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.
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.”
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.
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.
Kona's early pioneers would power this machine by hand to remove the cherry skins. Following in their footsteps, we purchased our very own, and with each crank of the wheel, cherries cycle through the machine, squeezing the fruit and popping out the seed.
With our larger picks, we take it to pulp at Kraig Lee’s for a larger machine powered by electricity.
With the quick turnaround required from pick to pulp, a larger machine is necessary for timely removal and separating the fruit from that precious tiny seed.
The post-harvest process begins promptly. Waiting longer than a night’s sleep to remove the seed will spoil the crop as fruit naturally ferments. As cherry skins shoot out to one side, the seeds pile up in a separate mound covered in a slimy substance known as mesocarp, or mucilage. The sugary flesh surrounding the seed is the next substance we remove by a process perplexingly known as fermentation.
Fermentation is a metabolic process that is critical for removing mucilage from the coffee at this stage. As Lucia Solis, a microbiologist specializing in coffee fermentation, states, the typical working phrase is “the step where the pulped coffee sits in a tank until the mucilage falls off.”
Enzymes facilitate the process of fermentation by naturally occurring in the coffee fruit and microflora acquired from the environment. Despite the simplicity of its layman’s terms, coffee fermentation is a subject growing in popularity for its scientifically complex effects.
With which we digress until next time when we continue onto part three of this four-part series.
But, wait, what happens to the fruit?
For those who wonder what becomes of the discarded fruit, there’s certainly more to explore. Also growing in popularity in the United States is a beverage called Cascara.
The making of Cascara, a sweet, herbaceous beverage that’s not quite tea and not quite coffee, is widely practiced and ever-growing.
Centuries ago, producers in coffee-growing regions such as Brazil and Ethiopia would take the cherry skins, spread them out to dry under the sun, and brew the dried fruit into this different kind of drink.
For now, we compost our cherries while observing a few of our friends experiment with the trend.
But, it certainly wouldn’t be uncommon for what we like to call ‘Ulu’ to suddenly hit.
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Kinro, Gerald. A Cup of Aloha: the Kona Coffee Epic. University of Hawaii Press, 2003.
Ospina, Angie Katherine Molina. “Processing 101: What Is Washed Coffee & Why Is It So Popular?” Perfect Daily Grind, Perfect Daily Grind, 18 May 2021, https://perfectdailygrind.com/2018/12/processing-101-what-is-washed-coffee-why-is-it-so-popular/.
“Sonké B, Couvreur T (2014) Tree Diversity of the Dja Faunal Reserve, Southeastern Cameroon. Biodiversity Data Journal 2: e1049. Https://Doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.2.e1049.” https://doi.org/10.3897/bdj.2.e1049.figure3a.