The perfect brew
Tour of facilities reveal that coffee is a complicated, aromatic business
World travellers learn all about our favourite morning drink
Being coffee fanatics, we are always on the hunt for our next cup of caffeinated joy.
Thankfully, Hawai’i’s Big Island boasts splendid coffee and it was no time at all before we were immersed in the science (and perks) of a roasting mill.
We visited the Ka’u Coffee Mill and took a tour of the facilities, being led through the vast plantation by sales executive Louis Daniele.
Ka’u Coffee is located on the Big Island’s south-east side, formerly known for its sugar plantations. Now, the striking hills have become home to a new crop, one that is helping to keep the region afloat.
“This is a horribly depressed area,” explained Daniele. “Folks around here, all they knew about was sugar.”
The tour began with a walk through the budding coffee plants all lined up in neat rows before diving into the nuances of preparing the beans for roasting.
Daniele reached out, deftly picking the bright red “cherries” from amongst the leafy branches of the trees. They look more like what is left behind from a flower bud than anything related to what we know as the final brown and aromatic coffee bean.
Once picked, the beans are moved to a wet house and prepared for one of three methods.
Ka’u Coffee has become known for its natural method, which means leaving the pulp and mucilage layers on the bean. The beans are then dried on a concrete floor and industrial drying station, the extra layers resulting in a more complex coffee taste.
The facility also offers semiwashed and fully-stripped down brews but Daniele notes that people like the taste of the natural method.
“It’s a much different cup of coffee than people have come to expect,” he said.
From the wet house and drying facilities, the beans are moved into huge 1,000-pound bags, pillars of coffee lining the warehouse.
Given permission, we approached one of the open bags and buried our hands into the beans. Somehow it felt like an act of supreme luxury.
The bags usually spend a few months in the warehouse before being moved to the roastery, the heart of the operation.
The aroma of roasting coffee is unmistakable; a rich perfume that draws us in. The air becomes heavy with the scent and taste of beans caramelizing.
And it has drawn many others, as well. Daniele highlighted that Ka’u Coffee has customers across the world, including places like Korea, Japan and China.
The tour ends with a tasting and we both had a deeper appreciation of our coffees as we sipped their many blends, ranging from the caffeine-rich light roast where you can still taste the freshness of the beans to more heavily scented dark roasts, to an incredibly flavourful blend called coconut caramel crunch.
The Ka’u Coffee Mill has two more fans.
Louis Daniele, sales executive and our guide for the day, begins the coffee tour amongst the trees.
The beans have been through the pulper to remove the shells, and the wet mill to remove the pulp and mucilage encapsulating the beans, which dry for 24 hours before moving ahead to one of three mechanical driers.
Bags tucked away and ready to be shipped, displaying the Ka’u logo which boasts its 100 per cent Hawaiian credibility.
A worker processes the drying beans.
Daniele displays the dried bean, now ready to be roasted. They roast in house, and also send away several varieties of dried beans to wholesale buyers.
Jess points at one of the “cherries,” the red berry nearly ready to be harvested.
Bags of dried, unroasted beans packaged and ready to be shipped. This variety is the “clean cup of coffee,” where all outer layers are removed. They also produce semi-wash beans, where the mucilage layer is left intact to give a fruitier sweeter...
Josh leans in to get a whiff of the aroma produced by the natural method, more commonly known as the Ethiopian method. This style takes longer to dry and therefore creates a more complex, layered coffee taste. The Ka’u Coffee Mill has become known for...
One of the 10 employees at Ka’u Coffee Mill measures the next batch of dried beans for roasting.
The roaster has to be at a minimum of 460 degrees before the beans are added. From there, the operator has to ensure certain temperature milestones are met to hit the bean profile.