attention. Darla’s personal recommendation for customers is the Koloa Estate roast, which has hints
of fruit and nice chocolate tones. But the biggest sellers are the Kauai Blue Mountain varieties for regular
coffee, and the Coconut Caramel Crunch for flavored. And never underestimate the complexity of any
Estate Reserve or peaberry styles of coffee that you may discover. These are just a few of the coffees
available, but there are plenty more to please any palate. Darla Dominguez’s desire for Kauai Coffee
is “to have as many people know about us as possible, but stay true to the coffee.” From the taste of things,
that will not be a problem.
Now that you are familiar with Kauai Coffee Company, the only thing left to do to fully appreciate all that it has
to offer is to arrange a visit to the plantation. Not only will a personal visit give you access to a number of
flavorful, reserve coffees that are not available through online ordering, but you will also come to intimately
understand the products. By walking among the plants sprouting from the iron rich red earth, you will begin
to sense the source of some of the coffees’ complexity. By interacting with the expert staff, such as
coffee-host extraordinaire Susan Gray, your palate will be ready to sample the coffees and examine them as if they
were fine wines. And while you sip your coffee on the ocean-view patio, taking in the sea of dark green fields as
clouds pass you by, you will realize that this coffee is more than a comforting beverage; it is a true Hawaiian experience.
For more information on Kauai Coffee Company, visit: http://www.kauaicoffee.com. Not all coffees are available
for purchase online, so definitely find out more about the popular Coffee Club program, or simply visit the plantation
personally on Kauai. The visitor center is located on highway 540 in Eleele, roughly between the towns of
Kalaheo and Hanapepe. Coffee sampling is free and held on the shaded patio overlooking the plantation
and the Pacific. Look for a coffee host on the patio to answer any questions you may have, as well as guide
you to a coffee that might fit your tastes. Enjoy, and Aloha!
Additionally here's a neat little video their team created showing their ground and visitor center!