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Grand Champion? We Won? We Won!

Hawaii Island Coffee

Hawaii Island Districts. Art credited to Un-

Yes, our coffee earned the top score as Grand Champion for the state of Hawaii. I know it can sound a bit surprising because we’re very small and Puna coffee hadn't received much press before. Actually, it was a surprise for us, too. The truth is, we didn't even attend the unveiling award ceremony because - ahem - the airline tickets were as much as the lawnmower we need replaced (and then some).

                    ...

Many of you, our ardent fans who fell in love at the first sip, said you knew all along. Yet when the unexpected announcement came, Brandon was curled up in the Aerostar on the shoulder of Hwy 130 in Pahoa. As usual, he was first in line for a vacant spot at the Maku’u Farmer’s Market. Most vendors get in line around 4 a.m., but we get in line the night before to ensure we’re given ticket # 1.

Back at the house, around 9 p.m., I simultaneously received telephone calls and Facebook messages from friends at the H.C.A. ceremony in Kauai that we were, in fact, number one. “We won? Which category?,” I asked when Dr. Shawn Steiman called. “Silly! You've got the highest score in the state - best coffee in Hawaii! Congratulations!” he replied. “You two are the new rockstars!” messaged David Steiner of White Mountain Coffee.

We expected to earn high scores and assumed we’d top a few categories, but the state of Hawai'i? I called Brandon and we debated on whether he should return to the farm -- we’d have a celebratory glass of wine and forgo our spot at the farmer’s market. We decided that he ought remain in the Aerostar... and yet, in a fit of victorious impulse, he drove home and we took the next day off.

Almost immediately after, we were humbled to receive wholesale requests from all over the world -- and if not for the winning varietal, then similarly exotic Puna coffees. To each we said, “I’m sorry. There is not enough this year. You can purchase as much coffee as you’d like at the retail rate, but we only have enough Puna coffee for one wholesale account, and that account was filled. Maybe next year?” A bit disappointing, but such is the life of a farmer of finite commodities. To be frank, in order to continue producing high quality coffees, feed the trees, and repair our equipment, we need all the retail dollars our coffees earn.

I should point out that winning the competition wasn't an accident. We’d been zealously researching, feeding, testing, roasting and cupping coffee since we moved -- usually hand-sorting the cherries/parchment/beans several times before roasting. Our submissions to Coffee Review have been highly rated and we credit some influential friends as haphazard mentors.  Additionally, as a local mill and micro-roaster, we've had a good chance to sample varietals from around the island.

What’s most exciting is that our little farm and micro-roastery somehow accomplished what we intended it to do 3 years ago: to demonstrate that there are fantastic, nuanced coffees throughout Hawai'i, to adequately compensate farmers for the value of their work, and to be a touchpoint for distinctive, original coffees from lesser-known regions.

I'd love to read your comments and thoughts. Email me at kelleigh@bigislandcoffeeroasters.com

Useful links:

Puna coffee - Special collection set
CoffeeReview.com - Big Island Coffee Roasters
Hawaii Coffee Association

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