Aloha! The Power of
By Cal Orey
There are so many types of coffee in the Coffee World, I’m feeling like Tom Hank’s character in the film “You’ve Got Mail” when he says, “The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat.” And yes, in the real world there are countless types and blends of coffee to choose and to make you smile and feel energized.
In the book The Healing Powers of Coffee (Kensington) featured in both the Good Cook and One Spirit book clubs, I take the reader around the globe to different regions of the bean belt. This month of April, a time of change and renewal, I’m going to take you with me to Hawaii—an exotic paradise to savor Spring and the lowdown about Hawaiian coffees. [Sip a cup of joe and click on the trailer on the left.]
Coffees of the Islands
At first glance, the Hawaiian Islands with their fertile valleys and lush forests seem a virtual paradise. They have long been thought of as a haven for creatures of all kinds. But Hawaii is also known as coffee heaven.
More than 25 years ago, I was introduced to my first bag of genuine Kona coffee. It was a gift from my sister who lives on the Big Island. Inside the brown box were a sealed bag of coffee and a box of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts. I ate the chocolate, and put the coffee in the freezer. At the time, I didn’t have a coffee brewer, and the present was never opened.
A few years later, I was offered a magazine story assignment that took me to Kauai. That was the first time I tasted Hawaiian java. I was a guest at a woman’s estate. I recall getting up early and drinking coffee and eating chocolate as we talked. The freshly brewed coffee paired with truffles is a memory that I’ll always cherish.
The third time around (I got another taste of Kona coffee at an outdoor restaurant on a second trip to the Islands), I hit the Big Island. No work, just pleasure. Again, the coffee in the hotel room and at restaurants was not to be ignored. When I recall those days, I can close my eyes and taste the bold flavor of java. It’s a tropical experience and one not to be forgotten.
Hawaiian coffee roasters will tell you that coffee is pricey because of the island’s costly labor prices (it takes experts to pick the beans). Kona is special and a challenge to get on the mainland. Sadly, these words make sense to me and perhaps that’s one reason why trying to connect with a coffee company in Hawaii—and get a complimentary bag of beans—for my coffee book was a challenge like riding a 50-foot Pacific Ocean swell.
But I did make an islands coffee connection. Meet David Gridley, president of Maui Oma Coffee Roasting Company. He answered my exclusive questions, one by one, telling me about the inside line of Hawaiian coffees—as difficult to get as gold, or so it seems.
“Most of the people come to us for our variety of Hawaiian coffees, mostly the Maui and Kona coffees,” Gridley says, adding that they offer the Ka’u, Kauai, Molokai, and Waialua coffees as well.
Back in 1998 Gridley took the reins of the wholesale operation and Maui Oma was born, and it has ended up being a strong business to write home about. This means he supplies quality, fresh-roasted coffee (the Maui and Kona coffees are the most in demand) and sets up coffee programs for restaurants and coffee stores all over Hawaii and the mainland, my home.
When I asked him, “Why is Hawaiian coffee considered so special?” He answered by telling me what I knew, but it was a sobering reminder: “Coffee is a tropical crop. It is really only grown between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. This is why we are the only coffee-growing state. The best Arabica coffees are grown at higher elevations, in volcanic soil, with sunny mornings and cloudy afternoons, and cool evenings.”
So, he’s in the right place. Perhaps that’s why coffee in Hawaii costs more, and Gridley adds, “Yes, because the quality is high and demand is always higher than the availability. It also costs more to raise coffee in Hawaii. Land and labor costs are high.” Meanwhile, as I fantasize about moving to the Big Island, Gridley reminds me that there are many other emerging coffee-growing districts that are also growing some excellent and internationally recognized coffees—all made with Mother Nature’s magical beans.
Civet Coffee, A Surprising Gourmet Treat
Let me introduce you to the Kopi Luwak bean gathered from the poop of civets (a small Asian Palm cat), which graze on coffee berries. It’s the animals’ droppings that are harvested by farmers who clean and ship the unchewed, undigested, and fermented commodity to people like Texas-based Dustin Butler, president of Bantai Civet Coffee (www.bantaicivetcoffee.com). Bantai’s rare and pricey gourmet coffee (4 ounces cost $85; 16 ounces cost $320) comes from the Philippines (it is also found in Sumatra). After a bit of preliminary hesitation, I tasted the expensive and extremely smooth, almost buttery, coffee; it is not acidic like some coffees. Pure Civet Coffee is touted to taste both nutty and spicy. I’m still shocked that I braved brewing and sipping the rare coffee—but being a coffee and cat lover, how could I resist?
[Excerpt from The Healing Powers of Coffee (Kensington); in 2nd printing; available and "popular" in Good Cook and Quality Paperback book clubs]