Monday, April 24, 2006

Green Certification Muckup Looming

The Big Processors are up to their tricks again.

They are pushing Hawaii Dept of Ag to require mandatory certification of ALL green Kona coffee prior to roasting.

Reread that sentence. If you are a small farmer, you are going to have to go through a cumbersome and expensive procedure to roast and sell your coffee direct-to-consumer.

This is being driven by the Hawaii Coffee Association and the KCC. They both have business incentives for pushing the small farmers out of the market.

We have been in discussions with members of the coffee industry on requiring mandatory certification of all green coffee. This is mainly due to the allegations that coffee lower than Prime Kona grade is being roasted and sold as 100% Kona, which is in violation of the roasted coffee requirements. Discussions are still in the infancy stages. We have not yet agreed to mandate certification of all green coffee yet. A meeting is scheduled with various representatives of the Kona coffee industry for Thursday, April 27, 2006 at 9:30 am at Capt. Cook Coffee. If you are interested in attending, please contact Roger Kaiwi-Machon.

Thanks You,
Jeri Kahana, Acting Administrator
Quality Assurance Division

Where's the evidence for these allegations of low-quality coffee being sold as Kona? Interesting that the businesses alleging such things are blending 90% foreign coffees with Kona and calling it "quality coffee".

PLEASE attend the meeting at Captain Cook Coffee if you can. If you call Roger, he might tell you that there is no room. Go anyway. There has to be room for all of us in this industry if we want to survive. Dept of Ag needs to hear the farmer's voice.

Monday, April 17, 2006

How to decaf your own coffee

Melanie, my hanai sister, and I were having coffee this morning on her farm. She's just back from the SCAA conference in Charlotte and had gossip and exotic coffees to share (cupping notes tomorrow!)

The subject of decaf came up at the table because one of her apprentice workers can't tolerate caffeine. And as we all know, it is really hard to get a good decaf coffee. The decaf process removes oils and flavors as well as the caffeine, leaving a blah cup behind.

But what's a farmgirl to do, late on a cold Hawaiian night? Drink tea? I think not. So, this is what Melanie's naturopath told her to do...

Using a press pot, pour just enough hot water to cover the grounds. Let sit briefly. Press the grounds and pour off the water. As caffeine is highly soluble in water, this first expressing should pull off most of it. Then add more water to the pot, and express as usual. Voila! A decaffeinated coffee.

The best part is you can use the coffee of your choice. Me, I'll stick with the 100% Kona.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Tail Wagging the Dog

I've spoken often about the changing nature of farm life here in Kona. The internet has allowed us small farmers to make a living by reaching out directly to our customers. This is a far cry from 10 years ago when we had little choice but to sell to the Big Blenders.

Unfortunately, the Big Blenders still have the ear of our governing bodies. We're trying to change this, one ear at a time. Our voice is a voice for protection of 100% Kona coffee and for the land that it is grown on.

A fellow farmer, Howard Conant, gave me permission to reprint his excellent letter to Lt. Governor Duke Aiona. Thanks Howard! We need every voice we have.....

Aloha Lt. Governor Aiona,

Thank you for coming to Kona to hear the concerns of coffee farmers like myself. My wife and I have seven acres of organic coffee that we tend full time. We are fully integrated vertically and sell all of our coffee as roasted. I attended the meeting and signed up to speak but time did not permit.

Like most coffee farmers, I supported the Kona Coffee blend/ Truth in Labeling legislation that was in Committee (HB1974 and 2163) in a modified form. And I submitted written testimony.

But the issue I wanted to speak about at Kona Joe's Coffee was the make up and nature of the Kona Coffee industry, and the voice we seem to lack in the Legislature.

There are between 600 and 700 coffee farmers like myself in Kona. I firmly believe that we ARE the Kona Coffee industry along with our local processors. Our largest customers are Hawaii Coffee Co. and Hawaiian Isle Coffee Co. Those two companies are 90% in the international coffee business and do not represent the Kona coffee industry. They are merely our customers.

Those two companies are in Honolulu, have daily access to the capitol, and are able to bend the ear of every legislator. In short they have a big lobbying voice, while we 650 farmers have a small one that is hardly heard.

I think it is wrong for our customers to represent themselves as the Kona coffee industry, and wrong for the executive and legislative branches of Hawaii State government to consider 10% Kona Coffee blenders as the Kona coffee industry. They are marketers of 90% foreign coffee. Clearly suppliers and customers always conflict in their goals and views. Suppliers want the highest price they can achieve, while customers want the lowest price. Considering Hawaii Coffee and Hawaiian Isle Coffee as part of the Kona coffee industry is truly a case of the TAIL WAGGING THE DOG.

Mahalo nui loa.

Howard and Stephanie Conant
Kona Rainforest Coffee

Friday, April 07, 2006

Late, So Late

I have to admit, I am a procrastinator. I hear my friends laughing now. OK, OK, I will stop being so humble. I more than that, I am a world-class procrastinator.

The inimitable Bob Smith, one of the true experts on Kona coffee, once said that May 1 is the absolute drop-dead date to complete pruning in a coffee field. Well, guess what this procrastinator is doing dawn-to-dusk till April 31. Yeah, pruning.

Luckily, half the work is done. My parents' 5-acres (the original Lions Gate Farm) is just about done. My 5 acres.... not so close.

Each tree has to be trimmed by hand every year. Pruning the trees forces them to put their energy into reproducing (growing fruit) rather than growing wood. At least a quarter of the tree is cut off every year. The process is arduous when you have 5000 trees. Especially this year. Because last year was a bumper-crop yield, this year's yield will be much smaller as the trees recover from the heavy output. So I'm taking advantage of this downcycle to radically cut back my field and get it into better shape. That means stumping a good number of trees and uprooting others entirely.

When I purchased my acreage two years ago, it had been in the Yoshizaki family for 70-odd years. Mr. Yoshizaki-san the elder had been a sugar cane farmer before acquiring a plot of scrub guava and weeds on Middle Kei'i Road. Through hard labor, he cleared and planted the land. It passed through the family until 2003, when the son, Toshio-san passed away and the sisters decided it was time to retire.

The farm had suffered some neglect in the last few years. I have many "volunteer" coffee trees springing up between the heritage 50+ year-old trees, causing an overcompetition for nutrients. Vines still snake their way throughout the field, despite two years of efforts to remove them all. And I must admit, that whoever pruned in this field last year (ahem, me), was far too slack in chopping back the trees. So I have an overgrowth of old branches and not enough new.

Pruning is a skill that takes mental preparation and a slash-and-cut disposition. Show mercy, and your trees will suffer. Last year, I was too merciful. It paid off in a high yield, but the effect is a boomerang for this year. But I planned it that way, knowing the field needed major work. Better to do that work in a downcycle.

Not to fear, dear Kona addicts. Despite the slash-and-cut on my trees, there'll still be plenny'o Lions Gate coffee for your morning cup.

And friends...if you don't hear much from me this month, it's because I was procrastinating last month. Y'all know what that means. Time for this farmgirl to work!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

ABC's....Aotearoa, Baristas, and Coffee

I'm just back from three weeks in New Zealand. Wow, what a place. Full of culture and contradictions. Manicured hedges vs wilderness. Fish 'n Chips vs. gourmet cooking. Incredible wines vs. great beers. English vs. Maori. Sheep vs....uhh...sheep.

No contradictions on the coffee though. It was universally excellent. Every little roadside stand did espresso and did it well. Not a Nescafe packet in sight (unlike their more barbarous Aussie neighbors). Nor were there any drip machines. Nope, it was all about the Barista. It took us a few days to figure out that a "Long Black" equated out to an americano-style pull, but once we got over that hurdle, we were unstoppable. My 5 traveling companions and I looooooved that coffee on the chilly Fall mornings.

Six of us South Kona women were in Aotearoa for the World Sprints championships. The biennial event showcases the best of outrigger canoe racing and my team at Keoua O Honaunau Canoe Club was blessed enough to qualify from the Hawaii Region. We were part of 1500 athletes from 23 countries competing. The Tahitians, as usual, were the showstoppers, but the NZ team wasn't far behind. Its beautiful to watch the Polynesian culture thriving in this way.

Outrigger racing has two components, the 6-man canoe, and the 1-man canoe. Both have long traditions in the Pacific Rim. A number of island nations still use them as a means of transportation and for fishing. Here in Hawaii, we just race 'em now but if you listen closely, you can hear the drumbeats of the Hawaiian warriors on the water.

Once the races were over, we took off in our campervan (the only way to travel in NZ) and rolled all over the countryside. The people were wonderful, the scenery was incredible, and each moment was perfect. For those of you who might believe it's impossible to fit 6 women and their luggage in a campervan only 20 feet long AND we'd all get along for three weeks.....well all I can say is that miracles do happen.

E noho rā, Aotearoa! I will be back. Keep a Tall Black warm for me.