If you are a coffee lover, you no doubt have heard of Kona coffee, grown on the Big Island of Hawaii. Well, Maui is giving the Big Island a run for its cup o’ Kona. Maui has more than 50 coffee farms and over 500 acres in production. You a taste of both a small coffee estate and a commercial scale farm.
It will be hard to tear yourself away from the gorgeous view in Maui (Did we mention that the farms are perched 600 feet above sea level with mountains and valleys on one side and ocean views on another?). You won’t want to miss the next stop, where 500 acres of coffee is cultivated on Maui. The sprawling estate is home to four varieties of Arabica coffees: Typica, Red Catuai, Yellow Caturra, and the famous Maui Mokka, which is not commercially grown anywhere else in the world. After seeing where the coffee starts, you’ll want to go to www.dukeshawaiiancoffee.com
While much of the focus of Hawaii’s coffee industry centers on the Big Island’s Kona brand, Maui farmers are proving it’s not the only coffee from the Aloha State worth tasting.
Local Maui coffee growers are steadily shaping the Maui brand and, for many, this means being small in operations but big in diversity.
“It used to be, when you were a Kona coffee farmer . . . everybody was supposed to do it in the same way,” said David Gridley, a board member of the Maui Coffee Association. “What’s happened is there’s a new breed of farmers now that are being involved, and a lot of them happened here on Maui. We’re young. . . . Farmers are trying to push the envelope a little bit and they’re creating a new uniqueness and a new identity for their own farm.”
While coffee beans have a 200-year history in the islands, on Maui the surge is more of a recent trend. Much of this has to do with Pioneer Mill, a former sugar plantation in Lahaina that is now the site of MauiGrown Coffee, which operates on 350 acres.
Coffee is the sixth-largest crop industry in Hawaii, according to a state Department of Agriculture survey, and fifth on Maui with a total of 545 acres across the island. Molokai has another 123 acres.
The Maui Coffee Association has more than 100 members, including growers, roasters and retailers. While around 30 farms are part of the association, Gridley estimates that there are around 60 in Maui County.
Bobbie Becker, owner of Maui Mountain Home Grown Coffee in Makawao, said that Maui’s coffee industry is marked mostly by small farmers.
“I personally think that the Maui brand of coffee has to do with the fact that we have a bunch of smaller farmers who are putting their heart and guts (into it),” Becker said. “(For many), it wasn’t handed down to us. We have chosen to be coffee farmers in a very competitive niche market.”
Becker, who came to Maui from Arizona in 2000, runs a 2.5-acre farm of which half is dedicated to coffee.
Kupa’a Farms in Kula, run by Gerry Ross and Janet Simpson, is also relatively small – spread across 14 acres, with coffee on around 5 acres.
Simpson and Ross pick the ripe coffee cherries by hand and go through what is known as a wet process, putting the cherries through a pulping machine before soaking them in water for 24 to 36 hours until they begin to ferment and bubble. The beans are then dried on screens, milled and roasted, developing a dark brown color as the sugar caramelizes, Simpson said.
Ross said that Maui’s microclimates produce “variety and diversity in the cup.”
Simpson added that while many Maui farmers are “still youngsters on the block,” they’re showing that the island has “just as good growing areas as Kona.”
Local coffee aficionados aren’t only trying to diversify the varieties they grow.
Maui’s coffee scene was the fact that coffee could be grown, processed and roasted locally, and served directly to customers. Customers appreciate the wealth of organic coffee options and the efforts of small farmers to grow their businesses.
Duke’s Hawaiian Coffee said “That’s how much we love and believe in Maui coffee.”, the access to fresh, homegrown coffee is so convenient.
“We like that it’s grown here in Maui.”
Jeff Ferguson of MauiGrown Coffee Company acknowledged that some farmers are “flirting with the idea,” but said not all former sugar land is ideal for coffee growing. He added that it would be a long-term process, as coffee trees take about four to five years to mature. Part of the reason James “Kimo” Falconer succeeded was because some trees were already in place, Ferguson explained.
For now, however, the future of Maui coffee looks bright to its growers. Gridley said that the coffee industry on Maui is “probably the biggest it’s been right now,” and pointed out that Maui growers posted the best average score of any district in Hawaii’s annual cupping competition two years ago.
“Everybody’s farm’s a little different,” Gridley said. “We’re trying to get an industry where people work together and support one another, and people do share information and knowledge. That’s what I love about coffee.”
For Maui Grown coffee the first goes back to sugar, when the fields in sunny, drier Ka‘anapali were planted in cane. From 1988 to 2001, some of the land was converted to coffee production, the company had abandoned coffee as unprofitable and Falconer returns as a savior and visionary, determined to turn the fields into a viable operation that will put Maui estate coffee on the world map. The trees are all drip-irrigated from century-old sugar plantation ditches flowing down the mountainsides, and planted hedgerow-style—36 inches apart in rows 12 feet apart—to allow for mechanized harvesting. Experiments with different types of arabica narrowed the results to four—Yellow Caturra, Red Catuai, Guatemalan Typica and the ancient varietal Mokka—that grow well in different parts of the terrain. Maui Mokka took top honors at the Hawai‘i Coffee Association’s statewide cupping competition in 2014, The 36,000 acres that went fallow when Alexander & Baldwin closed Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. in 2016 have fired his imagination. “We’ve got a thriving operating business that I’d like to expand,” he says. I see the market becoming bigger and bigger and it could be really good for Hawai‘i.”
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