In Ka’u, The Big Island, a Young Coffee Mill Is the Next Big Thing
Published on March 8th, 2013 | by Charu Suri
10 In Ka’u, The Big Island, a Young Coffee Mill Is the Next Big Thing
As early as the late 1800s, a Kona newspaper predicted that Ka’u coffee would give Kona a run for their money. It certainly is the case today.
The region of Ka’u is so quiet and relatively unhurried that you’ll think you are on another planet, and with good reason. The least populated district in all of Hawai’i, it is a stone’s throw away from sunny Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Ka’u is easily reached by road as you journey towards the southernmost side of Hawai’i, The Big Island.
Once an area filled with sugarcane farms, Ka’u now houses some of the finest coffee in the world. “You’re not allowed to mention the other K word here,” laughs Edmund C. Olson, owner of the historic Ka’u Coffee Mill and his eponymous trust. Olson was referring to Kona Coffee, of course.
The Coffee Mill and Farm is spread over 60 acres on the slopes of Mauna Loa
Situated close to the popular Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, Ka’u Coffee Mill is young and a new kid on the coffee block—only 4.5 years old. The retail store is younger still, a positive baby at 9 months. Ka’u is a coffee farm and mill that takes pride in milling and roasting the finest coffees in the world. I sipped the Dark Roast, and was surprised at how fruity it tasted, with distinct chocolate tones. The volcanic soil and elevation, along with copious amounts of rain as well as shade give Ka’u a significantly advantageous location.
Ka’u offers Medium roast, Dark, Extra Dark and Natural varieties of coffee, and the Natural variety is what many customers keep coming back for again and again. In fact, that’s what put this coffee company on the map, when they entered the 2012 Hawai’i Coffee Association’s first Statewide Competition and won first place for the “Natural Processed Typica.”
The peaberry too, the small bean that has a richer flavor and the other type of coffee bean. Completely different to the more common “flat berry” (a typical coffee bean has two flat sides), the peaberry is rounder and roasts more evenly. Only about 2-5% of a coffee farm’s harvest will be peaberry, and Ka’u’s Peaberry Roast is delicious and fruity, and particularly high in antioxidants.
The Ka’u Coffee Farm has 60 acres of young trees, most planted only 4.5 years ago. Typically, a tree will produce a lot of fruit only at 5-6 years of age, and will be out of season for four months while they’re producing harvest. Olson saw how many Ka’u coffee growers were making trips to Kona to process their coffee, and taking so much time away from their farming that he decided to create a mill and retail center right in the area.
If you visit the Ka’u Coffee Mill retail store, you’ll be greeted by a gorgeous hand-painted mural by Kathleen Kam, whose public murals are widely recognized on The Big Island. The jungle-like mural, replete with scenes of wildlife, macademia and the surrounding countryside shows how colorful The Big Island is –it’s a breath of fresh air. Three murals in total grace the Visitor’s Center, and it’s worth visiting the Coffee Mill alone just to see Kam’s original work: all three are sponsored by the Edmund C. Olson Trust II.
Original Kathleen Kam murals decorate the retail store
Coffee beans dried in the open
The Big Island grows some of the finest coffee in the world: you won’t find any pure coffee that isn’t smooth and delicious, with hardly any acidity (dispel the taste of Starbucks Blend from your mental library). Ka’u’s elevation of 1,700-2,100 feet makes it an ideal region in which to grow coffee.
The coffee mill supports several local Ka’u farmers by marketing their products or providing roasting services, and these include Rising Sun and Kailiawa. Many of the farmers grow their crops nearby, and at Cloud’s Rest and other areas on the slopes of Mauna Loa near Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. If you visit, get their Peaberry and Medium Roast, which is smooth and perfect with some fresh almond milk.
Ka’u will be a household name soon, but for now, it is the best kept coffee secret on the island.
Ka’u Coffee Mill & Visitor Center (open daily from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm)
96-2694 Wood Valley Road
Pahala, The Big Island, Hawai’i
The Ka’u Coffee Festival will be held on May 4, 2013.