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Farm to Cup in Kona, Hawaii: Part Two

Updated: Dec 17, 2021

How we process our 100% Kona coffee

With growth comes change.

From the early years of roasting beans in our home oven to purchasing our first coffee huller, this marks the first official year our crop has outgrown our small lot to process our pick.

Our single-estate Kona, once pulped, washed, and dried on our very own lot, we now drive a few minutes down the road to process with our old friend, Kraig Lee, at Kona Farm Direct.

The nursery where we purchase our coffee saplings now happens to be where we transform our cherries when the larger harvests require a few extra helping hands.

Two men stand next to truck full of coffee cherries at Ulu Coffee farm in Kona Hawaii
Luis and Phil stand next to fresh pick, 2021

Sense of place, peace of mind

Last month we talked about the washed process which we use to make our 100% Kona coffee.

When we thought about explaining why we use this process, we realized it came down to two things.

The first was to share our coffee and the spirit of Aloha through the purest expression of this remarkable land. This meant to carry out cultivation without the use of synthetic sprays or harmful chemicals.

It also meant anything else, from hand harvesting to processing and roasting; whatever the decision as producers that need to be made (and there are many), we make with the final brew in mind—offering the mainland a true sense of place and peace of mind.

The Perfect Daily Grind sums up our thoughts on the outcome of this process in an article discussing the particular reasons producers have so much love for this rather tedious method.

“And Pil Hoon Seu, Owner and Green Bean Buyer at Coffee Libre in South Korea, stresses that “the washed process is a method of focusing on the bean itself.”

In other words, with a washed coffee, you are tasting the coffee itself – the origin, the coffee variety, the terroir – and not the impact of the processing method.

George Howell tells me, “What I love about washed coffees is that they can have pure intrinsic flavours from the bean, if the washing is done properly…”

The second reason for the washed process is the tradition of quality coffee farming in Kona. Since the late 1800s, the practice in Kona has been the wet method and remains the standard for quality coffee in Kona, Hawaii.

We learned the methods and techniques for coffee farming and processing from our neighbors, who learned it from their parents, who learned from their parents, and so on.

Gerald Kinro recalls these ancestral ties in his book ‘A Cup of Aloha.’ Stating that by 1931, “more than 1,300 families grew coffee on 5,500 acres. They owned an impressive 2,448,000 trees, and they produced 9,808,000 pounds of green coffee beans. Where corporate efforts had failed, family-run enterprises had survived and kept Kona coffee alive.”

The pulp

There was a time, on the Hodson family farm where growing coffee wasn't even a fragment of Phil Hodson's imagination.

But, curiosity struck.

Phil walked down to the K Komo store with his son Jack, where he held out his hand and a few coffee cherries he'd picked from the farm. He asked Mrs. Komo, "How do you process these?"

Kindly, Mrs. Komo explained what he needed to do with each step. Remove the fruit, wash the bean, rake to dry, husk, grade, sort.

It was a learning experience from there.

How we do each step at Ulu Coffee is a matter of experimenting, refining, observing, and learning from the farmers and ranchers who've long been members of the Kona community.

Coffee huller in Kona Hawaii
Pulper used at Kona Farm Direct for Ulu Coffee harvest, 2021

With the wet method, we start by removing any low-density fruit. Soaking the entire pick in a bathtub rinse where poor quality fruit floats to the top and easily removed.

Then we remove the cherry skin by putting it through the huller. Otherwise known as the pulper.