Wednesday, March 25, 2015

100% Kona Coffee

Kona Coffee Blossoms
Kona Coffee - The Real Deal or Surprise?

A few weeks ago I stayed in Captain Cook, Hawaii, while attending the Kona Brewers Festival (beer, that is) and I met Tom Butler, a local coffee farmer and the President of the Kona Coffee Farmers Association.
Tom Butler
Tom gave me a tour of his farm and he spoke about the challenges facing the small coffee farms like his on Kona. He reminded me that Hawaii is the only state in the US producing coffee and that coffee has been growing in the Kona area for over a hundred years. 
100-Year-Old Coffee Tree Trunk with Orchid
His farm and many surrounding ones were originally planted by Japanese coffee farmers as evidenced by the 100-year-old coffee tree trunks in the area. There are about 3,000 acres of coffee growing in the North and South Districts of Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii and only these can produce beans that can be labelled as Kona coffee.
Kona Coffee Cherries, 2010 - Courtesy of Bud Jenkins
Kona coffee beans are known worldwide for their complex and pleasing flavor and they don’t need to be blended with other beans to taste good. So what makes these coffee beans so different? Kona’s ideal coffee growing conditions with volcanic soil and organic matter, the moderate weather with warm, sunny mornings, rainy/overcast afternoons, and about 60+ inches of rain per year provide a magic recipe for growing excellent coffee.
Kona Coffee Blossom and Cherry
But it’s not all that easy to grow and harvest Kona coffee. The small coffee farms planted on hillsides can be challenging to maintain and require manual labor in harvesting “cherries” as they ripen in different stages on the same tree. And since 2010 they have had to combat the Coffee Berry Borer pest and the devastation it creates that can ruin up to 20% of a crop.
Coffee Trees on Moki's Farm, Captain Cook
The relatively small quantities of Kona coffee beans harvested and the high costs of farming in Kona are why you see 100% Kona coffee prices that can be twice as expensive as Arabica coffee grown in other parts of the world. But that’s not what has the coffee growers in Kona excited, it’s what the large coffee distributors are doing to their Kona coffee brand.
Kona Blend (Kroger Customer Connect confirmed this coffee contains 10% Kona.)
As I learned from Tom, the “Kona” blends that are sold damage the reputation of Kona coffee and that leads to damages of the Kona coffee farmers’ economic interests. An example of this occurred in December 2004 when an article published in Consumer Reports magazine confused “Kona coffee blends” with “Kona coffee” and concluded that Kona coffee can be “second rate” on the basis of a mistaken belief that “Kona blends” are the same as “Kona coffee.”
Hawaiian Isles Kona Coffee Company Sells 100% Kona Coffee and these Kona Blends
According to the Kona Coffee Farmers Association there has been a statute in Hawaii that allows for a “10% Kona coffee blend.” which can be equally confusing to consumers, who often don’t know what they are buying and who may believe that they are buying a blend of several Kona-grown coffees when they’re not. Last year the Hawaii County Council requested that the Hawaii Legislature raise the minimum Hawaii-grown content in coffee blends to 51% and to require disclosure of the origin of foreign-grown coffee on the label. Since I left Hawaii I have heard that the bill was already dead and that it was “killed in committees by big money.”

I’ve read that it’s difficult to enforce brand integrity for other food and beverage products. Jamaica relies on the Regulatory Coffee Industry Board to license the sales of Jamaica Blue Mountain® Coffee.  And to be an official Napa Valley Wine the varietal names must have at least 75% of their volume from the grape designated, and the varietal name must appear on the label with an appellation of origin.
100% Kona Coffee - Lions Gate Farms Kona Peaberry & Moki's Farm Estate Coffee
I like Kona coffee very much, and although I’ll be the first to admit it’s a little pricey, it’s unfortunate that you can’t be sure about the content and origin of the coffee that you’re buying.  In my own research I found a few “Kona” coffee blends in local grocery stores that had no explanation of the contents or percentage of actual Kona coffee beans. Regulating product brands like Napa Valley Wines, French Champagne, Washington Apples, Florida Oranges, and Idaho Potatoes can be done and we ought to be able to count on buying “Kona Coffee” that contains 100% Kona coffee beans, or at the very least, a majority of Kona coffee beans with an explanation of what the other contents are and where they are grown.

Twitter:      @TasteNTrip

Friday, March 20, 2015

Kona Brewers Festival 2015

Celebrating the 20th Kona Brewers Festival
The Kona Brewers Festival is the main event of several fun days that include a Brewers Pa’ina food and beer pairing dinner/art auction, and the Brews and Blues party. I made it to these events and enjoyed craft beers, gourmet food, live music and hula entertainment at the luau grounds of the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel in Kailua-Kona. I didn’t make it to the Homebrew Competition, a local competition sanctioned by the American Homebrewers Association. I'm sure it would have been interesting with some unique brews.
A Brewers’ Pa’ina and Art Auction
Presented by the Kona Brewers Festival, Courtyard King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel and Donkey Mill Art
The rainy weather from earlier in the week faded away just in time for the ocean-side beer and food pairing under the stars. Kona Brewing Company beers were showcased and most of the dishes included craft brews. 
The art and culture of Hawaii were featured through live entertainment and a silent art auction. Proceeds benefit nonprofit organizations working on behalf of children and the environment. 
I was very impressed with my first Kona Brewing Company beer taste of the evening—a Kiluaea Crater Dampfbier. It was a pleasant surprise to have a Bavarian style “steam beer” in Hawaii! 
My first pairing was a refreshing Lemongrass Luau blonde ale (5.8% ABV, 20 IBU) that went very well with a green salad, grilled hamakua mushroom poke, roasted baby beets, marinated cherry tomatoes, and black-eyed peas with Portuguese sausage. 
I liked both the Lavaman Red Ale (5.6% ABV, 30 IBU) and the Aina Brown Ale (6% ABV, 29 IBU) with the beer-basted, smoked BBQ Baby Back Ribs and the Kalua Leg of Lamb Soft Tacos with Slaw, Pico de Gallo, Kona Avocado, Chipotle, Cumin and Honey dressing. The Aina Brown Ale is made with Kalo (the Hawaiian name for the Taro plant); finally, something with Taro in it that I like!
The Castaway IPA (6.0% ABV, 50 IBU) paired very well with the Casarecce and Rigatoni pasta dishes, and being an IPA it was a favorite of mine. 
Three beers were served at the dessert table. The first I tasted was the Pipeline Porter (5.3% ABV, 23 IBU), followed by the Vanilla Thrilla Imperial Stout (8.8% ABV, 50 IBU), and a Raspberry Chocolate Porter made specially for the event, based on the Black Sand Porter (6.2%, 45 IBU) with organic raspberries and local cacao nibs added. The Pipeline Porter was interesting because it included freshly roasted 100% Kona coffee. I liked the Vanilla Thrilla Imperial Stout best and I enjoyed it as dessert!
Let's hear it for the Kona Brewing Company folks that made it all possible!

Music Students Playing Like Pros
Brews and Blues (Bluegrass) Concert
Part of the Kona Brewers Festival is about blending brews and blues, well, maybe bluegrass anyway. The “Brews and Blues” concert at the luau grounds featured the Aloha Bluegrass and the Whipstitch Sallies.

I really enjoyed the Whipstitch Sallies with Katie Burk on fiddle and Allie Burbrink on banjo and guitar. Their Americana and roots music were a great combo with the luau setting. Watch the Whipstitch Sallies video here.
The Aloha Bluegrass Band and played a mix of original and traditional songs and featured some very talented musicians: Rion Schmidt (banjo), Katy Rexford (fiddle), Justin Morris (bass & Dobro), Matt Del Olmo (guitar & bass), Keoki Kahumoku (ukulele & guitar). They were comfortable switching instruments (guitars, ukelele, bass and Dobro) and I particularly enjoyed listening to their last song featuring the Dobro. Watch their video here.

The Kona Brewers Festival with 50+ Brewers! 
The festival began after a Hawaiian blessing and a drum chant.

I hoisted my commemorative beer mug, checked my ten four-ounce brew tasting coupons (which is the equivalent volume of 3.3 twelve-ounce beers), and looked forward to an afternoon of unlimited gourmet food samples from the Big Island’s best restaurants, musical entertainment, and the world-famous Trash Fashion Show. The festival promotes recycling awareness and raises funds for local charitable organizations.
I focused on tasting beer from Hawaii, Oregon and California and managed to taste 21 brews. Somehow I missed a few Hawaiian beers, but I enjoyed all of those that I tried. Here's the list of beers I sampled:
  Bear Republic Brewing Co - Apex, Seasonal IPA
  Big Island Brewhaus - Hoptopias Imperial IPA
  Breakside Brewery - Safe Word Triple IPA
  Burnside Brewing Co - Other IPA
  Eel River Brewing Co - Emerald Triangle IPA
  Green Flash Brewing Co - Jibe Session IPA
  Green Flash Brewing Co - Soul Style Single IPA
  High Water Brewing Co - No Boundary IPA
  Honolulu Beerworks - Surf Session IPA #4 Waimea
  Kona Brewing Company - Aina Brown Ale
  Kona Brewing Company - Dampf Bier
  Lagunitas - IPA
  Lanikai Brewing Co - 808 IPA (Imperial India Pale Ale)
  Lompoc Brewing - Pamplemousse Citrus IPA
  Maui Brewing Co - Lorenzini Blood Orange Double IPA
  Mehana Brewing - Mauna Kea Pale Ale

  Mission Brewery - Shipwrecked India Pale Ale
  Stone Brewing Co - Stone Delicious IPA
  Stone Brewing Co - Stone Ruination
  Waikiki Brewing Co - Eee Pah IPA
  Widmer Brothers Brewing - Upheaval IPA

OK, I am a fan of IPAs, but this festival had plenty of different beer styles, including some lighter beers.
Hawaiian beers that rated 4/5 or better.
Oregon beers that rated 4/5 or better.
California beers that rated 4/5 or better.
My favorite beers that I tasted at the festival.
Why are the people serving beer looking so happy? It must be a fun job! And they get to wear their green t-shirts on St. Patrick's Day too.
Even though there were thousands of people at the festival, there were no long lines to find beer or food. It was thoroughly relaxing and totally enjoyable.
Rich Dirk, brewer/owner of Elk Head Brewing Company, spreading the Unfiltered craft brew message with friends.

This festival had plenty of delicious food!

The first sample I tasted was the Pork Belly Musubi from Chef Noah Hester at Blue Dragon.
50 Shades of Adobo by Broke Da Mouth Grindz & Catering was very creative.

 The Pork Slider from Paradise Brewing Co. Tap and Grill was a meal in itself!
Chef Ash Danao and the Rolls With It crew served Pork & Beef Sliders with Kalo Ketchup. 
 Hmmm, looks more like avocado than meat though.
They were good anyway!  As were their avocado french fries.

BITE ME Fish Market & Grill serving Fish Tacos.

Chef Peter Abarcar, Jr from the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel was doing something big with pulled pork tacos!

Tracy's Tasteeze Deli served some excellent Paniolo Corn Chowder! And I got to use my Spork (Spoon-Fork combo), but the spoon was more like a flat shovel. It worked anyway...
I had to go back later on and try their vanilla and chocolate desserts; they were both great.

Humpy's Big Island Alehouse served a lighter version of Pulled Pork on a cracker, they were good, and light. Just what I needed!

Jive Nene kept things rolling with their groove-centric, soul-istic, and funk-tastic sounds before the Trash Fashion Show.

 Late in the afternoon things got trashy and the crowd went wild!

It was all great fun, but I enjoyed the Brewers’ Pa’ina and Art Auction the most. It had the beer (without the little tickets on your wristband), food, and musical entertainment in a relaxed atmosphere. The Brewers Festival was a good way to experience the ten breweries from the islands and others from Oregon and California. I liked the brews from Hawaii, Oregon and California.

Festival Organizers: Kate Jacobson, Mattson Davis, Cameron Healy
Based on the turnout of 3,000+ (mostly local) festival-goers, I'd say the organizers were successful in putting on some great events, increasing awareness of beer and food pairing, and raising money for local charities.


Twitter:      @TasteNTrip