By Kathleen Lee
Quality, sustainability, and community – these are the three main values that make up Big Island Coffee Roasters' mission and vision when it comes to developing and sharing its meticulously grown Hawaiian coffee products with the world. These pillars – in line with the Aloha spirit that Hawaii is known for – have ensured that the company's premium coffee offerings are never short of excellent.
Kelleigh Stewart and Brandon von Damitz are partners and Oregon natives who moved to Hawaii in 2010 to start their own coffee business. The married couple settled in rural Puna on Hawaii Island (colloquially referred to as the "Big Island," since it is the largest out of all the Hawaiian islands) with the goal of producing and serving high quality coffee to people. Through their tireless dedication to their craft by processing the coffee themselves for the first three years they were in business, genuinely connecting with the local community, and keeping to their vision of producing only quality coffee, Big Island Coffee Roasters' Puna coffee earned the Hawaii Coffee Association's Grand Champion award in 2013, becoming the first, and still only, Puna coffee to win the award
Leading up to the award, the couple discovered critical infrastructural challenges that local coffee growers had to overcome to produce high quality coffees capable of competing on a world stage, and ensuring sustainable farm income. To remedy the issues they identified, the couple applied for and received a grant to purchase coffee refining equipment, which was used to open a mill and serve local coffee producers. Working closely with neighboring farmers provided Kelleigh and Brandon the opportunity to partner with exceptional coffee producers and offer their roasted coffees under the Big Island Coffee Roasters brand.
In 2014, a Hawaii state senator recognized the company's work and awarded them with a Senate Certificate for elevating the quality and value of Hawaiian coffee, community wide.
Today, Big Island Coffee Roasters is best known for showcasing a wide variety of 100% Hawaiian coffees, roasted-to-order and milled in small batches to ensure freshness. While Kona coffee is among their best known, the company also features unique coffees from other districts - Kau, Maui, and Oahu, for example - including "Special Collections" that allow customers to experience samples of each. Their Hawaiian coffees have been recognized by Forbes, The Washington Post, Coffee Review, Honolulu Magazine, Hawaii Business Magazine, Delta, The San Francisco Chronicle, and Good Morning America.
One of the company's larger accomplishments occurred this year when Big Island Coffee Roasters was recognized as one of the best coffee roasters in the world by Roast Magazine in their prestigious Roaster of the Year awards. Roaster of the Year recognizes three micro-roasters and three large roasters annually who source superior quality coffees, show dedication to sustainability, promote employee and community education, demonstrate strong involvement in the coffee industry, and are committed to diversity and equity. Big Island Coffee Roasters is the first finalist to use exclusively Hawaii-grown coffees.
Hawaii is a vastly different landscape from anything on the mainland United States. As the only island-state in the nation, the community is tight-knit and protective of its resources and culture. Founders Kelleigh and Brandon recognized this from the beginning, and respectfully connected with neighboring farms on Hawaii Island to expand their coffee-growing operations. In the last decade, they have integrated themselves with the local community - from serving on the board of directors for the Hawaii Coffee Association, to donating a portion of their sales to marine wildlife rescue organizations.
In the past few years, Big Island Coffee Roasters has purchased around $3M of fresh coffees from local farmers, in support of Hawaii's local economy and environment. The company's method of sourcing from nearby farms reduces overall emissions in delivering roasted coffee to U.S.-based customers by an estimated 8-10% (this estimation is based on research performed on the coffee supply chain in Costa Rica).
The company also uses 100% renewable electric energy to produce coffee. That amount has so far prevented over 29 tons of CO2 emissions – the equivalent of stopping 28,000 pounds of coal from being burned, and what 33 acres of forest can sequester in a year.
A lot of people may not realize the intensive and laborious nature of coffee production, nor the nuances that can create or destroy flavor and quality. Big Island Coffee Roasters celebrates the artisan process by having a seasonal selection of unique and fresh Hawaiian coffees that rotate throughout the year.
For instance, there may be three or more types of Kona coffee offered at a time, including best-sellers like Kona Peaberry, a light roast, and a dark roast Kona coffee. Because many of Big Island Coffee Roasters' coffees sell out quickly, the company has a wait list for certain products, like Maui Mokka Peaberry and Kona Geisha. Through a partnership with a local distillery, they also produce a popular line of barrel-aged Hawaiian coffees.
Individuals can also be part of the Hawaiian Coffee of the Month Club. Members can receive the same or different Hawaiian coffees each month, personalized to their favorite roast level, along with private sales, early access to limited products, and free shipping. The club has become a popular way for customers to receive a wide variety of local coffees that are usually difficult to find.
Recently, Big Island Coffee Roasters became a Good Food Awards Finalist for their scrumptious Espresso Bites - a smooth and creamy bar of Hawaii-grown coffee that can be eaten by the square or mixed with hot water for coffee to-go.
For convenience-minded coffee drinkers, the company is launching a line with single-serve Kona coffee in compostable sachets in November.
Big Island Coffee Roasters offers a number of educational resources on their website, including coffee brewing videos, Kona coffee FAQs, articles on the flavor differences among Hawaiian coffees, and tips to know before buying Kona coffee. Newsletter subscribers receive a comprehensive guide for brewing barista-quality coffee at home.
Big Island Coffee Roasters truly stands out in the coffee world. The powerful combination of consistently creating and delivering award-winning coffee products through meticulous methods, using sustainable processes for coffee production, and uplifting the Hawaii community by giving back to local organizations and excelling in their field - placing the Aloha State on the map as a recognized global coffee destination, all make this mission-driven company one to to follow and support.
Big Island Coffee Roasters' selection of Hawaii-grown coffees, Espresso Bites, and single-serve Kona coffees can be purchased online at bigislandcoffeeroasters.com. They can also be found at these retailers throughout Hawaii and the west coast.
*as a note, the term "Hawaiian" is used in reference to coffee locally grown and harvested on the Hawaiian islands. Big Island Coffee Roasters remains mindful and respectful of usage of the term.