KAILUA-KONA — There’s nothing sweeter than when a plan comes together.
In the coffee world, that plan usually centers around what it takes to produce a premium blend. It takes the coordination of a lot of different parts to pull it off — to truly stand out in a typically rich Kona field.
But man, oh, man, how sweet it is when it all comes together.
“It starts with selecting the trees,” said Adrian Guillen, vice president of finance for Hawaiian Queen Coffee, whose product earned first place in the Kona Crown in the competition division for the Kona Coffee Cupping Competition this week.
Only the best trees, as selected by the company’s farm manager and general manager, can provide the coffee beans. Then, only the choicest beans are harvested — and you’re off to a good start.
“Once we see the coffee start coming off the trees, yeah, we have a pretty good idea of what it’s going to be,” Guillen said.
But the beans still need processing — removing the pulp from the cherry — fermenting and drying. Then they’re off to the roaster, which is no easy undertaking. Blow the roast, and all the work preceding it is out the door.
But when each instrument in the ensemble hits the right note, the symphony is superb.
“It’s really a reflection of the hard work the team at the farm puts in every day,” Guillen said of the recognition.
The annual cupping competition is a staple of the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, a weeklong celebration of the Kona coffee industry, in its 49th year and wrapping up this weekend.
Hawaiian Queen Coffee’s win in the Kona Crown Competition Division is reserved for larger estates. The company, which started in 2008, has about 60 pickers and workers.
Hula Daddy Kona Coffee won the coveted Classic Division for single-estate farms. The husband-and-wife team of Karen and Lee Paterson do all the work themselves on their 30-acre Holualoa spread, and have been since 2002.
“I’m higher than a kite,” Karen Paterson said of the win. “It was a real surprise. It was a good surprise, but it was a surprise.”
She thought Tommy Greenwell’s Gesha product was the favorite to take top honors. But, she pointed out, it comes down to what the judges deem the best.
“It turned out the Kona Coffee Festival liked it,” she said.
Both divisions share common rules for entering the competition.
All coffee entered must be 100% Kona coffee, grown solely in the district of Kona on Hawaii Island. The 72 submissions for the 2019 event were marked with an anonymous number for a true blind taste competition.
“It validated us,” Karen Paterson said of what the recognition meant. “It made me feel like we’re doing it right.”
Now, she added, she has a waiting list for people who want their winning Mocca coffee, which means she has more work to do. It’s a good problem to have, she pointed out.
“I’m trying to pick as fast as I can,” she said.
Both winning farms said taking part in the competition is a healthy way for coffee growers to push each other to strive for quality product, which benefits everyone. It’s a like-minded community that cares about its craft, working for the greater good.
The Heritage Award was awarded to Holualoa Kona Coffee Company for its quintessential Kona Coffee — a traditionally processed Kona typica variety that showcased a moderately sweet, medium-bodied, low-acidity and clean cup profile.
Brittany Horn, 2019 KCCP Cupping Competition Committee chairperson, said the quality of product entered this year was as high as the competition has seen.
“This year’s top-scoring, highest-quality coffees are a collection of unique varieties and some experimental processing methods,” she said. “We saw the highest cupping score in PCR’s two years of running the cupping competitions statewide and in Kona at an 86!”
Valerie Corcoran, Kona Coffee Cultural Festival president, echoed those sentiments.
“Our coffee harvest is as unique as the many hands that grow it, and we are so proud to lead the harvest celebration,” she said.