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From tree to cup…how coffee is grown and roasted!
First thing’s first. Why is Hawaii Kona coffee so revered by coffee lovers from around the world? First, the climate for optimal growing conditions. The mountainous nature of Hawaii’s Big Island means high peaks and the cloud cover means a natural shade and consistent rain. Second, you’re in the United States. You can expect the same quality control and respect for reputation from Hawaii’s government as you would from any developed country in the world.
We were excited to take a personalized tour of the UCC, a tour of the plantation and lesson in how coffee is roasted before you buy it.
Here, Peggy is walking us through the plantation to show us how the “coffee cherry” grows. After the coffee cherry is harvested, there is little the farmer can do to improve quality. This means timing of when the cherries are picked is paramount. The branch in the picture above shows a good example of cherries at different stages. The only example missing is if the cherry is overripe and a brown color. The cherries you see here range in color and ripeness from yellow (underripe) to dark red (fully ripe). Before that, the cherries ripen from yellow to green to a light red.
Coffee cherries are picked en masse and processed so that the coffee cherry is “washed” off of the coffee beans inside. The cherry skins are not wasted, but rather reworked into a natural fertilizer. The dried seeds, green coffee beans, are sorted for inspection by Hawaii’s coffee 5-0 and those that make the grade are moved to be roasted.
But innovation in coffee roasting is to suit volume, not quality of the roast. The technology is actually very simple: keep the beans moving while over heat. The wheel inside each of these maintains a steady turn.
For a more thorough explanation of roast style and how it affects the flavor in your cup, visit our page on Roast Style and Flavor. Obviously very familiar with their own bean, the UCC has profiled it as best between a High and a City style roast. Alot of Kona coffee is roasted to Medium. I personally favor a darker roast but I didn’t want to leave the UCC’s own recommendations for their coffee, so I chose to roast mine at City, the dark end of their range.
As David Cook explained to me at the Fire Roasted Coffee Company, Peggy reiterated it. For those “efficient” coffee roasters that profile a bean and then roast it automatically without supervision, there are cues for all five senses that go unobserved. The bean itself and the environment in which it’s roasted can change and only the human senses can judge when a bean is optimally roasted.
In the above picture, we’ve heard the “first crack”, that point where gas trapped inside the bean has escaped in a snapping sound, expanding the size of the bean. At that point, you can be sure of a Medium style roast or you can leave the beans to roast further. Imagine the sound of popcorn starting to pop after it’s been exposed to heat. Once you hear the “second crack”, you are now burning the coffee’s natural oil to the surface of the bean for the darker roasts from Full City to Italian. Somewhere in between, I stop mine at City.
The tour was very informative. If you’re in Kona, I recommend contacting the Ueshima Coffee Corporation. Check out their website to order a pound of their coffee, and I recommend their Island Select Estate Reserve – what I’m sampling in the picture above. For a coffee lover, it was great education.
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