Every November, a rather 'highly-charged' yet seemingly low-key group of hot beverage enthusiasts descend in the sleepy port town of Kailua-Kona on Hawaii Island (nicknamed 'The Big Island'). The reason needs no watering down: They're here for the annual Kona Coffee Festival, a week-long celebration of all-things-coffee that includes various culinary events, a cupping contest with a few hundred entrants, a parade, the crowning of Miss Kona Coffee, a costume contest, coffee-related arts contests, a golf tournament and more.
Overkill, you say? We thinks not.
The Hawaiian Islands are the only place in North America where coffee grows. Plantation workers planted trees more than a hundred years ago, and now an entire industry and culture exists, all paying homage to the bean that keeps hundreds of millions awake at their desks, worldwide.
Until ten years ago, Hawaii's coffee industry was more kitsch than killer; farms made money by tours and tastings, but not many were raving about the quality of bean coming from paradise. Cut to the culinary explosion in the USA (fuelled by TV reality shows, etc.), and the locavore movement (where people try and consume foods grown closer to home), and a few dozen 'gentleman farmers' who made coffee farms 'the new' wineries, and all that started to change. Meaning, semi-retired Baby Boomers who had fallen in love with Hawaii life started investing in and growing the coffee industry in a direction that included hiring agricultural consultants to 'up' the quality of coffee grown in the area.
Now, select coffees from Hawaii can fetch top dollar on the world stage. And people fly in from around the world to taste Kona beans (and other regions—Ka‘u, on the isle's opposite coastline—is producing some unbelievably successful small batch beans) brewed to perfection.
The Big Island tourism folk have kindly mapped out a wonderful self drive tour that takes you through the most bountiful coffee region, sipping all the way, replete with tours and tastings. The annual Coffee Festival is a wonderful way to see and taste dozens of varietals in one location.
A recent addition to the Kona coffee scene is Daylight Mind Coffee Company, an ocean-fronting cafe, bakery and coffee school in Kona town that aims to educate coffee drinkers, one cup at a time. Whether you want an hour's lesson on the refined manner in which coffee roasting can change flavour profiles, or you're a food and beverage industry person looking to up your skills for work, Daylight Mind has a classroom above its bistro cafe and bakery.
Header photo: Coffee tourists roaming the farms © Tor Johnson for HTA
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Written by Brian Berusch
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About the author: BrianBeruschBrian Berusch
Brian Berusch traded in his Manhattan gym membership for a quiver of surfboards, trail running shoes and a one-way ticket to Honolulu more than a decade ago. Since then, he’s interviewed dozens of celebrities and covered the destination for more than 25 travel and lifestyle magazines. He’s an award-winning Editorial Director, a Today Show correspondent and most recently the publisher of two new magazines. He has yet to “get barreled” in the perfect wave.