Hawaii

Hawaii... what a nice place. They grow nuts, fruit, and coffee. The coffee is expensive. It is mild (sometimes too mild). It can be terrible and flat, or it can be wonderful! The best coffees cost a lot and the worst cost way too much. So the goal with Hawaiians is to quit thinking that all Hawaiian coffee is good, and to realize that only a handful of coffees deserve the high price in terms of cup quality (you can easily argue that all deserve a high price in terms of the care and labor expended in producing them). And frankly, you must pay quite a bit for the truly great small-farm Kona.

We had occasionally offered coffees from Maui, Molokai, and Kauai. But these are not usually grown like true small farm Estate grade coffees from the Big Island, nor do they taste like them. Kona isn't grown at impressive altitudes compared to other coffee origins, but on Maui and Kauai coffee is grown at exceptionally low elevations, sometimes near tide pool level! Also, much Kona is an older coffee variety, Typica, a traditional type that cannot be grown at the lowest elevations. Recently, we found out that Ka'u coffees have come a long way, and can be excellent. So Ka'u is a region with credible quality potential.

In a historical sense, coffees like Kona are the pinnacle of a particular definition of what "good coffee" is: clean, pleasant, mild, good aftertaste. This is a notion of "good coffee" handed down from a time when low-grade coffee was called Brazil Rio and it had a seriously foul, dirty taste (so distinctly awful it is still called Rioy in defective coffee terminology). The best coffees were considered the polar opposite; island coffees -- mild, delicate and clean.

Certain exotic coffee origins we appreciate as intense and unusual flavor profiles, such as Yemeni coffees, Ethiopian Harar, and wet-hulled Sumatras for example, would be considered defective in this definition. If you love those intense coffees, Kona may seem too timid, too simple, too mild. With scores in the mid-80s, they don't rate like the best Kenyas or Ethiopias, but the descriptors indicate balance and clean cup quality. Consider this when you taste good Hawaiian coffees.

The famously fragile ecology of Hawaii has been shattered; along with other invasive species and insects, the recent appearance of Broca, the Coffee Berry Borer insect, has had a huge negative effect on the farms of Hawaii. Coffee is being downgraded before export, and can't fetch the prices it used to as an Extra Fancy grade when it gets knocked down to Kona No. 1 Grade. The affected beans do affect cup quality, but can be sorted out. Yet this takes labor, and in an expensive market that is just not feasible. Still, we are landing some really nice small-farm coffees, and paying prices to offset the losses the farms are experiencing from this latest crisis.

No coffees are currently available from this origin. The review is our most recent offering, provided for reference.
Hawaii Kona Kowali Farm Typica
Rita Cowell next to one of her towering coffee trees.
Appearance0 d/300gr, 17-18+ screen
GradeFancy
ProcessingWet Process (Washed)
RegionKona, Honaunau district
Varietal(s)Typica
RoastCity+ : I like a lighter roast, ceasing the heat with no sign of 2nd crack on the horizon. That said, Full City and Full City+ roasts make a great espresso.
Kona Coffee is grown only in the district of Kona on the west side of the Big Island of Hawaii. While coffee is also grown on other islands (Kauai, Maui, Oahu), it does not generally receive the same care and attention in the process as true small-farm Kona coffees. Kowali (which means Morning Glory in Hawaiian) is a moderate-sized Kona farm with the right kind of altitude to produce exceptional coffee. Skip and Rita Cowell are the owners of this 12 acre farm, up an old-time coffee road winding along the steep hillsides of Honaunau in Southern Kona. It has been consistently acclaimed one of the top 10 coffees in Kona and placed in the Kona Coffee Competition. "The funny thing about that," Rita told me a long time back, "is that I didn't enter the competition!" Only later did she go on to enter it and won first prize in the category for "larger" farms ... which is all relative. By all measures, Kowali is very small. The coffee is grown on carefully tended land, using no pesticides and 100% hand picked. It has been recognized by the Kona Soil and Water Conservation District for continuing conservation practices. Skip is an expert in this area and lectures on Soil Conservation at mainland conferences. In terms of cup character, the coffee reflects the Kona heritage, the higher altitude than the farms down in the flatter areas, and the cultivar (this is 100% Kona Typica, which was brought from Guatemala in 1892). This cup is a classic Kona in all respects, with a big, sweet flavor that somehow matches the immense blue-green appearance of the coffee seeds. Dry fragrance has honey-wheat sweetness, chocolate biscuits, and a nice hint of all-spice. Hot water brings out lots of caramel, vanilla, light brown sugar and butter in the wet aromatics along with an enticing note of cream soda. The body is light but has a nice silky quality. And it has the brightness that is lacking in so many low-grown Hawaiian coffees, and a floral accent to the cup. A refined, elegant sweetness prevails, with white grape, cane sugar, and honey that lasts through to the finish. I found this real "sweet spot" at City+, which is what this review is based off of, but we've pulled great espresso shots at Full City/Full City+. Mild island coffees like this, moderate in acidity and so well-balanced, are a great choice for un-blended espresso experiments.