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I recently went on a coffee origin trip in Kona, Hawaii, accompanying –and following the adventures of- London Canada’s Fire Roasted Coffee, owner David Cook and manager Patrick Dunham. The trip was to learn from David and Patrick’s process of meeting with coffee farmers and forming long-term relationships to roast their coffee in Canada. On a side note, we were also on a fact-finding mission regarding the malicious borer beetle that has been eating half of Kona’s vaunted coffee crops.
Read: Touchdown in Kona Hawaii
I met Dave and Pat several years ago, when I decided it was time to upgrade my coffee. I had already decided how much better the coffee is when you stop buying it pre-ground in a giant tin can from the grocery store. However, the only better coffee I knew was the charred whole bean coffee by the pound from Starbucks locations. One day, I was shopping in a market that is a vendor of Fire Roasted’s coffee, and saw their stand, inviting people to visit their roastery in person.
Dave Cook is a world traveler, visiting coffee and cacao farms all over the world to stay in touch with the source of his product. Dave has a culinary background, and after having heard him speak with farmers, clearly a deep appreciation for growing practices and the communities he visits. One of the first things he shared with me when I first met him was his sympathy for the coffee farmer, the worse off in the supply chain while we all enjoy their product. Fire Roasted Coffee has been an advocate of Fair Trade and Organic coffee to support the communities that grow coffee, and raise awareness of poverty there.
For me, there was no substitute for this experience. I was already familiar with the standard of quality from Fire Roasted, but to hear Dave and Pat talk shop with the coffee farmers themselves made me realize the importance of quality throughout the supply chain, not just when the green unroasted beans arrive in London.
Kona is full of small coffee farms. In fact, almost 700 of them are on less than three hectares of land. While we talked coffee with one of the local farmers, a sight like these two donkeys getting frisky with each other wasn’t uncommon. Get a room, donkeys!
I also got to live like a world traveler. Here’s a picture of me on Day 4. To quote Patrick, “That’s what I love about the coffee business, I don’t have to shower as much.” Here, you can see that I was sleeping on the right side of my head, likely very shortly before taking this self-portrait that I don’t quite remember taking.
With Kona’s reputation for quality coffee, it’s no surprise that there are cafes everywhere, serving “100% Kona coffee”. If you ever visit Kona, I suggest looking for the less obvious and less trendy looking cafes. They may all be advertising the same coffee, but coffee is a perishable product whose flavor and freshness depends on care.
We learned that lesson from the café below. They may be serving a quality coffee to their retail customers, but we learned differently when Pat bought a pound of their coffee to bring back to our apartment for the week. The bag advertised “100% estate-grown Kona coffee”. Both parts of that tagline are true, it is from beans 100% grown in Kona, and use of “estate” is vague so that if a land can grow coffee, it is an estate. And behind this fancy marketing was a burnt, stale coffee that we made once in the apartment, before throwing the rest out.
An excellent lesson. Sometimes, all the right words can be used, and it still doesn’t mean quality.
An amazing experience for me as a coffee enthusiast. To watch the process from the beginning has given me an even greater appreciation for the steps that go into a quality cup of coffee. Any weak link in the chain will impact the flavor in your cup. If you are visiting a country of the world that grows coffee, I suggest going on a farm tour, and gaining that appreciation for yourself.