KAILUA-KONA — The state’s oldest food festival revs up today, kicking off 10 days of events celebrating the role coffee cultivation has played in Kona’s heritage and history.
For its organizers, the 48th annual Kona Coffee Cultural Festival is an opportunity to honor and celebrate those whose work has elevated Kona coffee to a premium product recognized around the world.
“We celebrate the people behind Kona coffee,” said Val Corcoran, festival president.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Gannenmono, the first Japanese immigrants to come to Hawaii. And tonight, the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival Lantern Parade will celebrate those immigrants. Two descendants will be grand marshals of the parade, which starts at 6 p.m. and will go from Kailua Pier to Hale Halawai on Alii Drive. The parade will culminate with a bon dance.
The parade is just one of the many examples of the cultural heritage being celebrated throughout the festival. On Monday, Japanese musical artist Hiromitsu Kagawa is scheduled to perform at Makaeo Events Pavilion at Old Kona Airport Park. The West Hawaii County Band will also perform with Kagawa.
And from life-long residents to visitors here on vacation, the festival’s variety offers something for everyone.
For residents, Corcoran said, it’s an opportunity for them to learn more and gain a deeper appreciation for the region’s history of coffee farming.
“We want the residents here to appreciate and get re-educated in coffee, all the hard work that went into making coffee,” she said.
For tourists, she said the festival not only gives them a chance to learn more about Kona coffee but also displays the diverse cultural heritage of the region that produces it.
“There are lots of young people out there who are looking for a good cup of coffee, and it’s become big business,” Corcoran said. “So I just hope that with them visiting here they can just see and understand how things are here in Hawaii, that this little town can produce something that — I always say — is world-known now.”
The Kona Coffee Cultural Festival Cupping Finals are scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday at the Makaeo Events Pavilion.
“These farmers have worked really hard to get that gourmet brand,” Corcoran said. “Just think; you’ve got 600 farmers from 1 acre to large acreage.”
The owner of Onila Farms, which placed first last year in the artisanal division’s modern profile, said the cupping contest can go a long way in catching the attention of coffee fans from around the world.
“People all over the world pay attention to Kona coffee,” said Onila Farms owner Ron Peters. “It’s got a reputation.”
And the festival, along with the cupping contest, continues to demonstrate Kona coffee’s position as a premium product, as well as an attraction for tourists, who come from all over to find the newest and best coffee on the market.
“It’s another big tourist draw,” Peters said, “keeping Kona on the map worldwide as far as a coffee hotspot.”
The festival runs through Nov. 18. For a full listing of events, including farm tours, visit www.konacoffeefest.com. A festival button is required for most events, some of which have additional fees.