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A Taste of Paradise

Kona Coffee is more than a world-renowned taste sensation; it's a window into the heart of Hawaii
Paul Chutkow
From the Print Edition:
Susan Lucci, Sep/Oct 99

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The Kona Coffee Council and Hawaii's Department of Agriculture have developed strict certification standards that must be applied to every bean. The standards are designed and enforced to protect the integrity of the Kona product and to protect consumers, so that they will have an additional way to measure the quality of the beans when they buy them.

The rankings cover only pure Kona, not the blends, and here they are, with the highest-quality beans ranked first: Kona Extra Fancy, Kona Fancy, Kona Number 1, Kona Prime. Among the peaberries it's Kona No. 1 Peaberry and Kona Peaberry Prime.

After talking with the Twigg-Smiths and Greenwell, you have a pretty full understanding of the time, energy, expertise and artistry that go into the care and grooming of a world-renowned Kona bean. And you have some idea of the cost: steep. The process demands workers with enormous skill, patience and experience. The workers in Kona have all those qualities--and paying them costs.

"Quality is our game," Greenwell says. "That's our calling card and our pride. Still, sometimes it gets to me. The average coffee drinker hasn't a clue what goes into their cup." All along the Kona coast, you can meander, explore and follow your nose to coffee farms where you can see all this first-hand. And, of course, you can sample the fruits of Kona's unique blend of culture and tradition, artistry and care. But Greenwell's place has a flavor all its own. Here, the process culminates in Greenwell's picturesque little roasting house.

There, in a small, gas-fired roaster, so lovely it belongs in a museum, the beans are given their final toast and luster. There's the medium "American" roast, the medium-dark roast known as "Vienna" and the dark roast, "French." With beans of such exceptional quality, almost no one in Kona dark-roasts them for espresso or cappuccino. And no one would dream of flavoring the roast with vanilla or hazelnut; that would be considered heresy.

Most farms offer a few different degrees of roasting, so they can deliver a range of products, but the one you find most is the Vienna. Not too light, not too dark, just enough to allow the full, natural flavor of the soil and climate and beans to meld and come forth and blossom in the mouth. Greenwell's farm is also a perfect place to savor the outcome. From his roaster, it's only a few steps to his exclusive, state-of-the-art "tasting room"--one old wagon set out in the yard.

There you can sit for a spell and sample a local banana, macadamia nuts or some chocolate-covered coffee beans. Purists, though, will want to just sit back, relax, gaze out to the blue Pacific, and sample the coffees. Most of Tommy Greenwell's coffees are full city roasts, made with a drip. Nothing fancy, no frills, no foam. Just pure, rich, authentic flavor, the soul of Hawaii right in the cup.

Paul Chutkow is the author of Depardieu, a biography of the French actor Gérard Depardieu, and co-author of Harvests of Joy, the autobiography of Robert Mondavi.


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