Probably the best coffee I have ever had, no shit! Move over Kona Coffee, there is a new Joe in town and his name is Ka’u Coffee. This world renown coffee is grown near the village of Pahala in the Ka‘u District on the southern side of the Big Island known for the Green Sand Beach near Ka Lae (South Point), the Punalu‘u Black Sand Beach, and the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Ka’u is 40 miles from the casa and we stopped by today to attend the 6th Annual Ka’u Coffee Festival for a coffee tour, some grinds, local music and some coffee. So, back to the coffee….With only 600 acres in cultivation and only 10 years of branding behind them, the Ka’u coffee growers challenge lies in being the newcomer to the party. Contrasting with 150 years of Kona Coffee acclaim and 3500 acres in cultivation. Luckily, size, brand recognition and economic clout are not the only yardsticks to measure coffee. Rusty’s Hawaiian Ka’u Coffee and Ka’u Coffee Mill have placed in the worlds top 10.
Grown on the slopes of Mauna Loa at 1200-2000ft above sea level, the growers here take advantage of deep, rich volcanic soil; temperate climate; and ideal quantities of morning sunshine, cloud covered afternoons, and healthy amounts of rainfall. I had the opportunity today to travel up the slope of Mauna Loa to walk through some of the 600 acres of coffee. Most of the growers are small mom and pop type operations with 10-15 acres in production. Interesting side note is that when harvest time comes, most of the coffee is picked by the Marshallese community which lives predominately in the South Point area of the Big Island. The Marshallese are from the Republic of the Marshall Islands and can move and work freely between the US and their homeland due to USG Treaties which stem from a Hydrogen Bomb that we tested on Bikini Atoll 60 years ago…….
My first experience with Ka’u coffee is almost embarrassing. I mail-ordered a bunch of Starbucks house blend and they sent me an 8oz Ka’u coffee sampler with my order. So something produced 40 miles from house went halfway around the world to come to my front door! Funny how that works. I was not overly impressed with the Starbucks branded Ka’u coffee but decided to keep an open mind and try it again sometime. So while at the roasters today I asked the guy running the mill about it. He called it Starburnt and after thinking about it for a minute, I realized he was right. It was over-roasted and Starbucks had destroyed all the delicate flavors that should have been present. He said they purchase local beans in Ka’u and ship them off to be roasted on the mainland. He was a bit dismissive about the whole Starbucks deal and honestly it was easy to see why after sampling over 15 different coffee’s today at the festival. Ka’u coffee rocks!
While at the coffee mill today they were roasting some beans and it smelled like coconut. They were making some flavored coffee. We laughed a bit about that and he said it was one of their best sellers and that if it were not for flavored coffee, those beans would have been trashed as they were not good enough to sell any other way! So the next time you order a flavored coffee……you now know what you are getting!
If You Go:
Pahala is located roughly 50 miles from the Hilo Airport. Spending some time for a coffee stop in Pahala at the Ka’u Coffee Mill would be a nice break after visiting the Volcano National Park and enroute to the Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, a great combo for a day. Conversely if coming from Kona to the Volcano, stop at the Black Sand Beach and then for a cup of coffee in Pahala and drive the 20 miles to the Volcano National Park.
Please take note that there are limited services in the Ka’u District along HWY 11 (Belt Road) after passing the Volcano.