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First Harvest 2019

First Harvest 2019

The end of summer brings the harvest season for Kona coffee. Throughout the year, we’ve watched the delicate white coffee flowers turn into little green orbs. As summer progresses, the coffee cherry plumps and ripens to a bright red. Annually, we invite the public to come to the farm and help us pick the first coffee of the season. It gives our community of Kona coffee lovers a chance to see where their coffee comes from and learn more about our process. This year’s First Harvest was on Saturday September 14th, 2019. The following account is by Malia Bolton, our Director of Operations.

Only the brightest red coffee cherry are picked, leaving the fruit to ripen until another round of picking. PHOTO: Chance Ortiz

As I got up with the sun peeking over Hualalai, I realized that First Harvest would be my first Kona Coffee & Tea event since having a baby girl a few months ago. My husband and I went through our morning newborn routine and I tried to clear a mental checklist for the day. Luckily our Events Manager, Cherie, and Farm Manager, Arturo, had most of it covered.

As we drove up the winding gravel road to the farm in Holualoa, I wondered who we’d get to share the farm with this year. Each year, the group that shows up to First Harvest is as diverse as the colors of coffee cherry on the trees. It’s usually a great mix of young and old, kama`aina locals and visitors. This year was no different.

This is the first year we will be entering the coffee picked at First Harvest in a competition to be judged. PHOTO: Chance Ortiz

As the already high sun burned off the morning dew in the coffee fields, our harvesters began to arrive. They hailed from Seattle, Virginia, and one couple from Calgary, who just spent three days scuba diving. Another pair had just completed a course on coffee with the Pacific Coffee Research specialty coffee lab. We also had a kama`aina who came last year, and who brought a friend along this year. As we gathered around the morning coffee and donuts, exchanging introductions, clear skies framed the peak of Hualalai above us and the Pacific expanded to the horizon, about 2,000 feet below us.

From left to right)Cherie, Malia holding Baby Lilia, Leighton, Bernadette, Chris, Steven, Sidney, Matt, Sofia, Jan, Norma, and Arturo. PHOTO: Chance Ortiz

I started the morning with an introduction of the land we stood on. The farm was a part of Waiono cattle ranch until my family started planting coffee in 1998. We began with 20 acres of the Arabica Typica variety. Today, we have more than 100 acres of coffee, which has won numerous awards, and is enjoyed by coffee connoisseurs around the world. I explained that—with their help—we hoped to enter the coffee that we picked today into the 2019 Kona Coffee Cultural Festival Crown Cupping competition.

We had never entered the coffee picked at First Harvest to be judged before, so we stressed the importance of picking only the brightest red cherry, with no green or leaves in the basket. The green, yellow, or orange cherry will be left on the plant to ripen and be picked later in the season. Pickers will visit the same tree six to eight times in a picking season to allow for optimum sugar content and flavor in the coffee cherry.

We handed out the baskets and everyone got to picking. After an hour or so of wandering the fields, we reconvened for the weigh-in and inspection. The total pounds picked this year was 123. Arturo, our Farm Manger, remarked that "The quality of beans were the best I've seen for our first harvest event." 

The coffee picked will be entered in the 2019 Kona Coffee Cultural Festival Crown Cupping competition. PHOTO: Chance Ortiz


  • By weight:

1st: Sidney - 14lbs

2nd: Chris - 11lbs

3rd: tie between Norma and Sofia - 10lbs


  • By Quality (inspected by Arturo):

1st: Bernadette

2nd: Sofia

3rd: Matt


The journey from farm to cup for our precious coffee begins with a ride down the hill to our mill. First, the coffee cherry travels through our wet mill process to remove the cherry pulp that surrounds the outer layer of a coffee bean. Then the cherry ferments in a water bath. After eight hours, they are air-dried for about two days until the perfect moisture content is achieved. From there, they “rest” for one to three months. Then it’s on to the dry mill, where they are hulled (the dry skin around the bean is removed) and cleaned. Cleaning includes sizing the beans by size and weight, so that all beans are evenly roasted. We then have green coffee that is ready to be roasted.

The evening they were picked the pulping process began at the wet mill. Pulping takes off the cherry pulp that surrounds the outer layer of a coffee bean. PHOTO: Chance Ortiz

In November, we will submit the green coffee picked at First Harvest to Pacific Coffee Research, who will roast all competitors’ coffee for the 2019 Kona Coffee Cultural Festival Crown Cupping competition.The coffee will be roasted specifically for a cupping sample, which is much lighter than your typical morning cup. This allows the true flavors of the fruit to be detected by Q-graders, who’s specific training and refined palates taste all of the nuances of flavor.

All photos above were taken by Chance Ortiz.

We thank everyone who came out to First Harvest this year! Along with getting to share the fruits of our labor, it’s a great reminder of all of the hands and hearts that go into making a cup of 100% Kona coffee. We are so blessed to do what we do!

You’re invited to join our First Harvest next year!
This event always takes place in late summer. Subscribe to our email list to stay informed about upcoming events at the farm and café.

Malia in green coffee.jpg


HOW I LIKE MY COFFEE: 100% Kona Americano
FAVORITE SPORT:  Ironically, it’s snowboarding, because I have to travel out of Hawaii, unless I get over my altitude sickness and go to Mauna Kea. My favorite slopes are Tahoe and Whistler.

I was born and raised here in Kona. I guess you could say that the coffee trees and I grew up together on my family’s Waiono Meadows farm. While in High School, I helped plant our first coffee (with a fair bit of complaining). I came home from college during summers to work as a barista at our first café. For the over a decade now, I’ve managed our Farm to Cup operation here in Kona. I feel honored to play a role in cultivating a community around Kona coffee and hope you can taste the Aloha in every sip.



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