Have you ever dreamed of quitting your high pressure job, leaving the city and moving to a tropical island? We actually did it. Before Hawaii we lived in several other places including California and New Hampshire with jobs as a computer programmer and a children's librarian. We were a typical suburban family with two kids, two cats and a dog. Our yard was barely large enough for a tiny garden. After deciding to grow Kona coffee for a living, we packed up and moved to Hawaii, ready to face whatever challenges we might encounter.
Over adventures on the farm have been chronicled in our extensive coffee farm blog. Browsing through the entries you will find pictures and updates about the farm, Kona coffee and anything else that seemed interesting at the time. The farm blog is a great way to keep up but it doesn't really explain who we are and what Kona coffee is all about. For that, it might be better to start at the beginning.
For the past 70 million years or so, a volcanic hot spot located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean has created an archipelago that extends for over 3000 miles. The Pacific tectonic plate moves northwest at approximately 2-3 inches per year while the hot spot is stationary. This is why the islands appear in a chain with the newest islands to the southeast. New land is still being created today by the Kilauea volcano. There is even a new island being created, Lo'ihi, which will probably surface in a few tens of thousands of years.
The state of Hawaii extends for over 1500 miles and contains 132 islands, reefs and shoals. This map shows the eight most popular islands. 72% of the state's population is located in the city of Honolulu on the island of O'ahu. Hawaii, the "Big Island", contains only 12% of the state's population. It's very confusing that the state of Hawaii also contains an island called Hawaii but most of the people live on the island of O'ahu.
The Big Island has two main cities, Hilo and Kailua-Kona. Hilo is an older city on the east side of the island while Kailua-Kona is on the west side of the island and is a popular tourist destination. To further confuse things, Kailua is the name of the city while Kona refers to the entire district. There is another, larger city named Kailua on the island of O'ahu so the Kailua on the island of Hawaii is called Kailua-Kona, or sometimes just Kona. If you ask your computer for a map you'll need to be accurate and specify Kailua-Kona, using the hyphen.
Kona is well known for its premium coffee. The Kona coffee district extends along the southwest edge of the island of Hawaii on the slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa volcanoes. The entire Kona coffee district is approximately 30 miles long and only a mile wide with an elevation range of 700 to 2000 feet. Only coffee grown in this region can be called Kona coffee. Of the 3 billion pounds of coffee consumed in the United States each year, less than 0.3% comes from the approximately 600 Kona coffee farms. The limited supply creates a high demand for this special gourmet coffee.
What makes Kona coffee so special? It starts with the climate. Good coffee requires very specific conditions. Coffee trees prefer temperatures between 59° and 73°F so they can't be grown anywhere that freezes in the winter. Coffee trees like plenty of sunshine but not the searing heat of many tropical regions. Coffee trees also like lots of water, about 60-85 inches per year. With all that rain, it's important to have well drained soil such as the porous volcanic soil found in Kona. It's best if there is a short dry period in the winter to allow the trees to go semi-dormant followed by consistent rainfall throughout the productive summer months. Many places have wet winters and hot dry summers, the opposite of what coffee needs. All these specific conditions can be found in the perfect balance right here on Kona Earth coffee farm, allowing our trees to grow hearty and healthy.
The average Kona coffee farm is between 3 and 7 acres. At 13 acres, Kona Earth is larger than most. Kona Earth coffee farm is large enough to use professional equipment and practices yet small enough for that personal touch. Even with 13 acres, all our coffee is still hand picked. Much of the world's coffee is mechanically picked, compromising quality for quantity. Hand picking allows us to harvest our coffee at peak ripeness, ensuring a quality that is hard to find anywhere else.
Kona coffee is a gourmet coffee with a price to match. Because of the relatively small supply yet high demand, many manufacturers have resorted to selling "Kona Blend" coffee. Don't be fooled! Kona Blend is only required to have 10% Kona coffee, the other 90% is cheap filler beans. On the mainland a Kona blend may even contain 0% Kona coffee. So make sure your coffee is 100% Kona coffee or else you'll be paying a premium for a much cheaper coffee.
Kona coffee currently sells for about $30 per pound. That may seem expensive until you consider what you're getting. First, few other coffees have the smoothness yet rich flavors of a good Kona coffee. Not everyone can distinguish the delicate subtleties of Kona coffee but those that can appreciate it's unique profile. Second, a pound of coffee beans can brew 30-40 cups of coffee. At coffee shop prices, that would be nearly $100 for far inferior coffee.
The largest factor in the price of Kona coffee is the cost of labor. Picking by hand is labor intensive and very expensive. Farm laborers in the U.S. are paid far more than in other countries so Kona Earth coffee could easily be considered a Fair Trade coffee.
An acre of healthy coffee trees can produce approximately 10,000 pounds of coffee cherry per year. A good coffee picker can only pick a couple hundred pounds of cherry per day. It requires several pickers several days to finish one round of picking. Since the cherries don't all ripen at the same time, there can be four to eight rounds of harvesting in a single season. Furthermore, it requires nearly eight pounds of ripe cherry to produce a single pound of roasted coffee beans. Besides picking, the coffee also has to be pulped, dried, hulled, roasted, shipped and don't forget all the pruning, weeding, fertilizing and other care the trees require. All that work for a mere $30.
But if you still think Kona coffee is expensive, consider Indonesia's Kopi Luwak coffee, it's beans must first be eaten and then excreted (yes, pooped out) by a small civet cat before being collected off the ground and sold for over $100 per pound. Compared to that, Kona coffee is a bargain.
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