Fall is harvest time, when we get to pluck the bright red “fruits of our labor” from the coffee trees. And because so much goes into each harvest, we thought we'd share the journey of the bean from farm to cup.
High upon the Kona hills, our “Waiono” farm is also a plant nursery where we continually plant and raise seedlings to add to our estate. Currently, we have approximately 130 acres of coffee growing and on each acre, about 1000 trees. We need a constant supply of mature seedlings to increase the farm size and replace any damaged or expired trees. Seedlings remain in the nursery for about 8-12 months before we plant them in the ground. Once planted, a tree takes about two years to bear fruit and about five years to truly establish mature roots.
Peak production comes about three years after the seedling has been planted or pruned. It then plateaus in the fourth year. After the roots have been thoroughly established, trees will be routinely pruned in a cyclical manner to ensure maximum production. Large swaths of trees in select locations are pruned of all but one strong stem which usually prevents them from producing that year. This technique allows the trees to reset and produce new growth and a more bountiful harvest. Our many years on the farm have enabled us maximum rotation allowing us to increase production while simultaneously caring for the needs of the trees.
In Kona, we expect snow in March and April. I am referring to “Kona Snow,” the flowering of the Kona Coffee trees. Throughout this time the coffee hills are saturated with the pleasant, jasmine-like scent of the coffee trees. The small, white flowers consume the branches resembling snow covered trees. Small green cherries develop from the pollinated flowers and grow into ripe red cherries in a few months when it's their time to be harvested.
It is not uncommon to find flowers, green and red cherries on the same branch of a coffee tree, especially early in the season. To ensure quality, all our coffee is hand-picked. Only the ripe red cherries are chosen. The green cherries stay on the trees to continue ripening and will be harvested in one of the many picking rounds.
The average picker on our farm picks from 200 - 300 pounds in an 8-hour day. It takes about 10 pounds of red coffee cherry to produce 1 pound of roasted coffee The hard-working pickers wear a basket strapped to a belt around their waist so they can quickly grab and drop the ripe cherry.
After the coffee is picked the red cherry is brought to the wet mill. Here, the cherries are cleaned, then pulped separating the seeds from the outer skin. A thick mucilage remains on the seeds after pulping. The seeds are then placed in a water bath to ferment for about 15 hours. The fermentation naturally loosens the mucilage which is rinsed off as the final step at the wet mill.
Following the wet mill, the coffee seeds need to be dried. Drying can occur using industrial dryers that can dry up to 9000 pounds at a time or large drying patios. Regardless of method, the goal is to bring the moisture content of the seed/bean to a safe, stable 11.5%. After drying the coffee will have a dry brittle outer shell called parchment. Parchment provides additional protection from the elements and is left on the bean until it is sent out to be roasted.
Dry milling is the actual process of removing the parchment from the coffee. Parchment is about 20% of the total weight of the bean. After the parchment has been removed coffee is sorted by size, density and color before being bagged into burlap sacks to be roasted.
The coffee that arrives at the roaster is referred to as green coffee. The seeds are rock hard and much smaller after they are roasted. The roasting process involves an enclosed, rotating metal drum usually heated by direct gas flame. Coffee is dropped into the hot drum and artfully roasted into the familiar, aromatic beans we all know and love. From here our coffee is packaged fresh and shipped around the world to your doorstep.
FARM TO CUP
It truly is a rare occurrence to find a farm such as ours that is hands on and fully involved in every step of the process. We take great pride and pleasure in being able to produce such an amazing product to share with you. Feel free to ask us any questions you may have about the process or the coffee. We love to share our knowledge just as much as we love sharing our coffee.
CONTRIBUTOR: Mike 'EmJay' Cubbage
I FEEL AT HOME: Living near large bodies of water
WHEN I'M NOT MAKING COFFEE, I LIKE TO: Cook - I lived in Berlin for 8 years doing a culinary apprenticeship
I've been involved in the coffee industry for about 16 years. I've been a barista for many years, then a trainer and consultant. I am big on sharing relevant knowledge that will help coffee lovers have the optimal coffee experience. Working with The Kona Coffee and Tea Company is like a dream come true. I can't say how rewarding it is to work with such a great product from seed to cup. From the very beginning, being part of the team here, I've felt like family and have been treated like family. The spirit of Aloha is strong as is their dedication to community and quality.