Profile: Ueshida Coffee Corp (Hawaii)

in Buying Coffee, Coffees of the World

From tree to cup…how coffee is grown and roasted!

The Ueshima Coffee Corporation (UCC) in Kona, Hawaii.

The Ueshima Coffee Corporation (UCC) in Kona, Hawaii.

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.

Our guide was Peggy Stevens, Assistant Manager of UCC's Sales and Production.

Our guide was Peggy Stevens, Assistant Manager of UCC's Sales and Production.

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.

Inside each coffee cherry is a seed, what we call the coffee bean.  The seed is in two parts, or two coffee beans.  One coffee cherry = two coffee beans.

Inside each coffee cherry is a seed, what we call the coffee bean. The seed is in two parts, or two coffee beans. One coffee cherry = two coffee beans.

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.

Peggy drives us through rows and rows of coffee trees en route to the roasting station.

Peggy drives us through rows and rows of coffee trees en route to the roasting station.

These old-fashioned roasters are not the UCC's official coffee roasters.  These only roast up to a couple pounds at a time.

These old-fashioned roasters are not the UCC's official coffee roasters. These only roast up to a couple pounds at a time.

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.

This isn't the UCC's official way of measuring roast style, but I loved the poster.  It shows ten different intensities of roast and their standardized names.

This isn't the UCC's official way of measuring roast style, but I loved the poster. It shows ten different intensities of roast and their standardized names.

For our purposes in this small-batch roasting, this is a more realistic roast guide in that there are actual beans divided by roast style.  I still love that poster though!

For our purposes in this small-batch roasting, this is a more realistic roast guide in that there are actual beans divided by roast style. I still love that poster though!

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.

Back to the coffee.  I have a dish of unroasted green coffee beans, harvested from the plantation and dried out prior to roasting.

Back to the coffee. I have a dish of unroasted green coffee beans, harvested from the plantation and dried out prior to roasting. The beans are emptied into a roaster.

As Peggy explains, proper coffee roasting involves all five senses.

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.

Sense of smell tells me the beans are beginning to burn.  Sense of sight shows me the roast style I wanted.  Sense of hearing guided me on checking the bean.  They are now roasted to taste.

Sense of smell tells me the beans are beginning to burn. Sense of sight shows me the roast style I wanted. Sense of hearing guided me on what points to check the bean. They are now roasted to taste.

Once the bean is removed from the heat, it needs to be immediately cooled as heat on the interior of the bean will continue to roast it from the inside.

Once the bean is removed from the heat, it needs to be immediately cooled as heat on the interior of the bean will continue to roast it from the inside. Here for this small batch, we use a fan and stir the beans until sense of touch indicates that they are fully cooled and no longer roasting themselves. Hard to tell here, but house rules dictate that you must hula-dance while stirring the beans.

Not a bad City roast.  By sense of taste, we chewed a bean from the batch to get a sense of how it will taste in the cup.

Not a bad City roast. By sense of taste, we chewed a bean from the batch to get a sense of how it will taste in the cup.

It's official!  I've graduated into the ranks of Peggy's roastmasters.

There you have it, it's official! I've graduated into the ranks of Peggy's roastmasters.

As an amateur home roaster and all-around coffee enthusiast, I had lots of questions and Peggy did a great job answering them.

As an amateur home roaster and all-around coffee enthusiast, I had lots of questions and Peggy did a great job answering them. This picture is taken in their retail store, overlooking one of UCC's three plantations.

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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