Coffee berry borer damage is resulting in diminished quality that could jeopardize the region’s position in the global coffee market, a grower and processor said Friday.
Before the pest, identified in West Hawaii in September 2010, green bean coffee dropped off at the company’s processing station was of higher quality with about 22 percent graded extra fancy; 30 percent fancy; 24 percent No. 1; 13 percent prime; 4 percent peaberry; and the remainder, lower H-3 and off grades, said Tom Greenwell, with Greenwell Farms Inc. About 93 percent of the coffee bought was graded Kona.
This harvest, the 2012-13 season, Greenwell said, none of the green bean coffee could be graded as extra fancy, fancy or even No. 1. Instead, more than 75 percent of the coffee was graded within the prime categories with the remainder comprising 4 percent peaberry and lower and off grades.
He also noted the percentage of prime coffee this season will likely decrease because as the season is winding down, coffee berry borer damage rates appear to be increasing placing more coffee in the lower H-3 grade. The current harvest has thus far resulted in about 86 percent graded Kona.
Despite the dismal news, the market for green bean coffee remains strong, he said.
“The market is great and prices are good,” said Greenwell, “but, eventually quality is going to catch up with the price of coffee out there, and, they’re (the consumers) going to go, ‘nah,’ because there’s better quality coffee out there.”
Growers can take steps to reap the benefits of a strong market by making changes to battle the pest and turn out high-quality green bean coffee, Greenwell said. To do this, growers must work together to combat the beetle, as well as deter processors from purchasing highly infested cherry.
Kona is coffee. So it’s only appropriate there’s a 10-day festival full to the rim with more than 40 events celebrating the famous bean.
The 42nd annual Kona Coffee Cultural Festival begins Nov. 2 and runs through Nov. 11, with the theme, “Kona Coffee — 100 percent gourmet.”
“Kona’s world-famous coffee is smooth and, quite frankly, the best-tasting coffee I know of,” said Mel Morimoto, the festival’s new president and a third-generation Kona resident who lives on the coffee farm his parents sowed 57 years ago. “Each bean is hand-picked, taking only the ripe cherries, leaving others to ripen. This takes patience and lots of love. You can certainly taste it in each cup of Kona coffee.”
Appointed in March, Morimoto said it’s a privilege to take over as festival president, especially following the steadfast leadership of Norman Sakata, one of the longest-serving, most dedicated festival volunteers. Sakata’s presidency lasted 19 years, but he’s volunteered for nearly 40 years. He remains the chairman of the board and is the official spokesman for the festival, sharing his invaluable knowledge.
Morimoto has been involved in the festival since 1999, when he acted as liaison between the festival and the Kona Coffee Living History Farm. Over the years, he was elected to the board of directors and served as the first vice president, and organized the Aloha Makahiki Concert and the parade.
Mention Maui and visions of sandy beaches, surfers, palm trees, and umbrella drinks come to mind. Maui certainly has all those things, but dive past the postcard perfect shoreline, and you’ll find that Maui’s unique microclimates and wealth of fertile volcanic soil also make it prime farming land. Here are three spots to get an authentic taste of homegrown aloha.
Maui Gold Pineapple Farm
It’s almost impossible to think of Hawaii without thinking of pineapples. Tropical, sweet, and juicy, pineapples taste of smiles and sunshine. Go right to the source with Maui Pineapple Tours. If you’ve ever wanted to frolic through golden pineapple fields (not recommended—pineapples are spiky), this is the place to do it since it is the only working pineapple farm in the U.S. you can tour. You’ll visit the Hali’imaile Pineapple Plantation, home to the trademark Maui Gold pineapple, a variety prized for its sweet flavor and low acidity. Check out the packing and shipping factory, head out to the farm, and eat as much pineapple as you’d like, straight from the fields.
You will leave with sticky fingers, a Maui Gold for the road, and more knowledge about pineapples than you’ll know what to do with (like how to select a good pineapple at home, the best way to cut and core it, even how to grow your own pineapple plant from the crown of the one you just ate).
A national grocer said it has changed its label on packages of Kona coffee blends, making good on a promise it made last year to a group of Hawaii coffee farmers.
But the Kona Coffee Farmers Association said Thursday that Safeway hasn’t fully honored that promise.
Last year, Safeway agreed to change the label on Kona coffee blend products sold on the mainland to add the phrase “10 percent minimum Kona blend.” That was after the association called for a boycott of the company’s 1,700 stores nationwide because farmers said the labels were misleading and degraded the reputation of Hawaii’s famous coffee.
Safeway doesn’t sell the coffee blend in any of its Hawaii stores, so it wasn’t subject to a Hawaii law that requires labels to reflect the percentage of Hawaii-grown coffee, which needs to be at least 10 percent for the state designation.
Instead, the state Department of Agriculture asked Safeway to voluntarily comply with Hawaii’s law.
The Pleasanton, Calif.-based grocery chain agreed and promised to begin selling 100 percent Kona coffee in some California stores.
The Kona Coffee Farmers Association has been watching Safeway closely for these changes. The association said in a letter to Safeway that members have seen the old packaging in mainland stores and is disappointed the company hasn’t started selling pure Kona coffee.
“Given the product shelf life, packaging used before the (changes) may still exist on store shelves or elsewhere in our distribution chain,” said a letter from Brian Dowling, Safeway vice president of public affairs, adding that the company doesn’t plan to destroy or dispose of those products.
Dowling’s letter said that Safeway hadn’t been able to sell 100 percent Kona coffee, but still planned to do so.
HONOLULU – Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie said Monday that he plans to veto a bill that would remove mandatory certification for Hawaii-grown coffee, a measure Kona coffee farmers said would be disastrous for the industry’s integrity and reputation.
Abercrombie listed the bill as one of 19 he is considering vetoing from the 2012 legislative session. Some of the bills are still under consideration, he said.
Kona coffee farmers who were against the certification repeal from the start welcomed the veto. The certification helps them fight against lesser-quality products, they said.
“The implications of this measure are problematic,” Abercrombie said. “Further discussion is needed to ensure that the Hawaii brand will not be undermined.”
Coffee farmers and processors remain at odds over proposed legislation that would get rid of mandatory coffee inspections and grading.
The Kona Coffee Farmers Association, which has roughly 300 members, has vociferously opposed House Bill 280, questioning whether the bill will eliminate the problems it purports to address, such as transporting coffee cherry from one district to another, to sell as pricier Kona coffee. But many of the remaining coffee organizations, including the Hawaii Coffee Association, the Kona Coffee Council, the Maui Coffee Association and the Hawaii Coffee Growers Association, have submitted significant amounts of testimony supporting the measure.
The Department of Agriculture supports the measure’s intent, spokeswoman Janelle Saneishi said.
David Case, a member of the Kona Coffee Farmers Association’s legislative committee, said the proposed changes will affect the Kona coffee brand. But, he said, he’s fairly certain the measure will pass. He said he’s hoping Gov. Neil Abercrombie will veto the bill if the Legislature approves it. To that end, the association presented the governor with a petition with 320 signatures opposing the bill.
KAILUA-KONA >> A proposed bill that would eliminate inspection and certification requirements for green coffee beans shipped from Hawaii is pitting farmers against blenders.
West Hawaii Today reports the bill passed out of the House Agriculture Committee on Thursday. It would remove provisions put in place after a scandal in the 1990s where coffee grown in other regions outside of Hawaii were labeled and sold as Kona coffee.
Blender Hawaii Coffee Co. President Jim Wayman says there are concerns about delays from waiting for a state inspector to grade and certify the coffee.
Farmer Bruce Corker says the Department of Agriculture should hire more inspectors and that buyers on the mainland and overseas won’t have assurances they are getting genuine Hawaii-grown coffee.
HONOLULU – Hawaii farmer Paul Uster was on vacation in California when he saw a package of Kona coffee blend in a supermarket that he knew would upset fellow growers back home on the Big Island.
The Safeway brand of Kona blend medium roast coffee didn’t specify what percentage was made from the world-famous bean or whether it was grown in Hawaii – information a law in the Aloha State requires for labels on Hawaii-grown coffee. That law is meant to inform consumers but also protect the integrity of Hawaii’s premier coffee grown on slopes of volcanic rock.
“It degrades the reputation and the quality of Kona coffee. When consumers are not informed it makes it harder for me to make a living,” said Uster, who owns Mokulele Farms and is on the board of directors of the Kona Coffee Farmers Association. “Kona and other Hawaiian coffees are a great treasure to the state.”
Hawaii is the only place in the United States where coffee is grown. Beans grown in the Kau district of the Big Island are also gaining popularity among discerning coffee aficionados.
Safeway’s blend was priced at $8.99 a pound, Uster said, while 8 ounces of pure Kona coffee can sell for $25.
Derek Lanter clearly remembers his first date with the “dark side.” In 2001 he was living in Berkeley, Calif., when Scharffen Berger, the company that reputedly makes America’s finest dark chocolate, was setting up its operation there. He and a friend decided to visit Scharffen Berger’s factory for a tour and tasting.
“Having worked with coffee as a buyer and roaster for Uncommon Grounds Coffee Co., I had experience processing coffee beans and evaluating the brew made from them, but that was the first time I saw cacao beans being roasted, ground and manufactured into chocolate,” Lanter recalled.
“Scharffen Berger was using beans from Colombia, Madagascar, Ecuador, Ghana and Indonesia. We learned about the equipment and process, and tasted chocolate at different stages and in different forms, from the roasted nib to pure cacao liquor; sweet milk chocolate; and semisweet, 62 percent; bittersweet, 70 percent; and extra-dark, 85 percent chocolate. It was such a mind-opening experience!”
Today, Lanter tastes chocolate nearly every day as the sales and marketing manager for Waialua Estate, a subsidiary of Dole Food Co. that grows 20 acres of cacao and 155 acres of coffee on Oahu’s North Shore. According to Lanter, chocolate made from locally grown cacao is being favorably compared with world-renowned brands such as Amano, Amedei, Guittard and Michel Cluizel.